Here’s why movies and shows are so good today vs years past

Sure, there are stinkers–bad movies and terrible shows on the Glowing Tube–but overall, we are living in a golden age for entertainment on Whatever Type of Screen You Prefer.

Why is that?

A few theories:

1) Looking good is half the battle

In the old days, most movies and shows (a) were cheaply made and (b) looked cheaply made. The real exception to this are sitcoms filmed in a studio, which look about the same. Everything else? Massive differences in production values. 

So when a film truly looked good–typically because it had a great director and a big budget–it blew everything else out of the water.

The difference was even more stark on television. A great example: back in the day, BBC seemed to take pride in the worst possible production values on the planet. 

Lighting, costumes, camera angles–all that matters. You notice bad production values the most when it comes to terrible monster costumes and special effects.

These days, everybody has upped their game. Even bad movies and shows LOOK good.

And CGI has gotten cheap enough that average TV shows can afford to do special effects you used to only see in blockbuster movies.

2) Massive competition

When there were only a few big studios, and three major TV networks, competition wasn’t nearly as tough.

Today, you have movie studios around the world cranking out more films than ever, plus 3.53 bazillion cable channels making content along with Netflix and Amazon making shows AND movies.

There’s never been more choices.

This has two counter-intuitive effects: (1) it’s easier to get things made, since far more sources might bankroll it, and (2) killing a flawed project or series is easier, too, since there are plenty of other projects that deserve a shot.

The fact that most movies and series don’t become amazing successes isn’t the real point. You can’t predict which ones break out and make mountains of money. 

Can’t win if you don’t play. 

So everybody plays, and takes risks, because being safe and conservative isn’t the way to hit a home-run.

That creative, competitive environment helps give birth to today’s great shows and movies.

3) CGI takes planning, and great planning makes for great stories

With production values good across the board, and special effects cheaper than ever, what makes a movie or show stand out and break out?

A few years ago, when cheesy CGI spread across the land, I hated it. Terrible CGI was easy to spot and immediately killed your suspension of disbelief.

Today, CGI is incredibly advanced.

Here’s the unintended side-effect, though: great CGI is more affordable than ever, but it still takes a lot of time, money and most of all, planning. 

You can’t rush it. 

And good planning makes for good storytelling.

There’s a reason Pixar is famous for great stories. They know exactly how long it takes to do an animated movie. 

If they screw up Act 3, the director doesn’t call back the actors and do reshoots for a few weeks. Redoing all that footage in an animated movie takes a lot more work.

That’s why Pixar goes crazy with storyboarding and planning the structure of each film. You have to nail that story before you commit. This is why Pixar spends so much time emphasizing storytelling, and perfected their 22 Rules, which are worth checking out. Roll film: 

With live actors, you can shoot hundreds of hours of footage and a great editor can take all that footage and do the structure and storytelling.

Can’t do that with animation–or CGI-heavy movies, which is just about everything today.

The more action and CGI you use, the more important planning and storyboarding becomes.

I think this is a key reason why Marvel has been on a hot streak. Every one of their superhero movies takes a ton of green screen and CGI work. They know it. And they have to plan not just for each movie, but how all the different movies tie together, with setups and payoffs stretching all the way back to the first Iron Man movie.


Pixar deathmatch: BRAVE vs. WALL-E

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

Pixar isn’t like other movie studios, which are busy throwing $200 million a piece on remakes of ’80s TV shows, board games and movies based on cartoons meant to sell toys.

No. Pixar is better than that. They know story, and embrace the whole “storytelling is far, far more important than fancy CGI” idea.

So I love them.

However, not everything they do is equally awesomesauce.

THE INCREDIBLES was great. TOY STORY didn’t do it for me, but it’s fine.

RATATOUILLE was shockingly good. FINDING NEMO had suprising depth. Even CARS was different and entertaining.

Animated movies from other studios tend to throw in a bunch of pop-culture jokes that get stale after two months and stunt-cast famous actors. The story seems to be an after-thought, and it shows.

But we are here to pit Pixar’s newest film, BRAVE, against another Pixar great, WALL-E.

Story nerds, get your geek on.


I hear they spend gobs of money making Merida’s flowing red hair just right, and that this is the first Pixar movie with a female lead.

Much hay has also been made of the bow-and-arrow scene, and the amazing slow-motion detail they did with her shot. Yes, it’s spiffy.

But we came here wallow in the mud of story.

BRAVE is a tough story to tell because it’s a love story between Merida, the princess, and her mother, the queen.

Their relationship gets broken because Merida doesn’t want to get married off to some random prince, despite the fact that it’s her destiny, her job in life, and that not getting married off might lead to war.

Private stakes: Merida gets selfish and gives her mother a potion to change her … but the potion changes her into a bear. Unless they repair the bond that has been broken by the third day or whatever, her mom, the queen, will stay a bear forever.

Public stakes: Not marrying a prince from another clan will lead to war. Marrying a prince she doesn’t love will lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. It’s a Catch-22 wearing a kilt.

Bottom line: Though this was entertaining, we need to dive deeper into story geekdom.

Merida does take risks and do a lot to save her mother from staying a Care Bear forever. And she does manage to fix all that she broke and convince everyone that princess and princesses should marry who they love. Merida doesn’t really suffer and sacrifice in any permanent way. In the end, she gets what she wants.

Without a lot of words, it’d be hard to explain this story. And that’s my acid test, especially for a cartoon: If you turn the sound off, does it (a) make sense and (b) make you feel anything?


Even if you are the manliest of men, watching WALL-E will make you laugh and cry and want to see it again.

There’s no dialogue in the first 30 minutes of the film, and you don’t care, because watching WALL-E the robot do his thing for 30 minutes is glorious.


The love story is between WALL-E and EVE is one of the best love stories I’ve ever seen. He’s a lovable doofus, a low-tech hunk of junk who’s charming and resourceful and inspiring. She’s everything he’s not: sleek and expensive, zooming around around while he chugs on treads.

Private stakes: WALL-E dedicates himself to taking care of EVE when she shuts down. He risks life and limb to cling to the spaceship that picks her up and takes her to where all the humans live after they fled into space when Earth became too polluted. And he basically commits suicide to save the last plant around, the one EVE found and the only hope of making Earth livable again.

Eve returns the favor by doing all she can to help him — and to save his life.

If you don’t get verklempt during the ending of WALL-E, then you don’t have a soul.

Public stakes: Just the survival of Earth and humankind.

Bottom line: WALL-E is simply a better story, with more at stake and a much more involving love story. WALL-E truly suffers and sacrifices for the benefit of EVE and others. He’s selfless and endearing. Unlike most heroes, he’s not tall, dark and handsome. He’s the robotic version of Urkel, and you don’t care — WALL-E rocks.

Verdict: WALL-E wins in a storytelling knock-out. It’s not even close.

Despite the advance in CGI in the years since WALL-E was made, WALL-E still looks more impressive. There are so many epic scenes that stick with you: the moment he first sees EVE, the dust storm, the escape pod, the evil computer that runs the ship, humans who’ve grown so fat and lazy they can’t even walk anymore.

The film sticks with you, and you’re better for having seen it. That’s rare. I’ve seen this sucker a dozen times and wouldn’t hesitate to fire it up again, which is even MORE rare.

But that’s the power of great storytelling, which gives the audience more than the biggest of Michael Bay explosions ever could.