Photo Credit: Matt Ray — A bridge in Southport, North Carolina

What Makes a Great Movie?

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief


I was having a discussion with my girlfriend about movies the other day. She told me about a movie that she said was a “great movie.” I’m a movie buff so I was intrigued to see what she considered a great movie. But after watching the movie I realized it wasn’t that great after all. It was a good movie, but definitely not one I would classify as great.

In our discussions, I tried to explain to her why I didn’t consider it to be a great movie even though she did. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, right? Why was it a great movie for her and just a good movie for me? Was it a matter of taste? Perhaps in part, but it was more than that. I finally made progress with her by explaining, one difference between a good movie and a great movie is the movie’s ability to willingly suspend our disbelief.

What is Suspension of Disbelief?

I want to stop here and mention that I am not a professional film critic, nor have I ever studied film other than my own experience and classes in the humanities in college. These are ideas I have formulated on my own, based on watching way too many movies. The concept of suspending your disbelief is one I learned in college which I summarize by saying the following: In order for drama, theatre, and most fiction to succeed, it has to convince us to suspend our disbelief or suspend our rational mind from saying, “this isn’t real, it is artificial.”

Wikipedia defines it this way:

The term Suspension of disbelief or Willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a “willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment” “A literary term of art referring to one of Aristotle’s principles of theater in which the audience accepts fiction as reality so as to experience a catharsis, or a releasing of tensions to purify the soul”

In other words, a movie or play succeeds when you allow yourself to believe it is not just a play, but engage in the fantasy that it is real and something you are experiencing as real in your mind. Or at least something you want to believe is real. It’s not just a script that someone wrote, a bunch of lines that someone…



Matt Ray

Top Writer in Travel, Photography, & Poetry. Recently circum-sailed around the world. Find all my Publications, Blogs, & Socials here: