16 September 2012

Top 5 Most Important Elements in Movies

A list of the 5 most important elements in movies for me. If a movie successfully combines all these elements, it will probably be a personal favorite.

5. Soundtrack/Music

While music or sound is not completely necessary it certainly adds something to the movie watching experience. Music can add a certain mood, tension and suspense to scenes that could otherwise be quite insipid. There are no rules on how a soundtrack should sound and I really enjoy movies with a different kind of score. 


Requiem For a Dream (2001)
There only a few soundtracks in the world of film that can compete with this one created by Clint Mansell. The movie itself is very unique (the camera work for example). It needed a unique score and got one.

Dead Man (1995)
One of the coolest soundtracks ever is this electric guitar soundtrack by Neil Young, which he created by improvising as he watched the film. This soundtrack really sets the mood for the entire movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The use of classical music has always been common in movies. It has always been used perfectly by Stanley Kubrick and in the intro segment in 2001: A Space Odyessey, "The Dawn of Man" we find one of the most well-known classical music scenes, when a man-ape suddenly realizes that he can use a bone as a weapon and tool.

4. Acting

Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky

Great acting is refreshing, but not required for a movie to be good. Bad acting can be fun too and even used deliberately in movies like "braindead". 
Good acting is not only up to the actor. It is quite clear that some directors almost always bring forth great performances even from actors that are often considered bad actors. Of course the acting performances also depends on the story and the character they are given to work with.

Examples of great acting:

a) Nicholas Cage in Adaptation:

Nicholas Cage must be one of the worst actors at choosing movies. The movies most of us have seen him in are mainstream action movies with little place for character developement. Most of the time he's just Nicholas Cage put into different scenarios, rather than the character he's playing. Apparently, he wants to be seen as a kick-ass treasure-hunter known for his skills behind the wheel.  

But, to the point: There's a few exceptions, Adaptation being the best one. In this movie he shows us that he can be funny, wierd, and entertaining, without being cheesy.

b) Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath

Henry Fonda cannot be accused of being a bad actor. In The Grapes of Wrath he gives one of the greatest performances ever seen in movies.

c) Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky

A good example of a not so well-known actor in an amazing role. As the driving-intructor Scott he gives a performance full of emotion and eventually you forget that Scott's only a character.

3. Cinematography

Pan's Labyrinth

The nicer a movie looks, the better. If all the other elements are okay (not great), cinematography can decide if I like watching a movie or not. Sometimes it doesn't depend on the moviemakers, but how you watch the movie (In cinema, dvd or blu-ray and on a big screen or a small laptop)  

Melancholia (2011)
Visually one of the greatest movies ever. Be sure to watch it on blu-ray.

The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
One of the biggest productions of all time, and it pays of. It's obvious how much they invested in the project. 

2. Dialogue

In Bruges

Good dialogue is essential for a movie to be perfect, but a good dialogue can also make a poor story entertaining. The dialogue is of course a part of the story, but I'm referring to how dialogue is used to tell a story.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Typical Tarantino Dialogue.

Persona (1966)
The dialogue is a huge part in this movie and it kept my attention.

12 Angry Men (1957)
In a movie where the entire movie takes place in one room, a good dialogue is necessary. In this case the dialogue is the story.

1. Story

The most important element in a movie is the story. It is the story the movie wants to tell us, the rest is just aids to make it reach the viewers and be entertaining and memorable. Most of the time, no matter how great the other elements are, I will not enjoy watching a movie with an uninteresting story. I don't need a large-scale story, just an interesting one. It's a huge plus if a story has no plot holes, but it's not necessary to be entertaining.


Frequency (2004)
A movie that may contain some plot holes and cheesy scenes, but with a story that interest me. This makes it easy to enjoy watching.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
One of the most well-written stories ever and also my favorite movie of all time.

Comment: What's the most important elements according to you?


  1. It's hard for me to understand how you managed to create the list of 5 most important elements in movies without even mentioning the only element that is in the end responsible for the final impression, and that is directing.
    There is no such thing as a movie that is good just for its music (or cinematography, or story, or acting...). Not one of the elements you mentioned is independent. Director is looking for cinematographer that can materialize his (director’s!) vision. Cinematographer offers his creative ideas to director but the letter choose whether he will accept that or insist on something different (or someone different). As Mr. Hitchcock once said “I’m the one with the scissors!”. Same goes for screenwriters, actors, composers, editors and so on. So many people invested their work and expertise in the building of Eiffel Tower, but Eiffel is the only one that is personally remembered, and rightly so.
    To me, movie is comparable with opera. It is a sort of visual opera. Story and dialogue for a movie is no much more than libretto for an opera. It may have the potential, but it is nowhere near like a finished movie. Film director is composer and conductor in one person. Very often he writes (or rewrites) the libretto, too. If (visual) opera sucks it’s his fault, if it shines it’s his accomplishment. All other Oscars are for the first class craftsmanship. Only director is in position to reach for the art merits.
    Try a simple experiment: Watch “Rashômon” without subtitle (you know the plot but you will lose the details of dialogue), than put the volume down almost to zero, so that you don’t hear extremely impressive sound. After 20 minutes of watching you will probably find out that at least 90% of original impact from the screen is still there. What remains intact is the pace, rhythm of editing, movements of camera and movements inside the frame, treatment of space, expressiveness of faces and bodies, philosophy of light, all stitched together in director’s vision. I accept the greatness of Miyagawa’s cinematography, which is, by the way, one of the best ever, but I strongly believe that Kurosawa forced that level of creativity from him, just like he did with almost any other cinematographer (or any other collaborator) he worked with since. (Remember that his nickname was The General :-) ).
    At last, my list:
    1. directing (90% of everything)
    2. cinematography
    3. scenario
    4. editing and sound
    5. acting
    À propos of acting just remember how great actor was De Niro in Scorsese’s movies (and with some other competent directors – Bertolucci, Cimino, Coppola, Mann...) and how terrible is he in almost any other movie where he was the most important person on the set. So, if putting editing and sound in one place is unacceptable than off go acting.
    Best regards,


  2. Hi, huge thanks for your comment, I’m glad you took your time.

    First, of course directing is important, however, there’s an explanation to why I didn’t include it.

    You misunderstand the list a little, I was thinking more about the final product, the movie itself and the experience watching it and not the reason behind it. I wanted to make a list of the five things that makes me enjoy/like a movie most. Behind everything, there’s a creator, but by “elements in movies” I refer to the elements that reaches the viewer directly, not elements in moviemaking. Maybe the headline is misleading?

    An example: I tell you the five best things about a new phone. I will not mention the creator, because I’m talking about the final product, the phone. I wasn’t talking about the composer, actor, cinematographer or scriptwriter either, I was talking about the movie.

    Score: We hear the music and it brings a mood, suspense or whatever to the movie. A composer writes it, but the director chooses the composer, maybe gives him some guidelines and accepts the score (that’s the impression I got). I watch the movie and like the sound or not.

    Acting: We witness acting and many react if it’s bad or really great, not so many if it’s right in the middle. You’re right, the director is very responsible for how it turns out, as I mentioned in the post.

    Cinematography: We want it to look great, not like it was created by amateurs and it affects the watching experience directly.

    Dialogue: Should be trustworthy, deep or funny, but not cheesy. The dialogue is a central thing in the final product but is a part of both the acting and the story. I chose to separate it.

    Story: again, of course it’s the director and screenwriter who transforms it to entertainment, but the story is in the movie, it’s what makes most people watch the movie.

    Directing is the most important aspect in moviemaking. It takes everything and turns it into a great movie watching experience. But, the normal viewer can’t exactly see the directing. You can see what his work resulted in.

    I hope this answer explains why directing was left out. I’m glad you commented, it made me think.

  3. Hi, Jonathan
    Funny thing is, few hours after I send my comment it occurred to me that you may’ve had a good reason of your own to omit directing from your list. That maybe you too are aware that directing is like “90% of everything” and that’s exactly why you omit it completely as a category of higher order. But by that time I was already away from my computer and hadn’t chance to send another comment and apologize for being carried away with the wrong understanding of your “Elements”.
    After settling this I have two comments on your replay:
    1. I still don’t see how Story and Dialogue can be separately measured against such categories as Cinematography, Editing, Sound....
    2. Spectators actually see most of director’s work, only they are not aware where it came from.
    Best regards,


    1. This list should maybe be named "Top 5 things that makes me enjoy a movie".
      I did not think about the making of the movie at all, just the finished product, the surface. Directing is a part of everything, so in a way you were right about that I omitted it because it's a "category of higher order".

      Including directing for me would be like including Steve Jobs in a list of the five greatest things about my mac. I would definitely include him in a list of the top five reasons behind Apples success.

      Do you see the difference I'm thinking of?

      Btw, I'm glad you read my blog, and I like comments. Keep visiting. :)

  4. 10/10 (have to admit i did not read all of it BUT writing something positive about nicholas cage is rare)

    PS Sound track> Everything, it's allways the soundtrack you go home and search for on google/spotify not the director or something silly like that.


    1. Yes, Nicholas Cage has to be included when you talk about the greats! How's everything in the ghetto mr. Fanboy?

    2. Well, its fine I guess. Here's a funny clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xP1-oquwoL8

      Sorry for not the fastest response ever :)

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