What Makes a Movie Good or Bad?
There is no answer to this question. But I have some thoughts for you.
I saw the above meme-tweet posted on Tumblr and it kind of blew my mind. It honestly did not occur to me that someone could watch a movie and not know whether the movie was good or bad. How do you not know if you've enjoyed something or not? It really is as simple as, if you enjoyed the movie, the movie is good, to you. If you didn't enjoy the movie, the movie isn't good, to you. It's a completely subjective distinction. I can't tell you if you are going to like a movie or not, I can only recommend or not recommend a movie based on my subjective opinion.
The only difference between you and a film critic is a willingness to confidently state an opinion and support that opinion with rhetoric. That's it. There are complexities, shades of gray, and other things that separate a professional film critic from an average moviegoer, but it really does just boil down to a willingness that people like me have to state our opinion with confidence, plant a flag on a particular opinion, and withstand the scrutiny of our position.
I think one of the reasons people don't want to take a stand on whether a movie is good or bad is the idea of having to defend their opinion. Most people have a strong desire to not be considered wrong. There is a deep seated anxiety over the idea that confidently stating an opinion could render someone an outsider. People have a strong desire to belong, a strong desire to relate to others and a good way to go along and get along is to keep your strong opinions to yourself.
Going along to get along is a default position for many, many people. Being different can bring unwanted attention and having an opinion about something is a quick way of making yourself different from the crowd. Think of it like this, if you have a group of friends that loves Marvel movies, are you willing to say you don't like Marvel movies? Or are you more likely to just nod your head and listen to them talk? Most people, I would argue, prefer that second position.
I want to make clear here, there is nothing wrong with that. If you feel more comfortable not sharing an opinion about the subjective quality of a work of art, that's a perfectly okay thing. It's not crucial, it truly is not something you should feel anxiety over. If you feel safer keeping your opinion to yourself when it comes to popular culture, works of art in movies or TV or books, music, et cetera, do that. Keep it to yourself. It is not crucial for you to have to have an opinion on such things.
Other aspects of life, such as protecting the rights of threatened people, taking a stand against racism when you see it, taking a stand against misogyny and discrimination, that's where your opinion matters. That is where you are needed. If you don't want to have an opinion about the Oscars, the Marvel Universe, or the Scream franchise, you don't have to. It's okay not to have opinions about movies. Just know this, if you like something, if you enjoyed something, it's a good thing. If you didn't like something, it's bad. It's entirely subjective to you. You can express that opinion or keep it to yourself but one thing you never are when it comes to opinions about movies is wrong.
Even if you hate my favorite movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once, YOU ARE NOT WRONG. We disagree, but neither of us is wrong. You're subjective feeling about a movie or any work of art is not wrong. It's just your opinion. Never feel bad about enjoying or not enjoying a movie. Your feelings are as valid as any film critic or any kind of expert in subjective opinions. Not liking a movie isn't going to hurt anyone, nor is liking something that others say is bad.
Movies are not a science, there quality is completely in the eye of the beholder. A brilliant YouTuber in the Internet Wrestling Community, Brian Zane of Wrestling with Regret, has a wonderfully simple ethos that applies to subjective opinions: 'Like what you like, don't be a d***.' It really is that simple. Enjoy what you enjoy. If you want to have an informed opinion about work of art, a movie, any kind of media, seek out a critic, read their work and consider their ideas. In the end, go with how you feel.
The true role of a critic is not to be an arbiter of right and wrong or even good or bad. The best film critics are ones who state an opinion and use strong rhetoric to explain why they feel that way. It's in that rhetoric where their true value lies. I've wrestled with the idea of having a star system 1 to 5 to express the quality of a movie. It's a shorthand that I am told makes people more likely to click on my work and thus give me more views.
I have chosen not to do that, not to add a star system to my work, for the most part. I do it on Letterboxd because that's the format. I have not done that in my Vocal writing because I want people to consume the ideas I am expressing and not simply scroll to my star rating. Star ratings are fully subjective, my ideas are more important to me. I'm not smarter than you, I am a little more educated on aspects of film because I've dedicated my life to studying the medium. In the end however, only you can decide if you think a movie is good or bad. My opinion only matters if you decide that it matters.
The above logo is my personal ethos. It's taken from a line spoken by my favorite film character of all time, The Dude, from The Big Lebowski. The Dude is such a sweetheart, such a genuinely kind guy that this is what he considers trash talk. This perfectly reasonable true state statement is how The Dude argues with someone. It's so telling and it reveals so much about who he is. That line gives you the essence of who Jeffrey Lebowski truly is in just six words. Isn't that brilliant? To me that's ingenious. To you, it may just be six words but it resonates so deeply with me. There is nothing wrong with you if its just six words to you.
Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd really like to support my writing you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!
About the Creator
Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.
I really like your take here and how you broken down the difference between objective and subjective views in regards to art. Because film, even on the big budget MCU scale, is still art. Unless it's a cash grab...then...well...it might still be art. Thank you for sharing!