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Basic Plot Structures


Many movies follow a formulaic plot structure, sometime combining two or more ideas into a single film.

Some of these are:

  1. Let's Be Friends
    The standard romantic movie. Two people meet, and end up as friends. This can be your typical "buddy" movie, or boy-meets-girl (or b-m-b or g-m-g). There is usually a period of conflict before they become friends. Often there is initial friendship, followed by separation, followed by reconciliation. (Notting Hill, Lethal Weapon, Dinosaur)

    Another variation is where A asks B to help him access C, since he has the hots for C. Naturally he ends up falling for B instead.

  2. Road Movie
    In the general version, a group of characters travel from point A to point B, having various adventures along the way. Nowadays Hollywood concocts reasons for the trip (usually all the way across America), while in the past they had good reasons, like driving a herd of cattle to market. (The Lord of the Rings, Central Station, Road Trip, Dinosaur)

  3. Slice of Life
    We get to take a look at day-to-day activities of a group of people. Sometimes they actually do something, like go to a disco. (Human Traffic, Bringing Out the Dead)

  4. Coming of Age
    While sounding similar to Slice of Life, it differs in that there *is* usually a story. We join the hero at a critical point in his life (usually adolescence/brink of adulthood) and watch as they deal with a particular crisis which matures them. (Where the Heart is, The Cider House Rules)

  5. Escape
    A group of characters have to escape from confinement, usually in a prison or prison camp of some sort. (Escape from Alcatraz)

  6. Heist
    The stars have to steal or recover some object from an impenetrable place. In some ways, the opposite of "Escape". This is often combined with a "Buddy" theme in which the partners start off as 'enemies' and end as friends. (The Score, Entrapment)

  7. Kill the Monster
    Standard plot structure for horror movies, and many others. The "monster" may be a real monster, or merely the Big Baddie. Usually the heroes have to work their way to the monster, by eliminating lesser baddies along the way first. Also a common plot structure for video games. (Scream, Kiss of the Dragon)

  8. Who Dies Next
    The second basic element in horror movies, especially Teen Slasher yarns. The group of characters is knocked off one by one, the audience has to guess who will be next, how they will die, who will survive, and who is doing the killing. (Final Destination)

  9. The Con
    The heroes set out to trick some person who needs to be taught a lesson. There is a variation called Who's Fooling Who, in which things are not as they seem and there are numerous twists along the way, as a hidden hand manipulates things. (The Sting, Wild Things, Reindeer Games, House of Games)

  10. Buddy
    Most often two mismatched people are forced to work together and end up becoming buddies. Nowadays the people are usually either cops or crooks. (Lethal Weapon, The Score)

  11. Do the Right Thing
    The hero is thrown into a situation with moral ambiguities and conflict of interests, and has to do the noble thing. (Casablanca, Do the Right Thing)

  12. Poor Boy
    Extremely common plot in Bollywood movies. Our hero is a poor young man who falls in love with a rich young woman. Her family refuse to allow them to marry. So our poor hero goes away for a few years, makes his fortune, and comes back to claim his bride.


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