If you’ve gone to the movies recently, you may have felt a strangely familiar feeling: You’ve seen this movie before. Not this exact movie, but some of these exact story beats: the hero dressed down by his mentor in the first 15 minutes (Star Trek Into Darkness, Battleship); the villain who gets caught on purpose (The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Skyfall, Star Trek Into Darkness); the moment of hopelessness and disarray a half-hour before the movie ends (Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion, 21 Jump Street, Fast & Furious 6).
It’s not déjà vu. Summer movies are often described as formulaic. But what few people know is that there is actually a formula—one that lays out, on a page-by-page basis, exactly what should happen when in a screenplay. It’s as if a mad scientist has discovered a secret process for making a perfect, or at least perfectly conventional, summer blockbuster.
I’ve noticed a certain movie trend the past few years of having two buddy characters have a major falling-out during the third act, then having them come back and patch things up in time to save the day or whatever needs to happen by the end of the story. This happens in Pixar films like clockwork, but I’ve seen it in many other movies and I’m sure you have too.
According to this article, it seems that every screenwriter in Hollywood is writing according to a predefined set of rules — an exact formula that maps out the movie from beginning to end. This plot roadmap is detailed in the book “Save the Cat!” which the article delves into in great detail. The falling-out thing is part of the formula, but it’s only one of many predictable plot developments dictated by the book. And once you start reading about how it works, you start thinking about movies that fit the pattern and suddenly they’re a bit less impressive.