Any time you watch a bad or mediocre movie, always remember that it got green lit because it was actually a good idea. Where bad and mediocre movies fail is not the acting, directing, or sets and costumes, but in the story. In other words, if the screenplay structure is weak, all the A-list talent in the world can’t save it.
My latest favorite mediocre movie is “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” For some odd reason, this movie got extremely high critical reviews, but if you watch it, you can see lots of structural flaws.
First, the villains (a red witch and a con man) are largely absent from the story for long periods of time. It’s actually easy to forget about the villain because they do little directly to threaten the hero throughout most of the story. This reduces the threat to the hero and weakens the story.
Compare this to a great movie like “Die Hard” where the villain’s actions constantly threaten the hero. This threat to the hero from the villain makes any story more exciting to watch. Yet “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” abandons this technique and replaces the villain threatening the hero with lots of minor characters threatening the hero instead such as a chubby dragon.
So the first lesson is never let your villain fade in the background where he or she no longer appears to be a threat to the hero.
A second problem is the constant interruption of exposition into the story, even at the very end. When one character dies, the movie shows a flashback of this character caring for a little girl. Without this flashback, we would have no idea this character even cared for this little girl so this flashback is necessary to make the ending more emotional.
Yet because we learn that this character cares for a little girl so late in the story, the flashback simply interrupts the story to give us information we should have learned a long time ago.
As a general rule, you should stop giving exposition around the halfway point of your story. From that point on, everything in the story should not require more exposition.
If we need exposition near the end of the movie to help us understand why a little girl cares about a dying character, then this exposition has come way too late to be effective and useful.
A third problem is that “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” simply jumps to action too soon without creating any type of suspense ahead of time. Then the action has little meaning on how it affects the characters in any way.
In “Star Wars,” Luke decides to rescue Princess Leia, which shows he’s gradually trusting himself and becoming a leader where before he was mostly a passive character. So Luke’s decision and actions to rescue Princess Leia show how he’s starting to change.
In “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” there’s a scene where a girl is a shapeshifter who can change into different animals. As a fly, she’s spying on the villain, but when the villain spots her, she must escape by changing into different animals.
Yet there’s no purpose for her to change into so many different animals since each one increases her risk of getting caught. Her original appearance as a fly would be difficult for the villain to catch or kill, yet inexplicably this shapeshifter changes from a fly to a mouse, then a hawk, and finally a deer.
Even worse, all of this frantic action fails to change this girl (or any other character) in any meaningful way. It’s just a snippet of different animals trying to escape from pursuers where the actions mean nothing to the girl or the audience. Action, without purpose, creates an empty story.
When you watch a mediocre movie like “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” ask yourself how a good idea could fail to deliver on that good idea. That should show you that having a good idea is never enough.
A good idea, paired with excellent execution, is always the answer. So keep focusing on telling a compelling story in every scene and that will go a long way to helping you write a better screenplay than “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”