Neil Macy

I Don't Like Ratings

Giving something a score is incredibly subjective. Whether something is worth 1 star or 5 depends on who you are, how you felt at the time, how much time and thought you were able to give it, and whether or not you'd seen other opinions before you gave your own rating.

If it's a product rather than a form of media, you can give a review after using it for one day or one month, and that experience, or lack thereof, with the product can cause very different ratings.

But someone glancing at a rating doesn't get that detail. They might, if they read a full review, but the whole point of a rating is to sum it up into a score, so that people don't necessarily have to go into the details.

The Phantom Menace is a 4 star movie

Trust your feelings, you know it to be true.

How do you know if you can trust star ratings? Are the reviewers spending enough time with the item in question? Do they have the same opinions, the same values, as me?

For example, I gave star ratings to every book I read on Kindle, for years. But I never wrote a review. And basically everything was a 4 star rating, because I only rated books I finished, and I don't see the point in finishing a book at the point when I know it's 3 stars or less. But 5 stars is basically perfect so nothing gets that, except Night Watch by Terry Pratchett).

Others however will have different scores. Some people will give Night Watch 1 star. And they're wrong, of course, but if you've never read the book, who do you trust when you're trying to decide which book to read next?

Aggregators solve this to some extent, although it creates groupthink. For example, The Phantom Menace is my favourite Star Wars prequel by far (admittedly a low bar), because it has Qui-Gon Jinn and it doesn't have that utterly unbelievable relationship between Anakin and Padmé. But almost everyone else thinks The Phantom Menace is the worst, to the point that some people exclude it completely. If I trusted others, I'd never watch it, and miss out on Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, and the whole switcheroo thing with Queen Amidala and her handmaidens. And still be stuck with the ridiculousness of Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II and III.


The point is, giving something a star rating is bad because it's just like, your opinion, man.


I read Casino Royale earlier this year. And in many ways it's a problematic book. The story is good, but the telling is often uncomfortable. How should I rate that? Instead, I wrote (briefly) about its pros and cons, and tried to think of who would like to read the book, and how else could someone enjoy what is a good story overall.

So instead of a rating, you have to read what I wrote. Which isn't as quick, if you're looking at multiple movies or multiple reviews, and that's why star ratings exist; it's a shortcut to make your decision simpler. Was this a worthwhile book or movie or not? How many stars did it get?

But I'll never trust star ratings, at least not while The Phantom Menace (6.5 stars out of 10, 51/100 on metacritic) is rated so far behind Revenge of the Sith (7.6 stars, 68 on metacritic).

(This train of thought originated from a process I recently experienced where people were given numeric ratings based on various criteria. Needless to say I wasn't enamoured by that.)

Published on 26 April 2023