A Common Sense 5-point Movie Rating System

Media products can be rated a thousand different ways. Every entertainment outlet has their own system, but most are some form of 5-point system, letter grades, or percentages out of 100.

Assigning a number to a media product is all well and good: everything can be numerated in some way. However, many rating systems are quite opaque as far as what these numbers mean. On some level, they reduce art to a single number that, if you think too hard about, is near meaningless.

A few years ago I created my own 5-point rating system for movies and television shows, and whenever I finish watching something, I can easily fit the product into a system that makes sense to me.

I thought I’d share it because maybe you, too, will find it helpful.

The 5-point system

The system goes from 0-5 in 0.5 increments, resulting in 11 steps. There’s also a 12th step, number 6, which is used in one special case. Let me list the ratings, plus a brief descriptor, before explaining what the steps mean.

0: Unrated

0.5: Dangerous Content

1.0: Offensive Content

1.5: Bad Plot, Bad Production

2: Bad Plot, Decent Production

2.5: Catch on TV

3: Watch Once

3.5: Watch a Second Time with a Friend

4: Own

4.5: Near Perfect

5: Live Your Life By

6: Watch for the Rest of Your Life

2.5, 3, and 3.5 Ratings

Let’s start at the middle of the scale, work our way up, then work our way down.

Movies and shows with a rating of 3 are only worth watching one time. These might be shows you watch because you want to see what the hype is all about, or you are somewhat interested in the premise. I would put a lot of superhero movies in this category: The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Once I’ve seen these movies, I really have no desire to see them again. They provide a couple hours of entertainment but don’t stick with me.

Shows rated 3.5 are those that you’d watch a second time, primarily with another person. For example, I’ve seen most of the Twilight movies (I also read all the books). They aren’t great movies, by any means. They were worth watching once. However, if I had a friend who really wanted to see them, or was really passionate about them, I could stomach watching them a second time.

Watching them with somebody is the crucial distinction between 3 and 3.5. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see 3.5 movies again: they essentially function as 3 movies. But I would watch them again with somebody, not because I care about the movie or show all that much, but because I care about the friend and would want to participate in something that makes them happy.

2.5 movies and shows are those that you’d watch if you were flipping through the TV and happened to catch a rebroadcast of them. Maybe you’re home sick, or you’re in the hospital, or you have half an hour to kill at the hotel before meeting up with friends. These are movies or shows that you watch here and there, but don’t actively seek them out.

For example, I’ve watched a fair amount of Teen Titans Go on Cartoon Network over the years. The show has its funny moments, but I’m not drawn into the concept enough to actually seek out broadcasts of new episodes, and it’s certainly not a show I would buy.

A lot of action movies work best as 2.5 movies. Do you have any movies in your life that you’ve seen bits and pieces of on cable over the years, but you’ve never actually seen the beginning? A lot of 80s action movies fit this categorization for me.

4, 4.5, and 5 Ratings

Movies and shows with a rating of 4 are worth owning. You buy the DVDs or Blu-Rays, and you watch them over and over. They are shows that you’d like to see again whether by yourself or with another person.

Shows rated 5 are those that you live your life by. In other words, these are shows that inspire you, that change who you are on the inside. They are the shows that fill your head at night, the shows with universes you want to live in.

When it comes to anime, I own a lot of 5 rated shows: Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Legend of Korra, ThunderCats (2011), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), and so on. For movies, the series that have changed me are Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and the Matrix. I’ve very picky with what shows and movies I watch because ideally I only want to watch shows that I’d rate 5.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. That’s what the 4.5 rating is for. 4.5 shows are nearly perfect, you own them and rewatch them, and there are parts that influence your life. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (yes, even the third one!) fit this category for me, as do the Bourne movies. I can’t say these series are perfect, as they have some flaws, but these movies still inspire me.

0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, and 2 Ratings

So far, we’ve covered ratings for great movies and shows (4-5) and ratings for shows that are okay and watchable (2.5-3.5). The bottom 4 ratings (forgoing 0) are reserved for Bad shows.

A movie or show with a rating of 2 is one that you finish (or not) and have nothing really good to say about it. Generally these movies fail because of plot and lack of impact or emotional stakes. However, these movies are not necessarily technically bad.

For example, I rate the G.I.Joe reboot movies, and the Michael Bay Transformers movies, 2. They just aren’t good movies. Dull, forgettable, uninspired, insipid. They were, however, made competently: and lots of money went into the special effects. But all of those special effects can’t change the fact that the cores of these movies are forgettable.

1.5 movies and shows feature both bad plots and bad production. These are the kinds of movies that are painful to watch because there really is no redeeming quality to them. These are the type of shows that some people call “so bad they’re good,” or they are the kind of shows that people “hate-watch.” Frankly, I can’t stomach movies that are “so bad they’re good.” I understand the entertainment value only in a theoretical sense: actually trying to watch these movies is a mental chore that I cannot complete.

Movies and shows with a 1 rating are those that are worse than bad: they are offensive. Now, I’m not talking about movies with the occasional off-color joke, or a sitcom that uses racial humor a bit too much. An infrequent lapse of editorial judgment and discretion might knock a 3.5 movie down to a 3 or even 2.5 rating, but isn’t enough to doom a movie.

Rather, I’m talking about those movies and shows that are offensive throughout. The premise is offensive, and the movie or show makes you angry when you watch it. You could be offended for a variety of reasons: take your pick.

I have seen very few 1 rating shows over the years: these are the kind of shows I actively avoid. But sometimes I see one. I’m thinking of a movie like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version). While many people believed that movie had something to say about violence against women, to me, the movie reveled in torture porn. All it did was point out that women experience sexual violence: no big headline there. The camera lingered on the violence for entertainment reasons, not for story reasons. And the turn in Lisbeth Salander to ruthless revenge wasn’t redeeming or cathartic; it was sad and misguided.

0.5 movies and shows, then, are those that go a bit beyond on the offensiveness scale. These are shows that are actually dangerous for people to watch because their messages are so toxic and vile that it makes you wonder why these shows got made in the first place. Not that everybody who sees such entertainment is going to turn into a deranged person. Rather, these are the kinds of shows that don’t do anything to better the lives of people who see them.

I’ve saved the 0 rating till now because it’s not really a rating: for me, 0 is equivalent to a non-rating. Shows that get 0 ratings are things like documentaries and the nightly news. It doesn’t make sense to rate them because you watch them for reasons other than entertainment.

The 6 Rating

I have one last rating, the 6. Originally when I created the 5 rating, I realized that I rate many shows and movies as 5: there’s just too much good stuff that’s inspired my life! However, if I had to select the cream of the crop, the absolute most influential show or movie, then I rate it a 6. There’s no 5.5: there’s a whole point difference between 5 and 6 to emphasize that a show rated a 6 is substantially better than anything rated 5.

I rate Avatar: The Last Airbender a 6. I fell in love with this show when I first saw it in 2009 and I’ve loved it ever since. If I could only watch one show or movie for the rest of my life, this would be it. This show is beyond perfect: it’s transcendent.

If you have a 6-rated show or movie, please share it with me! The 6 spot shouldn’t change frequently. 6-rated shows are those that are influential not only because of the plot, message, and so on, but it’s influential because of where you were at in your life when you first encountered the work. Many people have shows that they encountered at just the right time in their lives, shows that changed their destiny.

Avatar is that show for me.

That’s my rating system! It makes sense to me, and if it makes sense to you, all the better.


Everything I Read, Watched, or Played to Completion in 2013

A few years ago I started keeping track of my media consumption. I’m not sure why, but considering I research mass media, it only seemed natural that I should look upon my own media consumption habits.

How I keep track of my media has fluctuated over the years, but currently, I track every non-fiction and fiction book I read to completion, every graphic novel and comic book I read, every television season I finish, every movie I watch, and every video game I complete.

The list, though, is not perfect. I don’t keep track of television that I just watch here and there; only series that I intentionally watch from start to finish. So even though my list doesn’t include The Big Bang Theory, for instance, I doubtlessly watched many seasons this year on rerun.

I keep track of every video game I play from start to finish, but some games are never finished (and some can’t be finished, like Minecraft). I also don’t keep track of the time I spend watching other people play games, like my roommates.

While I keep track of the graphic novels and individual comic books I read, I don’t keep track of the web comics I read regularly (like Penny Arcade, the Trenches, and Camp Weedontwantcha).

And let’s not even get started on calculating how much time I spend on the computer and the Internet, whether for work, school, or pleasure.

The Completion List of 2013

  • Nonfiction books: 13
  • Textbooks: 2
  • Graphic Novels: 3
  • Comic Books: 6
  • Video Games: 29
  • TV Seasons: 24
  • Movies: 42
  • Total Media: 119

Interestingly, I completed no fiction books last year. In previous years, I read a lot more fiction AND non-fiction (in 2012 I read 7 fiction and 37 non-fiction; in 2011 I read 14 fiction and 29 non-fiction).

The six individual comic books comes from Free Comic Book Day.

I really stepped up my game playing this year. I replayed a lot of classic games, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Donkey Kong 64, Star Fox 64, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Donkey Kong Country.

Last year I only completed 12 video games.

The Best and Worst of 2013

When it comes to television, I find a few shows that work and stick with them. I watched four seasons of X-Files, which I’ve never seen before. It’s a pretty good show, though a little long at times (I’m not even halfway through yet).

Avatar: The Last Airbender is easily my favorite show ever: I watched that series twice in 2013 (I’ve probably watched it 6 times total). I also watched the sequel, the Legend of Korra, seasons 1 and 2.

Cowboy Bebop is also on perpetual rotation; I usually watch it every summer at least, though I’m itching to watch it again. Bebop used to be my favorite show until Airbender topped it.

Notable video games include: Ocarina of Time, Tomb Raider (2013), The Walking Dead, Final Fantasy XIII (third playthrough), Portal 1 and 2, and Kingdom Hearts II.

I usually don’t play bad video games, but there were some games I never finished. Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64 is one. I liked it as a kid but never completed it (I always got stuck on one particular boss toward the end). I tried playing it again, thinking I could finish it as an adult. I got halfway through and just got bored.

I’m a huge Final Fantasy fan and decided to replay FFXII for the PS2. I remember thinking the game was decent when it came out, and enough time had passed that I forgot the details of the story. I got about 20 hours into that game before calling it quiets. The story, cutscenes, dialogue, and characters are just so bad that I couldn’t stand it (and I’m not talking about the graphics, either; aged graphics from the PS2 era don’t bother me the way they bother some people).

Now that I think of it, I tried replaying Final Fantasy X-2 last summer but only got about 10 hours in.

When it comes to movies, it seems like I mostly watched bad movies or so-so movies last year. Movies I could do without seeing again: Star Trek: Generations, Watchmen, Quantum of Solace, Django Unchained, Jackie Brown, Fargo, Hellraiser, Hot Rod, and The Sword in the Stone.


I’m not sure what I accomplish by keeping track of my media consumption. Like I said in the beginning, the list isn’t perfect and leaves out a lot. And I have no idea how my consumption relates to others’ consumption. Watching 42 movies in the year seems like a lot, but that’s less than one a week. Watching 24 television seasons also seems like a lot, but then again, shows count seasons differently: they can range anywhere from 6-26 episodes depending on the show (and most of the shows I watch are half hour in nature, not an hour like live-action dramas).

I just find it interesting to keep track of this stuff. Looking over this list, I don’t have any goals or “improvements” to make in 2014, except maybe watch fewer bad movies.