I’ve been using a 4-star rating system for my watchlist for a while now, but I’ve had a consistent problem: most of the time, I end up rating something 2/4 because I think it’s fine.
Currently, my system is:
- ★ = didn’t like
- ★★ = pretty okay
- ★★★ = liked
- ★★★★ = favourite
‘Pretty okay’ is how I end up feeling about most things I watch, but after using this system for a while I think there’s more range in this feeling.
I initially used a 4-star system because I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, and I thought the fewer the tiers, the easier it would be to rate something. And I did end up using 2/4 for most things, saving me the trouble of picking apart what’s okay versus what’s pretty okay. I would have to think a bit harder with a 5-star system. But after rating so many movies, I think that’s worth the trouble.
The New System
A 5-star system would be:
- ★ = didn’t like; do not recommend
- ★★ = was okay → on the negative side
- ★★★ = was pretty okay → on the positive side
- ★★★★ = liked it; it was good; would watch again
- ★★★★★ = loved; favourite; etc.; have strong feelings about.
Some feelings I think I can capture more accurately:
- I didn’t like the entire work, but I didn’t hate it (2 stars)
- I didn’t like the entire work, but I did enjoy some elements of it (2–3 stars)
- I liked it I guess, but I wouldn’t necessarily watch it again (3 stars)
So for example:
I originally rated The Batman as 2/4 stars, and my review was:
I enjoyed the plot and characters, but like everyone else, I felt this was too long. I wish we saw more Bruce.
Now, I think it’s more of a 3/5 movie, where I liked some parts but not others, but it was a worthwhile watch. I didn’t actively like it and probably wouldn’t watch it again, so it’s not 4/5. But it had qualities that I enjoyed, like the cinematography and the characters.
Most likely, all my 2/4 ratings will be revisited as either 2/5 or 3/5. Remaining unchanged will be 3/4 (→ 4/5) and 4/4 (→ 5/5).
So, to illustrate an example for each tier:
- ★ = Men In Black International – unenjoyment
- ★★ = Charlie’s Angels (2019) – whatever, not super great; some things about it were okay; not recommended
- ★★★ = Back to the Future – was fun, worth watching; but not a movie I feel strongly about.
- ★★★★ = Dune – enjoyed it, would recommend, would rewatch, would read the book. Not a love, but maybe upon rewatches it could be.
- ★★★★★ = Pacific Rim – love; rewatch a lot; have strong emotions about. Really excited when someone else likes it.
Quantifying abstract feelings is hard, like how I think of something as ‘okay’ (2/5) versus ‘pretty okay’ (3/5). I guess I don’t have to rate the things I watch—and indeed, I’m not rating books yet, because it’s hard. Numbers don’t capture the whole picture.
For example, the movie Hackers is one of those So Bad It’s Good movies; how do I rate that? A number can’t convey the depth of its ridiculousness. If I give it a 1/5, it looks like a Bad Movie despite my enjoyment; if I give it a 3/5 it looks like a Decent, Good Movie.
I guess the problem is also in how ratings shouldn’t be the only thing observed when it comes to rating movies. Because, again, it’s quantifying something that contains multitudes. So the visual design of how I present this shouldn’t emphasize ratings over the review, or display the rating without the review. Though with that said, most of the time, it’s not that deep.
- Goodreads uses a 5-star system, and has no intention of adding half-stars due to complexity.
- Letterboxd uses 5-stars, with half-stars; it also has a favourite designation. What is a 5-star movie but not a favourite movie? I suppose 5-star can denote quality but not necessarily something you consider a personal favourite. I’m not sure if I have any movies that would fall under this category at the moment.