A new movie rating scheme

Most newspapers rate movies on the star system. Four to five stars are printed, and from none to all of them are colored in. Supposedly, the more stars colored, the better the movie.

The star ratings are usually accompanied by deeply informative words like “Tour de force”, “Non-stop thrill ride”, “Laugh-out-loud funny!”, “Oscar worthy”, “Deeply moving”, and so forth.

These ratings have some value to us civilians, but because of their predictable nature, they are not that useful to movie studios.

What we would like is a rating system created by us civilians that studio executives could use to predict how much money a movie will make, and will let them make better guesses of when to pull a stinker off the shelf, or to let a surprise gem flourish longer.

Here is that system.

To the nearest dollar, we announce how much we would pay to see a movie.

Positive numbers mean we open our wallets, negative numbers mean we have to be paid.

For example, for me anything that stars the egomaniac midget Scientologist Tom Cruise or “Laugh-out-loud funny!” Adam Sandler starts at $0, and usually goes down from there.

I haven’t seen Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise as-a-good-little-Nazi drama. But I estimate it would cost somebody $15 for me to watch it. Thus, my rating is -15.

To be clear: a movie studio would have to pay me to sit through two hours of the preening Cruise, so I could try and guess how high his lifts are. Now I think of it, make my rating -25.

Star Trek is rebooting. I’ve seen the trailers and fan sites, and admit my geekhood. My rating is 12. I would not pay more than 12 bucks to go and see.

They’ve remade The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and from the posters alone, I rate this as 0. That is, if it was free, I’d probably sit through it.

Mutant Chronicles pulls me in both directions:

In the year 2707, war rages between earth’s four giant corporations as they battle over the planet’s dwindling resources. In an era marked by warfare and social regression, the earth is on the verge of ruin, destruction is everywhere; battles explode on every ravaged continent. Amidst heavy combat, an errant shell shatters an ancient buried seal releasing a horrific mutant army from its eternal prison deep within the earth.

Oh my. Evil corporations. Social regression. Hollywood never explored those angles before. On the other hand, a “horrific mutant army“! You just cannot go wrong with a mutant army of any kind, especially a horrific one. So my rating is 5.

Cheery Blossoms, “The story of Trudi and Rudi, a long-married couple who travel to the German countryside to visit their children only to realize that they’re emotionally distant and unavailable.” gets a solid -50. Yes, even lower than Tom Cruise (at least some Nazis get Schwarzeneggered in that movie).

I was all set to give Inglorious Bastards, directed by Quentin Tarantino, a good 8, just for the name. But then I saw, “Starring Brad Pitt.” Back to 0. Too damn many pretty boy male actors these days.

Fanboys about a “group of young, passionate STAR WARS fans on a cross-country quest to break into George Lucas Skywalker Ranch and watch STAR WARS: EPISODE 1- THE PHANTOM MENACE, before its released” wins the 8.

Anything involving crazed, emotionally stricken ex-soldiers starts at -100 and goes down fast. If it stars the smug George Clooney or the traitorous Jane Fonda, I add an extra -400.

Naturally, these ratings can be indexed to inflation so they can be compared year to year.

Just one rating is not much help to a studio, but many would be. Executives could take the distribution of those ratings and easily use them in deciding how many theaters to show the movie in, or how much more or less advertising dollars to spend, and so on.

It takes a little practice to get good at making these ratings. You have to really picture yourself going to the theater, sitting in a darkened room and watching, for the full two point five hours, Everlasting Moments, which is “[b]ased on a true story [and] follows the story of Maria (Maria Heiskanen), who is married to an alcoholic and womanizing dockworker (Mikael Persbrandt). Her husband leaves the worries of family responsibilities entirely to Maria.”

Once the full horror of the experience impresses itself on your mind, you can easily see that the rating would be -60.

Same thing for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I can easily see myself jumping up and down on the chair as Wolverine slices off body parts of the bad guy. A solid 10.

The new ratings can also be used to price DVDs. My top rating is 15, because I wouldn’t spend more than 15 bucks to see any movie. For me, DVDs should begin around that mark. Again, the distribution of ratings would be used to set the price.

The negative aspect does what the star system could never do, because all movies that got 0 stars appeared to be the same, which they clearly are not. Same for those that got all four or five stars: there are still differences in these movies. The dollar rating systems neatly captures these.

While you are pondering these magnificent benefits, I’ll be deciding a price for Public Enemies, where the “Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.”


  1. Luis Dias

    I’m also waiting eagerly for the Star Trek reboot. I haven’t seen one since I got cheated by Generations. It’s been a good time ago.

  2. Noblesse Oblige

    Grand Turino +15 easily. One could break even by sitting through valkyrie and then paying to see Grand Turino.

  3. Kevin B

    To add to your list of instant negatives, conspiracies by government agencies deserve an immediate -20. They’ve been round every agency the government has – and quite a few that don’t exist – at least twelve times each and they’re getting less believable and less engaging every time.

    Then there’s ‘crusading journalist’. Unless it’s a comedy, and by that I mean a deliberate comedy.

    When reading a review, phrases like ‘understated’, ‘bleak urban drama’ and ‘life-affirming’ tend to subtract quite a few bucks from my rating, and ‘nominated for x number of Oscars’, means it better pay my grocery bill for a month.

  4. ‘I like your system. Now if it could only be applied to TV shows.

    I’m thinking “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is a 4 when it includes “Headlines”, and a solid 2 otherwise – unless Russell Brand visits. Then it drops to a -25. But Leno’s soon-to-be-installed replacement, “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” will start out at -10 and most likely drop to Brandish ratings territory depending on guests, etc.

  5. Les Johnson

    I like the rating system. But its a bit open ended. You’ve closed it off at the high end, at plus 15.

    I would suggest a lower limit. Perhaps -200?

    And its not to pay me 200 to see it, but to pay 100 each, to two large gentlemen to force me in; and to keep my eyes open; and to prevent my escape and/or self destruction.

    I nominate “Swept Away”, by Mr Madonna.

  6. Joy

    Sir William of geekdom,
    Bad idea, very bad. Just think, you might be an outlyer and no one else might agree with you then you’ll never get to watch the kind of films you like because they’ll only make ubiquitous ones. Then you’ll be FORCED to watch films with French and German subtitles! Or maybe English ones, like star wars over and over.
    Bradders and me share a hairdresser, he used to be my favourite but he’s blown it with his recent dallience. Little did he know when he used to frequent the Walthamstow dog track just how close he came to my neck of the woods.

  7. Alan D. McIntire

    You’d better factor inflation into your system. With baby boomers retiring and government “stimulus” spending, I weouldn’t be surprised if we hit those late ’70s double digit rates. A few years of that, and getting paid $15.00 wouldn’t be near enough to make one watch some of those below 0 movies.

  8. all movies that got 0 stars appeared to be the same, which they clearly are not

    In support of your claim, consider that The Omega Code and Battlefield Earth are both infinitely bad, and so there is no sense in which one is worse than the other. Nonetheless, there are substantial differences. The Omega Code is amateurish, stupid, and boring, and yet the ending is still disappointing. On the other hand, Battlefield Earth maintains a consistent level of crappiness throughout. Stars can’t capture these facts.

  9. stan

    Negative bonus for any movie which majors in angst. If the description includes phrases such as “relationship”, “search for meaning” (actually “search” for just about anything that isn’t his kidnapped kid or treasure), or any term which appears in a psychology text, we’re talking ‘pay me or trade me’.

  10. bbeeman

    After reading your post I was prepared to pay up to $10 to see Scumbag Millionaire. My wife informed me I needed new glasses, and the title really is Slumdog Millionaire.

    I Googled the real title, and the final sentence in the description reads, “At the heart of its storytelling lies the question of how anyone comes to know the things they know about life and love.”

    Now, I am not sure what to pay, or ask, to see this movie.

  11. Greg Cavanagh

    When I make a purchace I instinctivly add into the purchase the cost to travel to the shops and the time I spend traveling, there and back. So a movie theatre is 25 minutes away, and costs $10 in feul. I’m behind the 8 ball to start with, so a movie must rate a 10 or greater for me to even leave the house.
    I like the idea though.

  12. Joe Triscari

    Directed by:

    Joel Cohen : + 3
    Martin Scorsese : + 1
    Steven Spielberg : (My Age – 30)/10
    Oliver Stone : -10
    Michael Moore : Deferring to Les’s good idea, let’s say -200 but I don’t think I’d accept that amount to sit through a Moore excrescence.

  13. Joe Triscari

    BAH. Spielberg should be (30 – my age)/10

  14. Ari

    I submit that:


    You missed out on First Contact, and are therefore cheating yourself.


    Some bad movies are so bad that there’s almost a perverse incentive to see it. If only by getting it out of the bargain bin at Wal*Mart.


    Agree to disagree.


    $10??? 25 minutes? Do you live in Nome, and drive a Hummer H2 with a turbo charger?

    I mean, I’m joking… okay, no, really… 😛


    Depends. There are two types of Spielberg movies: 1. Movies he does well; and 2. Movies he doesn’t do well. Movies he does well include: movies with giant rampaging beasts of some sort (sharks, dinosaurs, Nazis, zombie Nazis [I can dream]). Movies he does NOT do well include: remakes, 4th sequels to series not needing one, usually anything without Tom Hanks.

    I propose that you somehow factor this in. If not, that’s fine. Sometimes we’re better off missing good movies to save ourselves from watching Indian Jones battle aliens.


  15. JH

    The new Star Trek movie in May! My teenage daughter #2 loves it already because of the new, young and cute (her opinion, not mine) crew. The large-size movie screen and the sound system give a great experience of being immersed into the movie action. True Star Trek fans just don’t wait until it comes out on DVD in renta or retail store.

    Ari, I bet Aliens beat Indian Jones. I think Wolverine would beat Batman, Superman, Iron man, Hulk, and Spiderman in a fight.

  16. Rich

    I suggest:

    { R(0) > 0, R(n) = R(0)^0.7
    R(n) = {
    { R(0) < 0, R(n) = R(0)^1.4

    where R(0) is the rating of the original and R(n) is the rating of the n’th sequel.

  17. Rich

    Oh dear. Line up the braces.

  18. Steve

    For somewhat statistical reasons, to maximize revenue, almost all movies are aimed at the mentally subnormal, I suggest around IQ90. My limited viewings have verified this. Therefore, with very few exceptions, my charge would be about -$50 per hour. Anything with a leading cast member under 16 would be -$100, double, no treble if American. Anything by that mindless moron michael moore would be about -$10^6.

  19. Joy

    “Mikael persbrandt”
    read by speech software,
    Mickle perspirant…excellent name for a docker. This speech software HAS to go, it leads me astray.

  20. Luis Dias

    You missed out on First Contact, and are therefore cheating yourself.

    No I didn’t. I didn’t got to see it in theaters, but I did see it on TV. Didn’t impress me one bit, I actually hated it (and yes, I know, this is Trek’s blasphemy). There were some dramatic scenes, but never got me breaking that barrier of suspended disbelief.

    I can go on on the problems of it. The beggining of the movie is ridiculous (the delay of the Enterprise, so that the Borg can kick the hell out of the fleet, then E arrives and just finishes the battle in ten seconds), the canon-wink wink throughout the story (with the smug faces of Riker and La Forge) is irritating, Picard repeating the Kirk’s line about the non-existence of money but doing it 1000 times worse (sounding like the borg actually), the idiotic story line of the borg queen (wtf?! Has there ever been created such a useless character?!?) and data, etc.,etc. Don’t tease me on it.

    I think the problem on TNG movies are, one the crappy writers, two the crappy actors, who never got to have the same chemistry that Bones, Spock and Jim just had naturally. Never even saw 9th nor 10th, but if “FC” is a “good” picture and these are “bad”, that’s enough measure for me :).

  21. Luis Dias

    Sorry for not closing that bracket!!

  22. bbeeman, you could probably look at it this way.

    The price of airfare from the US and a week’s stay in Mumbai in a fine hotel is probably around $2600 plus, per each person. Once you spend $8 to see Scumbag Millionaire [like your title better] you’ve seen enough of Mumbai to know you want to cancel your travel reservation. So you’ve saved at least $2592, minus whatever you drop during the equivalent period in Vegas or Atlantic City.

    At that rate you probably need to watch a few more movies. Think of the long-term savings you might then invest.

  23. Greg Cavanagh

    Ari: 25minutes one way, $10 round trip, choice of old Pontiacs both very thirsty.

  24. Robin Gleaves

    Talking of rating systems, has anyone noticed a possible glitch with the Apple iPhone App ratings (I’ve not looked at music etc).

    The headline results for one application showed just two stars despite having only one 4 star review. I thought they might have a bogus total review count with an additional element with a zero star rating, but now I’m not so sure.

    I then found one app with two reviews both of 4 stars which again displayed a total average rating of 2 stars.

    I’m a newbie to the iPhone and was wondering why the reviews even for free apps were so harsh and low, when I noticed this.

    I’m wondering if there’s a simple calculation error in the averaging or even if they don’t display all of the reviews (despite individual apps showing between zero and many, many reviews)

    Not being a statistician I immediately thought to bring it to your attention since your blog is fascinating. This is a job for sigma man!

    Hope this is of interest to you and not too far off topic.

  25. TCO

    1. Really cool rating system. Kudos.

    2. What do you think of Steve Sailor and his reviews?

  26. Joy

    Steven Fry on film/art criticism, beauty and language and libraries, if you can bear to watch all three parts. The poor man possessed by a dolphin is funny in part two)
    Seems this language of criticism is a worldwide problem. Someone should be put in place to criticise the critics.

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