The Great Star Shift

Exclusive to, December 15, 2019

There’s a fault in our stars. Specifically, there’s something very wrong with those star ratings we use to rate motion pictures. Dozens of systems exist, and few people seem to care about the inconsistencies. Letter-grade scales, 0-5 scales, 0-4 scales, scales with half-stars, scales with quarter-stars, scales with decimal points: Whichever scale you prefer, it’s a mess. And that’s not even taking into account personally different interpretations of what “good,” “very good” and “great” truly mean.

I could expound endlessly on this topic, and I plan to in the future. (So, my fellow critics, don’t you dare steal that “fault in our stars” lead, like I stole it from Shakespeare.) But, for now, I realize I have a small problem with my own star-rating scale. It disagrees slightly with the Rotten Tomatoes standard (and most of my fellow critics’ scales) in that I’ve always considered my 2 ½ (out of 5) rating a slight thumbs-up. In contrast, RT considers it a thumbs-down. In fact, they consider anything below 60 percent (3 stars on a 0-5 scale and 2 ½ on a 0-4 scale) negative. So I’ve revised my own scale accordingly. From now on, 2 ½ will be designated as “average” but will officially be a “non-recommend” rating.

This is not as simple as it sounds. Though my “great star shift” won’t be quite as impactful as the “great vowel shift” of late Middle English and early Modern English, it’s just as significant for me personally. It means I had to bump all my 2 ½-star films up to 2 ¾ stars, which is now the lowest rating for a thumbs-up. (That 2 ¾-star rating will be rounded up to 3 on normal scales, which don’t use quarter-stars. So, for RT, one should consider those the same as 3 stars.) Then, tediously, most of the 2 ¾-star films were bumped to a full 3, 3-star films got bumped up to 3 ¼, and so on and so on. This means you will see slightly more 4, 4 ¼ and 4 ½-star films, of course. And that’s a good thing, as I’ve probably been too stingy with those ratings in the past. I’ve also grown tired of trying to explain to people why 3 ½ stars (on my old scale) is actually quite good while many consider it just barely above average. Well, now those films will be rated 3 ¾ and often rounded up to 4 for The Orlando Weekly, which I think communicates my feelings more accurately. You’ll still see very few 4 ¾ and 5-star ratings, but even those “masterpiece” designations will be a tad more common now (two or three a year perhaps, if the year is strong).

Let me add a word about the new 2 ½-star designation. Though I’m calling it “average” and giving it that dreaded “thumbs-down” label, please keep in mind it falls mathematically in the middle of a 0-5 scale. So, depending on your own preferences and life history, you might like it. So my 2 ½ rating now essentially means: Hey, it didn’t quite work for me, but it might for you. Proceed with caution.

To access all my lists, go to the Feature Lists and Short Lists tabs on the menu bar. (Because I don’t use half-stars for short films, those lists were not changed.)

You might think that this shift would introduce errors into my reviews previously published in The Orlando Weekly and other Euclid Media publications, but that’s not necessarily the case. Those publications don’t use quarter-stars, so I was already in the habit of rounding a 3 ¼-star film up to 3 ½ stars and 3 ¾-star movies up to 4, etc. So, ironically, my star shift might actually make some of those old articles a tad more accurate. And for those reviews that are now slightly inaccurate, hey, it’s just a quarter-star. Let’s not overthink the rating but instead concentrate on what I had to say about the film.

For a more detailed discussion of the ratings system, please see my new Rating Scale.

iStockPhoto image #1066363656 by themacx