Hey, Where Did the Plugs Go?

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If you’ve checked out any of Plugged In’s movie reviews today, you probably noticed that something’s changed: Our family-friendly movie rating, represented by those familiar green “plugs,” is no longer at the top of our reviews.

So what happened to it?

The fact is, our team has been debating the possibility of removing the rating system for quite some time. Years, actually—almost from the moment we incorporated it into our written reviews, matching what we had been doing on the radio up to that point. And the reasons for that debate essentially revolve around four separate (but overlapping) issues: subjectivity, consistency, credibility and discernment.

Let me talk about each of those things.

Subjectivity
The family-friendly rating has always been our attempt to provide a quick snapshot of how appropriate a given film is for families. And for some families, it’s really helpful.

But every family is different. Every member within that family is different. Some kids might be really sensitive to one thing but not another. Some parents might recoil at one bad word but feel another is navigable. And guess what? Every reviewer watching these movies is different, too.

Arriving at any kind of rating is inherently subjective, because even among our team of reviewers, we’re not always completely in agreement. A certain issue might seem worthy of a bigger “deduction” to one of us than it does to another. The fact that our team sometimes has prolonged, intense conversations to reach a rating we can all live with speaks to how difficult it can be to quantify a film’s problematic content on a scale of 0 to 5.

Related to this concern is the fact that some otherwise fine films may have one or two really problematic moments that force us to wrestle with how to rate them. The remake of Beauty and the Beast last year is a good example. Before the film’s release, director Bill Condon talked about the film’s “exclusively gay moment” involving the character of LeFou. How much did we need to lower the family-friendly rating because of his same-sex attraction?

In the end, we settled on 2.5—a score that managed to produce angry letters from both sides. Some felt strongly that the inclusion of such content required an automatic zero. Others believed that the scenes in question would have been easy to miss altogether had the director not made such a big deal of them, and they felt that our rating blasted the film unnecessarily.

Thus, we’ve found that a simple movie rating is really limited in its ability to deal with these nuanced worldview concerns.

Consistency
The issue of subjectivity is directly related to the second issue: consistency. Again, we’ve worked very hard to apply a consistent content grid when it comes to the ratings we’ve given each film. But that can be a difficult task.

For example, late last year we gave The Star, an animated story about the animals surrounding Jesus’ birth, a rating of 4.0, while we gave the Christmas Carol origin story The Man Who Invented Christmas a 4.5. One reader wrote in and asked, “How could you give a movie full of ghosts a higher rating than a biblically sound movie about the birth of Jesus?”

We rated The Star lower because we felt the presence of bathroom humor in a movie about Jesus at certain points felt really inappropriate, even if the gags in question were relatively minor. But not everyone would necessarily agree with the way we chose to apply our rating system in these two cases.

Some have suggested that we should simply change the ratings if we feel we’ve made a mistake. But the problem is that many who’ve already relied upon our initial rating to make a decision could very well feel that our ratings can’t be trusted if we’re going to alter them after the fact.

And that leads to the next issue.

Credibility
Ever since we’ve included ratings on the site, we’ve heard from readers—via email, in comments on our blogs, on social media—responding critically to something that they felt we rated either too high or too low. Occasionally, people tell us that they’re never going to read another review because they’re so angry with our assessment.

Essentially, then, the rating becomes a lightning rod, something that causes readers to lose trust in us and in Focus on the Family. And we place an incredibly high premium on your trust.

And that brings me to the final issue, which is perhaps the most important one of all.

Discernment
Plugged In exists to help you and your family to navigate the world of popular culture. We do our very best to accurately document what’s in a given film, then give you that information so that you can make an informed decision about whether it’s appropriate for your family or not.

But we also worry the rating system can actually work against helping you think critically and discerningly. How? Because it can potentially short-circuit thinking deeply about a particular film’s content concerns.

Here’s what I mean. We’ve regularly received feedback from readers who essentially tell us, “I love your rating system because it means I don’t have to read your review.” Others might say, “I can’t believe you gave a film this rating! It has this, this, and this in it!” And yet, we’ve listed those very concerns in our review—indicating that someone has made a decision to see a film based on our rating alone.

But the rating was never intended to be the final word on a film. Instead, it was meant to be a catalyst to explore a movie’s ideas and content more deeply: a starting point, not an ending point.

For all of those reasons, we’ve decided that the best response is to remove the family-friendly rating system. For now, we’re keeping our red/yellow/green Content Caution warnings, which you’ll find at the bottom of the metadata about each film. But even this more general assessment is intended as a jumping-off point—a complement to the full review, not a replacement for it. And going forward, we’ll be examining some new ways to communicate the core issues and concerns of a given film quickly without relying on rating, as well as reevaluating how the rating system is used in our Plugged In Movie Reviews on the radio, too.

We realize that the family-friendly plugs have been a tool that many of you have utilized to help you make decisions. But because of our commitment to help encourage discernment, critical thinking and attention to the specifics of your family’s sensitivities, we’ve decided to make this significant change.

Thank you for your loyalty and commitment to Plugged In. We remain dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and informative movie reviews (as well as reviews of TV, music, video games and books) that we possibly can.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 24 days ago
I respect your decision not to post the rating but have to say that it was helpful in filtering out the best form the worst.  Our family has trusted your integrity since Dobson was writing on a chalkboard during auditorium lectures. Based on the 130 comments below mine it looks like a 60/40 split on this topic.  Since subjectivity, consistency, credibility, and discernment is obviously different from family to family, why not add an opt-in feature to the website and allow those that want to see (and trust) your rating the ability to do so. The reviews aired on the radio still give the ratings, so I know there are available.  This solution would provide a better end-user experience based on their personal preference.  Please consider.  Thank you for what you do!
a perez 6 months ago
I understand your explanation, but the rating was a helpful first door. I don't want to read a whole review for a movie that is going to be a no. It was an automatic no if it didn't have 3 plugs, a maybe based on the review if it had at least 3.5. Now, I've got to read every single one when most will be a no? Much less helpful. 
Anonymous 6 months ago
So bummed that you got rid of your ratings, it was very helpful as a simple guideline for myself and my family. The plugs did not take away from us reading the reviews, in fact at times, we had great debates about your ratings; but they did help to know the really bad movies to avoid. Losing both the app & now the ratings is very disappointing. 
Elocin T 6 months ago
I found the plugs useful. Even though I understand your explanation I think many people will miss them, myself included. In the old days, before the plugs, when I was crunched for time I went straight to the Conclusion to get a feel for the movie's family-friendliness. Guess I will have to resort to that again. 
Mekela Tyler 9 months ago
I personally agree with this decision. As you said, subjectivity has a great deal to do with it and every family is different. What may be a red flag for one family or single member may not even be on another's radar. My word of advice to parents saying they don't have time to read the reviews: MAKE TIME! These reviewers don't write for hours just to pass the time or because they have nothing better to do. They took the time to tell you everything that may or not concern you as a parent so that you don't have to deal with awkward or scary moments and conversations you weren't ready to have with your kids because of a scene. Read the review on your lunch break or just before you go to bed. Read it while the kids are taking a nap or maybe while you hide in your closet for a few minutes (no shame). If what your kids learn and are influenced by is really important enough to you to, read the review and rate it yourself. It's not that hard.
KELLEY DEITEMEYER 9 months ago
I support your decision and justification, and appreciate your clear explanation. If we feel we are too busy to read through content about concerns, challenges, and influencers from a biblical perspective, perhaps we are leaning to heavily on others. As believers we are called to discernment, and I thank you for the reminder. In the context of secular media, my prayer is that the following verse, would guide me thoughts and actions. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2
Kisha Bethany 9 months ago
Thanks for this explanation. If folks are too “busy” to read, for GOODNESS sakes, maybe you could scroll down the review to the “stoplight” buttons labeled “Kids, Teens, & Adults”. I didn’t rely on the plugs as you clearly layout categories in the review that I read and thoroughly appreciate your time and effort in doing so. This site is a tremendous blessing to so many an I pray that it goes on forever! Thank you so much FOTF. Job well done
Anonymous 9 months ago
The main reason I use your site is to get your plugged-in rating. You've really take away a big reason for people to use your site. Hopefully, you'll reconsider your decision to get rid of the rating system.
Anonymous 10 months ago
We have been using PluggedIn resources for many years to guide us in making wholesome entertainment choices for our family. We are thankful for your website (but REALLY miss your app!). However, it is so disappointing that you have removed your movie rating system. That was the most helpful aspect of your reviews for our family. Being able to sort reviews by rating and then read the complete reviews, was valuable and significantly less time consuming than trying to sort through each individual review, like we have to now. We simply do not need to take time to read reviews for movies that are not even an option for us. We cannot rely on Hollywood movie ratings and your system allowed us to review our options and make the best decisions for ourselves. Now it is far more difficult to narrow down our choices.

All reviews (even without ratings) are inherently subjective, and it is the readers' responsibility to interpret the review and ratings and ultimately make use their own discernment to make decisions. It is unfortunate that you received much criticism from people who didn't always agree, but that is to be expected. We appreciate the detailed reviews you provide and look forward to continuing to use your website. Additionally, our older children even relied on your movie ratings and reviews (primarily using your app). Your ratings system might not have been perfect, but it was a very helpful tool. We sincerely hope you will consider bringing it back. Thank you!
Anonymous 10 months ago
Please don't give up Plugged In.  I totally rely on it as to what movies I'll take my grandchildren to go see and what movies I myself will go see.  I miss the movie rating system.  I would look at it and then read the review.  I used the movie rating and the review to show the parents as to why I would not take my grandchildren to see certain movies.  Thank you for your honesty in reviewing movies.  Please keep up the great work!
Giuseppe Frasca 10 months ago
Even your decision to remove the ratings from the website won't change people for critizing or judging your decision to remove the ratings. As christians we are called to do everything to honor God and to be a blessing for others. If your decision in the beginning was born with this desire, you should put ratings back, if your decision was not born with this convinction, then it's better not to have the ratings. Your decision however, won't change the fact that there are other christian websites that are sharing their ratings (no matter the critique of the people). I loved plugged in.. it was my favorite website for movies. Now unfortunately I will search more other christians website for this ministry. 
Anonymous 10 months ago
I never even noticed that you included the ratings online before - probably because they didn't dictate my decision on a movie.  The content in your reviews did.  
On that note, let me say how much I appreciate your reviews.  There have been a few movies I went to on impulse (and without a smartphone to check out the reviews prior) and have regretted it.  One in particular stands out and is why I've never done it again.
Each time I read a review that results in my decision to not see the movie, I am struck by what it takes to be a reviewer - and specifically, a Christian reviewer.  To sit through some of these flicks, cringing at words, actions and messages that are in direct conflict to your beliefs . . .  I can't imagine.  The prayer life and relationship with God must be strong for these movies to not have an impact in a negative way.  Thank you to each reviewer.
 - Shannon, mother of 2, grandmother of 3.  Raleigh, NC
Anonymous 10 months ago
It's very interesting to notice that amongst many of the readers who have commented in complaint about the removal of the plugs, that one of tha main reasons is time. Not having (making) the time to carefully consider a movie before it gets watched (consumed). Are quick decisions really neccessary in this area of life? Surely there is no great urgency or rush to be entertained? I fear this addiction in our cuture can be glossed over in our own lives if we're given an easy pass at entertainment that is branded "Kosher" by the plug system. Making time to read the review of another believer should be a basic starting point before we devote 2 or 3 hours of our precious time to something. Surely each of these decisions should be offered to the Lord in prayer too... and I know for myself, I can't rush that
Ruth, mother of 3 movie-loving children, London, UK
Anonymous 10 months ago
        I'm very disappointed in your decision.  Because you ARE a Christian website I trusted your rating system whether for my child or even my husband and I.  When you gave a good rating I would sometimes skim the review just to satisfy my curiosity about what to look forward to.  When you gave a negative rating, again I skimmed the review to see why I probably wouldn't see the movie. And sometimes I decideed to see the movie anyway.
       Critical thinking? Well, I didn't surrender my will to you.  Who the hell are you to decide I need to be doing that! Afterall, I don't leave my brain at the door.  
       Consistency?  You're fallible, so of course you weren't always consistent!  Reviews are always influenced by the bias of the reviewers. 
       Subjectivity? Really?!  Of course you're subjective!  I COUNT ON IT! I was always aware (Not wary) of both of those (not possibilities, but rather) inevitabilities.  Because your are reliably Christian I was comfortable relying on your biased reviews. 
       Having seen a movie, occasionally I disagreed with some aspect of the review: but never to the point of feeling I needed to rebuke you for it, BECAUSE you are subjective and you are influenced by your own morals and world view.  Whoop-to-do!  You have an opinion! And, because I choose to enter your website, I am willingly listening to it.  Get over yourself!
       It is NOT your responsibility to encourage critical thinking or even believe you're capable of being objective  I think you have become somewhat self-righteous in believing you have a higher purpose than your original intent.  Your set purpose was to give your readers (who are conscientious about guarding the values, hearts and minds of their families) a recommended rating to help them wade through the ungodly morass of worldly culture.  In other words, get back to your original intention. And since all families ARE different, then humble yourselves to add a disclaimer, "Please keep in mind this is just our opinion which may differ from yours." 
        As you are fully aware you "can't please all the people all the time." From you, I don't need a mealy-mouthed middle-of-the-road review!  I can get that anywhere else I turn. You CANNOT have foot in both worlds. Stand firm in your beliefs and give us what we need, not what the world wants!
        When going to view a movie, especially at multi-theater venues, many times a quick decision is needed (and taking time to read several full reviews is NOT an option!)  Your rating system was heavily relied on at such moments.  You now fail to be a quick way to give a recommendation. Except for those rare times I can just sit and browse your reviews I now have little use for your website.
        Step away from your pomposity and bring back the rating system!!!  Without it your site is not nearly as valuable as you would like it to be.

Very, very sincerely hoping you will take this review to heart.  
Paula Davidson, Idaho Falls, Idaho
        
Anonymous 10 months ago
Well written explanation. The plugs were nice, but ultimately people (born-again believers especially) should be basing their entertainment diet more on Spirit guided convictions than a Christian website (even one as great as FOTF). More believers need to be basing their lives and entertainment on biblically-based convictions that are formed from true reading, study and meditation of God's word. Thank you FOTF for all you are doing to help screen and provide a filter in this process. Keep up the good work - our family will continue to use your site.
I am Steve 10 months ago
As others have said I believe that removing the plugs is a bad idea.  Every time I am deciding whether or not to go see a movie I have checked both the reviews and the rating given.

Although I understand your logic for doing so, I won't be using your site nearly as often.  Please reconsider.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I am very sorry to see the rating system go, I cant tell you how many times it has kept us from seeing trash when there is no time to read--like right when we are in the movie line.  I hope you will bring it back.  Don't listen to the lie that it isn't important.
Michael Camp 10 months ago

Thanks for the explanation. To be honest, I always read the full review and made my decision regardless of plugs. I like the way your reviews categorize things which gives me the tools as a parent to make an informed decision.

Anonymous 10 months ago
Missing those plugs.  I do not have time to read every single review, their detail makes them long.  I always used the plugs to narrow down and then read the detail.  I am so disappointed in this decision.  It leaves me a VERY frustrated parent/movie goer, leaving me without a valuable tool I depended on.  Ugh!  Why not leave them for those who want to use them? 
Cheryl H 11 months ago
Thank you for such a thorough explanation as to why the plugins are being removed. It makes total sense! Parents need to spend the time reading the whole review....it takes time but it is worth it if you are genuinely concerned about a movie! Thank you again for blessing us with the time it takes to do this!
Anonymous 11 months ago
While I hate to see the plugs eliminated, I completely understand the reasoning.  You may want to consider adopting a plug by category system, like Common Sense Media uses, in lieu of an overall rating.  In other words, for Profanity, Sexual Content, etc you could have a plug for each individual category, along with the details that explain the selection, and not give a rating for the movie as a whole.
Greg Wilson 11 months ago
I miss the plugs, I used to do a quick check and trusted your opinions. I will probably not check reviews as often because of time needed to read the reviews.
Anonymous 11 months ago
I loved your reviews, but I no longer utilize your site since you've removed the ratings plugs.  Terrible decision! 
Anonymous 11 months ago
Along with others it's disappointing you had backlash about the ratings.  I always enjoyed the plugs as a quick reference when needed. Bummed it's gone, I could send my son to the site to get the plugs to see if I could give a quick thumbs up or if something was three or below I would make him wait till I read the review.  I think the quick reference was very useful in our culture.  People who complained are free not to use them rather than remove them entirely.  It's all subjective but after I developed some comfort with the reviews and the ratings I was happy to be able to use it as a first line of defense.  Good work on the reviews but without the plugs it will lessen the use of the site I expect.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Some people are quick to target a conservative platform, yet, have no involvement with politics! Representatives need to hear from their (conservative) constituents who make a real difference with law and order.

The rating is a good platform but I can see why it's been removed per the backlash received. Your team has reviewed movies I would never watch based on the "trailer" alone. So I didn't need to go by how many "plugs" were rated to make my decision. Common sense is a lot of movies and such will not be biblically based, or wholesome, and there will be worldly innuendoes all in the name of inclusiveness, etc. I appreciate that Focus on the Family is a trusted source--thank you for your faithfulness.