Are We Great at Spotting What’s Great?  

We recently discussed movies that bring cheer to our collective hearts, you know, when one needs a little, or a lot, pick-me-up. And in our favorite part of the blogosphere, the discussion part, RoughWighting brought up an intriguing question: are we good at spotting a good movie when we see it? Or, more generally, are we great at spotting what’s great?

Sometimes we may be, but there are some spectacular examples of when we are not in this “are we great at spotting what’s great” movie edition:

(1) THE SHAWHSANK REDEMPTION: it’s on many people’s favorite/all-time best movies for a variety of great reasons, and yet, when it came out it was a box office flop. Its budget in 1994 was $25m and it made $28m … worldwide. It was nominated for 7 Oscars, including best film, and won a whopping zero! Speaking of interesting trivia, did you know that Stephen King sold the rights for the novel on which the movie is based for … $5,000? And even funnier, Stephen King never cashed it…

(2) THE FIGHT CLUB: featured on our top-10 movies with a twist it took watching it just once to understand why it became a cult film, and yet, in 1999 with a $63m budget, it made $37m in the US, and just over $101m worldwide. Speaking of interesting trivia, did you know that in every scene in this movie there’s a Starbucks cup Easter Egg, sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain sight?

(3) OFFICE SPACE: Office Space: not only because we needed a movie on the list that didn’t start with “the” 🙂 If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, you’ll understand why this The Work Cult Movie (TWCM!). If not, watch this short clip titled “I have people Skills”… And yet, with a budget of $10m in 1999 it made just over $10m… Speaking of interesting trivia, did you know that the Red Stapler was made for the movie by the prop department, but following the movie’s release, Swingline started to make their red staplers again?

    What do you think: are we good at spotting a good thing when we see it? Please share examples!

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    56 thoughts on “Are We Great at Spotting What’s Great?  

    1. This is fun! I love movie tidbits and trivia…and had no idea Shawshank was such a box office bust. And — Stephen King never cashed his $5000 check? There’s a story there…let me know if you have more details. Interesting!
      Me? While I know it was a mega-best-selling book and it’s been treated in several film and tv adaptations, I NEVER tire of re-reading or viewing Anne of Green Gables. Any rendition. It seems timeless to me but whenever I’ve mentioned my love of Anne Shirley’s story, friends and family give me a resounding ‘ick’ face. Sigh. Might be my love for nostalgia…I confess that I also enjoyed The Waltons more than I should’ve as a kid. 😉

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      1. I do, I do! The story Stephen King wrote, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, on which the movie was made, was part of a 4-story compilation (https://stephenking.com/works/collection/different-seasons.html). Interestingly, Stand By Me, was based on another story in that compilation!

        King met the director of The Shawshank Redemption when the director was a film student. Then, in 1983, the budding director did such a good job (with a short story called The Woman in the Room, that when the director approached King to adapt Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, King had no issue with it, and let him have it for so little. Though he said “I did not feel there was a place for Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption in an industry consumed with Predators and Terminators.” 🙃

        The director did such a good job with the script for The Shawshank Redemption that we was reportedly offered $2.5m for the script alone!

        And I loved Anne of Green Gables (the book, but not all the adaptations, like the recent one on Netflix…), STILL do, tbh, so should you ever feel the need to discuss it…

        A few years after The Shawshank Redemption was released, King reportedly framed the check and sent it to the director with a note “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

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        1. Oh my goodness…you are a wealth of info — thank you so much for all the insight about Shawshank. I had no idea. Such fun trivia! And…good to know I’m not the only Anne of Green Gables nerd. Right there with you about the Netflix version. Nothing’s better than the book.
          xo, EW! 😘

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          1. I’m not ashamed to admit I love trivia, and I read up on … stuff as I was writing this post, I’m glad I had an opportunity to share: THANK YOU, Vicki 🥰 And, yes, they departed so far from the book in the series…

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    2. I liked that clip, “I have people skills.” As for being great at spotting something good, of course I am. And so is everyone else. We know what’s good for ourselves. But we’re usually not so great at spotting what’s good for others.

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      1. That’s an extremely intriguing observation! Are we ALWAYS good at spotting what’s good for ourselves? The guy in the clip “I have people skills” (I use that as a phrase irl more often than I should 🙃), do you think he knows what skills he has? Three-is generations after we became aware that smoking is bad for us, why is there a new generation of smokers? Not-rhetorical-question-alert: I really wonder why is that?

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        1. I’ve heard lots of smokers say something like, “Yeah, I know it’s bad for me, and one day I’ll quit.” I think we’re usually pretty good at knowing what’s best for us. Putting it into practice can be the hard part.

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          1. Hmmmm….off the top of my head no. I just saw One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest last week…academy award winner, great movie, but I don’t think it did well at box office

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    3. I suppose if someone is trying to determine who deserves an award then there needs to be a general consensus of what defines “great”. But on a personal level if a movie speaks to me in some way or entertains me so deeply that I refuse to get up to pee for fear of missing something and I determine it to be great then should others judge my decision? Case in point- my younger daughter has an odd love of Nicolas Cage movies. Mandy is one that stands out and I know she has deemed it “great” by her own standards. I do not feel the same, although I can tolerate Nic at times. Greatness is often in the eye of the beholder only.

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      1. That’s a fantastic observation! I wonder if there is a possibility for an “absolute” on what makes greatness? Does anyone think that the great pyramids of Giza are not great? (Maybe the slaves that built it? 🙃) That Alexander the Great was a so so leader?

        I tried to go with box office earnings for “success” because, like you, I don’t believe the awards like the Oscars necessarily reflect what defines greatness. With box office earnings, we each theoretically get a “vote” (or even more than a vote). But then movies like Dumb and Dumber that came out the same year (and I’ll admit I haven’t watched) get more “votes” that The Shawshank Redemption? How do you explain that?

        Does your daughter like National Treasure? I really did. Really really 🙂

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        1. I don’t know if she’s seen National Treasure. It’s a Nic movie I would watch but she might associate too much Indiana Jones ideal with it. Honestly I am really poor at figuring out which Nic movies will interest her and which won’t. She has rather eclectic tastes!

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    4. This is fascinating. Why are these now cult classics but weren’t at release time? Perhaps because they are now more accessible and people did not want to pay high ticket prices to watch them at the time? Social media might play a role as well.

      When did the shift happen?

      Side note: Shawshank Redemption was filmed in the rural Ohio county where I grew up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whoa! Were you there when they filmed it? Did you get to see any of the filming?

        I think it’s a MARVELOUS question of the “why”. I know that other good (and not so good) movies did better in the box office that year: Forest Gump, True Lies, Pulp Fiction, The Lion King, Philadelphia, Speed, The Santa Clause (I kid you not), even Dumb and Dumber 🤷‍♀️ That’s what makes your question so fascinating: why can we not spot a good thing (at least some of the time) when we see it?

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        1. Unfortunately, no. I had moved away a few years before. However, a high school classmate worked on the film’s set! 

          It’s similar to not appreciating things in the present. We reflect on our memories and wish we could relive them. But we are creating memories every day. Humans have a tendency to overlook the good right in front of us until it is too late.

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    5. I think we are good at spotting movies that make us feel. I find many of the ones we like never make it very high on Rotten Tomatoes or other raters, but we like them just fine. I’ve always heard good things about Shawshank, but have not yet watched it. Will have to give it a go. Happy Thursday. Allan

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      1. That’s a terrific observation! I remember the first time I saw The Shawshank Redemption, and I was enthralled. So, yes, I get that!

        I’m a little leery of some of the movies that get high scores on Rotten Tomatoes (like The History of Violence?), sometimes I feel that a TOO high of a score there may be a warning? 😁

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    6. Love this post, EW! And I think that means that I can recognize great. But that aside, I find the whole prognostication business to be more miss than hit. I wouldn’t want to try to predict what’s going to sell as any part of my job. Because creating content is way more fun than selling content, in my opinion.

      By the way, you might like this post as examples when the professionals missed the mark as to what would sell: https://pointlessoverthinking.com/2022/09/07/a-mercifully-brief-post-about-knowing-nothing/

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      1. Thank you, Wynne! As usual, you bring up a spectacular question: is it possible to predict what content people will like? I once read that the author of Love Story used to be an English professor who kept on telling his students that there’s a “template” to successful love stories and that anyone who really knows it, could write a bestseller. Finally, a student called him on it, and that’s how the book Love Story came to be … (but he was never able to write another bestseller…)

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    7. I’m good at spotting good things, but whether anyone else considers my good things their good things… who is to say? It’s all subjective. For instance I posted on my personal blog my answers to a list of questions about books, thinking this was a good thing. Fun, even. From the lackluster response to the post I’d say not everyone else thinks answering questions about books is a good thing. I sense indifference to my good thing. Yet I’d still say it’s a good thing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s a terrific observation! Many things in our lives ARE subjective. (Now I need to go look for the book post, I’m disappointed I missed it!) Which brings up another question: are there some things that are “universally” or “objectively” good?

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    8. I love all the trivia you threw in here. Who knew? Not me.
      I did like Shawshank, but not so much The Fight Club. I think it was all the violence….which is basically in the title. 😉
      Laughing at the clip from Office Space regarding People Skills. LOL.

      I know a good thing when I see it. But my good thing might not be your good thing. Right?

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          1. 😆 great answer, and after being Mr. Rogers, who could say differently? (I wonder if his kids feel differently… 🤪)

            As an extra bit of trivia, it turns out that Forrest Gump beat The Shawshank Redemption that year for best movie Oscar. Tom Hanks ftw?

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    9. Great movie trivia. Has anyone else pointed out that Fight Club doesn’t actually start with “The”? says the woman who has never actually seen it. :/ I already know the twist, so it kinda feels like I don’t need to? Shawshank R was definitely a great movie. Office Space was decent though not one of my faves. It’s funny how often it gets referenced in conversations, though!

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      1. Strong in the Jujitsu AND the smartness you are! I didn’t realize there was no “The” in Fight Club. BIG Ooopsie! Thank you for the correction!!! It took me many many many (MANY) years of it being highly recommended to me by people I only semi-trust to watch the movie. I didn’t know about the twist, so I think that that’s why it made it to my list of twists…

        Office Space I watched the first time with my team at work, so you know it left a mark with everyone making their own sarcastic remarks about TPS reports…

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        1. That’s so fun that Office Space became a part of your work camaraderie! Hubby finds coworkers who are well versed in The Office or Parks and Rec to share laughs with. He’ll make a reference in a meeting and see who chuckles. That’s how he finds his people. 😉

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    10. I think that everyone has their own opinions on what’s great. My life experiences, the people I know and value, the things I read, my church or philosophical background, my parents and teachers, what I watch on TV, et cetera, all color my opinions. For every movie I think is great I am sure I can find someone to disagree with me. Loudly. It’s one of the reasons I hate award shows. I never really trust that the winners are chosen in some unbiased way or that there’s not a hidden agenda behind the choices. Can’t we all just celebrate the wide variety of options and that there is something for everyone to enjoy even if not everyone enjoys a particular choice.

      The Shawshank Redemption is one of my very favorite movies. Perhaps even THE favorite, at least for now. I have no interest in Fight Club or Office Space. Not my thing but I know there are a bunch of people who like them a lot.

      Did I ever tell you that I made an innocent comment about not liking football once and got jumped on for saying it was stupid and that people who liked it were stupid? Nope. Didn’t say that. Don’t even think it. Just said that I, me, do not like football. People can defend the things they like very loudly. I’ve done it myself although after the football epiphany I’ve stopped. When asked my opinion I will answer honestly. I will clarify once if asked. Then I figure the other person needs to take me at my word. This does not apply when I’m talking to a friend who understands the rules of conversation and isn’t going to jump on me just because I don’t agree.

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      1. What a terrificly insightful response with 3 magnificent points! In reverse order…

        I’ve had several people offering me this shirt, so that should tell you where I stand on sports. It’s funny, because there are some things that people treat religiously, like sports. You either like “their” team, or you’re the enemy? I agree that there are some issues that are do-or-die, but does the outcome of a bunch of folks hanging out in fresh air, making millions regardless of the outcome, qualify? ;P

        Award shows do seem a little biased, and not just because The Shawshank Redemption didn’t win. They seem to be either popularity contests or political contests, with little to do with excellence (other than the stand up acts of some of the presenters 🙂 )

        There are some things that are a matter of taste, but I think that there are some things that at least SHOULD be absolute, what do you think?

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        1. The shirt is cute, yet antithetical to the notion that it’s okay for you to love sports, even if I don’t. Someone will surely be offended. 🙂

          You asked a serious question and I will give you a serious answer. To I think that some things should be absolute?

          Well, none that I can think of. Are you speaking about the hot-button issues? I have opinions on them and other people have different opinions and provided they aren’t hurting anyone, they can have their stupid opinions. Sorry, that sneaks out every once in a while. I do find it difficult to understand how any reasonably intelligent person could disagree with my opinions. Yet, I must defend their rights to do so.

          Take sports, for example. I tried to play basketball in the 7th grade, I was not overly skilled. I danced, tried gymnastics (oh was that a failure) and rode my bike. But for the most part, I’ve never cared for exercise for the sake of exercise. Sports get kids out and moving, they teach how to work as a group and, in theory, make exercise fun. Sports give some older kids something to do rather than join a gang. They make people hope that they can get out of a bad place and maybe get a scholarship toward something better. And at some point, they cross the line for me and we pay people millions of dollars for what is essentially entertainment. And yet, I must defend that practice.

          As long as entertainment doesn’t hurt someone, I think we set the price on what we’re willing to pay. If we join as a people and say that a certain form of entertainment is not worth millions of dollars then it will fade away. I guess. It might be hard to get everyone to agree.

          And back to things that should be absolute? Oh, that’s just so difficult. I find that there are always, or nearly always, scenarios that make the absolute be questioned.

          Are you familiar with Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development? Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of summarizing Kohlberg’s idea. I think you would be interested in reading and thinking further.

          There are also legitamate criticisms of his research. I still find his ideas mostly reasonable, although moral development isn’t in the nice straight line that Kohlberg theorized and certainly shouldn’t be based on research on 10-16 year old males.

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          1. It was not my intention to offend, only to make you smile. I hope no offense was caused.

            I love your thought-provoking response, and my apologies for not responding sooner, I just spotted it in my “pending” comments (I think I have it set to “pend” if there’s more than one URL…). So I’m going to read more about Kohlberg’s stages, but didn’t want to take too long in answering: so expect a second answer soon! As for the question you posed, there are certain fields where there ARE absolutes. In our decimal math, 1+1=2. Not 2.00001, not 1.9999, that’s an absolute. If you drop a pen, it’ll fall based on the gravity it’s experiencing. We may not like it (especially if we’re trying gymnastics, like you have 😀 ), but those are absolutes. Are there a lot of those in other areas? Probably not outside of hard sciences, though I wonder if there SHOULD be? What convinces us that certain movies are worth watching? How much of it points to their absolute value? Looking at the top moneymaking movies … I’m not sure convinces us that some movies are “better” than others. None of my top 10 movies are in that top 10 list…

            What do you think? SHOULD there be “absolutes” outside of hard sciences?

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          2. I’m sorry! That was just me being a little silly. It seems like these days that anything is going to find someone to offend. And since I pretty much agree with the shirt, I know that I have friends who would find it really offensive. You didn’t offend me at all.

            And no worries, I forget to check pendings. Sometimes WP informs me of them and sometimes they seem to think I am psychic and should find them myself.

            Have you ever read “Mister God, This is Anna” by Fynn? Anna is a young child who wanders her way into Fynn’s life and he and his family end up caring for her. Something that would not happen today but it’s a beautiful story. And an interesting recommendation from your friendly atheist. Anna is intelligent but uneducated and questions things like 1 + 1 = 2, causing Fynn to see the world in a different way. Even the hard sciences need questioning. Everyone knows something to be true until we find out it’s not or that it has exceptions. It’s a fascinating world. Shouldn’t evolution be an absolute? We can watch it happening yet are there not plenty of people in the world who insist it isn’t real?

            It seems like there are things that should be absolutes, I’m just not sure I can name them. Perhaps the old song is right, “Snow is cold, rain is wet.” Kinda hard to argue against that.

            You make me think a lot. I appreciate that. It’s good for the old brain cells.

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          3. Please don’t apologize, it’s because I value your insights that I didn’t want to offend YOU 🙂 And YOU make ME think a lot, so thank YOU for that ❤

            Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are FASCINATING, thank you for introducing me to them! Do you feel that they can explain some of the bizarre behavior we’ve been seeing around the world?

            As for the 1+1=2, I’m all for questioning things that need questioning. In a recent episode of Young Sheldon, Sheldon starts to question the existence of the number zero, because if it’s nothing how can it exist? 🙂 I’m glad he questioned it, though they had a big logical failure in why it exists and it doesn’t need to be taken “on faith” 🙂
            But once a Ring (as in math) has been established, with addition and multiplication, with say, a decimal base, 1+1=2 in the most absolute way I can think of. And to some extent, uneducated folks questioning whether, say, the earth revolves around the sun or the sun revolves around the earth (as, apparently, 1 in 4 folks believe…) is not only unnecessary, it’s hurtful to progress, no?

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          4. Sorry I am so far behind again. I an glad you are enjoying Kohlberg and yes, I do think they can explain some of the strange behavior. It kind of falls into social learning theory as well. The early stages of moral development I think of as the Santa Claus years. You’ve got to be good because Santa is watching and if you’re bad, you’re going to be punished. If you’re good, you’re going to get something you want. As people age up, I think the Santa Claus years sometimes get transferred to religion or schools or workplaces or governments. Sometimes people stay stuck in the reward/punishment cycle of doing what is right or wrong rather than deciding for themselves what the right thing to do is. And notice, that those people who are stuck seem to be more worried about what reward or punishment they will get personally than what is right or wrong for the group around them or their country or world.

            I agree with the idea that some things, like basic mathematics, are so proven that they can’t really be questioned. Mostly. I used to have a calculator that I could set up by, iirc, taking the square root of one so many times that it returned to “1” and then saving that “1”. Then I could pulled up my saved “1” and square it and get either .99999999 or 1.11111111, depending on the method I used to get there. One does not always equal one, it just appears to. I believe in Anna’s story, they were using mirrors to change the perception of numbers so that “5” didn’t equal “5”. Both of those are trickery but if you don’t know the trickery they are kind of magic, no?

            The flat earthers – I can’t help wondering how many would benefit from being introduced to the Great Spaghetti Monster. I just don’t believe that all of them truly believe in a flat earth and how many are just having fun with people who want to go nuts over it. And it would be easy to get myself into big trouble if I continue this line of thought. I suspect you can see where it is going and how it relates to the opiate if the masses. I don’t have any real problem with those who think they are being funny by arguing for a flat earth. My problem is those who insist on a faith based system to explain whether the earth is flat or spherical.

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          5. You should have been (or are you?) a teacher! I love the way you explain things, with Santa Claus. Remember Penn Jillette from Penn and Teller? He once had an explanation similar to yours about being “stuck” in the crime/punishment phase. He said “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.” (came from here: https://theinterrobang.com/penn-jillette-morality-without-religion/)

            The flat earthers are mind boggling to me, and I saw a funny explanation for that, too: according to their flat map, Japan is on one side of the “flat earth” and Hawaii on the “other side.” That means that during WWII Japan somehow had to cross the entire “flat earth” to get to Hawaii, which… QED 😀 But maybe you’re right, and they’re just doing it to see how they can annoy folks? Maybe if any of them are cat owners, they can explain how it’s possible that the earth is flat, because wouldn’t cats have pushed everything off earth by now? 😛

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    11. I’ve never explained it quite like Penn but I’ve had that discussion many times. People don’t get how figuring out what is right and wrong for yourself takes more work and honesty than just having someone tell you what to do. I like that story.

      I also like your Star Trek story. It would be nice if teleporting was as easy as just deciding to make it so!

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone making two sides of the flat earth. How thick is it? Wouldn’t it be easier to go long distances by going through the flat earth? The cat story is…… yes. Zoe would have happily pushed Australia off the earth by now. Have you ever seen “The World is a Cat Playing with Australia” – there’s no way to post it into a comment. You must search.

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