Thin-slicing and Good Movies

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that you can recommend a film by only seeing the first 5-10 minutes of it. Generally speaking, you should only be able to recommend a film after seeing the entire thing. But for some movies, you don’t have to see the entire thing to know that it will be a fantastic and worthwhile experience. You just watch the first 5-10 minutes and you know, in your gut, that’s it going to be a good time.

This most frequently happens to me when I’m flipping through television channels and stop to watch a couple minutes of movie. If it’s bad, or doesn’t keep my interest, I’ll move on. But if it’s good, I’ll keep watching. The question is: how do I know it’s good? I’ve only watched a minute of it and I’m absolutely hooked. And it’s not that there’s action or witty dialogue happening. Sometimes it’s just a quiet scene with nothing much happening except maybe the faint music of the score playing in the background.

Two films that always seem to catch my attention when I flip through television channels (even though I have seen them before) are Fargo and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. For Fargo, there’s something appealing about the vast snow-covered landscape and the crunch of the characters’ boots as they step into it, or the long pauses between their thickly-accented dialogue that makes me stop and pay attention. In The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I always seem to flip to it on the same scene on the same channel (History Network…strange, I know): the scene where Tuco is being tortured by Angel Eyes while the military band plays louder and louder to cover his anguished screams. It’s an immediately gripping scene and when you see it, you’re hooked. That’s the power of a good movie.

To take a cue from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink,” this would probably be defined as a case of “thin-slicing.” Essentially, human beings can see a small “slice” of something – whether it be a couple eating at a restaurant or an athlete playing tennis – and instantly make a pretty accurate conclusion without even thinking, or knowing, how they thought about it. That’s the case here. Within 5-10 minutes we can make an accurate assumption about a film without seeing the rest of it. And I like to think that it’s all in the title sequence.

Here’s how this article came about:

Amazing right? A title sequence that is can deeply unsettle and disturb you within two minutes, a feat which some horror films can’t even achieve in ninety. After seeing that it should be pretty obvious that the next two hours are going to be pretty incredible (or continue to disturb and unsettle you, however you want to put it). In either case, this title sequence perfectly captures the feel, tone, and quality of the movie to come. And if you haven’t seen it, this small clip should tell you that it’s a solid flick.

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