It can be inspiring to watch a great movie and then strive to create something just as wonderful. However, if you limit your study of movies to great movies, it’s easy to feel intimidated. Great movies can show you what works but it can be just as educational to watch really bad movies to see what does not work.
Fortunately, there are plenty of mediocre to bad movies you can watch. Watch a few bad movies and it can inspire you to do much better. Watch too many bad movies and you risk lowering your standards. You want to watch bad and mediocre movies so you can see what can go wrong.
First, study movies based on books. That way you can read the book and see where the screenwriter might have made changes to improve the story or where the screenwriter stayed faithful to the book and that’s why the movie sucked so bad anyway.
For a good example, read and watch “The Hunger Games” and you’ll see that the book has a strong story foundation that easily translated into a film. There’s a strong hero who has a clear motivation and faces growing obstacles that threaten her until she triumphs in the end.
Then read equally great books that were turned into horrible movies such as “The 5th Wave.” This book is compelling as a novel but awful as a screenplay because in the book, the story separates into two stories: the girl who’s trying to rescue her little brother and her little brother who’s being trained to kill humans.
As a novel, this flip-flop between two separate stories is fascinating, but the screenwriter stayed faithful to the novel and divided the movie into the sister and her little brother. In the beginning of the movie, the story is mostly about the sister. Then when the little brother gets abducted by the aliens, the movie suddenly shifts mostly to what happens to the little brother. Finally the movies goes back to the sister again.
By not focusing on a single hero at all times, “The 5th Wave” divides our attention and creates a mediocre movie. Although the book is great, the movie was so poor that it killed all chances for planned sequels.
Then read a poorly structured book like “Mortal Engines” that was turned into an equally poorly structured movie. In both the book and movie, the hero has no compelling goal and just seems to wander around as various other characters save him. Because the hero has no goal in the book, the screenwriter unwisely stayed faithful to the book and didn’t give the hero a goal in the movie.
The end result is a poorly structured book that was turned into a poorly structured movie. It doesn’t matter if the book won all sorts of awards. If you study the story structure, you’ll see that the novel is fatal flawed through the lack of a strong hero with a clear goal.
Another award-winning books that got turned into a lousy movie is “A Wrinkle in Time.” This book is interesting as a novel but by staying as faithful as possible to the novel, the screenplay failed to make the characters’s goals logical and understandable. In the novel, these strange characters pop out of nowhere to help the hero find her father. In the movie, these strange characters also pop out of nowhere to help the hero, but their sudden appearance makes no sense from a cinematic point of view. It would be like Hans Solo popping up at the last second to save Luke from Darth Vader without showing us Hans Solo’s motivation from the beginning.
So use bad and mediocre movies to inspire you and help you spot their flaws. When you can pinpoint the flaws in other movies, you can (hopefully) avoid those same flaws in your own screenplay.