How do we define what makes a good movie?
Sure, there are movies that *I* like. Perhaps that defines what makes a good movie *to me*. But you don’t necessarily have the same tastes as I do. Just as you don’t necessarily have the same taste as any particular critic.
The Academy Awards are supposed to list the best movies of the year. But these are generally limited to dramas. Comedies and action movies get short shrift when it comes to award season.
You can look at box office numbers, which is a reasonable measure of how many people wanted to see the movie. But that doesn’t tell you how glad the audience was that they saw it. Plus there are often a lot of weird factors at work in box office numbers that don’t relate to the quality of the film. For example, what are you feelings on Shrek 2? You probably think that at best it was reasonably entertaining, though a step down from the original. Yet Shrek 2 is the highest grossing animated movie of all time, and the eighth highest grossing movie of all time (US box office). It outgrossed the original Shrek, any classic Disney animation, any Pixar movie, E.T., Jurassic Park, any Harry Potter movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, and countless other movies that any sane person would agree were greatly superior to Shrek 2. So box office numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Rotten Tomatoes is a bit better. This measures what percentage of the audience likes a movie. But that has its own drawbacks. It’s limited to people who bother to go to the site and vote, and is further limited by people who actually chose to see a movie. For example, as I’m writing this I looked at the Rotten Tomatoes home page. Two of the top three ranked movies opening this weekend are ones I’ve never heard of, and the third is a biblical epic that appeals to church groups but won’t have any interest to secular audiences.
So how do I define what makes a good movie? I say that a movie is good if it makes the audience care about it. This definition applies equally well to action, comedy, and drama. It takes into account whether a large audience wanted to see the movie – if people don’t see a movie, they can’t care about it. But it doesn’t use box office numbers as the sole judge of quality.
And the best movies are those that we still care about when we look back at them years later.
This series of posts will be looking back at the best pictures of each year by this criteria. I’ll identify what movies that I think a significant percentage of people still care about. I’ll start this process with 1977, which is when the modern era of film began, and end it with 2009. (I think five years is a reasonable minimum for looking back.)
For comparison I’ll also be listing the best picture nominees, top ten grossing movies at the box office, and the top movies on Rotten Tomatoes. (The Rotten Tomatoes listing will start with 1980, as they don’t have yearly rankings prior to then.) It will be interesting to see how much overlap there is between these different lists.
For the movies we still care about, I’ll offer a brief analysis as to why we still hold these movies in our hearts. I’ll also have some brief commentary of other notable movies from that year which don’t quite fit the category of films we still care about, but are worth discussing for some reason.
I hope that you’ll enjoy this journey, as we reflect back on what makes movies great.
(Other posts in this series can be found here.)