Why I Don’t Rate Movies

First off, the title of this post is a little bit of a lie. I am on Letterboxd where I keep track of all the movies that I watch, both superhero and non-superhero, and on that site I do rate them on their scale of 5 stars, including half stars. But for the reviews that I write for this site, I don’t include any ratings on any sort of scale. It’s up to the reader to determine what I thought about the movie based on the words rather than a bite-sized bit of info at the beginning or the end of the review. There are quite a few reasons why I do this actually, and it’s not just to try and force people to actually read the review rather than just looking at the rating to see what I thought of a particular film.


One of the biggest reasons why I don’t rate a film on this site is because I don’t feel like movies absolutely need to be rated on an objective scale when film is typically a very subjective form of art. No matter what movie you can name, there will always be at least one person who likes the movie, and similarly there will always be at least one person who doesn’t like the movie, and people who fall everywhere else on the scale. I do agree that there are films that are well made and will fall much higher on the scale for a much larger percentage of the people who watch it. But that’s not true for every movie, and I think it’s even more of an issue on a site like this where I generally don’t deal with the best of the best made films that are out there, and much more often deal with popcorn flicks. Movies that don’t have in depth allegories and themes, but are just straight up action movies, or even hilariously bad films. The point is that there is no specific scale that I can grade these films on because I essentially look at every movie on a different scale.

What I really mean is that when I review a movie, I do my best to put myself in the head of a person who will enjoy watching this film for one reason or another. Films are meant to be enjoyed, and I want to find films that people will enjoy watching for one reason or another. Whether it’s something like Tommy Wiseau’s the Room where you go in knowing that it’s a train wreck of a film, but the train wreck aspect of it turns it into a hilariously fun movie watching experience. Or whether you’re looking for a good action horror film. While I don’t always do this, I often try to recommend the film based on what you might enjoy within it. I’m only one person and I have my own specific tastes that don’t always mesh with everyone else. I can appreciate an artistic vision with depth and artistry like Birdman, but I can also see the merits of a hastily made and downright offensively humorous Toxic Avenger.

And besides the difficulty of trying to decide what type of scale I want to review the film on, that rating lends itself to comparing ratings of other films. On Letterboxd my rating is typically a mix of the amount of enjoyment I got from watching the film combined with the quality of the writing, acting, and direction of the film, and that rating can change from viewing to viewing, and I appreciate that Letterboxd allows me to give the film a different rating every time I list it as an entry in my film diary. But when I look at the archival nature of this site, I’d rather not have a star rating where I might end up rating the film The Shadow higher than Tim Burton’s Batman because I wouldn’t necessarily rating them on the same scale. That, and in the rare cases when I do reach out and request a screener for a movie, I would much rather be able to discuss the elements of the film that I didn’t like alongside the elements of the film that I did like without having to eke out a final score that may end up being rather low in the end.

And finally, I think I just wouldn’t know where to land on a ratings system. Should I keep it ultra simple and go four stars? Or go with a slightly more modern 5 stars? Or do I go with what is essentially the same as a 5 star rating that includes half stars and rate out of 10? Should I move away from the stars and scores and arbitrarily change it into something more fitting with my site, like masks? Or could I even go with a much more complicated ratings system that takes into account the different levels of enjoyment of the film, like scoring it based on things like direction, writing, bad humor, action, good humor, and whatever else I might decide to throw in? There’s just too many questions like that where I don’t have the answer and it’s just as simple for me to keep it the way I’ve been writing these for over 3 years and 200 reviews. But what about you? Do you rate movies? How did you decide on your own scale?


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on January 5, 2015, in Blogs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Perfectly understandable, bw. I don’t use any scale or rating when I do a review. I think spelling out what you enjoy (or don’t) in writing stands on its own. Or it should. I’m with you, my friend.

  2. I also do not like the idea of using only one scale to rate the movies.

    I use a 7-point verbal rating scale: “Excellent”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Average”, “Bad”, “Very Bad” and “So Bad It Is Good”. For “Excellent” I require that the film is a masterpiece or a possible classic. For the other grades I try to compare the movie with other same genre movies, the rating being the total sum of entertainment and artistic merits. And of course I may have a different taste than the general audience, but I would assume “Excellent” and “Very Good” films to appeal to most people. I totally understand that this scaling has its problems too if someone tries to blindly compare the ratings of movies with different genres.

    What I find annoying in IMDB-ratings is that many people give only two ratings: 1 or 10. They may give a movie 1 point and declare it is “the worst movie ever made” even if the production qualities may be ok. Or they may bash films that have some good ideas but limited budgets.

    • Yeah, I haven’t looked into it in a while, but I remember seeing that IMDB’s overall ratings algorithm takes into account that most people tend to over-rate movies they like with 10s and movies they don’t like with 1s. And I’m always on board with a ratings scale that has “so bad it’s good” on it!

  3. Interesting read, and you raise a great point.

    I tend to rate as that is how it all started for me, ratings on IMDB. These then filtered into my Facebook page and would open out discussions. When I started doing my 365 movie challenge last year, I kept the reviews to 1 line with a score and removed all movie activity from Facebook.

    Initially, this was mainly done for my own benefit for reflective purposes, but what I found was small groups of people either on forums, following my tumblr or friends I knew, liked and respected my taste in films, and therefore based my ratings as recommendations for their own film watching. As my audience grew I naturally began to expand on just the score, and talk more about the films.

    The ratings them shifted their importance from my memory, to them. I still get nothing out of rating a film. They remain there for the ones who want something easily digestible, the ones who don’t really want to read what I have to say on it, and are quite happy going ‘Oh, he gave it an 8, must be quite good’. In some instances it still can be interesting, it sparks discussion; ‘I can’t believe you gave it a 9! It wasn’t that good!’. Which is impossible, because that’s subjective.

    Similarly, rating something a 10 means it was perfect. It couldn’t be anymore than what it was. Smell The Glove would have been 10/10 for blackness – “How much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black”.

    I, much like you, enjoy a wide range of films. I rate each one on how much I enjoyed it, not on what I think the film actually ‘is’. The numbers are arbitrary, and hold significance to others and not me. It doesn’t bother me that I rated Boyhood the same as Arthur Christmas which was the same as Maidentrip and The One I Love. I enjoyed them all about the same, for different reasons. The words explain that.

    I have often thought about distancing myself from ratings, at least published ones, but ultimately it’s what reviews are based on. RT, IMDB, Letterboxd… all reviews, driven by numbers first, then the words.

    Once I get to grips fully with WP (only joined the other day, previously on Tumblr), I might try and think of other ways of categorising my reviews. For now though, I’ll stick with numbers and words, allow people to make up their own mind regardless of my scoring, and keep my reviews simple, easy to read and to the point.

    • I do appreciate those who start out their movie discussing with simple ratings. Once you get into the habit of it, it can be hard to break out of it. I also don’t really pay any mind to RT, IMDB, or others Letterboxd ratings, instead I like Letterboxd’s main page that just gives me a quick overview of some of the movies those I follow have been watching (and probably rated highly).

  4. The eternal question of the armchair Internet critic. To rate or not to rate. For me, I grew up with the classic 4-star system and Leonard Maltin’s book so it was no question that I would use it. I love it, but I have found with B-Movies in particular it’s impossible to rate them on the same scale without throwing the whole thing out of balance. You can’t rate them simply on quality, nor can you only rate on enjoyment, and a mixture of the two just makes the rating something unrepresentative of my feelings and somewhat arbitrary. That’s why I added the B-Movie rating for those kinds of movies, where I rate purely off of how entertaining it was. With the more classic rating, it effectively gives a perfect picture of my feelings on both sides of the film.

    There’s certainly no need to assign ratings, though. I do think you could have a Superhero Rating scale that kind of gauged the film among the pantheon of superhero films for you. Like Avengers is 4 stars and something like Catwoman (which I haven’t seen) is somewhere near the bottom. Totally unnecessary, though.

    • I do quite like your methodology of rating, it’s a nice easy compromise so that you can take into account the people reading your site who are regular film fans and are interested in the quality of the film as well as the B-movie film fans who enjoy a good bad movie every once in a while.

      If I were to rate my films, I would probably rate on two scales, and those scales would be different depending on the film. Like I might rate I, Frankenstein on the “unintentional humor” scale which would be around a 4 out of 5 and the “action/adventure” scale which would be around a 2 out of 5. But then, I would rate something like Tiger and Bunny: The Rising on the “Anime” scale with maybe a 3 and on the “Originality” scale with maybe a 4.

  5. I’m right with you and do a similar thing on Letterboxd. I’ve found that if I rated films on the site, it would also occupy a lot of my time while watching it. I’d rather not focus too much on it and just use Letterboxd as a tool to keep track of my general feelings.

    • Yeah, when I rate a movie on Letterboxd I don’t put much thought into it, it’s more of a “gut feeling” rating, but if I were to rate films here I would feel like I needed to put a lot more thought into why I was rating this film a 4 vs. a 4.5.

  6. I rated movies on my site until just a couple months ago. Doing so got to be too arbitrary and needlessly stressful. Wrote my own post about it…


    • Well said. It is an interesting extra wrinkle when you then later rank the films. You either rank them strictly by your ratings, or you throw the ratings out the window and rank them on a comparative scale rather than what you thought was an objective scale. But since there’s really no such thing as an objective scale, it becomes a practice in futility, especially when you’re dealing with a scale of 10 or even 20 if you have 10 with halves. That’s one benefit of a 4 star rating scale, most of the movies will be rated exactly the same so it’s less of a question as to which one is better than the other.

  7. I stopped doing it years ago because I felt it would get too distracting and I realized that I should let the review do the talking. Roger Ebert was a major reason for that change as he stated into how flawed ratings are as he indicated in his review of The Man Who Fell to Earth where his opinion has changed from his original in his re-watch as it played into how flawed star ratings and grades are.

    • I didn’t think about it much when writing this, but it seems like film ratings are much more about marketing then they are about actually translating an artistic endeavor into a quantitative value. It’s certainly a lot easier to put “5 stars” on the box of a blu-ray or on a movie poster than it is to transcribe a 2,000 word essay on how good the movie is.

  8. I started out not rating films in my reviews but then I found myself often struggling for an ultimate conclusion and so I started rating on a five star scale including half stars. I base my reviews on a recommend/rewatchability ranking. So anything that I would rewatch would rank highly for me even if it has “issues”.

  9. Couldn’t agree with you more…. I hate rating movies on a star scale particularly I fail to understand what is the difference between a 3 star movie and 3.25 star movie… In the end all that matters is that whether it is a movie I would recommend my friend to watch it or not… Hence I use watchability as a verdict for the movies I review…

    I also use this site http://www.flixpack.com for recording my reviews on movies… It uses a very nice verdict scale instead of a abstract rating and is modeled on how friends recommend movies to one another… It is in private beta now and one can sign up by requesting an invite… If you want to stay away from star ratings I would recommend you to check this out… 🙂

    • The site sounds interesting, but I’m invested enough in Letterboxd that I don’t feel the need to try something new after adding over 1,000 movies that I can remember seeing (though not all with ratings)

  10. I totally overthink my rating scale, but I also allow myself to change grades anytime I want, so there’s that!

    • Do you actually go back into old reviews and change your grade? Or do you just mean that you are free to give the same movie a different grade sometime in the future?

  11. When I rate movies I try to base them off of what genre they are in. For example, Nightmare on Elm Street gets a 5 star rating from me because of what it does as a horror movie. It works in that genre so well that it just has to be that high a rating. I try to look at what I am watching, what the movie is competing with, and how does it stand up to its competition in the genre it belongs in.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty much how I view my ratings on Letterboxd as well. If I’m giving a comedy 5 stars, than it made 5 stars worth of laughter while I watched it, regardless of how well crafted it is.

  12. I totally understand your reasoning. Especially when it comes to movies that don’t really seem to fit into a standard rating criteria. I sometimes struggle with that. I really like our rating system because you can see exactly what makes up our score, but even with something as technical as ours, I still have trouble landing on a number sometimes. I always try to compare something within it’s genre though. I can’t be rating a popcorn flick vs. a prestigious film on the same basis, so I always try to think of the grade as being specific to the type of movie it is supposed to be. And with this complicated explanation I can totally see how you decide not to even fuss with it! 🙂

    • I’m sure having a more complicated system makes things easier at times, but also harder at other times. It’s always nice to see something different out there though.

  13. Awesome essay, Bubbawheat. I whole-heartedly agree with your reasons why. I also have let up on rating movies I review as well. I still occasionally rate one here and there but I think from now on, the review will determine if people wish to see it or not and not the rating. Incredible work on this one, Bubbawheat. So astute and insightful, man. Kudos!

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