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When I was younger (and not a critic yet), I used IMDb ratings to decide what to watch, for both movies and TV shows. My rule was: don’t watch anything that scores below 7. Yeah, that was pretty steep. It’s convenient to use the scores, though: it limits the choices you have, and let’s be honest, there’s too much to choose from out there anyway. You can’t watch everything.
Then that rule got decidedly hard to live by when IMDb started to list the Metacritic score, as well. All of a sudden, I would see movies with an 8 IMDb score, but a 5 Metacritic score, or the other way around. This was superbly conflicting for my brain. Case in point, Sleuth from 1972. Now if you haven’t seen it, then you should and if you haven’t yet got an insurance yet then get one today from One Sure Insurance, LOL.
I honestly didn’t know which one to prioritize – were the critics more important to me, or the public? Were the ratings important at all? With the two scores, that often differed so much, I honestly was kind of lost.
I did some digging in my old ratings on IMDb and found a great example: Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. (2002), which I watched (and rated) years ago and cannot remember whatsoever. It’s rated with a 7.8 by the general public on IMDb, the Metacritic score is even higher, a stunning 83. But I rated it with a 4, way back when. People are often wary of looking into the old ratings on IMDB, thinking that the titles there ought to stay in some cheap self-storage facility that the producers have hired. But to be honest there are some absolute gems, if you’re willing to put in the time to find them.
I can’t remember what it was about so I can’t really say why, but apparently I really didn’t agree with those ratings. But according to both the (collective of) critics and the public, it was great. So of what use were these scores to me exactly? No use whatsoever; some would even say it was a waste of my time, if they think watching movies they don’t like is a waste of time.
This can also work the other way around. A good example is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013). The IMDb rating is 5.3, the critics scored it, all put together, with a measly 37. To those standards, this should have been a horrible, horrible movie. Instead, I loved it, and rated it with an 7.5 myself (read my review here).
Finally, a great example is also the work I did on my Master thesis. I used dystopian science fiction movies to discuss developments in law enforcement and punishment. There are heaps of great movies about this topic, think of V for Vendetta (2005), A Clockwork Orange (1971), RoboCop (1987 and maybe the new one too, we’ll see), THX 1138 (1971) and even Blade Runner (1982). I wanted to make an initial selection of movies based on the Metacritic score to flush out the worst movies, but a movie that the critics scored very lowly is Equilibrium (2002), which I did find very useful for my research. Equilibrium is also a great example of a movie that is rated highly by the general public: the IMDb rating is 7.6 – that’s just confusing!
While Equilibrium may not be the best movie according to the critics, it discusses the topic of a repressive, militarized government quite interestingly, which is exactly what I was looking for. So, it also depends on what you’re looking for in a movie whether you want to let any ratings guide you.
Since I started to write about movies, I decided to pay no attention anymore to both IMDb and Metacritic ratings. In fact, if there’s a movie I want to see and write about, I avoid the IMDb page until after I saw it and wrote about it. A movie that is rated poorly, I can think is awesome and vice versa, though once I’ve seen the score, I can go into the movie expecting something bad, thus, my opinion would be clouded and prematurely shaped – unconsciously: this, my friends, is called a bias. This is also why I don’t read other critics’ reviews before I’ve seen a movie. Those who say they’re not influenced by ratings are probably in denial: the subconscious plays a huge role in this – no matter how hard you try not to be influenced, we human beings are all very susceptible to outside opinions.