Almost all emotionally satisfying movies are about three-quarters set-up and one-quarter payoff.
I was explaining this a while ago in response to people dismissing Spider-Man: No Way Home. The viewer strategy, I said, is that you need to focus on the second hour and discount the mechanized, fan-service section that takes up the first 60 to 65 minutes.
“Brilliant way to assess a film,,,just ignore what sucks”, sneered “Michael2021.” To which I replied, “The first 65 minutes don’t ‘suck’— they’re just significantly different, delivery-wise, than the last hour. The first hour or so is all about situational set-up and boilerplate maneuverings.
“Do you like Warren Beatty‘s Heaven Can Wait (’78)? The impact of that film is almost entirely about the last 35 minutes or so, and really the last 20. The first hour is all set-up.
“Ditto Billy Wilder‘s The Apartment — the first hour or so is all set-up, set-up, set-up, and then the payoff happens during the last 30 to 40 minutes, and ESPECIALLY during the last 15 or 20.
“The last 20 to 25 minutes of Jerry Maguire is all payoff, payoff, payoff. Same thing with Almost Famous. How effective would Manchester By The Sea be without the last 25 to 30 minutes? Or the Zero Dark Thirty killshot finale? If you ask me The Social Network works because of that “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” finale.
“Name me an emotionally effective movie that doesn’t wait until the final act to start paying off…they all do this.”