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What, why and how?



What's the idea?
For every film, we list the ratings of several prominent critics. Some are the usual suspects, from major publications, but we also try to use critics from different parts of the country and from different media in order to give a more representative idea of the national Critical Consensus. The "median" --  the middle or average rating -- is represented by an orange frame around the critic's name, and under the Dueling Critics we include two quotes, one from the critic who gave the film its highest rating and one from the critic who gave it its lowest rating. There are many review hubs on the web, incorporating all sorts of rating formats, from spoiled produce to traffic lights. But we humbly submit that ours is by far the most innovative in implementation: where critical opinion falls on a particular film is evident at a glance since the star ratings are basically a pictograph; more positive reviews mean more 5-star ratings, which results in a fatter column of stars.

How do you decide what the average rating is?
There are three ways statisticians calculate the measure of central tendency: The most common way is the "mean" -- also referred to as the "arithmetic average" of a list of numbers or data. If you remember your high school math, you calculate it by adding all the numbers in a series and then dividing by how many numbers there are in the series. The mean wouldn't work in terms of calculating the average rating for a particular movie since it would not show where critical opinion tends to cluster. The "mode," the second way of figuring out averages, is the value that occurs most frequently in a series. And, finally, there's the "median," our preferred -- and, for our purposes, the soundest statistically -- measure of central tendency: It is simply the value that appears in the middle of a series. In other words, half of the critics' ratings are above it and half are below it (more for masochists: See That Tricky Median: A Practical Explanation).

Do you assign the star ratings?

Most of the critics we include in our critics' ratecards assign their own star ratings -- or their editors do it for them. Several do not, and so we must assign the star rating ourselves by reading the review and deciding how much or how little a critic liked a movie. Star ratings are controversial with some critics, and a few absolutely hate them. But star ratings do provide the best graphical representation of critical opinion. So, where a critic does not assign stars and we have to do it, regard them as our interpretation of his or her opinion. We use a 5-star scale (that's from 0 to 5 stars) at ½ increments, which is the standard in the U.S.

How do you choose which critics you will feature?
Let's face it: no list of critical opinion could be considered complete without a few prominent critics like Roger Ebert or whoever writes for the New York Times right now. But prominence is only one criterion we use for selection. We also strive for geographic diversity, so we can offer you a representative picture of the national critical consensus. Circulation is another consideration, since a critic is bound to be more influential if he has a large audience. That said, we also try to mix media and therefore include print publications (newspapers and magazines) and web sites, even some small web sites that do not have a huge audience but do have a loyal following, and hence credibility. On the other hand, we try to avoid publications whose principal focus is celebrity coverage and not serious film criticism, no matter how large an audience. There are also a couple of practical considerations that prevent us from using several critics: Since we try to complete the critics' ratecards on the day a movie opens, we are forced to exclude several worthy media outlets (mainly sites of monthly magazines) that publish their reviews days or even weeks after a movie has been released. Then there are many sites (even sites of major newspapers) that do not maintain an easily accessible database of reviews, or use frames, which make it hard to link to them.

Do you only feature U.S. critics?
Mostly, yes, although more for pragmatic purposes than any misguided nationalistic principle. There are two major reasons: Most major movies open stateside first, and since we're a U.S. site our readers are mainly English speakers. As the web grows and changes it may become easier in the future to list critics from other countries.

What do I do if a link to a review doesn't work?
Some web sites have the nasty tendency to move their articles and to change the URLs, thus making a mess of the first principle of the web, which is infinite hyperlinking between sites. If you spot a misguided or missing link, please email us at .

How do I contact you?
Call: 614.408.3865
E-mail: comments@critics.com

What's your copyright policy?
Our features are copyrighted. That means they belong to Critics Inc. That extends to any editorial content and editorial constructs, as well as the website design, format, programming scripts, code, stylesheets, etc. Furthermore "Critical Consensus" & "Dueling Critics" are Service Marks of Critics Inc. (plus we may claim additional trademarks and service marks not listed here). At the same time, we're not copyright fascists: yes, of course you can print a page for your own use or to share with friends; yes, you can e-mail a page to a friend; yes, go ahead and link to our site (please!); and, yes, sure, go ahead and look at our HTML code and be inspired and improve your site, However, any commercial reproduction of anything appearing within this site without our written permission is illegal and in really bad taste -- and, yes, we will come after you.

What is your privacy policy?
Our privacy policy is very simple: we do not collect any personal information on our members and we do not share the e-mail addresses of those who write to us, whether members or readers,  with any other party.

What is your ad policy?
Ads appearing on Critics.com are delivered to you by third-party companies: We allow third-party companies to serve ads and/or collect certain anonymous information when you visit our web site. These companies may use non-personally identifiable information (e.g., click stream information, browser type, time and date, subject of advertisements clicked or scrolled over) during your visits to this and other Web sites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services likely to be of greater interest to you. These companies typically use a cookie or third party web beacon to collect this information. To learn more about this behavioral advertising practice or to opt-out of this type of advertising, you can visit http://networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp.

How do you choose your ads?
A word about our online ads: We hate distracting and misleading ads as much as anyone, and many of the pop-up ads we feature on our site are very irritating indeed. However, we don't have much control over advertising on the site since we do not handle our advertising in-house. Since several online ad agencies handle all of our advertising for all of our sites, we obviously we do not control what advertisers they get.


Take the 15 kids in Mrs. Jones' local third grade class and measure their heights, and calculate the average. The average height might be, for example, four feet, six inches (54 inches). The average was obtained by measuring every single child, adding their heights together, and dividing by the number of children.

The median height, however, is calculated differently, and it is intended to give a different view than the average height. To get the median height, take those same 15 school kids, but first you must line them up carefully in order of their height, from shortest to tallest. The median height is then obtained simply by measuring the height of the 8th child in the line (the one who falls exactly in the middle). In this case, let's say Joey, standing in the middle, is just 50 inches tall.

We would then report: "The height of the children in Mrs. Jones' third grade class is an average of 54 inches, with the median being 50 inches."

Averages and medians are intentionally two different calculations, with each giving a different angle of view concerning the mathematical "middle" or "center" of a series of measurements. Sometimes the average is close to the median, and therefore many people think of the average and the median as meaning pretty much the same thing.

Indeed, sometimes the average and median values are coincidentally the same. But this is certainly not always. The two numbers are more likely to coincide when you have a larger quantity of things to measure, and especially when you are measuring naturally occurring forms. For example, in measuring the height of all 500 third graders in the local community, the average and the median might both turn out to be 53 inches, or they could easily be two numbers very close together, such as an average of 53 inches and a median of 52.5 inches.

But more often than not, the median is not the same as the average; many times it isn't even close to the average. This variance is proper and expected, because they are two different calculations for two different things. The average and median are most often different when measuring things that do not follow such a natural pattern of distribution. They include things like personal income, or business income, and personal opinions -- as in movie ratings.

The difference in the average and the median height in the first example above occurs because the calculation of the average height takes into account the precise height of each single child by first adding them all together and then dividing by 15. The average is therefore influenced by every height, including the unusually tall children way over at the right side (the ones who are drinking too much milk), and by the very short kids at the left side (whose growth has been stunted by smoking).

The median height, however, is not impacted by every single height, except during the initial stage of arranging them in order of shortest to tallest. During this first step (essential to calculating the median), each height matters because it affects how you line them all up. But, once the children have been so arranged, there is now no need to precisely measure any of their heights except that of the child in the middle. The median or "middle" height is the height of that one child, but only because he or she happened to fall into the center as a direct result of the pre-arrangement process.

Here it is important to note that the median is not influenced by any unusually tall or short children that might appear at either end of the line. For example, if you replaced the child at the right end (60 inches) with a much taller child (seven feet), the median would not change one bit. The median isn't impacted, really, by anyone but the kid in the middle, except to say that every other kid's height during the pre-sorting process contributed to making one particular child fall exactly into the middle. The child so chosen receives the glorious honor of representing the median height for that particular class.

In most elementary schools, the child in the middle would be flanked immediately on either side by children of very similar height. As you move away from the center toward the children at the either end, the heights would typically tend to slope upwards or downwards rather gently, with maybe a few small jumps here and there, especially if the children are all similar in age. This assumes the class is not a wild conglomeration of kids of widely different ages (which would impact natural height distributions).

The median and the average are both useful measures of the "center" of a set of values. But a median, as noted above, is much more stable than an average. In the same way, the median rating of a film by a group of 15 movie critics is far more stable than an average rating. Some people prefer the average rating because it is a more familiar number, while some (like us) prefer the median for its greater stability.

By John Simmons


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