The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

“I’ll give it a thousand stars” – Dave’s system for film rating

with 22 comments


Movie bloggers have never been able to agree on a standard system for rating. Some use a 4 star scale. Others follow the IMDb standard, going from 1 to 10. I’ve seen a handful of bloggers rating movies from 1-100. I think it takes some guts to do that. Personally I have no idea how I would distinguish a 67 star movie from a 68. I cold as well throw dices about it.

I’ve decided to rate movies from 1 to 5, using half point additions when I feel like it. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought; it’s mostly a matter of habit. They used to give us grades at school from 1 to 5, and 1 to 5 is still the most common system in Sweden for rating anything from movies to how good a football player was in the match last night. It’s a scale that I intuitively understand, so I stick to it.

Then there are those who choose to rate the movies in numbers at all. I’ve seen some good arguments for this standpoint: that it’s oversimplifying and that it detracts attention from what you have to say about the movie. Too much focus is put on a number. You run the risk that the readers only will check out the star rating and then move on.

I respect this standpoint, shared by many a good critic, such as my favourite Mark Kermode. Maybe I too will stop ranking movies in numbers at some point in the future. But for now being I’ll keep doing it. One reason is that I find it helpful when other people rate movies in numbers, since it can help me read their text in a proper way. Critics can sometimes get awfully whiny, spending most of a text on pointing out problems in a movie, despite the fact that they actually love it, despite the flaws. A rating can help to straighten this out. I’ve also found that the demand of coming up with a number helps me in my thought process. It forces me to make up my mind about a movie and sort out my feelings.

Dave’s system
We may argue over which rating system is best or weather to rate movies at all, but the question is if we haven’t all been beaten by the system invented by Dave Van Hallgren.

Dave doesn’t disclose his age, but considering how he talks, I assume he’s somewhere around four or five years old, and he’s already an experienced podcaster. He is the newest rising star on the film critic horizon. Together with his father, Sam Van Hallgren, he talks about classical movies in an additional segment to one of my favourite podcasts, Filmspotting. So far they’ve made four episodes, and to be honest Dave is stealing the show. If they’ll stop doing this, I’m pretty sure it’s because the ordinary crew of Filmspotting fear the competition for attention.

You can tell that Dave has developed a sophisticated taste for movies already at this early age. He’s very much into the classics and sprinkles his star ratings over them in the most generous way. In the latest show he must have broken a new record when it was time to give a grade to Singing in the Rain. After some thinking Dave landed on an astonishing thousand stars.

Adam Kempenaar, usually host of Filmspotting, was a guest at the father-son Van Hallgren podcast. Hearing about the thousand stars he got curious and asked Dave what he based his rating on. Which system did he use?

And Dave explained it. The system is that the movie will get the same amount of stars as the number of times he’d like to watch it. This means that a movie that you hated so much that you never want to see it again under any circumstances would get a 1 star rating. A movie that you could consider watching once a year for the rest of your life could get up to75-80 stars, depending on your age.

Following this, 1 000 stars is a very good grade indeed. As much as I love Singing in the Rain, I’m not sure I could stomach watching it that many times. But all respect to Dave for being up for it, and also: good on him for inviting is own rating system at this age.

If his father lets him keep going as a film critic, the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish, starting at this age.

photo credit: Chaval Brasil via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

May 14, 2013 at 1:00 am

22 Responses

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  1. I love that ratings system, and I would totally exploit my six year old daughter if I could actually get her to sit and talk about a movie for a few minutes at a time, though just based on your report here, I doubt she would be as articulate either. I tried a couple times (and they’re still on YouTube), but she doesn’t have the attention span for it. Sounds like an interesting podcast though.


    May 14, 2013 at 1:13 am

    • It’s wonderful. You should seek them out. It’s towards the very end in each show. He’s been on the last four episodes. My guess is that you need to be prepared to be pretty patient and do some editing work to succeed.


      May 14, 2013 at 7:41 am

  2. That’s a pretty cool way of looking at it.


    May 14, 2013 at 3:22 am

  3. At the end of a recent Filmspotting I heard Sam and Dave talking the Marx Brothers. It was fabulous!


    May 14, 2013 at 8:59 am

  4. Love Dave’s rating system! And yeah, even though I love Singin’ in the Rain, I don’t think I could watch it 1000 times!

    I use stars (0 being the minimum and 5 the maximum), but I also think numerical ratings like that don’t really say much. They’re necessary, but they need to be accompanied by at least a few words that explain it, don’t you think?


    May 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

  5. Haha, you can’t fault Dave’s logic I guess! Sometimes kids just tell it like it is without thinking to much about stuff, which is often the best way of doing things!

    I never used to use a rating system as, like you say, I was worried that people wouldn’t read what I’d written and just skip straight to the review. But then I thought I’d be alienating those who did just want to do that. Not everyone has time to read a full review. I now use the same scale as you (but with pigeons) and I think that gives me enough scope to place every film. Like you, I just couldn’t imagine settling on a score out of 100!

    • Oh, I love your pigeons. If you take off the feathers, it’s really a number rating in disguise, but yet there’s something endearing about them.


      May 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

  6. I read about a rating system like that and think to myself “I’m doing it wrong”

    Ryan McNeil

    May 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    • I know! Such a bright kid! Inventing a great rating system at the age of 4.5 (I’ve got it confirmed now). What may become of him?


      May 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

  7. Wow, I love it! Such a great way to think about movies. Those podcasts sound like so much fun to listen to.

    I do think ratings are necessary on a review. I get frustrated when reviews don’t have them because I feel like it’s somewhat non-committal of the reviewer. It will be a neverending discussion among film lovers which system is better, but I always say “Whatever works for you.” I use the classic 4 stars because I grew up using it and I’m used to it. Rating out of a 100 has always seemed crazy to me, especially when trying to decide what the difference between two numbers would be (as you mention).

    I do rather like Netflix’s descriptions for their 5-star system (Hated it, Didn’t Like It, Liked It, Really Liked It, Loved It), and I often think of it when seesawing on a rating.


    May 14, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    • I really recommend them. It’s not just cute, it’s also thought provoking sometimes, like this rating system.
      I think it always takes some time to get familiar with how someone rates movies. I’ve discussed this a lot with my Swedish blogging colleagues who I meet once a month. I tend to be more generous than they with my ratings. But when I rate, I also take into consideration the enormous amount of crappy movies that I never see. I don’t get to see a lot of 2/5 or 1/5 movies, but it’s not because they don’t exist, it’s because I’m drawn to those I have reason to believe are good. So I end up giving out a lot of 4/5 ratings…
      Anyway: as long as you feel comfortable and try to be consistent, it doesn’t matter which scale you use, if you ask e.


      May 15, 2013 at 11:52 pm

  8. That’s the sort of brilliant system that you pretty much have to be a kid to come up with. It’s beautiful, it makes perfect sense with a one-sentence explanation, and it’s possible to be entirely consistent with it. And it would be incredibly difficult for an adult because we aren’t as free with our imaginations (while I fight to keep most of my childhood spirit alive, a tiny part died when I learned the phrase “opportunity cost”).

    I use a simple 5-star system on my reviews. I don’t even feel comfortable with half-stars… to me, that makes it a ten-point scale, and I can’t reliably say what makes a film a 7 instead of an 8. Mind you, when I enter my scores on other sites (IMDb, Letterboxd) I wind up having to decide if my 4-star review was a “low four” or a “high four”, since those are usually 10-point scales one way or another, but the half-star decision I make at that moment is often on whim.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    May 16, 2013 at 7:26 am

    • “Opportunity cost”. *Shivers*. Yeah, every time you learn a word like that, it takes something away from your imagination.

      You are right about half-stars basically being a 10 point scale, but for some reason I feel more comfortable with it. It’s often a sneak way out when I’m on the fence about the rating and can’t make up my mind between two numbers. But I don’t pretend I’m by any means consistent. My rating is kind of arbitrary, based on a gut feeling.


      May 16, 2013 at 7:59 am

      • I think if we’re being honest, we all have to admit our ratings have a degree of arbitrariness to them. I’ve looked back on movies I’ve rated, and even just a year later, sometimes thought they ought to have been one star higher or lower.

        Morgan R. Lewis

        May 16, 2013 at 8:21 am

  9. I have to be honest, I’m just not a fan of rating systems. I don’t even look at the ratings of the reviews of people who do rate. I don’t rate on my own blog but I do when I write reviews for Anomalous Material and someone left me a comment on my Place Beyond The Pines review chastising me for giving it a B – instead of a B + which just seems so uselessly arbitrary. I know the rating shouldn’t/doesn’t have to overwhelm the thrust of the actual review but the truth too often seems to be that it does. Films, to me, are just too complex and beautiful of animals to ever boil them down to a letter or a number.

    Having said all that, I love Dave’s rating system. I do. If you’re gonna rate, do it with gusto. His rating system, despite his youth, seems to both understand and embrace the arbitrary nature of the rating. Like, don’t try to conform it to some pre-set criteria, just go with your gut. Good on him.


    May 18, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    • When you look at it closely, it has certain limitations. There are movies that I don’t long for watching again, partcularly violent movies such as Mike Leigh’s Naked or the more recent Tyrannosaur. So with his rating they’d get 1 star. But both were excellent movies. So it takes a bit of clarifications in the text or some kind of additional rating: 1 because of violence, 1 because of being terribad etc.

      Anyway: Like you I really love the spirit of it!


      May 19, 2013 at 9:37 pm

  10. […] Dave’s System For Film-Rating […]

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