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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

My Review Guidelines

Since I plan on doing some more media reviews soon, I thought I’d re-think my rating system and post it not just for public reference, but also my own.

Letter Ranks

Every movie immediately gets a C grade by default, before I even get a chance to watch it. This is average quality. After I watch it, I’ll bump the grade up to B if I want to watch it again and would recommend it to others. This doesn’t mean a C-quality movie isn’t worth watching, it’s just nothing special. Popcorn entertainment, as they say.

If I think the movie is a “must-see” and it affected me deeply, it gets an A. I will probably be watching it more than just twice. If it’s poor quality and I wish I hadn’t wasted my time, it gets a D. To get an F, a movie has to be more than bad, it has to be reprehensible, spreading harm or lies.

Because I rarely have much money and have to be pretty frugal, especially when it comes to movies, I sometimes think of this in monetary terms.

  • Worth at least half-price: C
  • Worth paying to see a second time: B
  • Worth owning: A
  • Wish I hadn’t wasted my money: D or F

Almost any C or D-grade movie might still be worth watching for other reasons, like researching the history of a topic or just really liking an actor. This might even be reason enough to watch an F-grade movie, but you’re going to have to really, really want to see the complete works of Alan Smithee… or have a comedy commentary by RiffTrax, Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Mads, or someone else.


A through D are base ratings. But sometimes, part of a movie will be better or worse than the rest. Basically, if one fourth of a movie would get a different letter grade if it were on its own, the grade goes up a bit (+) or down a bit (-). I also give a +/- for a scene that really stands out (two letter grades better or worse.) I don’t double-dip, though; three great scenes in an average movies is not a C+++, just a C+.

F movies, of course, are just flat Fs. A high-quality movie that spews racist insults doesn’t get a pass.

Highs and Lows

Movies are rarely the same throughout. An otherwise engaging movie may get tedious and drag in the middle, or a so-so movie might pick up in the final act. This figures into the +/- modifier, of course, but it might be helpful if I add a note of where the high or low points are.

TV Series

When I rate a TV series or an entire season of a series, I don’t rate every single episode. Instead, I keep a crude count of what percentage of episodes are average, above average, or below average. Whichever one has the largest percentage becomes the rating for the season or series.

Any TV series will have a few better than normal episodes and a few worse than normal episodes. If there are a significant number of either, the rating gets a + or -. The series also gets a - if there’s any F episodes (unless, of course, the series as a whole is mostly F episodes. I don’t recall ever seeing a series like that, and hope I never see one.)

Final Caveats

Average does not mean “bad”. It just means no strong preference either way.

Ratings are partly subjective. That’s unavoidable. Still, I try to be honest about personal taste and say things like “I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s a well-made movie” rather than just mark something down because I don’t like punchy movies or whatever.

I try not to be subjective about the +/- modifiers. I mark movies down if they get tedious, confusing, lose focus, or give me no reason to care about the main characters or what’s going on, as well as obvious objective things like bad audio or color. I mark movies up if there’s a scene or speech I still think about days after watching them.

And again, there’s always individual reasons why you may like a movie even if it has flaws, or why you might want to watch a movie even if you don’t like it (or for that matter, why you might not want to watch a movie even if it’s good.)

Creative Commons license

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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0

(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

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