Rating systems a lot of the time feel arbitrary. It of course depends on the rating system itself, but a fair amount of the time they feel unnecessary, or feel like they can’t really apply universally.
In film you can find a whole range of rating systems across a whole variety of critics and collectives. Numbers, stars, bags of popcorn, thumbs up or down, all have their merits; all have of their problems.
Sometimes I see needlessly complex rating systems. The thought is there, but when a film has a rating out of something higher than 10 and a billion different categories to generate a number, I understand why they do it, but it also feels clanky.
The thing is...not only is film taste subjective, but film itself is just so diverse. How can you rate Schindler’s List against Jurassic Park? How can you rate Mad Max: Fury Road against Babe: Pig in the City? How can you rate Spider-Man against The Amazing Spider-Man against Spider-Man: Homecoming? Using a universal scale means you can look at what ratings people give and scoff at why they’d give one film four stars, and an absolutely different film four stars too.
Films are each their own separate universes and comparing them is the flaw in reviews and the flaw in reading them.
It’s why some places and other media strike rating systems completely from their reviews. It’s why you’ll have YouTubers give films “Best Movie Ever” or “Worst Movie Ever”. It’s why when Siskel and Ebert popularised a Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down scale you could see they were onto something.
On its purest level, film reviews tell you if you should see a film or not see a film. You can expand that out to include the Why, and you can expand that out further to see the How. You’ll discover Who is telling you this, and When they entered that frame of mind. Hell, they might even tell your Where, which also has an impact.
My way of thinking is that film criticism is hard, diverse, infinitely interesting, ultimately flawed, and forever rewarding.
Now let’s throw this entire dialogue in the trash as I explain my rating system and the massive contradiction that it is.
I use a five star rating system. Not four, because I think Ebert made that as much of his trademark as thumbs up/down. I also use five stars because a rating out of 10 feels too much. When you half a rating out of 10 to convert to a 5 Star scale...It could spit out a completely different meaning than intended for the number you gave it.
I also don’t use percentages because how do you even put a percentage to a film. A tomato isn’t 47% Rotten, it’s either immediately Rotten or it’s Fresh.
Five stars is safe, it’s round, it matches to the number of digits you have in your hand. You can easily communicate visually to your friends what you give a film.
To that end - no half measures either. Inspired by multiple conversations I’ve had on the subject of rating films, half a star is a cop out. It’s a saving grace; it’s the poster boy of indecision. Cut the halves from your ratings and you realise how simple and effective things suddenly become. No more uncertainty. A movie can now be good or great or bad or horrid without a shrug in sight.
My ratings are also on a movie by movie basis. There is no comparative scale. We're not talking The Hottie and the Nottie to Breathless. As said before, a film is a universe. So let's judge it as that: An entirety. Independent of anything else.
If you want the CliffsNotes version of what each star means for me:
1 Star - Fails hard as a film. Unwatchable, essentially.
2 Stars - Forgettable, but not the worst thing ever. Catch on TV if nothing at all is on.
3 Stars - Peak of average. Still fun and watchable to a degree. Prime Netflix material.
4 Stars - Very good. Tell your friends. Watch at the cinema.
5 Stars - Must watch. Prime example of that sort of film. Watch at the cinema. Netflix. TV. Own on Blu-Ray. Rave about to friends like it's the next coming. If Oscar Nominated/Winning: Forget it a month after watching.
Now we've covered that, make sure to keep up to date with the Cinema with CJ Instagram for all the bite-sized film reviews you need.
Because after all is said and done when it comes to whether giving a film a rating is pointless or useful...
...Don't forget to actually read the review.
That is what actually matters.