How to Decide if a Movie is Good or Bad

Written by Brenden Bell.

There are so many creative and wonderful films out there; some we love and some we hate. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. What makes a movie good? What makes it bad?

If you’re confused, this article is for you. I’m going to give you some practical tools to assess a film based on both subjective and objective factors, and then take you through a film so you’ll be comfortable doing this yourself in private.

Download the worksheet here as a PDF: An Objective Journey into Subjectivity.

Then, follow along as we learn how to decide if we think a movie is good or not. The analysis of the film is based on a point system. Each positive answer is given one point, while negative answers are given zero points. The final section asks you to rate your answer on a scale of 1-5; the point value is equal to this scale.

If a movie got more than 16 points it’s probably a movie you’re ok with watching, more than 21 then it’s probably a good film. More than 30?? Probably an all time favorite for you.

Let’s test it shall we?

I’m going to take you through it with one of my least favorite films: The Phantom Menace.

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Our first step is to fill in the information in the text box in the left corner of the worksheet. You’ll reference back to these as needed.

If you’re confused about how to tell who your main character is, it’s usually the character who is the most changed at the end of the film.

The theme/thematic material is the big idea behind the film; the idea the filmmaker wants you to take away from the film. If you’re still confused, check out this blog to explain it a bit more.

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Once this is done you can move on to the next several sections of questions; you want to answer as honestly and fairly as you can. They revolve around story, character and theme.

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  • the first question refers to your ability to write the story in a sentence from the previous section. If you’re unable to do so simply (as I was for this movie, then the answer is no). The rest are fairly self-explanatory.
  • The next two sections play fairly similarly, both with one question taken from the information you gave in the first written portion.

The next section of questions is a bit more objective, focusing in on the artistry/craftsmanship involved in the various departments involved in the filmmaking process. Movies you love can be made poorly, and films you hate can have good aspects to them. This section helps add a bit of objectivity to your subjective opinion of a film.

Rather than YES/NO the positive distinction is HELP while the negative distinction is DISTRACT. Ask yourself, did the following aspects of filmmaking HELP tell the story, or did they DISTRACT from the story and feel out of place? If you didn’t notice either way, then you can assume they were natural and helped tell the story.

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For this section, when I had mixed feelings (such as production design), I decided to go positive. Your levels of grace and compassion are totally up to you.

The last section, and perhaps the most important. There is always a part of a movie for me which is indescribable and separate from the story, and other elements of filmmaking. I call this… THE X-FACTOR.

Ultimately, this section is a way to measure how much this film resonates with you on a personal level. A movie can be poorly made but resonate with you, causing you to generally enjoy it as a result. A movie can be executed brilliantly from a technical standpoint, but if it doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s not going to become one of your favorites.

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  • Each section should be filled out on a scale of 0 – 5: 0 meaning not in the slightest, and 5 meaning absolutely.
  • For the final question in this section, the emotion I am referring to should stem from the story and the contents therein, and should be divorced from poor quality in filmmaking or storytelling. If you’re angry at poor quality, then the answer would be no. If you’re angry because of the subject matter or the character’s choices or how the story turned out, then this film had an impact on you and the answer is yes… and is something you should unpack.

Final score for The Phantom Menace? …5/32.

According to my scale this means I “absolutely hate this movie to the point of offense.” This test is pretty accurate.

Now you try; think of a movie you’re unsure how you feel about and run it through this test.

Perhaps you’ll learn it’s a good film but you just didn’t connect with it emotionally. Try out a few different popular movies or some not so popular ones and let us know what points you gave them in the comments below.

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What happened to simplicity? Reviewing one of the greats

Written by Jay Evans.

City Lights is one of the most creative films of all time, and director, Charlie Chaplin is without a doubt an inspiration to many. He is one of the best and most sophisticated director’s in history.

His style, humorously simplistic yet powerful, has been the cornerstone of many future, aspiring directors decades later, teaching them the true art of film.

The story tells of a tramp (Chaplin) who stumbles across a young, sweet blind girl who mistakes him for a millionaire. At first he plays along but then finds himself  becoming chummy with an actual rich man who, although having it all, does not know true happiness.

Through these new relationships The Tramp, in turn, discovers the real meaning of selfless love, even to the point of giving up his freedom on the street in order to provide sight for his blind beauty.

Constantly the film portrays perfect storytelling through the visuals. Like other silent films the story uses title cards when necessary, but even then, there was only a small amount of these that were needed to display a simple, yet powerful message.

What films lack these days is an understanding of visual storytelling. When narrative film began there was no option for audio, forcing the filmmakers to tell their stories with creative visuals. City Lights portrayed this perfectly. It didn’t need dialogue.

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The disadvantage brought about by the deceiving beauty of audio was that audiences were being told what was happening through dialogue. Charlie Chaplin did not want to spoonfeed his audience and let audio devour the greatness of simplistic visuals.

Sound does in fact have a part to play in telling a story so Chaplin didn’t completely cut it out. More so than just using a backing instrumental track he used various sound effects and foley in a creative way. In one of the beginning scenes he uses a kazoo to represent the empty words of three wealthy characters congratulating each other in front of a statue they are about to unveil.

He also includes the ding of a bell during the boxing match and the sound of a cowbell when a rock is dropped onto The Tramp’s foot during his first meeting with the millionaire.

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The story of City Lights was simple, but what went on behind the scenes during production was anything but simple. It was shot in the midst of the beginnings of a new era – ‘The Talkies’.

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Although this new trend in film was the next best thing, Chaplin held strong to his goal of creating another silent film, despite being ridiculed by critics. The genre of Silent Film was soon coming to an end due to public demands of only sound pictures.

During production, Chaplin was relentless in his goal to perfectly tell this story. He knew exactly what he wanted and wouldn’t stop until he achieved success.

The scene in which the tramp has his first meeting with the blind girl, was shot over 300 times, and during production he even fired the main actress as he accused her of being unprofessional. In the end, however, she was rehired, due to so much of the production already being completed.

The other reason he made the decision to bring her back was that she was young and naive – the very character she needed to play. Employing a more seasoned actress would have been a mistake as there was a possibility of overacting and overcomplicating the character. The simplicity of the blind girls character was a huge part of correctly telling the story.

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The story was set in the middle of the city – hence City Lights – an increasingly unforgiving place in the 1930’s, which is more of the reason Chaplin endeavoured on his quest to tell a simple story of love and hope in the midst of the city chaos.

When the film was released in 1931 the audience roared its approval, proving that a film does not need words in order to communicate a good story.

No matter how new or outdated the style of film is, it’s always important to tell a good story, and storytelling through visuals isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a necessity.

City Lights was, and still is a triumph in the world of cinema, and filmmakers today are still being taught by one of the greats.

Although Chaplin has long gone, his legacy has not. 86 years on, his last silent film City Lights is still a perfect story of powerful love, hope and selflessness. It’s light in dialogue yet powerful in theme and the humour is universal, providing a way for the audience to relate to the story as a whole.

I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking inspiration, whether it be in film or just in personal development as the story speaks to the heart of anyone who chooses to embrace it.