Hey, just because nobody asked for it isn’t a reason not to make the content! C’mon, it’s like a Christmas present! I mean, unless you’re one of those weirdos who actually go around asking for Christmas presents and making lists (Breaking News: Kidult Behavior Soon to be Outlawed in US), but, uh, that’s off-topic. The point is, this blog post’s here, and it’s here to say something.
But anyway, I am back to say a few final words before I retreat into my cave for the weekend. Just last night while sitting through The Mothman Prophecies (no this isn’t a review), I was musing on what truly makes a good movie. I would be remiss to say that 100% of good storytelling depended entirely on quality writing–even though that sounds like heresy.
Let me explain: movies (and, conversely, books. Most of what I say in this article is applicable to writing novels as well), as well as being an art form, seek to entertain. I’m hesitant to say that is their primary goal, but any given art is too multifaceted to pin down one specific purpose for which it was made.
But some movies are made to make a statement, to convey some passed-down wisdom or moral. (I’m not talking about the political preaching of our day; I’m speaking of actual life-lessons conveyed through storytelling) That’s usually what we call the art to the writer’s craft, but that could be the subject of a whole other blog post.
So, as it turns out, movies serve a variety of purposes: to achieve excellence as art, to entertain, to pass down wisdom. Are there more? Well, I should say so. There are movies to make you cry, others to uplift and inspire you. There are tales to scare you (although I bet you could put that as a sub-category under “entertaining”), and many others.
That’s when it hit me: a movie is a lot more than just writing. Although that’s the extremely important core by which everything happens, it’s not the thing itself. Of course a movie tries to tell a story, but the story is the vehicle by which it conveys a host of other things. A lot of the time, we think more about whether or not the car is running optimally than what we actually put in the car. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but there’s more to a story than just writing (although, if you were to ask me, that’s the most important part).
So I’ve put together a ranking list, S-F, that I believe categorizes movie archetypes and sub-archetypes pretty well. It will be based on the following criteria: plot, characters, setting, entertainment factor (or EF) and message. There are other factors that go into making a good or even great movie, but I think this covers 90% of the bases. (I suppose acting is also a part of this, but I’d just take points off for how much worse the acting is)
Starting at the S tier, these movies are exactly what you’d expect: the best of the best. With exemplary plot and characters, a vibrant and well-developed setting, a great entertainment factor and an ultimately uplifting message that we can take away from the whole thing. Movies that specialize in a certain genre often can’t achieve this goal because of said genre’s limitations. Hence, it allowed movies like dramas or CRF to really shine.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfect example of this. I could talk this movie up a good deal, but I believe with all my heart that the movie’s a legitimate masterpiece. It ticks all the boxes, and does it better than most movies today. It establishes rooting interest early, develops characters within a handful of scenes, sets up a plot without letting you know it’s setting something up, has a tone and setting put together by the characters themselves, possessing plenty of jokes for comic relief and dramatic moments for one to savor, and, well, one of the best morals to be found in all Hollywood.
Next up we have A tier movies. It wouldn’t be too hard for these to pass for masterpieces, as these movies are still high in at least four of the five criteria. Still, the only thing that keeps an A tier movie from being named S is the one big fault it has, but that’s usually in the latter three criteria: setting, EF, and message. That’s not to say that one’s missing, because then we have another problem on our hands. Disney Pixar’s Cars is a good example of this.
But before we arrive at B, we have to talk about A/B Tier movies, or 85%. Aside from general quality problems that keep it from going higher, you get an A/B tier movie when a movie passes four of the criteria with flying colors only to completely fail at one less important aspect. While plot, characters, and setting are the most important, failing at message or EF can easily result in a sub-A ranking. I’d put the film Wall-E in this ranking.
Then we got B-tier movies. Definitely good movies, but a clear step down from what we’d call great movies. These are unambitious films with one or two things going good for it, but also a few obvious flaws in the five criteria, usually when it comes to plot. Still, it manages to entertain you for two hours or so, and you generally feel good about watching it. If you’ve ever seen the film Signs, this is where it goes.
Then we have another sub-ranking: B/C tier movies. Coming in at the 75% mark, these movies are just slightly worse B tier movies. This is the official mark where movies start to get noticeably worse, and B/C tier movies usually have just one or two medium-sized flaws in one or more of the major criteria. I usually stop caring about these kinds of movies, but I’d put Halo Infinite’s campaign here (not a movie, but eh, who cares). This is also where we start taking points off for poor acting.
Now on to C-tier movies. These are movies with three or more major flaws with the criteria I’ve mentions, and usually some campy acting to boot. There are a metric ton of these movies lying around, and as a result there are many movies that do what C-tier movies do, only better. They’re usually unambitious, disposable films that you can just as easily get some fun out of as forget about it the moment you’ve watched it. Mandalorian, Venom, and The Mothman Prophecies go here.
Once we get down to D-tier movies, we can actually start calling these “bad movies”. It’s not possible to get down into the F tier without truly trying, but these movies are just failures. Having failed or mostly failed four of the five criteria, these are pretty boring to sit through. Justice League is a good example.
If you produce an F-tier work, your name is probably Mindy Kaling or Ryan Johnson. This is what happens when you are unconcerned with creating an actual story, as you fail on all five criteria that actually make a story happen. It’s the product of stuffing some kind of screen production full of preachy political messaging, cursing, make-believe adult situation, and lots of exposed skin instead of focusing on the five criteria. It is truly a failure.
Allrighty, I’m a bit tired out after having written that unholy ramble, so I’m just gonna do my quick exit.