My question is about the situation where there's say a film which is poorly made and would leave a bad impression overall, were it not for the exceptionally good performance of one sole actor which compensates for all the other shortcomings.

One could say that that particular actor had saved what would have otherwise been a completely unsatisfactory production.

I'm looking for the correct phrase to express this. Please note that I am only using film as an example. In my native language, the same expression that can be applied to a good actor that makes an otherwise bad film bearable can be applied to any 'anomalously high-performing' element that 'compensates' for all the substandard elements in an ensemble.

  • to save the situation, maybe? Would you say someone saved a certain conference, or that a particular result saves a certain thesis, though?
    – nuraxi
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 23:43
  • The saving grace, perhaps?
    – Unrelated
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 23:45
  • There are several, depending on how disproportionately better the element is and possibly the situation.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 2:34

5 Answers 5


saving grace TFD

A redeeming quality of something or someone.

AS in:

The movie was bad, but made bearable by the saving grace of actor X.

  • alright I feel slightly poached
    – Unrelated
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 23:52
  • Thank you, it works well. Do you know how to put that in verb form? I may not have indicated this clearly in my original post, sorry for that.
    – nuraxi
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:03
  • @Unrelated i did not see your comment until after i had composed my answer and posted.
    – lbf
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:09
  • hard to put this idioms in a verb form.
    – lbf
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:11
  • In my language one would simply say Actor X [lifts up from the ground] the movie. Could you simply say 'Actor X saved the movie' or would the meaning be lost on most people?
    – nuraxi
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:30


Based on one of @nuraxi's comments

In my language one would simply say Actor X [lifts up from the ground] the movie.

we can get an almost exact translation

Actor X carried the performance.

According to Merriam-Webster:

15 : to be chiefly or solely responsible for the success, effectiveness, or continuation of

a player capable of carrying a team

Her performance carried the play.

(mine) The battle was carried when a small squad took out several machine-gun emplacements on the right end, enabling a flanking maneuver.

Just a caveat, this is typically used when the standout element is a person, and as the definition shows, usually when the element results in an overall success.

On the other hand,

silver lining

a consoling or hopeful prospect

(again, from M-W) can be used more generally, for efforts that aren't successes, or even complete disasters.

Bartolo's 8 strikeouts in 3 innings of relief pitching for the Mud Hens proved to be the only silver lining in a 10-0 loss to the Dayton Flyers, as Toledo looks foward to a strong bullpen next year.

A quote of John Milton's

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night?

evolved into the now well-worn proverb every cloud has a silver lining.

(by the way, saving grace, as other answerers have demonstrated, is another good answer in this latter context, so those answers deserve upvotes too).

  • "Actor X" is the secret older brother of "Speed Actor", and a better actor too, although X's actions to protect little brother usually result in the latter getting the accolades.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 3:08
  • Very well explained! As you've said, carry implies that the end result is a (resounding?) success. Can you use it when the end result may be anywhere between 'only just acceptable' and 'resounding success'?
    – nuraxi
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 8:41

Two terms that may fit take a religious turn:

saving grace

a redeeming quality or characteristic.

redemption (or more idiomatically, redeeming quality or redeeming aspect)

a thing that saves someone from error or evil

  • Thank you, both are indeed fitting. Do you know how to put that in verb form? Could you say X redeems the performance? Otherwise the only quibble I have is that I intend to address a secular(ist) and non-Christian audience and I'm not too sure using terms that sound 'obscurantist' will go down too well (even though they may have long since lost their religious tone for native English speakers). Thanks again.
    – nuraxi
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:01
  • redeeming quality/factor would work. Thanks @Unrelated for putting me on the right track.
    – nuraxi
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:22
  • You could definitely say “redeems” and do without any religious connection. Not obscure.
    – Unrelated
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 15:17
  • Saving grace is harder to make a verb and also more religious. @nuraxi
    – Unrelated
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 15:17

One general idiom is to save the day. The Cambridge dictionary gives the example

The team seemed to be heading for disaster until a late goal saved the day.

Here are some more examples. They are not exactly like what you asked, but you did say there is a general phrase in your language for similar circumstances.

The debate was going badly until a key point raised from the floor saved the day.

The leading actor was taken ill but his understudy saved the day.


Perhaps the phrase you are looking for is, “The only redeeming...”

redeeming [ri-dee-ming] adjective

1 offsetting or counterbalancing some fault, defect, or the like

Source: Dictionary.com


“That film was awful, the only redeeming factor was the music.”

”This car is junk, the only redeeming part is it costs nothing”

”The person is a moron. Their only redeeming quality is that they are kind.”

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