Movie Criticism: Grading Movies–Neither Art Nor Science

Dear Readers,

Our website has recently celebrated its 16th successful anniversary, and to commemorate the occasion we have revamped and/or refined almost every segment of it, with new features, such as Videos and Trailers, which only now are beginning to be operative (Thanks for your patience!).

Over the years, many readers have asked me how do we grade pictures, and what do the grades mean?

We used to do it numerically, or in terms of stars, but as the number of writers has increased, and I am a professor after all, we switched to a standardized school grade system, the way that EW magazine and others are doing.


The grade represents an overall assessment, based on various artistic assessments, which may differ from picture to picture.  But to answer a recent query, the fact that a particular movie gets C or D (we usually don’t give F) doesn’t mean you should not consider seeing it; it just means that it lacks significant artistic merits.


As a movie fan, critic, and scholar, I have probably seen more trashy movies than most people.  On an average day, I see two films, one in a movie theater, and one at home on DVD (usually very late at night).  During major film festivals, such as Cannes or Sundance, I average about four movies a day, excluding midnight screenings.


Grades in every enterprise are often arbitrary, but they suggest a broad evaluation of the overall artistic merit. Very few movies are getting straight A or even A- as you must have noticed.  And unlike other critics, such as my good friend and estimable colleague Roger Ebert, we don’t give A+.  A, the best grade in our system, translates into 10 (or five stars).


A 10



B 7



C 4



D 1

Thus, when one of our critics assigns a grade lower than C+, it means that in his/her opinion that movie is really not good artistically.   I used to tell my students that movies, worthy, mediocre, and trashy, are good for your health. The more movies you see the more informed and the more connected you are to American pop culture.

But once again, some bad movies may be fun to watch or may be enjoyable on some level, and I think that the concept of guilty pleasure describes the way that we feel about those movies.  Perhaps one day, we should conduct a poll of our guilty pleasures. I am sure of two things, that our lists would differ radically and that they would be quite long!