Movie Critics vs Wine Critics Ratings?

movie filmMovies and wines have many things in common.  There are different types or styles of movies such as:

  • romance
  • action
  • horror
  • comedy

Red white and rose winesSimilarly with wine we have, for example:

  • red
  • white
  • rose
  • sparkling
  • fortified

Movies and wines also share something else in common; ratings.  Before you go to a movie, you may have watched a movie critic on TV or read a review on the web.  Sometimes you know the director from previous movies, so you have a good idea of what style and quality to expect.  Similarly with wine.  Many people will read online reviews or a review in a newspaper before purchasing their bottle.  In some cases you may have a favourite winery or wine maker, so you know when you find a bottle by that winery or wine maker, regardless of vintage, that you will likely enjoy that sip.

Let’s get back to ratings.  They can make or break a movie or a wine; especially if it is by a well-known critic.

How Are Movies Rated?

4.5 Star RatingWith movies, the most common rating system is 5 stars.  The rating typically allows for half points.  One such star rating is shown below.

0.0 Unrated
0.5 Dreadful
1.0 Awful
1.5 Mainly boring some but awful parts
2.0 Boring
2.5 Not worth watching
3.0 Watch once
3.5 Worth watching twice
4.0 Well done
4.5 Very well done
5.0 Brilliant

There are many variations, but the theme is going from worst to best.  If you watch a comedy or a romance movie, and someone says it is 3 stars, you can have a good idea of the quality, even though both are a different type of film.  You can even easily swap the star value for the descriptor and the rating would still make sense to you.

This type of scaling is known as “ordinal”. It is a subjective scale, and even though you cannot make absolute numerical differences, we can still get a good idea of how wonderful or pathetic a movie is by such a scale.  Let’s move to wine ratings.

How Are Wines Rated?

You rarely see a star rating, unless you are mywinepal (Read mywinepal’s 5 star rating here).  Most wine critics use the 100 point scale, which people hold very dearly.  Some people for example, only purchase wines that have been rated as 90+ points.  And some wineries, if they get this level of rating, may decide to boost the price of their wine.  But what most people do not understand when they hear of a 100 point scale, is that the scale does not start at zero.  It starts at an arbitrary value of 50, and the quality of a wine at that value is ill-defined.

A scaling system that starts at zero, is known as a “ratio” scale, and has mathematical properties, such as 20 is 2x greater than 10.  With a numeric scale that does not start at 0, you cannot say that a 80 point wine is 33% times better than a 60 point wine.  But people do not realize that; they grade the ratings very finely and think that they are adding more precision than is warranted.

Try this.  Write a brief description of how you would describe a 89 point wine and a 90 point wine.  Difficult, right?  I would probably enjoy an 89 point wine as much as a 90 point wine, and save a few dollars at my local bottle shop.  But what does this have to do with movies?

Rating Movies Like Wine

Using the 100 point rating scale, how would movies ratings show?  Here are the latest movie ratings from Rolling Stone (who uses a 4 star rating).

  • Life, animated 3.5/4 stars
  • The BFG 3/4 stars
  • Independence Day: Resurgence 2/4 stars
  • Free State of Jones 1/4 stars

Let’s scale the ratings to a 100 point system (with an arbitrary 50 starting point).

  • Life, animated 93.75 points
  • The BFG 87.5 points
  • Independence Day: Resurgence 75 points
  • Free State of Jones 62.5 points

In the 4 star rating above, one can easily understand that one movie is a bit better/worse than the next movie, but re-cast into the 100 point scale, it is more difficult to tell the difference.  In the above scaling example, each 0.5 star = 12.5 points.  So going up half a star really makes the point value increase significantly.  If you look at wine ratings where they measure 89 vs 90 points, how much of a star difference would that be in the 4 point scaling used by Rolling Stone?  1 point = 0.04 stars!  Wow.

That is a lot of precision that I think movie critics would say is impossible to accurately mark.  So why do wine critics do it, and we follow?  I think that there is a two-fold reason: 1) the critics do not understand the numeric ramifications of a 100 point scale with an arbitrary starting point, and 2) consumers do not know how the scaling works, and assume that it is a quantitative rating that begins at zero.

Hopefully as people learn more about problems with the 100 point scale, there will be a movement to a more statistically valid, ordinal scale rating system, such as 4 or 5 star ratings.  Enjoy your movies and wines this summer, regardless of the ratings.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Some people prefer red wines. Some only like Cabernet Sauvignon. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I met many great wine makers. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

2 comments for “Movie Critics vs Wine Critics Ratings?

  1. Steve Small
    July 6, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Agree completely in the problems of the 100 points scale. Fact of the matter is critics generally score in a fairly narrow range between 86 and 96, which is really a 10 point scale, and you have to get to know a critics sweet spot to know what their scores mean.
    Then there is the problem of the psychological barrier between 89 and 90. It’s not like the difference between a movie critic 3.5. & 4.
    I say grade the winery, grade the vintage if you must, but for the wine just describe it and give us a movie critic thumbs up or down for the wine itself.

    • July 6, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      Sounds like a sane approach. Cheers.

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