David Brownman

On the Rating of Media

Once I started tracking media in earnest, I found myself in need of a consistent way to rate what I had watched and played. There's a lot of different ways to rate something, such a 10 star scale, a score out out of five, or a simple thumbs up/down.

My biggest gripe is that none of the scores really mean anything; they're good for comparing everything someone has scored, but they each have their problems. A 10 star scale is too wide; what sets a 6 star movie apart from a 7 star? The yes/no is informative but has the opposite problem: it doesn't allow for any striation between good and great. A score out of 5 is closer, but it begets my worst enemy: apathy. I'm ultimately making these lists to help steer the reader towards the good stuff. If I'm neutral on something, it doesn't provide a definitive signal. Ultimately, none of these scales provided what I needed.

I took inspiration from a system we used to rate applicants at an old job. After an interview, we provided feedback about how well the applicant would do and how much we wanted to work with them. Taking inspiration from Joel Spolsky, a "I think they'd do well, but I don't want them on my team" was a "no". That approach helped guide me: no signal was bad signal.

With this in mind, I arrived a my definitive 4 Point Rating System:

  • A 4 is the highest rating. It's given to media that excels in multiple areas and has no huge flaws. It's probably not perfect, but it's something I recommend emphatically. Examples include Get Out and Spirited Away
  • Next is 3. These are still on the top half of the scale, but they have problems. Maybe a good plot with lackluster characters or serious plot holes saved by good characters. Still enjoyable and recommended overall, but doesn't live up to its full potential. Examples include Doctor Strange and National Treasure
  • 2 is the beginning of the bottom half. Media with this score have more misses than hits, but have their redeeming qualities. Especially if you're a fan of the genre, you might enjoy watching if you can get it for cheap later. Examples include Now You See Me 2 and Thor: The Dark World
  • Lastly, 1 is an example of something that fails to execute on any level. What good there might be is drowned in a sea of something truly enjoyable. This is a surprisingly tough score to earn because you really have to drop the ball. Examples include Transformers 4 and The Hangover Part 2

There you have it! Now whenever you see something I've rated, you'll know at a glance how much I enjoyed it and whether I would recommend it to you. Though all my example here were movies, I use the same system for books, TV, and games as well. All the scores are subjective, but hopefully we agree enough that you find them helpful as well.

Happy watching!


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