formula: any fixed or conventional method for doing something.
"Formulaic" has long been a dismissive adjective when applied to any art form. More than once, I've used the word to describe romantic comedies, country music, mass market fiction. And if I knew a little more about sculpture, photography, drama, I suspect that same word would find its way into my conversations about those subjects.
Yet each time I am delighted by a romantic comedy, moved by a country song, or propelled by a mass market author - no matter the formula - I pause. Was that "meet cute" scene in the film predictable? Yes, it was. Were there any harmonic or lyric surprises in that tune? No, there were not. Did the author use a "cliffhanger" sentence to close a chapter? Yes, he/she did and it worked; I kept reading.
Was me being delighted or moved or propelled all about timing? My state of mind? I'm never certain. Are you? Where is the line between a viewer or listener or reader being manipulated and a filmmaker or musician or author's effective use of a device? Formulas may not be artful but sometimes they work, even on snobs.