What guarantees that a movie will be good, i.e. well received by audiences and critics alike?
This is a question studio executives would love to know the answer to BEFORE they spend over $100 million on producing a script. Their jobs depend on sifting through the thousands of scripts that they are sent each year, identifying the one or two good ones that they will receive, putting together a cast and crew that will make the story work, and then marketing the finished product in a way that the right audience will have the right expectations and then go and see the movie in their droves. This is not an easy thing to do, and some part of the process often goes wrong. This may result in an average movie, or it may result in a really bad movie. It's worth remembering that no one ever intends making a bad movie. Sometimes they just turn out that way.
So, what makes a good movie? The basic ingredients are
If any of these ingredients are missing, then the film might not make sense or might not be believable. It will not 'work' in screen terms. Unfortunately, you only know if a film will work after it is finished. Movie studios may screen an early version of a feature film to a test audience, members of the public who will be invited to give their opinion on different aspects of what they have seen. The audience's comments will be taken into account after the test screening, and the film may subsequently be re-edited. Directors usually hate the thought of this process (final cut via crowd-sourcing).
Read more about test screening here.
Once a film is finished, it will be shown at a preview screening for the benefit of critics. Movie critics are those who watch movies and write about them for a living - and they can be a very cynical, jaded bunch. Because the critics act as gatekeepers, reviewing and rating the many movies that are released each week and recommending particular favourites to a wider audience, they are powerful figures in the movie world. A good review can mean lots of extra box office, while a bad review can keep the audience away. A good review will be quoted on posters, on DVD covers and in trailers and tv/radio ads. A bad review will be swept under the carpet, but can seriously harm the careers of those involved.
Can you identify the famous box office turkey that inspired these reviews? It starred two A-listers who were dating at the time (their relationship subsequently failed).
"Such an utter wreck of a movie you expect to see it lying on its side somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, with a small gang of engineers circling and a wisp of smoke rising from the caboose."
-- Stephen Whitty, NEWARK STAR-LEDGE
"Despite all the reshoots, rewrites, re-edits and other changes, this is one awful movie."
-- Jeff Vice, DESERET NEWS, SALT LAKE CITY
"A pissing match between sexually incompatible people which had the audience muttering 'This is absurd.'"
-- Chuck Schwartz, CRANKY CRITIC®
"From the very start the movie flatlines like a heart monitor on a dead man. And it never improves."
-- Steve Rhodes, STEVE RHODES' INTERNET REVIEWS
"A film that begins badly and gets worse and worse, like someone who has been knocked unconscious in an accident and then bleeds to death because he gets no attention."
-- Terry Lawson, DETROIT FREE PRESS
Click here to find out and read those reviews in full.
So, professional movie critics have an important job to do. However, what they think is not as important as what YOU, THE AUDIENCE think about a movie, and what you tell your friends. This is word of mouth (sometimes known as scuttlebuzz), and good word of mouth is what every studio exec dreams of. Good word of mouth occurs when you go and see a movie on its opening night, and then tweet about it to everyone in your social network, who all go and see it over the weekend, and they tell their friends who all go and see it over the following week, and they tell their friends, who go see it the week after and so on. Good word of mouth is usually reflected in steady box office figures, with a movie maintaining its position over the first few weeks of release. Poor word of mouth means that box office takings will drop sharply after the first couple of days of release, as audiences warn their friends to stay away.
If studio execs suspect that a film is going to get poor word of mouth, they might combat this by marketing the movie in a way that will get a maximum number of people into cinemas over the first weekend of release. Simultaneous worldwide release is a tactic which helps with this too. It's a kind of con trick, hoodwinking people into thinking that the movie is good before anyone objective (a critic, independent audiences) gets to see it, but the studios have to protect their investment.