Our editor breaks down the meaning of our grading system

At Entertainment Weekly, we grade everything we review, so perhaps it would be helpful to explain how this started and what it means. When we started Entertainment Weekly we decided the magazine should be as useful, helpful, and informative as possible. Faced with a potentially confusing explosion of entertainment choices, we needed some way to measure them all and keep them straight. We didn’t want the usual one-to-four (or five) stars; everybody uses them. Neither did we want to use thumbs, a la TV’s Ebert and Siskel; thumbs give you no shades of gray — and it’s not easy to typeset them. We settled on grades because we’ve all been to school and we all know what an ”A+” or an ”F” means. That’s why we use grades in every section.

What the grades represent are the opinions of the individual critics who review — and grade — the show, movie, book, or record. Of course, we don’t mean to suggest (although in our hearts we might want to believe) that these opinions are the correct ones; what we do endorse is that well-expressed opinions make for lively, interesting, provocative reading. We also respect and print dissenting opinions in our letters column.

Occasionally, we have been asked to clarify what, in our judgment, makes a movie an ”A” movie or why one record is a ”B+” and another a ”B-.” So here are quick answers to a few of the more frequently heard questions:

Do you grade on the bell curve?
No. An ”A+” and an ”F” will both be rare, but the grades don’t necessarily average out to a ”C.”

Do you judge Citizen Kane and Rambo on the same scale?
No. We grade and criticize entertainment in its genre — thrillers among thrillers, soaps among soaps, masterpieces among masterpieces.

I went to school in the ’60s when they had pass-fail and ”E” for effort. So tell me, what exactly do your grades mean?

Here are brief interpretations of each grade, ”A+” to ”F” — the guide our critics use:
A+ A rare and wonderful treat. An ambitious effort that succeeds in practically every way. Almost sure to be on an annual 10 Best list.
A Superb entertainment. An unequivocal recommendation.
A- An ”A” with some noticeable flaw: one bad performance, a draggy beginning, a grating score.
B+ Good, with something special that stands out — one performance, one song, one memorore scene. A solid recommendation.
B Good, something you’ll be glad you took in, even if it doesn’t become a classic.
B- A ”B” with some flaw, but still worth one’s time.
C+ Average, with a performance, a script, a song, or something that stands out.
C Average. Not good, not bad. A critic’s shrug.
C- A ”C” with a noticeable flaw, something that sticks out. Not a recommendation, not a pan, just a bigger shrug .
D+ Pretty bad, all around, with something that stands out for the good: a bad movie with one great scene, a bad album with one hummable song, a bad book with a neat beginning. This is not a recommendation, but that plus is a way to give credit when due.
D A bad effort. Most really bad efforts are ”D”s, not ”F”s. A ”D” isn’t ambitious and it isn’t a success.
D- A ”D” with something that is really awful about it. Sometimes, the minus is given to penalize entertainment for excessive violence or sexism.
F An ”F” is given to something utterly without redemption. A ”D” is a warning. An ”F” is a condemnation. It is the critic’s curse.

Then, of course, the most important grade is yours.