Movie Critics Second Guessing Star Ratings Too

More than 80 years ago the movie rating star system was born in the New York Daily News.

On July 31, 1928, the paper announced they would be using a three-star reviewing system from then on out to rate movies. And almost from the same day, movie critics starting hating the system.

It took video game writers a bit longer to adopt the ubiquitous system for rating games, but the hatred was right on it's heels.

Recently game reviews and the use of ratings have become a target of constant navel staring, with critics, writers and box-standers killing obscene amounts of pixels to talk about what should be done. Last year, we just threw ratings out the window, reinventing how we reviewed games.

I don't expect the same sort of reaction from movie critics, but at least they're starting to talk about their hatred of the system.

"We don't seek to reduce our arguments about a particular piece of art to a number, or letter grade, or golden spatulas, or whatever," says Sam Sifton, the New York Times' culture editor told the Wall Street Journal for a recent article on the subject. "These are numbers that aren't based on any rational or countable thing." However, restaurant reviews in the paper have long included rankings from "poor" to four stars. Mr. Sifton, the former dining editor, calls those "the exception that proves the rule here."

The article is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the subject. It talks about the history of reductive criticism, the good and bad, and how sites like Metacritic have helped bring the issue to a head.

One critic's pan of "Pearl Harbor" originally was ranked 40 out of 100, until he contacted the site to say it was more like a 10. Marc Doyle, co-founder and senior product manager of Metacritic, which is now owned by CBS, says the site's employees read reviews carefully, will change scores if they are protested by reviewers, and will reconsider them if readers object. "It's just a tool, like any other tool," he says of the site.

Doyle, for his part, says that Metacritic is exploring improvements.

Let's Rate the Ranking Systems of Film Reviews [Wall Street Journal]