Hollywood is good at making bad movies. That’s because making a good movie requires work, so it’s much easier to make a lousy movie instead. By studying lousy movies, you can at least do your part to write a good screenplay and hope that others will see your vision and maintain it rather than muck it up with their own ideas that detract from your screenplay.
Watch a lousy movie and it’s not always easy to identify what made it bad because it’s not easy comparing a lousy movie like “The Last Airbender” to something else to see how it went wrong. However, one way to compare lousy movies to good movies is to look at sequels.
Look at “Alien” followed by “Aliens.” “Alien” created something new and “Aliens” gave us more of that shock value. Then “Alien3” came out and disappointed practically everyone.
In “Alien,” we didn’t know what to expect. In “Aliens,” we got to see an entire Marine squad battle the aliens with advanced weaponry, and still wind up losing. In “Alien3,” we took a massive step backwards with a single alien and no weapons at all. That pretty much eliminates the exciting battle scenes that we saw in “Aliens,” but “Aliens3” also lacked an interesting story.
In “Aliens,” Ripley is striving to save a little girl. In “Aliens3,” she’s just trying to save herself. Not as exciting or compelling and also not as interesting.
Now look at “The Terminator” followed by “Terminator 2.” “The Terminator” set up the world of time traveling killing robots, and “Terminator 2” gave us an even more terrifying villain in a shape-shifting terminator. Then in “Terminator 3,” we get a female terminator.
Good idea, but she does nothing interesting as a female. She might as well have been a teddy bear or penguin terminator. More importantly, “Terminator 3” focused on special effects and massive battle scenes, but no suspense whatsoever. In “Terminator 2,” there’s the suspense of getting away from the shape shifting terminator and then rescuing Sarah Connor. In “Terminator 3,” a hero is in trouble, then magically the good terminator arrives to start fighting the bad terminator. No suspense, hence no interest.
One moment the hero and the good terminator are in a cemetery, then the next moment, they’re surrounded by cops. No suspense leading up to the battle and hence, lots of action with no emotional background to support it. Thus a dull movie.
In “Terminator 2,” the theme was that life is precious so Sarah Connor learns she can’t kill the inventor of SkyNet and the terminator eventually learns the value of a human life. In “Terminator 3,” there is no theme. Just lots of battle scenes with no lead up to the battle and no sense of direction for why the characters are doing or going anywhere. There are too many coincidences and out of the blue moments.
Near the end, the hero and his girlfriend are trying to reach the girlfriend’s father, who is a general in the military. Cut to the next scene of the general in the war room and his daughter rushes to greet him. Suddenly the good terminator guns her down to reveal that the girl is actually the bad terminator. No suspense leading up to how the evil and good terminators got into the war room, hence no suspense or interest. Just lots of battle scenes that mean nothing. What’s the theme of “Terminator 3”? If you don’t know, then you know you’re watching a movie that emphasizes mindless action over an actual story.
Look at “Spiderman,” which told an interesting story. Then “Spiderman 2” told a better story. Finally “Spiderman 3” mucked up the story with too many characters and no story to care about.
By comparing sequels to the original, you can see where and how a good movie succeeded and a bad movie missed the mark. Sequels tend to have nearly identical plots as the original so it’s easier to see that the problem isn’t the plot, but how the story is told. The original movies do it well, which is why they spawn sequels. The sequels tend to overlook stories in favor of more action, and they fail as a result.