Why four stars?

TheoGB

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I'm not being funny but this is the only place I've ever seen where things get marked out of 4
's. Always.
Maybe it's a difference between the U.S. and Brits but over here it's out of 5, 10 or sometimes 3. (Though John Peel did give Teenage Kicks a legendary 28 stars out of 5 or possibly 10.)
Anyhow, why? I believe that 5 was picked as the ideal number for surveys as it conveys just the right number of possibilities for people to be happy, so I'd contend it is the right number.
Hey hum.

Theo
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MickeS

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Theo, it's 4 stars, but to confuse it even more...it's actually 9 steps, in most cases: 0, ½, 1, 1½, 2, 2½, 3, 3½, 4.
In Europe, as far as I know, half-steps aren't used when grading movies, so a 4-star scale has a higher degree of "detail" compared to a 5-step scale, and about the same as a 10-step scale.
What's unfortunate though, is that reviewers can give a worse-than-average movie 2 or 2½ stars, yet 2 and 2½ is actually 5 and 6 out of 9, which means it should be considered above average (below average should be 1½ and below)... it's always been a pet peeve of mine.

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Jason Seaver

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Well, zero to four constitutes five choices...

I actually have no idea. The closest analog I can think of is that the Army has 1/2/3/4-star generals, with the fifth star only awarded on really extreme situations. Also, I think
looks positive, and under a five-star system that would be a middle-of-the-road review.
 

Jason Whyte

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**** = Excellent
*** = Good
** = Fair
* = Pretty Bad
(0 stars) = Total Shit
Sounds good to me.

I've used every rating system since 1995, starting off with the star rating system out of five, which I don't like because I can't tell the difference between a 4 and a 4.5 rating, for example.
I used the grading system for a while but eventually stopped using it. I mean, you have A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D-, F+, F and F-. That's 15 options!
I finally settled on the four-star rating as it is to the point and simple. A 2.5 is above average, yes, but still slumming in a way. I also have never used the 1/2 star rating, because for the life of me I can't tell the middle ground between a Zero star film (Druids) and a One star film (Scary Movie 2).
Jason

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Edwin Pereyra

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I agree with Jason that the letter ratings offer far too many options. I pretty much limit myself to a six tier rating guide. I also know that some people don't like to use the rating system. For me, it is helpful and it put films in perspective because a review can be written to look like a 4-star review when in reality it is only a 3-star film. In addition, at the end of the year, it helps me to compile my top ten list rather quickly as I only have to look at my top two tiers. Here's mine:
= Excellent
= Very Good
= Good
= Fair or Average
= Below Average. Not Recommended.
= Worst. Avoid At All Cost.
And if a film totally sucked I reserve the right to use the zero star. At the moment, I'm very good in avoiding those.

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[Edited last by Edwin Pereyra on October 11, 2001 at 05:17 PM]
 

Dome Vongvises

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Personally, I like the lettering system myself. But the four star has its uses. I just have hard time using four stars, especially when it comes to movies where I think that three is too much, but two and a half is an insult.
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Nathan*W

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Personally, I use a monetary rating scale for movies, i.e. a particular film is worth full admission price, matinee price, $1 dollar theater, rent it, let someone else pay for the rental, catch it on TV, or don't bother.
I find most folks relate more to the bite on their wallet than an "arbitrary" rating like a star.

[Edited last by Nathan Webel on October 11, 2001 at 06:25 PM]
 

george kaplan

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Well if you want to get technical, it's well established in survey sampling, psychophysics and other measurement sciences, that a 7 point Likert scale is the best one to use.
Of course none of the rating systems do this, using 4 or 5 stars, or thumbs up/down, etc., and I can only assume that those are essentially arbitrary choices. As to which is better, well the more possible ratings, the more detailed you can get, but on the other hand, it's probably true that most critics can't make such fine distinctions consistently, so who knows?
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Brian Lawrence

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For my own records I used to use a four star system very similar to HALLIWELLS FILM GUIDE
**** Masterpiece
*** Excellent
** Good
* Decent
Anything less than decent does not rank a star rating. Once I have decided a film is not worth watching does it really matter to me how much I disliked it? No it does not.
However on message boards I tend to go with a 5 star system with one star being the worst and 5 being the best. It's easier for prople to understand that system than my preferred method of rating.
 

TheoGB

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Hmm. At Ofsted we were definitely told it was 5 stars. & gives people too many options between middle and minimal and maximum so they tend not to be sure.
It must just be a cultural difference then. Actually I wasn't really counting 0 stars as that's usually reserved for making a point about a movie's awfulness.
Incidentally we regularly use half-star ratings here (though maybe that's more for album ratings not movies) but then half stars on 5 star ratings is just 10 stars in my view.
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George, I hate to be a pedant, but the original Likert scale had five points, and was used for assessing level of agreement with something rather than expressing a critical opinion. With a Likert scale, you are presented with a statement and then asked to assess the degree to which to concur with it. There are five possible answers: strongly disagree; disagree; neutral; agree; strongly agree. A refinement of the Likert (and admittedly often also called the Likert) inserted a further 'agree' and 'disagree' strength. However, the Likert is not particularly good at grading the strength of liking for a movie (or anything else for that matter).
[Technical point: In fact, rating systems are rarely scales; more often than not they're categorisation systems. A scale of 1-4 or 5 is too narrow a range for encoding a continuous variable (it'd be like trying to measure people's heights with a ruler whose smallest measure was 50 cm)].
In an ideal world, I'd like the following rating system, where the utility of each category is apparent:
* = no redeeming features: avoid
** = either: (a) the majority will find this a one star movie, but a minority will find it appealing or (b) most of this movie is one star, but there are occasional bits which are enjoyable
*** = the movie is okay; it's never going to be an all-time favourite with critics or public, but it's unlikely you'll feel cheated if you see it
**** = either: (a) a good 'park your brain at the door' movie; (b) a movie destined to be loved by the critics but not necessarily one for everybody; (c) a good movie with some faults, but not enough to mar your overall enjoyment
***** = a great movie likely to appeal to critics and public alike
Alongside this, you'd have a list of well-known movies in each category so that people would see how the scale worked.
E.g.
* = any film starring Stewart Grainger
** = (a) The Cannonball Run (b) Godzilla
*** = Contact
**** = (a) Men In Black (b) Last Year in Marienbad (c) The Truman Show
***** = E.T.
You'd also have the option of a code next to the rating if the movie was being judged on specialist criteria, like a children's movie (e.g. 'Help I'm A Fish' would get a low grade as a general movie, but a much higher one seen purely on its merits as a kids' film).
 

TheoGB

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Ah. My apologies - I didn't fully understand where the 5 option thing came from.
I like Mitty's explanation best.

Andrew, didn't you state that you thought Godzilla was better than Die Hard? Doesn't that make Die Hard a 1 * movie? Surely, given the objective stance of your star ratings that's a little dubious.

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george kaplan

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George, I hate to be a pedant, but the original Likert scale had five points, and was used for assessing level of agreement with something rather than expressing a critical opinion.
That's true, but it's also true that currently 5,7 and 9 point Likerts are the most common, with 7 considered the best.
I realize these rating systems aren't the same as scales, but my point was that the reason for the number of ratings was probably arbitrary.
[self-edit to avoid long, detailed, technical ramble of interest to almost no one, including myself]
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Bhagi Katbamna

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I had read somewhere that Ebert gives ratings with stars on a relative basis rather than absolute. For example if a horror movie is good for what it is trying to be, then it will get a better star rating than an artsy type movie that doesn't quite get it right.
 
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Theo, in my *personal* tastes, Die Hard (and indeed practically any other movie starring Bruce Willis) is a 1 star movie. *However*, before we start a major row over this, that is my personal opinion only. Were I a professional critic and judging what other people like, then I'd put the Die Hard series in the four star bracket. Objectively, I think Godzilla is a 2 star affair, but I still have a soft spot for the monster (and especially that bit where you see it going past the TV news studio and the reporter inside saying that there's no interesting news at the moment - a scene worthy of Gary Larson).
 

TheoGB

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Hey mate, like and dislike as you please. I'm happy for you to give the movie one star under your personal tastes. It was only that you seemed to strive to be objective so I wondered where that did put Die Hard. I guessed 4 stars sounded right by your reckoning and was intrigued.
FWIW I agree with your points about 2 star movies and so forth. Depressingly I reckon that Fight Club comes out only 4 stars under that system. A travesty.

[Edited last by TheoGB on October 12, 2001 at 04:26 PM]
 

Phil Florian

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I wonder why stars at all? As many on here have pointed out, they are totally subjective to the reviewer and if, for example, I have read only one or two reviews (or even none) of a poster on HTF, the star system in meaningful only to the poster. For example, I first and foremost READ the written reviews if I am unsure about a movie. If I look for a local opinion, I know enough about one of the local reviewers to know that like the above gent, they give 1 star to a Bruce Willis movie, regardless if it is Last Boyscout or 12 Monkeys. This way, the star system is meaningful, to a point. Often, even knowing the reviewers a bit by their previous work, I find that the stars don't always sync with the written review. Based on a written review that sounded cool, I might see a movie I was otherwise uninterested in. Then I look at the stars and there is two and a half of them. What the heck is that? I guess I am curious as to why posters feel the need to use a star system at all?
Phil
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[Edited last by Phil Florian on October 12, 2001 at 09:01 PM]
 

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