What Makes a Film Great? Here Are 6 Elements to Watch For

What makes a great movie great?

Is it that it has a great story? Great characters? Is it that the cinematography is beautiful? Is it that each actor is giving a great performance? Is it that the soundtrack is top notch? Well, the answer is -- yes. Yes to all of this. And I know, that doesn't really help if you're actually trying to find out what elements make a movie great, because clearly -- something will be great if everything about it is great.

However, Simon Cade of DSLRguide is helping to make the whole concept of what a "great" movie is a little easier to understand by defining specific elements that can be found in the majority of history's most revered films.

Cade breaks it down thusly: (He also breaks down all of these elements into more specific concepts, like "conflict", "plot", and "dialog" for the script, which you can study more effectively here.)

  • Script
  • Character
  • Acting
  • Timing
  • Sound
  • Visuals

All of these elements are important in making a great film, but let's highlight the one thing that I personally think can make or break your movie: storytelling. Cinema is all about storytelling, and pretty much everything you put into your film, dialog, props, lighting, a song, or even an edit, communicates something to your audience. One concept that Cade brings up, though, is something I've seen countless young filmmakers and screenwriters fail to incorporate into their films time and time again -- and that's subtext.

Subtext can be used in just about anything in your film, whether it be in the script, the editing, or the cinematography. Essentially, subtext is all about the subtle messages you're trying to convey to your audience without explicitly coming out and stating them. When you over-explain or have clunky expositional scenes, your story begins to feel -- I don't know -- heavy. Your audience is being told what's going on instead of being allowed to explore the story and figure it out themselves.

Playwright and screenwriter David Mamet has shared a lot of helpful advice about how to add more subtext into your scripts, but I think the simplest way to do it without having to overthink it is by cutting your dialogue down to the bare minimum. If you've got a block of dialogue, cut it down to a line or two and see if you still convey what you need to. Ask yourself if you can communicate the same message with a look, a tick, or something non-verbal, because that will allow your audience to become more engaged (and more interested) with your film.

Clearly, there could be stuff that Cade left off of his list, but for a 5-minute video, I say that he did a damn good job covering everything that (he thinks) it takes to make a great film. Check out his original blog post for more    

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Your Comment


Loved this video. Really got me rethinking some storylines.

February 3, 2016 at 12:38PM, Edited February 3, 12:38PM

Chris Hackett
Director, Director of Photography, Writer

I would like to see some of Simon Cade's work

February 3, 2016 at 6:20PM, Edited February 3, 6:20PM

Andrew Klein
Camera Department

February 4, 2016 at 3:41AM


I havn't updated that site in ages - http://youtube.com/cadevisuals is the place to go

February 4, 2016 at 6:16AM

Simon Cade

Simon Cade is awesome.

February 4, 2016 at 7:18AM

Sean Taylor
Filmmaker / Actor

I've followed Simon Cade's videos for some time now and it's amazing the angle he always has on everything that's been told before,

February 12, 2016 at 6:45AM

Prosper Kunyetu

it is the kind of thing that is right in the face, but that is good to remember. I always wonder when i make a short (if i ever do :/ ) about the visuals, and how to get a professional look

February 27, 2016 at 9:02AM, Edited February 27, 9:02AM

Abi Stricker

I think it's really interesting how we're in a time in which so many people are becoming famous from teaching filmmaking before they become famous making films (or often, they don't). I know that the person who teaches a craft, is rarely the person that mastered it. But in some ways, I think there are a lot of people more interesting in film theory and film tutorial than the films themselves. More interested in filmmaking, than making films. Not sure its a bad thing, but it seems to be true.

October 19, 2016 at 6:07AM


If you're making films you don't have time to ponder myriad theories.
At some point you have to talking and just do.

Lots of people talk about making great films. They don't talk about the shit ones you have to make before you get to great one. They are the people to listen to. There is no magic bullet, no theory, no film school that teaches this.

October 19, 2016 at 6:26AM

Matt Drummond

Wonderful work, this is special.

November 24, 2017 at 10:48PM

Samuel Jane
Short Film Director

The most important element that makes a film great is indeed the script of that film, which can be said as the soul of the film. Then comes the characters which makes this script a lively one, which proceeds the story ahead.
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February 5, 2018 at 10:38PM

Alex Paul