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Seeking the blueprint for cinematic success?

With ChatGPT’s help, I’ve analyzed the 200 highest-earning films according to Box Office Mojo. And I’ve crafted a plug-and-play prompt to enhance your story.

But first, here are 12 impactful factors for building your breakout narrative:

1/ Dynamic Villain

A complex villain forces the hero to face truths they don’t want to admit or can’t see.

A strong antagonist builds tension by challenging the protagonist’s goals, embodying the idea that “story is conflict.”

Example: The Dark Knight

  • The Joker tells Batman in the Police interrogation room that Gotham’s morals are a farce, declaring the citizens will cross Batman and each other when faced with real danger.
  • The Joker’s prediction is fulfilled after his plan transforms Harvey Dent (a secondary hero) into Two-Face (a secondary villain).
  • Dent was supposed to be Gotham’s White Knight, the best of them, but the Joker turns him, so in turn, Two-Face seeks revenge against the corrupt cops and citizens that failed him (killing five people).

2/ The Hero’s Journey

Most films follow a version of the classic “Hero’s Journey” as outlined by Joseph Campbell.

The protagonist starts in an ordinary world, receives a call to adventure, initially refuses, but is eventually convinced to go, and ultimately embraces their role as a hero or savior.

This framework is more a guideline than a rule.

Example: Iron Man

  • Tony Stark starts as a carefree arms manufacturer, but after experiencing the effects of his weapons firsthand, he transforms into Iron Man, dedicating his life to protect others.

3/ High Stakes

A global or universal threat, like an extinction-level event often drives the plot.

These high stakes convince characters to unite and make sacrifices for the greater good.

Example: Avengers: Endgame

  • The Avengers must time travel to collect the Infinity Stones and defeat Thanos to restore the billions of lives lost in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

4/ Internal Conflict

This involves a central inner problem that revolves around self-doubt or grappling with personal demons.

Example: Frozen

  • Elsa’s potent ice magic is both her gift and her curse.
  • While it gives her magical abilities, it also fuels her isolation and fear of harming those she loves.
  • This duality defines her character, highlighting the internal conflict between her strength and vulnerability.

5/ Universal Themes

These are profound ideas or messages infused into a film, often touching on universal human experiences, emotions, and values.

Themes like the struggle between good and evil, redemption, and the power of choice can resonate with audiences across different cultures and backgrounds.

Example: Harry Potter Series

  • The themes of good vs. evil, choice, sacrifice, and destiny run throughout this series.
  • Choices made by Harry and his friends shape their characters and the fate of the wizarding world, showing the universal power of choice.
  • Acts of sacrifice, like Harry facing what he thinks is his death, strike a universal chord because they touch on themes of heroism and selflessness.

6/ New Worlds or Realms

Many blockbusters feature visually captivating, unique, and detailed settings that transport audiences to a whole new world.

Example: Avatar

  • The world of Pandora is a lush, bioluminescent alien planet filled with exotic creatures and plants.

7/ Relationships and Camaraderie

Many successful films emphasize the power of friendship and camaraderie to overcome shared obstacles.

These relationships showcase how characters support and rely on each other during their journey.

Example: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

  • Despite overwhelming odds and the corrupting influence of the One Ring, the bond between the members of the Fellowship, especially between Sam and Frodo, remains unbroken.
  • The loyalty and courage they show in supporting each other showcase the strength of their friendship and its importance in their success.

8/ Spectacle and Action

Incredible visual effects, grand set pieces, and thrilling action sequences are a mainstay in these films, creating excitement and a visual spectacle that draw audiences in.

Example: Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Nearly the entire film is a fast-paced car chase through a dystopian desert, filled with extravagant stunts and nonstop action.

9/ Humor

Even if they’re not comedies, elements of humor are common in these films.

This can provide necessary comic relief in more intense films, slow down pacing, and help the audience relate to the characters.

Example: Guardians of the Galaxy

  • Despite being a space opera with high stakes, the film is filled with humor, largely stemming from the banter and unique personalities of the Guardians.

10/ Romantic Subplot

Many blockbusters, from action films to animations, feature some kind of romantic subplot.

This subplot provides an additional layer of emotional interest and helps to create more well-rounded characters.

Example: Star Wars Trilogy, Episodes IV-VI

  • The romance of Han Solo and Princess Leia adds another layer to the epic saga, with the “I love you” and “I know” exchange becoming one of the most iconic in film history.

11/ Moral Lessons

Many successful movies impart moral or societal lessons that resonate with audiences, allowing them to connect the story to their own lives or the wider world.

Example: Wall-E

  • The film provides a potent warning about environmental conservation and consumerism.
  • Wall-E, the last remaining trash-compacting robot on a garbage-covered Earth, conveys this message through his journey.

12/ Universe Building

Many of these films are part of larger franchises or universes, where the story goes beyond just one film.

Planning for a trilogy or larger series will allow for more complex storytelling and character development over multiple movies.

Example: Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • Each film contributes to a larger narrative, with characters, events, and settings interconnecting across multiple movies and series.

Upgrade Your Narrative with AI

Whether you’re developing a film or fiction, your story must be on point.

Use this prompt to improve your work in progress.

ChatGPT Prompt:

// edit bold text in [brackets] //

Imagine you are a world-class storyteller with expertise in turning narratives into blockbusters and bestsellers.

Using a genre of [Insert Genre Here]

and a central story idea of [Insert Story Idea or Summary Here],

Let’s analyze this story in development.

Perform a detailed analysis of the provided genre and story details to expand, enhance, enrich, and elevate it using these most common elements used in the top 200 highest-earning films:

1/ Dynamic Villain: How does the antagonist challenge the protagonist and drive conflict within the genre and story provided?

2/ Hero’s Journey: Does the narrative trace a typical hero’s journey? How does it fit within the chosen genre?

3/ High Stakes: Identify the high stakes of the story. How do they compel the characters into action?

4/ Internal Conflict: Describe the internal dilemmas central characters face.

5/ Universal Themes: Which universal themes resonate within the story? How do they fit the genre?

6/ New Worlds/Realms: Elaborate on the setting. Does it provide a fresh realm or world for the audience?

7/ Relationships & Camaraderie: How do relationships influence the storyline?

8/ Spectacle & Action: Highlight moments of intense action or visual wonder within the narrative.

9/ Humor: Identify where humor can be introduced or amplified.

10/ Romantic Subplot: Does a romantic subplot exist? If not, could one enhance the story?

11/ Moral Lessons: What moral or societal lessons are conveyed, if any?

12/ Franchise/Universe Building: Is this narrative fit for a larger universe or series within the genre?

That’s it for this Saturday.

If you’re finding value in TSS, please share it with a fellow storyteller.

See ya next week!

— Dave