One of IMDB's most useful features is its ratings/review system, which provides users with an opportunity to see what other moviegoers -- and critics -- have thought of a title. Here's a quick guide, compared against hundreds of movies actually watched by Jet staff, to understanding both the "out of 10" user scores (voted by any IMDB user) and the "out of 100" Metascores (professional critic ratings). You might find it interesting to see with whom you agree more closely on a particular movie: the general public or the critics -- and also check who the specific critics were, and read a key blurb from their review, by clicking the Metascore link.
0.0-4.9 (or 0-49 on the "Metascore" scale): varying degrees of "unwatchable," unless you are a major genre fan or a fan of a particular actor or director, but even then, it's a deeply flawed movie. [note: one of Jet's worker-owners' favorite movies, "Clifford" with Martin Short and Charles Grodin, had a 4.9 for a long time. ;)]
5.0-5.9: watchable/decent/OK/not bad. The movie has some clear problems, but you can probably make it through the whole thing without shutting it off or fast-forwarding it. Less picky viewers may also find it enjoyable or wonder what everyone else is complaining about.
6.0-6.9: good. 6.0 is just plain "good," but better than merely "watchable," while a 6.9 is nearly "very good." The movie may have some flaws but will typically have good production, one or two solid actors, and reasonably good direction, writing, and technical aspects.
7.0-7.9: very good. 7.0 and up are fairly uncommon ratings and indicate a movie that is definitely not run of the mill.
8.0-8.9: excellent. These movies are completely outstanding and very popular.
9.0-9.9: legendary. Very few movies ever break 9.0. Currently over 9.0 are the Godfather I and II, and The Shawshank Redemption.
10: perfect. No movie is currently ranked at 10.
Caviats: Like any rules, these have exceptions, so really they are more like guidelines or tendencies than hard-and-fast laws:
1) First of all, certain direct-to-video releases may only have been rated by a hundred people or two, including the movie's cast and crew (and their family members), so they might be very biased. The good news is that IMDB shows you how many ratings have been counted. If it's above 500-1000, you can be sure it's at least closer to the ballpark of the guide above. Over 3000 is best.
2) Movies tend to start high (when they are new releases in the theaters) and then drop. Often, the first people to watch and review movies are people who are eagerly anticipating it or otherwise fans, so if a movie is new, you can expect its user rating to be skewed high by a point or so. Over time, as more people watch and review the movie, it will probably drop a bit. The older and more time-tested the movie, the more accurate its rating will tend to be.
3) TV shows often rate higher than movies by about a point. Are viewers' expectations simply lower of TV? We're not sure, but there is a clear tendency for TV shows to rate about a point higher than they should rate compared to movies. Example: Fargo, Season 1, is a popular show, but 9.0 (higher than Schindler's List, 8.9)? C'mon now. Let's make that a 7.9.
4) Likewise, foreign movies tend to rate high by about a point. This is probably because, like very new releases, the audience base (on the USA-oriented IMDB) is smaller and is weighted toward fans who have spent extra effort to seek out the movie.
5) Conversely, US-based movies starring primarily non-white actors (i. e. not aimed at "mainstream," white America) frequently rate one to two points lower than their counterparts. This point may be considered controversial, but it appears to us to be a consistent trend.
6) Finally, the Top 250 list is an interesting statement on who is doing the rating and US moviegoers' values. Well over half of the top 100 movies are male-oriented and in the action/adventure/crime/superhero/suspense categories. And for fun, you can also check out the Bottom 100, the worst movies of all time (to date).