Exceeds expectations with many exceptional aspects and is particularly memorable or affecting.
For a movie, paying to watching more than once or owning. For a TV series, worth watching every episode as close to release as possible, viewing some episodes multiple times, or buying/renting the series to watch uninterrupted and continuously. For a book, worth owning in hardback, perhaps having a signed edition.
Exceeds expectations due to a few exceptional aspects and no significant flaws.
For a movie, worth seeing once at full-price admission. For a television program, worth catching every episode eventually with time shifting for convenience. For a book, worth owning in paperback.
Meets expectations by balancing out strengths and weaknesses.
For a movie, worth renting and maybe seeing again as a stream or a TV program with fast-forwarding through known weak spots. For a television series, worth watching selectively; some episodes may be very good or excellent while others may warrant skipping based on the previews or some particular aspects (e.g., specific designers on Trading Spaces). For a book, worth buying in paperback and donating or trading in after reading.
Fails expectations due to a few critical flaws or chronic inconsistencies.
For a movie, worth catching on television, borrowing from the library, or watching as free online streaming content, but once is absolutely enough. For a television series, not worth actively following but might warrant watching if buzz or channel surfing turns up the odd watchable episode. For a book, worth borrowing from the library or a friend.
Fails expectations with numerous critical flaws and low quality in every aspect.
For a movie, not worth seeing at all. Even if free, not worth the time wasted on watching it. For a television series, requires changing the channel, thumbs-downing and deleting from TiVo favorites, or leaving the room if other options are unavailable. For a book, not worth the time to read it.
My rating system is about expectation and circumstance; it isn’t meant as an absolute comparison of unlike things like apples and shoes, fast-food burger joints and upscale steak houses, or $100,000 indies by first-timers and $100 million blockbusters by genre-defining legends.
It’s a holistic system. I tried assigning points for a film’s writing, acting, directing, cinematography, etc., but the mathematical result often didn’t match my gut feeling: Sometimes a film can be flawless in every category but fail in synthesis, and sometimes synergy allows the whole to exceed its imperfect parts.
It includes quantitative comparisons when such quantities are consistent across other properties of the subject. A full-price movie ticket or a video rental costs roughly the same for a $100,000 indie and a $100 million blockbuster. A higher-rated film warrants a full price ticket while a lower-rated film would only be considered for rental.