Why Isn’t Every Movie RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (and Every Book THE HUNGER GAMES)?

I’ve always been a pretty picky movie-goer and reader. Most of what I see and read ultimately disappoints me (even if I usually end up being somewhat entertained along the way).

When I was younger, I used to ask myself, “Why isn’t every movie Raiders of the Lost Ark?” These days, I might also ask myself, “Why isn’t every book The Hunger Games?”

Why isn’t every project … you know … good?

When you see a really good movie, or read a really good book, it looks so effortless, so easy. The pieces are all right there, and all really, really obvious: interesting characters, an engaging plot that doesn’t rely on contrivances, an element of “heart,” moments of humor, a conclusion that’s unexpected yet also somehow inevitable, and an overall “point” that somehow makes the whole story seem worth my time.

So if it’s all so obvious, why don’t more writers just do this? I mean, come on!

Well, having been a writer for more than twenty years now, I think I can answer my question pretty definitively:


Good movies and books look effortless and easy because they are working. That doesn’t mean they were actually effortless to create.

On the contrary, the more effortless something looks, the more sweat and blood went into it — at least in my own experience.

But don’t take my word for it. Think about the Indiana Jones series. Yes, I think Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most satisfying movie experiences of all time. But what followed it in that movies series?

Yup. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a horrible movie by almost all accounts (one that’s racist and xenophobic to boot!).

Then came Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — a decent movie (but not nearly as good as Raiders, IMHO). And that was followed by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — a contender for the worst movie of all time.

In other words, even talent capable of making Raiders of the Lost Ark in the first place wasn’t ever able to pull it off again.

Or take The Hunger Games series. I thought the first book was pretty much flawless. The second book, Catching Fire, was good too, if not really as good.

And then came Mockingjay, which I thought was a complete dud. It didn’t work for me at all.

Folks, your opinion may differ about this movie or that book, but I think my greater point remains intact: creating stories of truly great craft and value is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY HARD.

Most of the time, we writers fail — or only partially succeed.

And yet, we carry on anyway. Are we cool or what? Makes you wanna buy us a drink the next time you see us in a bar, doesn’t it? Because, let’s face it: those of us who have learned the cold, hard truth about writing definitely need the alcohol.

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4 Responses to “Why Isn’t Every Movie RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (and Every Book THE HUNGER GAMES)?”

  1. Robin 10 March 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Hi Brent!
    Yeah, and not only is it so, so hard — it can't be guaranteed or replicated on demand. As long as business interests are the priority in making movies or publishing books, the people doing it want things with names like "favorable statistical position" and "demographic predictors," but uh-oh, creativity is not amenable to market sampling. Lana Wachowski said that in an interview once. Business tools are great at measuring oranges, but creativity and effort and inspiration (all the things that go into the qualities you listed for our ideal) are apples. I think that's another piece of it.
    I just watched the trailer of Geography Club. I can't imagine how it felt to you the first time you saw it. It makes me so happy for you and so, just, *triumphant* in general!.

    • Brent Hartinger 11 March 2014 at 6:00 am #

      Sadly, yes. Corporation interests are yet another huge hurdle to be scaled. *sigh*

      The movie-making experience was an extremely pleasant one (especially coming after a series of very negative ones). Let's hope it's the first of many! :-)

  2. Beadle 1 April 2014 at 2:20 am #

    Hunger Games is a lot of things, but "good" isn't among them.

    • Brent Hartinger 2 April 2014 at 7:35 am #

      Thanks for your comment, but honestly, this is the first time I've ever heard this (regarding the first book anyway). Just goes to show, not every book is for everyone. ;-?

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