Cinematic Grade Inflation
Did films get better over the past decade or did critics just get easier?
When I was in college I was a computer science major. My school divided academics into three divisions: humanities, social sciences and science, and those of us in Division III all felt we had it the hardest when it came to grading. In science you are often graded objectively – things can be right and wrong – and when you’re wrong, your grade goes down. In social sciences and humanities the bulk of grading is subjective – the quality of your writing or your thoughts. Our case wasn’t helped by one professor (clearly not a designer… jeeze Duane, that’s the same page you had when I graduated…) who felt that it was his personal mission to overthrow the grade inflation in academia. He graded on a bell curve and would post it on his door. A perfect semester saw him handing out as many A’s as D’s with the majority getting B’s & C’s. It was frustrating, to say the least. Now I work in media… go figure…
Rotten Tomatoes: Top 20 Best Reviewed Films of the Decade (minimum 100 reviews):
- 100% Man On Wire 141
- 98% Up 250
- 98% The Wrestler 205
- 98% Finding Nemo 191
- 98% The Hurt Locker 171
- 98% Let the Right One In 146
- 98% Spellbound 134
- 98% Chicken Run 134
- 98% Murderball 133
- 98% The Fog of War 133
- 98% Anvil! The Story of Anvil 122
- 98% The Band’s Visit 110
- 97% The Incredibles 224
- 97% Sideways 207
- 97% The Queen 177
- 97% Spirited Away 154
- 97% Once 148
- 97% Capturing the Friedmans 143
- 97% Maria Full of Grace 131
- 97% Winged Migration 125
In looking at the list, it felt like a lot of the titles were more recent films. Could it be that the list was unbalanced? At first glance, no. Ten of the films are from 2000-2004 and ten are from 2005-2009.
But when you look at it with two-year samples, instead of one-year samples, you see a slight preference for more recent films:
So, are films getting better, is there grade inflation, or is the sample set so small it’s neither. I then took the top 100 rated films (with at least 20 ratings) for each of the last ten years and a pattern definitely emerges:
Something is up, and that something looks like the average grade.
The average rating for the top 100 films on Rotten Tomatoes has risen from 76% to 90% in the last decade. That means ratings have risen 18%. But let’s drop out 2000 as it may have been anomalously low. If we start in 2001 the ratings have risen from 85.7% to 90.3% or about a 5% rise.
So what’s the cause? I see three possible solutions, enter your vote and let’s see what people think:
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