WATCH: Why the First Act of Every Film Is The Same!

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Why the First Act of Every Film Is The Same!

It is surprising that the first act of most movies are normally the same, the way they set up the character as part of the storyline for the film. Most films show these five things, although maybe not in this exact order.

Check out this great video essay by The Film Guy.

The first of these is showing what the character wants or cares about.

In Don John, John’s major interest is Pornography. In Deadpool, Wade Wilson loves his girlfriend and loves beating up bad guys for money. In Scott Pilgrim, Scott loves playing music, although he loves dating girls more.

The second thing most films show is the flaw of the character or the flaws of their circumstance.

In Don John, John is addicted to Porn and he loves it even more than actual sex. In Deadpool, Wade is extremely mentally unstable and insecure. In Scott Pilgrim, Scott is a terrible boyfriend who uses his girlfriend, Knives.

Thirdly, they add a conflict or problem.

In Don John, John thinks he has found the perfect girlfriend but then sex with her isn’t fun so he goes back to porn. In Deadpool Wade gets cancer. In Scott Pilgrim, while Scott dated Knives he finds Ramona who is literally the woman of his dreams so he decides to cheat on Knives for her. In Alien, while responding to a distress beacon Ripley crew member Kane gets attack by a face hugger alien and is incapacitated.

Fourthly, they add insult to injury and make things worse.

In Don John, John’s new girlfriend finds him watching porn and thinks he is disgusting and wants to leave him. In Deadpool, his cancer is incurable and has basically no chance to survive.

In Scott Pilgrim, Scott learns that Ramona has seven evil exes. In Alien, Kane is brought back on the ship and an even deadly alien burst out of his chest, threatening to kill the entire crew.

Fifthly, the main character must pick an unhealthy choice or one will be forced on them.

In Don John, John lies to his girlfriend about watching porn and instead finds a better way of hiding it. In Deadpool, Wade leaves his girlfriend to join a shady program that he hopes will cure him. In Scott Pilgrim, after Knives confesses her love to Scott he dumps her to keep pursuing Ramona.

The first act of any movie should fuel the movie by the story being told there. These five things are in the first act of every movie, and if not then there is a chance it is a poorly constructed script.

These five things should also be present in nonlinear films like Memento and Pulp fiction. Even in films like Inglorious bastards where there is no one main character, the variations of these five things are often spread across all these characters.

The opening act of virtually every movie is extremely rudimentary, but these five things are well hidden. So while watching a movie or making yours, just ask yourself what does the main character love the most, what is their flaw, what is their conflict, how does it get worse, what bad decisions do they make. The answers to these will fuel the rest of the story.


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  • Ron Newcomb

    Good stuff!

  • Rick Bylina

    What would be instructive would be a few movies who violate these first “five almost always there” rules.