The main flaw of most movie screenplays

I’m really trying hard not to fall into this familiar trap of thinking that movies from certain eras were better than contemporary movies.

But unfortunately, every time I watch Godfather 1, Godfather 2, Apocalypse Now, Chinatown, The Deer Hunter, and Deliverance—as well as—Grease, Saturday Night Fever and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I can’t help but come back to the scene conclusion that I had before. The conclusion is pretty straight forward: the best movies ever made were made in 1970s!

I might be giving my age away, because I was a little kid back then and I was very happy that my grandparents raised me since my parents migrated to the United States. But there was a lot more going on there because a lot of the movie criticism that I read are written by people who think that the 70s cinema is the “greatest things since sliced bread”. Maybe it has something to do with my influences, or the critics that I choose to read that I find credible.

It may also have something to do with the cinema classes I took at the University of California where professors would use a Marxist analysis to breakdown the social power structures of each movie. And how this reflects to greater historical time frame in which that movie was created. For whatever reason, I have this bias with the 70s. It’s really too bad because the moment I chose to stop looking at cinema through that familiar set of personal lenses, things start to make sense.

It dawned on me that a lot of what contemporary movies are being criticized for, equally applies to stuff that you’re supposed to be impressed by. I’m talking about movies from the 1950s and the 1970s like the classic Sunset Boulevard. This movie from the 1950s are supposed to be cutting edge. It supposed to speak to the human condition. There’s also a nice twist at the end of that movie.

If ever you get a change to obtain a copy, I recommend that you watch it. It will blow your mind. It’s supposed to be the apex of American story-telling, but after I analyzed and cross-indexed different movies made at different times with contemporary movies, it dawned on me that most screenplays have flaws.

Truly, what separates great movies from not-so great ones is not whether they are free of these flaws, instead, it’s how well they hide them. The human mind is pretty much hard-wired the same way for thousands of years. As a species, we are more than one million years. Though in fact, a lot of biologists are saying that the modern human species has been around no more than 500 thousand years—that’s less than a blip when it comes to geological time.

Not surprisingly, a lot of our attitudes and how we process the world remains fixed. And it is no surprise that people think in terms of formula, templates, and blueprints. As long as you know what to put before, during, and after an act or a scene, you have yourself a screenplay.

This is why most movie screenplays are flawed. They use the same template, the only big difference between a “good” movie and a “not-so-good” one is how adept they are in hiding these flaws. Great story tellers will neither show you their hand, nor will they show that they’re utilizing a template. They’re not going to be obvious with the script but still, all of them use it.