Ratings Explained

There's a lot of ways to quantify whether or not a movie is "good" or "bad". But there's a lot more to that science than just those two words. Sometimes you're simply looking at the enjoyability and craftsmanship of a movie itself. In this year-long experiment, however, we're also comparing hundreds of titles to others released at the same time. So how do you sort all that information?


The best way to look at a single film is to look at some guiding criteria. There are four staple questions you can ask about a movie that can help decide what kind of score or rating to award it. My method for evaluating and talking about movies focuses on these four ideas, in this order of importance:

Is it Entertaining?

This is the primary function of most films. Are the characters compelling? Is there an interesting conflict? Is it exciting to see what's happening? If there's no entertainment value, there isn't much of a reason to watch. There must be something to show.

Is it Important?

What is the benefit of this story being told? What new thing is the audience learning because we now have this film? Is it an effective teacher? Is there a greater social purpose to the movie's existence? Short: is it that makes this movie special?

Is it Well Produced?

Time, attention and money need to be wisely spent. Is the film actually complete? Are the effects rendered? Does the final product look polished?Is it sound clear? Is the image clear? A good film doesn't need to be flashy but it does smart producers.

Is it Palatable?

How challenging is it to watch the movie? Is it too uncomfortable to watch? Nothing should ever be so grotesque, awkward, unfunny, gory, or disturbing to an extreme where people physically cannot stand watching the film in the first place.


Looking at these questions, there are two basic ways I'm going to score and evaluate the 365 movies I see this year to help talk about the films both individually and against one another.


This is the most common way films get reviewed in the press. The four star scale has been commonplace for visual performance in North America for hundreds of years - first in theatre, and in the 120 years since the beginning of American cinema. There are nine possible rankings of half star values, to a total of four possible stars being the maximum score.

4 stars - An outstanding film, among the very best offered

3 1/2 stars - A terrific film, with many commendable qualities

3 stars - A great film, enjoyable in most aspects

2 1/2 stars - A good film, likely enjoyable to general audiences

2 stars - An okay film, likeliest for a target audience, or perhaps a divisive film

1 1/2 stars - A bad film, possibly with more potential

1 stars - An awful film, with many shortcomings or ineffective qualities

1/2 star - A horrendous film, nearly devoid of all enjoyment and/or purpose

0 stars - An atrocity, possibly starring post 2003 Brendan Fraser

Strangely, the most common scores for movies in this new period of modern cinema is 2 or 2 1/2 stars. The vast majority of movies hover between the range of just below okay to just above it. And this four star scale can also translate to a rating system based on 100 points.


This system can be less direct and easy to discuss when looking at a single movie, because it requires more thought and analysis to get to a more exact number. But it is more usefully when looking at a larger set of movies to compare at once.


Generally, this is a number based system where a film gets a numerical score between 0 and 100 in an increment of 5 points. This expands the four star scale from nine possible ratings to 21 possible ratings.

The number of points between 0 and 100 is then visualized as a decimal out of 10. If you need a more precise number, the total is then rounded to the nearest positive multiple of 5. So when you see score of 7/10, for example, that represents a numerical value of 70 out of 100 points, or anywhere between 68 and 72 points on an expanded scale.

Below is an example of the values out of 10, and how they can be classified to say in short whether a film is "good", "okay" or "bad". (These terms are seemingly oversimplified, but can be used to give the most concise description of a film's merits.)


10/10 - 100 points

9.5/10 - 95 points

9/10 - 90 points

8.5/10 - 85 points

8/10 - 80 points

7.5/10 - 75 points

7/10 - 70 points

6.5/10 - 65 points


6/10 - 60 points

5.5/10 - 55 points

5/10 - 50 points

4.5/10 - 45 points

4/10 - 40 points


3.5/10 - 35 points

3/10 - 30 points

2.5/10 - 25 points

2/10 - 20 points

1.5/10 - 15 points

1/10 - 10 points

0.5/10 - 5 points

0/10 - 0 points

I like to visualize these two systems by writing "X of 100 points" and X stars", with each X simply describing the values. In each review I do for all 365 movies this year, the first information I'll list at the top will be the film's title, what number entry it is, and both my scores written on these two scales.

I'm using these units of measurement so films can be listed for both what they are themselves (a four star rating) and how they compare to the hundreds of others (a hundred point rating.)

Finally, I've got a small chart for comparing the scores between the two rating systems.

4 stars - 95 or 100 points

3 1/2 stars - 85 or 90 points

3 stars - 70, 75 or 80 points

2 1/2 stars - 60 or 65 points

2 stars - 45, 50 or 55 points

1 1/2 stars - 35 or 40 points

1 stars - 20, 25 or 30 points

1/2 star - 10 or 15 points

0 stars - 0 or 5 points