In honor of Nora Ephron’s movie, Julie and Julia which came out on August 7th, I have decided to put together a recipe to make the perfect movie. For the film, Ephron uses two real life stories, Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia and My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, as her main ingredients. To use the film as an example, I have put together the perfect recipe for a hit movie: Ephron is a good director, she has A-list actors starring in the film (Meryl Streep, Amy Adams),  she intertwines the lives of the two women for a good plot, the film has garnered good hype and publicity and the film had a big enough budget in order to make it worth watching. It may have the best food, but it does not necessarily have all the perfect ingredients for the perfect film.

Below, for all of our Screencrave readers, we have the recipe for a hit movie:

Recipe Ingredients:

  1. A Good Director
  2. A-List Stars
  3. Good Plot
  4. Serious Hype and Aggressive Advertising
  5. Money/Big budget


Step 1: A Good Plot

The most important part of this recipe is having a good story to work with. Without a good plot you have nothing, no matter who is in the movie and/or who is making it. A good plot involves a storyline that keeps the audience entertained -  it is not predictable, not cheesy, nor is it full of cliches. The power of the story is very important as is evident by movies that have won big awards (Crash) and brought in big bucks leading to sequels being made (Ocean’s 11). Some examples of hit movies with good plots includes:

  • The Suspenseful Plot – The Sixth Sense: Gotta keep them waiting until the last second! The twist at the end, although cliched now, is a prime example of keeping people guessing until the very end.
  • The Eye Opening Plot - Crash: This movie makes you look at things from the other person’s perspective. Everyone loves to feel like they’ve been re-awakened to what’s around them.
  • The Clever Plot - Ocean’s Eleven: This movie was clever from start to finish. Just when you started thinking, “Oh, they are not going to be able to get out of that mess” they do and we love watching how they do it.
  • The Well Adapted Plot - Fight Club: One of those movies that you have to watch more than once to understand the whole thing. We’ve seen more books get murdered on screen than anything else, but not Fight Club. It was honest to the book and yet stood on it’s own, just like a good adaptation should do.

Step 2: A Good Director

The next step for making a good movie is having a good director. Even if you have the best plot in the world, with no real direction or guidance, a film can tank at the box office. People who recognize big names in the directors chair, know they are going to see something worth their time and money. It takes time and skill to become a good director but with good efforts comes respect with the audience as well as the actors that work for you.

Although there are many great and accomplished directors out there, we have picked our top three directors which are guaranteed to be a success in their own way:

  • Money and Awards: Steven Spielberg (E.T., Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, Twister, Shrek) This man knows how to make money and win awards. Deadly combination.
  • The Oscar Man: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) If he makes it, he will get nominated for an Oscar. End of argument.
  • The Record Holder: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) This film holds more records than any other film including the top grossing opening weekend of all time and one of his actors won an Oscar for his performance in it.

We know we’ve left MANY off this list including, Raimi, Tarantino, Scorsese, Cameron, Burton, and more, who are all amazing. Who would you have picked for your top 3?

Step 3: A-List Actors

Now that you have your good plot, and a well respected director working on a film, you need actors to actually make the movie. Having one A-list actor is fine, but having a whole group of them is even better. Julie Child may believe that the more butter you have the better, but for film, the more well-known actors you are able to sign on to a movie that bigger the chance of it being a hit. Just how important are actors to a film? An actor brings his/her talent to the film as well as their fanbase, and the more fans the better. Some examples of movies that were hits because of the A-list ensemble casts:

What do these films have in common? All the big names that star in them. Can you imagine a movie with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon AND Julia Roberts doing bad? Yeah, I didn’t think so. What’s your favorite A-list ensemble cast?

Step 4: Serious Hype and Aggressive Marketing

Now that you have your plot ready, a director to make the film and the actors to star in it you need to focus on getting people to notice the film. Again, these actors bring along with them, loyal fans that will watch anything that they are involved in, this includes horrible films such as Jersey Girl (which I am convinced people only saw because Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith). Nevertheless, movies need to be promoted properly in order to be a success. This step involves a lot of work because you have to figure out a way to make them want to go out and see your movie. With technology being as high tech as it is right now, word of mouth, especially through sites such as twitter and facebook, travels super fast and can make-or-break a film.

What’s one of the biggest clues to success, marketing something that people already know and love. Some examples of movies/series that have serious hype and aggressive advertising which has led to an insanely large fanbase are:

  • The Selling of the Stars: Twilight: What started off as just a vampire-romance novel by Stephanie Meyer turned into a mega movie. It might have been what escalated this whole vampire phenomenon that we’ve had for awhile. They have marketed this film in every way possible, from lunch boxes and posters to selling off their actors while they work on set and having them kiss at award shows. They’re merciless.
  • Internet Craze/Nerdy Fanbase: Lord of the Rings: The high-fantasy novel, written by J.R.R. Tolkien, led to three live action epic films. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is the highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, grossing $2.91 billion. Critics liked it as well as fans worldwide. It was all the visual effects, in the commercials and trailer as well as the movie itself that garnered all that hype to make people want to see the movie. The Lord of the Rings brand was already well known before the films so they played off of that. The existing fanbase was very active online which made for a good opportunity for viral marketing. Knowing they are dealing with web-savvy, hobbit obsessed fans, the people behind the films used the internet to connect with fans through the films website.
  • Plain Obsession: Harry Potter: The only way to put it is to say people are obsessed with this story. From the seven series fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling to the movies that seem to come out every other year, people can’t get enough.  It is due to the aggressive advertising (as well as the visual effects and good plot) that the films are the highest grossing film series of all time, bringing in over $5 billion worldwide. The people behind Harry Potter have turned the novel/films into a brand and one of the world’s most recognized names. This is because you can’t get away from the advertisements. For example, just looking at their most recent film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, we first had the posters (of which there were over 15 to choose from!), which came in waves, then we had over 7 versions of the trailers come out, as opposed to the usual two or three. Throughout there has been the official website where fans can get pictures, watch the trailers and participate in blogs and contests. The stars of the films even went to the MTV Movie Awards to promote the movie and show the audience a short clip.

Although all of our examples were films based on novels, that is not always needed for good hype or aggressive advertising.  Since we are living in an age where everything goes through the internet and fans like the hands on involvement of everything, marketing companies are taking advantage and using the participatory approach which is why official websites for movies are so important. What do you prefer, posters/trailers/TV commercials or the interactive aspect one gets from the websites?

Step 5: Money, Money, Money

The last step to our recipe for the perfect movie is a film’s budget. You can’t do anything without money. Money gets you the best director, the most high-profile actors, the most beautiful locations and the most amazing (and unrealistic most of the time) action scenes ever.  ig budget movies have more freedom to produce the best cinematic experience for viewers of a particular film. Some examples of big budget movies that were also big hits at the box office are:

I Am Legend : How much did Francis Lawrences’ film starring Will Smith cost? Let’s just say one flashback scene on the Brooklyn bridge put them back $5 million, the most expensive scene filmed in the city at the time. The scene involved thousands of extras, various army vehicles, coast guard boats, and an army helicopter.  The film’s budget was $150+ million but was well worth it…

Spider-Man 2 : Sam Raimi’s film was given a budget of $200 million to make the sequel to the hit Spider-Man. (We know Spider-Man 3 made more money, but we’re trying our best to pretend that didn’t happen.)  The second film was shot on over 100 sets and locations with as many as 16 cameras used on one scene.  Filming took place all around the U.S. from Chicago to Los Angeles to New York. With this big budget comes all the entrancing action sequences you can ask for and incredible visual sequences.

Any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies: When the first of Gore Verbinski’s Pirates movies came out in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the budget was $125 million. The movie was such a huge hit, with audiences and critics that the sequel’s budget was almost doubled. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest which came out in 2006 had a budget of $225 million and the third film in 2007, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End had a budget of $300. If they keep going on this pace they will need $500 million for the next installment but the money is worth the beautiful locations, special effects and crazy characters.

This recipe requires a lot of time and sweat but with the right amount of all the ingredients you will have a hit movie. Columbia and Sony Pictures followed this recipe for Julie and Julia, we’ll have to wait to see if the worked for them. Be sure to go watch the movie and pay attention to the “ingredients” in the film.

In case you missed it, here is the trailer for Julie and Julia:

What do you think of the recipe for a hit movie? What else would you include in this recipe?