You could be forgiven for thinking that Netflix ratings are, like most other sites, some form of critical review. When you click into a TV show or movie on Netflix, you will see 5 stars, and a number of these will be golden.
Simple logic dictates that this is how well-received the film or show was, either by critics or the public (or possibly a combination of the two). However, this is completely wrong.
In reality, the Netflix ratings are personalised from user to user. Netflix uses a complex algorithm to guess how much it thinks you will enjoy a particular film or TV show. To do this, it uses a few different methods. The first of these, which you may not even remember, is the genres you selected when you first signed up. But it’s not just as simple as ticking the box for Rom-coms. Netflix is no fool. It knows that most people who say they enjoy documentaries or foreign films are actually just fooling themselves, and may never watch something from either of these categories. So unless you actually watch films in these categories, it will assume you’re not really that into them. The longer you’re on Netflix without dipping into the cultural end of the pool, the truer this becomes.
Secondly, it looks at what you actually watch. This is a pretty straightforward part. If you watch several thrillers a week, it will suggest more thrillers. It will also take into account the type of films in each genre. For example, if you watch more high-end stuff like Primer, it will suggest something in a similar vein, like Memento. If you watch something like Saw XVII: Jigsaw VS Slenderman, it will suggest something more along the lines of Alien VS Predator VS Freddie VS Jason (which is a film that absolutely must be made). It will also take into account if you ditch a film halfway through, or watch it over and over.
Finally comes the most useful but probably most neglected factor: the actual Netflix ratings. If you rate the stuff you watch, the ratings for everything else will be adjusted. Seriously, try it out. I showed my friends a fantastic movie, They Came Together, which is a very adult parody of generic romcoms (Sit your fuckin’ ass down Karen. We’re not done with the story). Afterwards, we looked at the bio Wet Hot American Summer, a film which involves a lot of the same people. It had only two stars, but this changed to four stars immediately after we rated They Came Together as 5 stars, because Netflix knows. It knows.
So there you have it. The real meaning behind Netflix ratings.