Movies rank on two different scales.  There are the Good and the Bad and then there are the Awesome and the Terrible.  Rating a movie on a simple one to five-star scale has significant limitations for the true Movie Masochist.  When presented with two films, for examples, Starship Troopers and Schindler’s List, rating both movies as Five Stars can be misleading despite “Five-Star” love for both films.  While Starship Troopers is a movie you’ve probably seen twenty times and still watch it from whatever point in the film it may be on when you catch it on television until the end, even the most die hard fan won’t claim its Oscar-worthiness.  And what about Schindler’s List?  You may rate it high on your list of “must watch” movies but this isn’t the film you’ll be taking someone on a first date nor is it the movie you pop in when you want to quote lines with your friends.

So, how does one state whether a movie is worth watching while simultaneously making the distinction of its quality?

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain. Good film. Terrible movie.

The Good and the Bad

What determines whether or not a movie is “good” or “bad” is related to the overall quality.  Good movies are ones with an immersive plot, a well-written script, appealing cinematography, cohesive direction and believe acting.  Good movies are, for the most part, well received by critics and are recognized in the film community with accolades.  The bad movies generally do not have most or all of those things.   Bad movies have simple plots.  The scripts are usually lack any kind of complexity.  If there is any cinematography worth mentioning, it’s to capture action or maximize the perception of it.  The direction can be liberal and forgiving in regard to continuity.  And the acting seems either unrehearsed or dependent on the personality of a star.


Winner for Best Picture in 1987? The Last Emperor. Proving again the Academy doesn’t recognize Awesomeness.

The Awesome and the Terrible

The measure of awesome and terrible revolves around enjoyment and watchability.  An awesome movie is one you have either seen or are willing to see dozens of times.  They can have quotable lines that become a part of the pop culture vernacular or are shared among friends and fans within that movie’s niche.  Awesome movies tend to become cultish in following and evoke passionate love for them.  Terrible movies have minimal watchability.  They are usually slow, emotionally draining and the story is overdone.  Most people can tolerate watching a terrible movie only once, not only because they are boring but once they get the gist and the eventual conclusion, there is nothing else worth watching.  Terrible movies compel the viewers to constantly check the clock against the runtime and when the show ends you feel anything but entertained.

Masters of the Universe

Dolph Lundgren. A telltale sign of the Bad but rarely the Awesome.

Grading in the Matrix

The Awesomely Good– These are movies that are both fun to watch and are well made.  Movies that fit in this category include the Godfather, Taxi Driver or Gladiator.

The Awesomely Bad– These are movies that are fun to watch but are not well made, not received well by critics and are pretty basic in story and plot.  Movies that fit in this category include Smokey and the Bandit, Top Gun and Predator.

Shawshank Redemption

So Good yet so Awesome. A film of this quality presents no challenge to a true Movie Masochist.

The Terribly Good– These are movies that are really well made and are lauded by critics but do not move people to watch them over and over.  In this category you will find films like the Pianist, Million Dollar Baby and Capote.

The Terribly Bad– These are movies that are both poorly written and directed and are tortuous to watch; the ultimate in movie masochism.  Included are Earnest Goes to Camp, Encino Man and the Godzilla remake from 1998.


The Movie Masochism Matrix

Reviewing or ranking movies is so much more accurate in the two-axis system.  It helps with the question: what’s your favorite movie?  That is a perfect question for the Matrix because now the answer can be a confident “Con Air” instead of a conflicted “Chariots of Fire”. A favorite movie is one that an individual gets the most enjoyment from watching and that is completely subjective to that person.  But best movie could be one that a person has only seen once, didn’t even really enjoy, but recognizes the achievements of filmmaking, acting, and score.

Using Matrix grading could also help determine the movie a person is in the mood for.  I know that there have been several movie nights where I’m scanning through recommendations, for example, on Netflix, and the suggestions just seemed not-quite-on-the-mark.  Because I watched The Hard Way (1991) does not mean I want to watch Cop Land (1997) nor does it necessarily mean I want to see Beverly Hills Cop (1984). I may not want to watch something with cops in it at all.  Mabye, what watching The Hard Way should tell the Netflix recommendation algorithm isn’t that I must like movies with police officers but that I have a high threshold for terrible movies with mediocre budgets that cast b-level stars.  That’s neither Cop Land nor Beverly Hills Cop; the more accurate recommendations would be Wild Things (1998) or Next of Kin (1989).  Granted, watching one movie doesn’t establish a pattern; but the idea is that movie tastes or what one is in the mood to watch, generally hovers in a particular quadrant; it’s not necessarily a type of movie.

PictoMatrixWhere a movie fits on the Matrix is always debatable.  However, the context of the debate is important to prevent arguing a moot point.  Criticisms of a movie’s quality slide the movie left or right (or along the x-axis), but a conversation about whether or not a movie is entertaining slides the film up and down (along the y-axis).  To say a movie like Citizen Kane isn’t good while arguing how you can’t sit through it more than once while another person counters by saying the techniques pioneered in the movie are still used to this day just ends in a ceaseless back-and-forth of two people trying to make two distinctively different points.  This is one of the reasons why a grading system like IMDb’s 10-star rating is so deceptive. Here is a list of movies rated on IMDb with 8.5 stars:

  • Back to the Future
  • The Pianist
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  • Rear Window
  • Casablanca

Three that jump out immediately are Terminator 2, Back to the Future, and Rear Window.  For as much as I love Back to the Future, I’m confident that I would not put it in the same league as Rear Window. However, I’m sure more than four whole days of my life has been spent watching Terminator 2 and Back to the Future.  And yet, all of these movies get the same ambiguous 8.5 star rating.