Imagine yourself seated in the cool theater on a Friday night. The credits begin to appear on screen and the lights brighten after a two hour escape into the land of cinema. At some point you ask yourself, "Was that movie any good?" Some of you may be able to decide right away, maybe even during the movie. For me, the question is usually explored on the way home, or as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep. Whatever the case, the question always comes. Not only must you decide, but you must be able to justify that decision. Why did you like it? Why didn't you like it? How many of us have had to face the criticism of self proclaimed movie experts ready to pounce on any opinion that doesn't match their own?
So what really makes a movie good? What makes it barely watchable? What makes a movie great? I present to you what I believe to be the top 5 qualities a movie must possess in strength for me to consider it a great movie. To be clear, I will maintain a distinction between a quality movie and an entertaining one. Though I believe great movies to be entertaining, I don't think a movie has to be of great quality to entertain.
1. Characters- First and foremost, a movie must have good characters. These characters must be believable both in their motivations and their development (or lack thereof) throughout the course of the plot. Stories driven by the characters within them serve to strengthen the story as it is the choices, skill, and other qualities that either get them into trouble, or help them get through it. One of the most disappointing character flops I've seen in a movie comes from the much debated Star Wars prequels, specifically the Phantom Menace. Throughout the originally trilogy, we are led to believe Anakin was a great Jedi and one of the best pilots in the galaxy. In P.M. this is further emphasized by Qui Gon's observations of his quick reflexes and high midi-chlorian count. Anakin goes on to save the day... by accident? He accidentally starts up the Naboo fighter, flies to the Trade Federation control ship, and destroys it from within - sadly, an example of a poor use of a character.2. Plot - Great movies tell good stories. A good story consists of good characters driving a good plot. A plot does not have to be mind blowing, but it does need to be intriguing. It must take its time to develop the plot while at the same time, not rushing to fit it within a two hour time frame. One of my all time favorite movies, Big Fish, is a great example of this. The plot is simple: a man who has distanced himself from his father due to his habit of selling elaborate tales as truth comes to find there is more truth to the stories than he had originally expected. This movie not only contains good character development, but intertwines them with the plot so smoothly that it pulls you in. It's not the most exhilarating movie out there, but it has the intrigue to pull you in.
3. Acting - How many movies have you seen that have been destroyed by atrocious or even sub par acting? Acting does not have to be Oscar worthy by any means, but it is essential enough that it can ruin any ability to relate to the characters and thus get pulled into the movie if not done properly. I love reading people's comments with regards to character castings for well established franchises. Aside from the entertainment some of the, let's say "passionate", language provides, it shows that people really care about the acting talent they feel their beloved characters deserve.
4. Meeting Expectations - Movie advertisements can be very clever and somewhat deceiving. Of course, the purpose of advertising is to make you want to see the movie; however, some advertising campaigns make the mistake of completely misleading the the audience as to what the movie is all about. I believe that a movie can fail in other aspects that would make it great, but as long as it meets your expectations watching said movie is not a waste of time. The movie that comes to my mind that fits this category would be Cowboys v Aliens. All I wanted to see going into that movie was some cowboys fighting some aliens and that's exactly what was delivered. Was it a great movie? No. Did it succeed in meeting expectations? Yes.
5. Visual Effects - This point does not have to be concerned only with those movies that rely on some sort of special effects or CGI, however, this is what I will touch on. I don't expect the visual effects of all movies to be on the same level as, say, Avatar, but they do need to be good. I feel that if a movie exhibits poor quality visual effects, it loses a little bit of credibility and I become more scrutinizing afterwards. I know plenty of people who will judge such a movie solely on the quality of its visual effects, but I don't think a movie can be considered great based on that criteria alone.