This is a newly updated article written so that readers can better understand how and why I rate movies, and what all my ratings mean.
Why I rate movies:
I understand that some people find rating systems to have flaws and limitations, and that rating systems can be “arbitrary”. To an extent, I agree. The reason I still rate movies anyway (instead of just spilling my thoughts in an article with no rating) is because I believe the alternative is worse. Most reviewers that don’t give out ratings are very confusing about how much they actually enjoyed or recommend a film (this could be chalked up to them being bad writers, but I still think a rating can be a nice focus lens on your general thoughts).
Why I use the 1-10 System:
I use it because I think it’s the most accurate and accessible rating system. The best rating systems, to me, are the ones that have enough variety to encapsulate all the quality levels of a film, but are condensed enough to not lose meaning.
I don’t believe a 4-star or 5-star rating system does that.
I have never seen anyone use a letter grading system (A through F) in a way that makes sense to me, especially if the guy using it rhymes with Triss Muckman.
And if people grade movies from 1 through 100… just no. It puts in way too many options and provides significantly less clarity.
I believe 1 through 10 hits all of the points needed while also not being so expansive enough as to lose meaning.
(Disclaimer: If you think one of the rating systems I mentioned above is better, that is totally okay provided you are very clear with how you use your rating system.)
I have flirted with the idea of adding 0.5s to the mix, like a 6.5 out of 10, but I ultimately decided against it. Too much expansion.
Also no, I haven’t done “0 out of 10” yet either (Though seeing Christian Mingle: The Movie made a VERY strong case for that rating).
How I Prepare Myself to Rate Films
1. I divorce myself from my personal feelings towards the movie.
I’m in the business of studying how films invoke emotion.
Movies are about crafting stories that cause emotional reactions. Therefore, if an emotional reaction is achieved, then there is always a cinematic explanation for it.
So if a movie gets me to have some sort of emotional reaction, my initial response is to say “Okay, HOW was the film able to do that?” If I have a very clear and concise answer for it, I give the movie credit.
If I can’t come up with a logical answer for it, I conclude that it was a subjective feeling and neither add nor detract points from the film.
While we’re here, I think one of the dumbest critiques of a film was “I was bored.” That should never be a critique on its own. If you think a movie is boring, YOU MUST EXPLAIN WHY YOU THOUGHT IT WAS BORING. If you cannot explain that, then you had a subjective emotional reaction to it, and your critique is moot.
That’s why when I thought The Last Jedi was a boring snooze fest, I was very concise in explaining why. It’s my duty as a critic to do so.
2. I observe the rules that a movie has made for its universe, and then I judge it solely based on those rules.
If a movie ingrains itself in stone-cold reality, then I will judge it as if it is in reality.
If a movie creates a world loosely based in reality, then I closely observe what rules it creates for its universe, and then I hold it accountable to those rules.
If a movie is a crazy reality that has very little rules or structure, I look for the film’s purpose for doing so.
3. I judge movies based on what they set out to do and how they achieve their goals. I am significantly less interested in what I actually wanted to happen in the film.
I thoroughly believe films should be seen with a mind that is as blank of a slate as possible. In my opinion, all I need to see a film is the movie poster and the rating, MAYBE a thirty second trailer. Everything else is a spoiler.
I personally hate critiques that go something like “I didn’t like this movie because it wasn’t what I expected”. It’s not fair to the film. Films should be judged on whether or not they successfully achieved their established goals without A. cheating to get there, B. being boring while doing so, or C. being a carbon copy of something that was before.
I also hate the critique “It wasn’t like the book/comic” or even “I liked this movie because it followed the book/comic”.
I got this a lot from fans of Batman V. Superman: “Oh you didn’t understand the film? You should read the comics.”
Same with Harry Potter fans: “Oh this movie doesn’t follow its own rules and doesn’t explain why? You should read the books. It’ll make a lot more sense.”
No, I won’t read the books or comics. A movie shouldn’t be something you need an instruction manual to understand.
What’s Most Important to Me in Films
I ultimately think the most important aspects of films are
Above all, every movie should have a clear, concise, unique and/or interesting story (it doesn’t need to be ALL of those adjectives, but it should be at least some of them).
And the movie needs to have compelling, memorable characters. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters need to be morally good, morally bad, likable, unlikable, unique, groundbreaking, etc. I’m saying that a movie needs the audience to invest in that particular character.
If you cannot absorb your audience into the story and have them invest in the characters, your film has ultimately failed.
The rest of the elements I look into are, in no particular order,
Cinematography (how and where the camera moves),
Themes (what the story is ultimately about),
Tone (how a movie feels),
Pacing (how fast/slow do the series of events feel),
Acting (this should be obvious, but I had a feeling people would say something if I didn’t add this),
Chemistry (how well the characters interact with each other),
Dialogue (verbal and nonverbal),
A movie doesn’t necessarily need to utilize all of these elements to be a “good” movie… but they do need to utilize all of them to be a 10 out of 10 for me. However, I strongly, STRONGLY believe that all of the elements I just listed should be used to benefit the story and/or characters.
I see a lot of reviewers give passes to bad/average stories and characters as long as stuff like soundtrack, cinematography, tone, and uniqueness are still there. And that’s… not wrong if you’re like this, but I would vehemently argue that these kind of films are forgettable.
Above all, for the vast majority, people remember characters and the story most.
(This is why, by the way, Disney is in the business of nostalgia: they don’t need to put extra work in their movies because most of their films have characters that are already well known and beloved).
A (Somewhat) Quick Rundown of my Ratings:
1 out of 10: Irredeemable
A film can only get a 1 out of 10 if there is nothing good about the film. There are rare cases where a 1 out of 10 might have one or two good elements, but the negatives would have to eclipse the good things.
2 out of 10: Almost Irredeemable
A 2 out of 10 is a broken film that has either one or two good things about it, or it is entertaining despite (or because of) its awfulness.
3 out of 10: Terrible
It’s a straight up bad movie. But it’s not so abysmal or offensive to fall into the cosmic crater of a 1 or 2 out of 10.
4 out of 10: Below Average
A 4 out of 10 is bad, but not really to the point of madness. Additionally, it could just be a mediocre movie with a few really dumb elements that push it off a 5 out of 10 rating.
5 out of 10: Average
A 5 out of 10 is either
— A mediocre film that does nothing positive or negative.
— A film with an equal amount of positives and negatives.
6 out of 10: Above Average
This is a good movie that doesn’t really do anything past “good”. It’s enjoyable, but not necessarily fantastic. It’s not a waste of money, but it’s probably forgettable in the grand scheme of things.
7 out of 10: Recommendable
I’ve said this in my last Ratings article: Every movie should strive to be at least a 7 out of 10. I don’t consider a 7 out of 10 to necessarily be a “failure”. It might have failed from being exceptional, but it doesn’t really fail as a movie.
If a movie gets a 7 out of 10, I’m saying I think it’s worth seeing. A film is not qualified for my “Best of the Year” list unless it’s a 7 or higher.
8 out of 10: Exceptional
An 8 out of 10 does something more. An 8 out of 10 is special in some sort of conceivable way. It breaks the mold of an average movie into something that is worth remembering. Additionally, an 8 out of 10 should have no irredeemable flaws. If there is a flaw that cannot be overlooked, chances are it will be disqualified from being an 8 out of 10.
9 out of 10: Phenomenal
A 9 out of 10 is a masterpiece. It should have a deeper meaning to the story in a way that makes the movie something more. A 9 out of 10 is profound and nearly flawless. It utilizes almost every single element well and it should tap into the true feelings of humanity as a whole. It should have acting performances that are not only great but superior to nearly any other performance out there.
10 out of 10: Perfection (Or as close to perfect as one could get)
I don’t use this rating unless I have no shred of doubt. Even then, I sometimes give a 10/10 to a movie that doesn’t deserve it.
I think one’s best rating should be extremely hard to obtain. a 10/10 movie should excel in everything. It should have no flaws, or if they do have flaws, the benefits have to over-encompass the flaws.
And it should do everything I mentioned in my summaries of 8 and 9 out of 10.
SOME OTHER NOTES:
— My rating doesn’t necessarily point to whether or not I liked the movie
To me, that’s what objectivity means (among other things). I actually enjoyed films like Bright, or Happy Death Day, or Horns, or Wish Upon. In fact, the only TRUE rating that guarantees that I hated the film would be 1 out of 10.
But terrible movies get terrible ratings, regardless of whether or not I enjoyed it.
My rating is not a measure of how much I enjoyed the movie. It can be a factor within my rating, but again, I am SIGNIFICANTLY more interested in explaining WHY I liked a movie, more than whether or not I liked it.
— I Do Not Give Special Treatments to Certain Genres.
I’ve heard this from reviewers before: “I just don’t like war films”, or “I just don’t like biopics”, or “I just don’t like romantic comedies”, or “I just don’t like space films”.
If you review movies, then that doesn’t make sense to me.
You can certainly have preferences, and you can think certain genres stereotypically do things well or poorly… but a good movie is a good movie.
There are films in every genre that I love. There are films in every genre that I hate.
It’s not what the movie is; it’s what the movie does with what it is.
–I want a movie to make me feel something, and I don’t give preference to a particular emotion.
I love it when movies genuinely make me laugh and make me feel happy or inspired.
But I also love when movies genuinely make me feel upset, scared, miserable, reflective, disturbed, or even angry…
… provided I’m not angry or miserable because the film was terrible.
I know a lot of audiences just love feel-good movies. I love feeling SOMETHING. I don’t care what the emotion is. Just make me feel one.
–Show. Don’t tell.
Self explanatory. All great films do more showing than telling. Subtlety is a dying art. Brevity is the soul of wit. Don’t be obvious. Don’t be preachy.
–Offensive Material Itself Does Not Bother Me
I’m not necessarily an enthusiast for disturbing material in film, but I understand its potential when used effectively in a story. What I hate is the use of disturbing material simply because its disturbing. It’s lazy and cheap (but if you shoot it well, people will call it artistic).
I think disturbing content can add weight to a story. I think it can really emphasize a specific point. What I don’t think it is good for is being little more than the movie’s gimmick. Give me a reason to be disturbed. Otherwise, all you’re doing is making a mediocre film that review cretins will gush about for a month or so, and then nobody will ever talk about your film ever again.
— I am aware that my rating system is not perfect.
But perfection is what I strive for. That is why I always try to allow criticism of my reviews.
If you want to always be right, you have to be willing to change your mind.
In fact, I find it odd when a critic can’t accept criticism of their criticism. If you want to sling mud at films, but you can’t take people slinging mud at you, I find that hypocritical.
Now, of course, if your criticism of my criticism is stupid, I will call you out on it. But I am ALWAYS open to fair rebuttals of my reviews.
I LOVE people who teach me things about reviews.
What I hate most about the “all film criticism is subjective” crowd is their unwillingness to be challenged on their reviews. In fact the only thing they are willing to argue with you about is the idea that “all film criticism is subjective”… because if they win that argument, then they don’t have to defend anything else about their critiques.
(And boy, let me tell you. Don’t get into an argument with them about it unless you really love constant changing of verbiage and constant moving-of-the-goalpost).
Now don’t get me wrong: if you’re not a film critic, you don’t really have to defend WHY you like something. Everybody has different tastes (which is the main reason why not all film criticism is objective either).
But if you call yourself a movie reviewer, I have no interest in your opinions if you are not willing to grow. I have no interesting in spineless, conviction-less writers.
The Fortune Cookie in Sully says “Delay is better than disaster”.
Seriously, I still get a lot of traffic to my website because people still want to know what that darn fortune cookie says.
Sully is by far my most viewed review of all time simply because of this.
(Welcome, by the way! I reviewed other movies besides Sully. Take a look!)