The fickle critic


Personally, I have trouble using the “I liked it” scale ala Netflix.  A movie that garners 5 stars one week only finds 4 another week.  In a way, this arises from ambiguity present even within the “I liked it” scale.  Did I like it because I was in the mood for a happy film?  Or it an enjoyable serious film?  Would I like to see it again?


What this scale needs are actions that go along with each rating:



  • 5-stars – Loved it!  I watch it every weekend instead of sleeping.  I press my friends to come over and see it too.  I have an imaginary copy of this DVD on my bookshelf.  e.g. Seven Samurai or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

  •  4-stars – Liked it a lot.  I suggest the movie to friends.  I watch it occasionally when I’m in the mood, or not.  e.g. Tsotsi

  • 3-stars – Worth renting.  I watch this one if my friends invite me over.  I find myself forced to rent it just once to see what it was all about, and often find it superficially satisfying.  e.g. Braveheart

  • 2-stars – Blasé.  I didn’t finish the movie.  These movies evoke nothing from me and I found it boring.  I would rather go watch a car wash.  I guide my friends away from these.  e.g. Finding Neverland

  • 1-star – Yech.  I have a physical hatred of this movie.  This is usually a personal dislike of an otherwise popular movie.  But I will not see this again even if friends are renting it.  e.g. Garden State

  • 0-stars – Why?  I don’t want to see this one.  Just not my style.  e.g. Click

You will probably point out that Garden State, Click, and Finding Neverland were all blockbuster movies.  I’m not saying they were bad.  I just want to make a statement about how I relate to them.  Again, ratings have multiple interpretations, which is a perennial frustration of mine.


How do you interpret your ratings?

Comments (3)

  1. TimMisiak says:

    I find that the media collection on my computer is mostly songs I like, since I’ll delete anything that I don’t like. This means that I have the option of rating things on a 2 point scale (giving each song a score of 4 or 5) or I can normalize my rating system. One star would be "good", three might be "very good", while five would be "fantastically good". I tend to use the 4 star/5 star system, since I hate giving songs like "Eye of the Tiger" 2 stars 🙂

    My 2 cents.

  2. benkaras says:

    Hey Tim,

    I ran into the same issue with my movie ratings.  In part, that’s why I developed my personal scale.  I found myself perfectly satisfied with movies like Braveheart and wanted to give them high marks for being "good" and "entertaining".  But ultimately I had to force myself to normalize my ratings by establishing a standard.  I wish there was a guilt-free way to rate things we like.

    For music, maybe you can view it as a scale of how frequently you want the song to play.  Thus giving a song a frequency of "2" doesn’t sound as bad as "2 stars".

  3. Mikkin says:

    I interpret public polling ratings (and most professional reviewers) like this:  4 or 5 stars indicates lots of interest, but is too coarse to filter quality, 1 or 2 stars indicates disdain, but many things utterly lacking in merit do not earn public disdain.

    I especially liked the rating system used by the Whole Earth folks:  three separate dimensions for Style, Content, and Consequence, each rated on a five point iconographic scale of Stinker (picture holding nose), Thumbs-Down, Shrug, Thumbs-Up, and Hats Off!

    This influenced how I generally rate things myself:  Something has to be extraordinary in multiple dimensions to be flagged with 5 stars.

    1 = execrable:  embodies actively toxic memes

    2 = deficient:  trash that is mostly harmless

    3 = ordinary:  at least 2 standard deviations in the middle

    4 = important:  enough to change your life

    5 = consequential:  enough to change the world