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.

Best,
~Dennis

The 8 Rules of RPG Inventory Management, and How They Apply to Life

I’ve been playing RPGs for a long time: The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, Chrono Trigger, Pokemon, and more. All RPGs require you to manage an inventory of items, armor, weapons, and other objects to assist you in your quest.

Inventory management systems share a lot of similarities, despite a few differences. Games like Baldur’s Gate have more realistic inventories wherein your character only has a certain amount of space to put items in, whereas other games like Final Fantasy let you carry an absurd number of items with no logical explanation why.

Having played video games for 20+ years, I’ve long ago learned the language of games: how to maximize resources and exploit rules to play the game most efficiently. This knowledge, though, isn’t confined to any game: this knowledge has translated into my life. The following are 8 life lessons I’ve learned from inventory management systems.

1. Keep like-items next to each other

Final Fantasy Inventory

Inventory from Final Fantasy VII. Image courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wiki.

A sloppy inventory makes for disorganized game play. Similar items should be close to each other so that you know at a glance what you have. That means potions get grouped with potions, armor gets grouped with armor, and rings get grouped with rings.

How this applies to my life: My desk drawers, art supplies, papers, and books are all organized into like-boxes or shelves. I rarely have something where it does not belong (like a book next to my computer instead of on the shelf).

2. Stack like-items whenever possible

Stack of tupperware

Good inventory management means “stacking” items whenever possible. Instead of having 10 of the same potion taking up 10 different slots, most games will allow you to stack like-items on top of each other (see in the first image how each item stack contains 90+ units?). This keeps the inventory clean and saves space.

How this applies to my life: I live in an apartment with three other guys. These guys are constantly going home to see family, and invariably they return with food in Tupperware dishes. These dishes accumulate until the next time they go home, so understandably our cupboard contains 15 different kinds of Tupperware at any given time. For a while, the cupboard was a mess, as nothing went together. It only took 10 minutes to clean it out, organize like-Tupperware together, and discard Tupperware that had mismatched lids and bottoms.

And surprisingly, it’s stayed organized for about two months now.

3. Keep the most frequently used items easily accessible

Minecraft inventory

Some games, usually computer games, allow you to assign some of your items to “hot keys,” usually numbers 1 through 0. Even if the game contains dozens or hundreds of different items, chances are you only use a portion of those items on a regular basis. In Minecraft, for instance, I always keep my common weapons and tools in the first five slots, torches in the last slot, and then whatever blocks I need at the moment to construct my world in the remaining slots.

How this applies to my life: When I go camping or backpacking, certain items go to the top of the pack: knives, water bottles, snacks, first aid kit. When I fly, same thing: clothes and shoes go to the bottom of the carry-on, whereas the laptop, a book, pen and paper, and snacks go to the side pockets where they are easily accessible during the plane ride.

4. Sell the stuff you’ve outgrown, and throw away the worthless stuff

Butterfly in Skyward Sword

I caught another butterfly! Image courtesy of Zeldapedia.

In RPGs, not all items are relevant by the end of the game. In fact, most won’t be. Many RPGs give you weak weapons and armor early on, then you upgrade it to better stuff. At this point, it’s wisest to sell the old stuff: it’s no longer useful to you: you’ve outgrown it.

Or, in other RPGs, you’ll end up accumulating a LOT of a certain item. In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I ended up catching a ton of Blessed Butterflies compared to other bugs. When this happens, sell the excess as soon as you can. Even if this stuff isn’t taking up space in your inventory, the extra cash can help finance future purchases.

How this applies to my life: At one point, I realized I had 3 computer monitors but was only using one (the HD widescreen monitor). So I’m in the process of selling the other two: I’ve outgrown them and haven’t used them in years. Not everything is worth selling though. Sometimes worthless items in RPGs will only net 1 or 2 gold pieces, so selling them isn’t worth the time: I usually just toss this stuff. In the same way, some of my possessions aren’t worth reselling or donating: faded or torn clothes, dishes that have lost their non-stick surface, or ratty old cleaning products.

5. If you store things in a box, you’ll forget about it

Generation 1 Poke Center

That computer on the right stored all your pokemon. Image courtesy of Bulbapedia.

Some games don’t allow you to carry the world on your back. That doesn’t mean you are limited in the amount of possessions you can acquire! Some RPGs feature storage systems whereby you can leave your unused items in a box of some sort to be retrieved at a later time.

In some cases, this is great! You get to keep more possessions! But what I’ve found about these systems is that if I put something in a box, I usually forget about. I continue through the game just fine without that item. And if I’ve forgotten about it, I haven’t used it: I probably don’t even need it.

How this applies to my life: I’ve moved a lot over the past 10 years: I was moving once a year for about an 8 year stretch. Some things get put away in boxes, and when it’s time to move again, I often realize I never opened or unpacked certain boxes. Those unopened, sealed boxes are always a reminder, then, that maybe I don’t need what’s inside. Now, I do keep a lot of things for sentimental value. But sometimes things just have to go.

6. Sometimes 20 minutes of grinding will pay off in the long run

A lot of RPGs feature “grinding.” For those unfamiliar with the term, grinding, or “leveling up” involves wandering an area to fight the same monsters over and over again, usually to get more experience points, gold, or items. Some gamers bemoan grinding and think it’s just superficial “busy work” designed to artificially lengthen the time it takes to complete a game. Maybe so. But grinding doesn’t have to be conducted in four-hour chunks. Sometimes even 20 minutes of grinding is enough to find more items or gain enough gold to buy something you need. And when you break it into small chunks, grinding doesn’t seem like a chore at all.

How this applies to my life: I’ve had a lot of part-time jobs over the years. Sometimes opportunities arise where I can work extra hours. I don’t like working extra hours, but taking advantage of those opportunities when they arose went a long way in strengthening my pocketbook. Putting in extra hours, then, is the real-life equivalent of grinding. The short-term sacrifice of an evening or weekend does pay off in the long run.

7. When you enter a new town, stock up on essentials

Final Fantasy VI town

Town from Final Fantasy VI, Nikeah. Image courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wiki.

Some items are frequently expended in RPGs, usually healing items and ammunition (arrows, bolts, rocks). Every RPG player knows that when you enter a new town that before you blow all your money on a shiny new sword, it’s wise to first stock up on those essential items. Whenever I reach new towns, I stock up on essential items because I never know when I’m going to be crawling an endless dungeon that has few item drops.

How this applies to my life: Buying in bulk is usually regarded as wise because it’s cost effective. Whether it’s groceries, toilet paper, or other essentials, buying larger quantities usually results in a cheaper per-unit cost. It’s hard to buy in bulk when you’re young,: you don’t have a lot of money to think in the long-term, or you don’t have space in a tiny apartment to store mountains of products. Whenever possible, though, I try to buy larger quantities of the stuff I need when I go to the grocery store or Walmart. I know I’ll use the stuff eventually.

8. Never spend all your money at once

As I’ve discussed throughout this post, items in RPGs aren’t always useful: you outgrown them, you find something better, or maybe they just don’t work with your character class. In this case, items are better sold off so you can buy something you really need.

I’ve learned in RPGs, though, that it’s not usually wise to spend all your money at once. What if your party gets severely attacked and you need more healing items than you anticipated? If you don’t have the money to buy them, sometimes you come up with creative ways of surviving until you have the necessary funds to purchase what you need. It can be done, but it isn’t always enjoyable.

How this applies to life: Easy: you never know when you’ll have unexpected expenses: medical, car-related, electronic. Saving money is real-life is crucial if you want to have something to rely on when those unanticipated expenses come up. Getting the items you want in real-life is contingent upon having the necessary funds to do so.

For those of you who are RPG fans, have inventory systems taught you something else? If you have anything to add to this list, leave a comment below!

Game on,
~Dennis