It seems I must write

no more avoiding the truth

Better Movie Rating System?

Here’s the first “blogpost-seeking-response” I have for you, based off of a discussion group question for class. I would LOVE to hear from you! Do leave a comment!


The history of movie rating is unexpectedly fascinating to me: in the beginning, the church was significantly involved, the “Legion of Decency” was created, and movies were either “Approved” or “Condemned.” Intense descriptors, but indicative of the times. Later on, the Motion Picture Association of America developed our current system of self-regulation which rates “raw data” only, and many find our present scale < “G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17” > to be of limited usefulness.

I am entirely on-board with the call to dialogue and engage with film and popular culture – and be open to “divine encounter” at the movie theater.

But I do think that images have power, words can hold sway over one’s soul, and we’re more malleable and vulnerable – especially in our youth – to the ideas, beliefs, and stories that we’re exposed to.

Now there are Christian movie-review resources and websites that the author of Reel Spirituality, Rob Johnston, cites at some point, and he models well for us what “two-way dialogue” with a film can look like – but going beyond those different ways of response, I wonder:

Could we create a better framework for film-evaluation than what currently exists? 

Here’s a first pass – because I think using a few indexes simultaneously could help inform viewer selection:

(based on directorial intent)

Mindless entertainment –> light, happy fare –> a more serious film  –>  provocative material



(based on faculties required for comprehension)

Children’s choice  –> adolescent-appropriate  –> college-level –>  adults only


(based on possible outcomes after viewing)

Actively discourage others from viewing  –>  this may negatively impact you –> neither for nor against  –>  may teach you something new –> contains important insight(s) about life   –> life-changing potential


(based on time urgency/cultural moment)

Don’t waste your time  –> definitely wait to rent  –> see at some point  –> must see now in theaters



Could we create a better framework for film-evaluation than what currently exists? 
Or is this whole idea untenable because <whatever> indices we create are by their nature totally subjective <and unhelpful>?
From my classmates: 
  This is a big question. I agree that the current ratings system is of little help when attempting to think through what film to view. The R rating of Children of Men is as different as you can get from the R rating of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though both films deal with violence and nudity. I came away from one feeling uplifted and the other feeling degraded.  These days I find myself trying to skip around from one review site to another trying to get at the heart of a film without completely spoiling the experience beforehand. So the frameworks you suggest, though undeniably subjective, could be quite helpful. I also think this idea at looking at the sum total of a film and evaluating it based on its takeaways is eminently more preferable to the practices of some Christian movie rating sites. Where an unfortunate predilection to evaluate film by counting the number of times someone is hit, or bodies parts revealed, etc has arisen. These types of quantitative reviews might bear some small use for parents of young children, but ultimately do little to help the broader population decide on what film to see.  So in the end I agree with you. We definitely need a better system of evaluating film, but I’m still unsure as to how exactly that can be accomplished.  – A
Great contribution, C! I love your thinking – the short answer to your second question is “No.” Your scales are no more subjective than the MPAA rating system that fits is age-suggested based (PG, PG-13, R, NR). I learned a lot about this in the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” While that one rating system is helpful as a parent who is still trying to figure out how to let my children watch things and when in their developmental life that is healthy – it is certainly a limited “review” system for films. I find myself relying a LOT on Rotten Tomatoes. Even standing by Red Box, picking out a film, I pull out my iphone and search the title to see the Rotten Tomato rating. 60% or better, its a go! That’s certainly good additional data to the rating. But I love your out-of-the-box thinking of providing other scales. I think you could definitely refine that a bit and put some more “dimensions” to thinking about films. Bet you could figure out a way to blogify that concept and get a group to respond to your categories – who knows, you might have stumbled onto the next Rotten Tomatoes concept. Make some money at it, Christine!  -T
You question made me think of not only creating a new and better evaluation system but a network of evaluation tools.
Your choices get more at the intention behind film watching even if one isn’t trying to be intentional but simply be entertained.
The “based on possible outcomes after viewing” option makes me think about how often I’ve been surprised, pleasantly or not, by an outcome and how that is one of the things that I love about film – not knowing exactly where it is going to take me. – J

2 thoughts on “Better Movie Rating System?

  1. hey! i like your scales. particularly the one based on possible outcomes after viewing. but yeah, i think most reviews are subjective (just like yelp, right?)…i know everyone loves rotten tomatoes but i don’t really agree with a lot of the reviews on there. (i also have a high threshold for a truly good movie though).

    unrelated: it is hard to find new posts on here! have you considered blogging all on one main page/feed, and then using labels/categories on individual posts to sort them? i’m subscribed via google reader but since you’re not writing on your main page, i don’t get alerted…and then i have to come digging around to see if new content has come up =P. since i have too much time on my hands right now, that is okay, but just wondered if it might be helpful for others as well…

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