Every weekend Hollywood trots out their latest movies and every weekend, a large majority of those movies aren’t very good. Rather than try to find what makes a good movie, Hollywood prefers to keep following the same process that routinely cranks out mediocre movies. Yet if you study classic movies throughout history, you can see one common factor in all of them.
At first glance, “Star Wars,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Wizard of Oz” may not have much in common. However if you look beneath the story, you’ll see that all classic movies have a hidden but dominant theme that hits an emotional chord in everyone.
“Star Wars” isn’t just about special effects and laser battles in space or else the bad James Bond movie “Moonraker” would also be a classic. What separates “Star Wars” from the dozens of science fiction movies with better special effects is that “Star Wars” is about the Force. That mystical source of energy mirrors our own desire for a similar force in our own lives.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t just about a guardian angel protecting a man, but about seeing the value of your own life in relation to other people. There have been lots of guardian angel movies, but “It’s a Wonderful Life” uses the idea of never having been born to make people realize the impact suicide would have on the lives of those around them. The idea that your life, no matter how little you think of it, can affect the lives of others in so many different ways separates “It’s a Wonderful Life” from ordinary stories about the supernatural.
“The Wizard of Oz” looks like a musical and a fantasy, but there have been plenty of awful musicals and fantasies. “The Wizard of Oz” is about having the power to control your own life and appreciating your home. Ask immigrants if they still have a longing for their home country and they’ll still say yes. Even Americans who live in the same country often have longings for their home town. Finding your way home is a powerful emotion that everyone can understand.
So if you want to create a classic movie, it’s not enough to have intricate plot, fancy dialogue, or expensive special effects, which is what Hollywood constantly thinks is the secret ingredient to success even though it fails time and time again. Instead, what Hollywood should be looking for is a story that touches the emotions of as many people as possible. That’s why romantic comedies often appeal to so many people because everyone loves to laugh and everyone desperately wants to find love.
Whether you’re writing a horror, comedy, action thriller, or drama, you need a strong, dominant, emotional theme that touches as many people as possible. A mindless karate movie only appeals to people interested in karate movies, but toss in karate fighting with a strong theme like “Enter the Dragon” and you have a much better movie. Once you know your theme, your entire story can focus on telling that theme in multiple ways that appeals to almost everyone.