1. Swords. Movies which contain swords are better than movies which do not.
2. Explosions. Movies which contain explosions are better than movies which do not, unless (this is key) the movie is all explosions and nothing else. Like all good things, explosions too can become boring.
3. Magic and technology. Magic is good. Wizards in long robes are even better. Technology is good when it is essentially indistinguishable from magic and gets bonus points when it's ridiculous and absurd and clearly would never work.
4. (4 is the momentarily serious number) It doesn't fail the Bechdel test. Or, okay, it's going to fail the fucking Bechdel test, I know it's going to fail, they all fail, but either it's so over the top ridiculous that I can laugh at it anyway or there are enough swords, explosions, magic and NUMBER FIVES in it that I don't care.
NUMBER FIVE: GIANT LIZARDS. Giant lizards are vitally important to any cinematic success. Giant lizards can improve any and all movies, particularly the one that my mother dragged me to at the Fine Arts Theatre a couple of years ago. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but it featured an amnesiac musician who washed up on the coast of Britain sometime in the 1930s and was rescued by two elderly ladies. It was beautifully filmed and extremely civilized and I wanted to gnaw my own arm off to escape. If only there had been a GIANT LIZARD! Then he could have eaten the entire cast and I would have been, personally, quite content. Particularly if then some guys in robes came in, fought him with swords and finished him off by blowing him up in a large explosion. While two women carried on a funny conversation.
The problem with this simple approach is that in actual fact, most of my favorite movies, when I do end up seeing movies, are not of this kind. My favorite movies (that I can think of right now, at this very moment, because I am terrible at remembering the names of things and have to memorize small lists of favorites to be trotted out whenever necessary, which is why for years I said my favorite movie was The Man Who Would Be King although I haven't seen it since 1975 when I was 11 years old and saw it at the movie theatre where it completely and totally absorbed me to a degree nothing ever has since) are Spirited Away, Scotland, PA, The Secret of Roan Inish and the Coca Cola Kid, none of which have giant lizards, swords, explosions or much magic or technology. That would be where the contradictions come in and extend even unto such movies as My Dinner With Andre, which I actually loved, despite its fearsome lack of all good things. So the formula is not without flaws. Still, feel free to borrow it! It certainly helps with Netflix and the movie machine at the grocery store, particularly if your viewing companions are tween or teen boys.