Rating movies

Posted by T on August 15, 2006
In general, Movies

Obviously, there are many systems out there for rating movies. We may catalog the systems like this:

  1. Binary. This is a two-value rating: yea or nay. An example is the the “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” method popularized by Siskel and Ebert.
  2. Graded. This method introduces shades of gray by the strength of the number given. There is the 1-to-5 star method used by Netflix, and the 0-10 number used by IMdB. And so forth.
  3. Categorized. This builds on the “graded” approach, but awards separate gradations to each of several categories, such as moral content, action intensity, or profanity. Often Christian periodicals use this type of rating, e.g. World, Human Events.

The problem with the first (binary) system is not so much the subjectivity of the rater. That is a given anyhow. No, the problem is that it makes no distinction between “this is a movie that could be enjoyed once, especially if nothing else is available” and “this is a movie to be seen yesterday it’s so good.”

Hence the move to the graded system. However, there are two problems with most graded sytems. The first is accidental yet pervasive: it is usually based on the “vote” of many people whom you don’t know and (frankly) whose opinions you don’t necessarily care about. This is especially unuseful for those whose tastes do not generally move with the herd.

But even where the graded number is given by someone you have come to trust, or tend to agree with, or whatever, a distinction is missing between quality simpliciter and quality that nourishes. A movie might warrant a “3” according to one criterion, or a “5” on another one. A system using emoto-words like “liked it,” “loved it” still falls short: a movie that I loved watching might still be in the “once was enough” category, while one I merely “like” might be worth seeing several times.

The problem with the multi-category system is simply that it is too complicated, and moreover, the number given in each category is liable to the same criticisms given for the simple graded system.

The Lifetime Index (Lx)

Hence my system. The definition of the Lifetime Index is this: the number of times I would think it worthwhile to view the movie in a lifetime.

Sometimes, you are sorry you saw the movie even once. It gets a Lifetime Index of 0.

Many times, you are happy you saw a movie, but now you’ve seen it, and that will do. It gets a 1.

Other times, you know you will want to see it again. I submit that often, you even intuit how many times will probably be right in a lifetime. That number is the Lifetime index. A great movie might get a 10, 20 or even 30.

The Decade Index (Dx)

Someone observed that there is an ambiguity in the Lifetime Index for high-index movies, namely, the number would increase with increasing projected life span. There are some movies so great that one could imagine still watching over and over at the age of 1,000. What number to use then?

This led to a corollary to the insight, which kicks in for certain ultra movies. The Decade index is the number of times you would expect to see a movie every decade, ad infinitum (d.v.).

A movie like Godfather, for example, one might expect to see, say, twice a year into the indefinite future. It gets a Dx of 20. On the other hand, maybe Sound of Music, great as it is, would be exhausted after the 25th viewing, no matter when or how. It would get an Lx of 25.

Obviously, most movies only qualify for an Lx. There might be 10 or 20 ever made that will qualify for a Dx.

The Dx is necessary for those 10 or 20, however, since the Lx would be infinite unless one made an arbitrary assumption of life-span.

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