Movies are a man’s best companion. It doesn’t matter if it is sad, happy, or full of intense action, a movie can spark your imagination, ignite your senses, and transport you into a world of wonderment and awe.
But not all movies are made equal. Some are true masterpieces, while others are worth no more than a night spent binge-watching and commenting trash movies with your besties.
At the beginning of your home movie critic career, you might have fallen for titles with a huge buzz and famous actors. You know, the movies everyone has been talking about for weeks. Or you might have watched all Scorsese and Spielberg movies just because you know who directed them.
In fact, there’s a lot more to be considered when defining an outstanding movie. While taste is highly subjective, some factors can influence the likelihood of a movie to make people fall for it.
That’s why we have distilled our knowledge and experience as movie addicts to define what factors make great movies to watch. Let’s just jump right into it, shall we?
The Basic Fantastic Six
Think of the last movie you watched and loved. What made it so special? Was it an awesome story or great characters? Or beautiful cinematography? Was each actor giving an outstanding performance? Or was it because of its top-notch soundtrack? The answer is probably yes to all of this.
It’s easy to think that everything about your loved movie is great and that therefore the movie itself is great. But it actually all depends on how its basic elements were arranged. In a movie, it all revolves around:
If done right, all these elements make the perfect recipe for a revered movie. All of them plus one, actually. The Himalaya salt of your cinematographic dish: storytelling.
We all want a movie to tell us a story that will make us cry, laugh, or think. Otherwise, we would be watching a documentary. Cinema is all about storytelling. Pretty much everything you put into a movie – be it dialogs, props, lighting, songs, or edits – communicates something to the audience.
There’s even a more specific word for this: subtext. The subtext is all about the subtle messages you’re trying to convey to your audience without explicitly coming out and stating them. It can be used in just about anything in a movie, from the script to the editing up to the cinematography.
We’re pretty sure you had to watch over-explained or clunky expositional scenes in movies. Those heavy moments where the characters or the narrator are telling you how to feel and what’s going on. The “I’m here alone at home, outside is storming, and oh no! My husband who just came back from his business trip where he met his ex and they had a clear physical connection – I mean, he isn’t responding to the phone” type of moments. Instead of allowing you to explore the story and figure it out yourself, they tell you all the context of their actions or feelings. They look very fake and often pull us off.
Well, when storytelling is done bad, here’s when subtexts disappear. All of this at the expense of a movie where other elements might be great, but this one key part wasn’t done well enough. All of that ruins your fun time as a viewer.
A bunch of other factors
What makes a movie memorable? The movies we remember the most are often intense and thoughtful in how they convey a theme and message. Sure, we all love entertaining and well-executed movies. But the ones that take space in our hearts are those that make us think or that inspire us. Or the ones which remind us of good times.
Either way, here’s a list of more specific factors to look for in a movie.
With great characters comes great responsibility – well, and a great movie. Characters play an essential role in the entire storytelling process. They’re the breath of a movie. They’re the element that makes us bond with the story.
You might like or dislike some characters in a movie. But we all love it when they look so real on the screen. When they portray an array of emotions wider than a Bella “wooden” acting from Twilight. When they make the same mistakes that we’d make and say the same things we might be saying.
If a movie has terrible characters that look stereotypical or Mary Sue-ish, it will be tough to watch it till the end. And you probably shouldn’t, either.
A well-told, simple plot
No matter the genre, there’s nothing better than a good story well-told. A well-structured story often includes a journey where the protagonist changes after solving a conflict.
Not a day goes by without a director thinking that it would be a good idea to have a complex plot in their movies. And yet, not a day goes by where we realize that their movies looked more complex than a Da Vinci code.
Just like everything in life, simple is good enough. Simple is actually better. You don’t have to write an entire Lord of the Rings type of universe to create a memorable story. The complexity level of a story comes second to the way you tell it.
Make your characters grow and learn a lesson. Put them through real-life challenges and realistic co-protagonists. This way, you’ve already got the basics of a solid story.
A simple message
Good films try to teach us a lesson or show a side of the world we didn’t encounter before. Even in this case, simplicity is key. When a movie has a simple message, it can reach a broad audience, and it will still make it easy for everyone to bring the movie’s lesson back to our lives. In other words, a movie with a simple message is more likely to win the heart of many than the one with a complex one.
And a powerful theme
This point is strictly connected to the previous one. We all want to learn something from a movie. And while its message should be well-crafted and straightforward, it’s also important to keep consistent till the end.
Sometimes you’ll find movies that wander away from the central theme. A plot meant to be describing the harshness of immigrants’ lives that quickly turns to a J.Lo-movie vibe. We ain’t got time for that.
While it’s perfectly normal to transform the story as the characters grow, screen players should also realize why people have decided to watch that movie in the first place. If we wanted to watch a romantic comedy, we would have opted for other clips instead.
A real-life texture
The texture is what makes a character seem more human. While dialogues are great, actions speak much louder than words.
We all like to see the characters showing they have lives beyond the plot. We like to learn more about them from the little details of their actions. The mundane makes them human and relatable.
A good ending
As with everything in this list, what you may think of as a good ending can also not apply to other people’s perceptions. However, it’s not uncommon to see movies spoilt because of a bad ending. An ending that is either cliche or rushed.
An excellent movie is more likely to have a perfect ending with the right amount of suspense and story morals. A moment where many pieces of the plot puzzle fit together beautifully in a nice, neat little package. A short, sweet, and simple ending that ties up most if not all loose ends. What’s better than that?
A heart-grasping pacing
A typical movie story is structured to build tension and drama as the plot goes on. All of this will lead to a climax and a finale. A great movie has peaceful moments between tense scenes. But it also portrays tension in a way that makes it hard not to move on your sofa following the character’s movements, your eyes stuck to the screen.
A well-chosen cast
Talented actors can make or break a movie. Countless promising clips have been ruined by poorly-executed acting scenes. Or by exaggerated facial expressions. Lines read like a kid reciting a poem in front of the family at Christmas. Or all of these combined.
Yes, we’re looking at you, Showgirls.
A repeated series of patterns
This is a sometimes overlooked movie element, but repetition can be very important.
Repetition can remind the viewer of some critical character information. It can make the movie’s message stick to our minds and memories.
Psychologically speaking, we’re wired to enjoy a certain degree of repetition. However, there’s an ocean of differences between a well-crafted repetition and pure plot laziness with scenes repeated just to make them look better. This can easily backfire if done incorrectly, and yet it’s so important, especially with committed movies.
All that being said…
Last but not least, the crucial indicator of the quality of a movie is if it can or should be watched more than once. The best movies are often the ones you’d brag about and push your friends to binge-watch together. Those are the perfect movies for a Friday night at home. The ones you won’t need to read much about, just knowing that they will satisfy the craving for something great.
And when picking a movie, you want to find a shareable one that won’t damage your credibility when recommended.
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To wrap all up
These are just a few elements of really good movies to watch. We’re not saying that movies with complex stories without repetition, a clear message and rounded characters are necessarily trash. But you’ll realize that they are much likely so.
Movies are a significant part of our lives. Not all of them will or should make it to the top of your list for the best movies to watch. Some movies are so dull that you can hardly watch them to the end. Others are so well-done that it’s a challenge to move your eyes off the screen and two hours pass as quickly as two minutes.
What are some factors you think make up for a great movie? What are the other elements you take into consideration for picking your favorite ones? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading.