When looking at the top-grossing movies at the box office, it’s no surprise they primarily consist of superhero movies made by big studios with big budgets. Black Widow is the top-earning movie for 2021 so far, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings a close second. In third place is F9: The Fast Saga, the ninth installment in the overwhelmingly popular Fast and Furious franchise.
Sure, we’d all like to write one of those big blockbusters, but it’s going to take a lot of blood, sweat, and typing to earn the trust of Marvel. That’s why I want to draw your attention to the movie that’s in fourth place: A Quiet Place Part II. The sequel to 2018’s A Quiet Place has earned over $160 million this year and we still have three months to go. Why is that significant? I’ll explain.
As emerging screenwriters, it’s important for us to target markets where we can break through. Certain genres don’t necessarily require a huge budget or A-list star to be successful and that’s good news. Getting a film made is the beginning of the path to getting hired to write a superhero movie.
Let’s break down five genres that are attainable for up-and-coming writers.
Horror Movies That Can Be Franchised
Horror is a breakthrough genre mostly because they tend to be low-budget and don’t require a big star. 2007’s Paranormal Activity was made by Oren Peli for a mere $15,000 and has a domestic gross of over $107 million to date. There are a total of seven films in the franchise. I previously mentioned A Quiet Place, written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. This was their breakthrough concept that has now been successfully franchised. Both of these movies were conceived as small projects that packed a big punch when it comes to fright. If writing a horror movie sounds out of your wheelhouse, remember that everyone is scared of something, so anyone can write a horror movie – it just has to be done with a fresh take.
In ScreenCraft’s recent panel Masterclass: Writing and Developing Feature Films, John Hilary Shepherd of Flying Rhino Productions, said he loves reading horror scripts.
“We are excited to find a new take on that horror idea. Horror is great for younger, greener writers because it is a lower price point for financiers. First-time writers and directors often start in low-budget horror.”
What does “grounded sci-fi” mean? It means science fiction that’s believable or plausible and likely takes place on or near earth and not in another galaxy far, far away. It can also mean a realistic futuristic world as opposed to going full into fantasy like Dune or Avatar. The key to grounded sci-fi is character and story, not special effects. Some examples of grounded sci-fi movies include Ex Machina, Moon, Children of Men, and Her.
Grounded sci-fi is considered a breakthrough genre because it’s really all about the idea and won’t necessarily take a large budget or huge star to get made.
Uplifting True Stories and Biopics
What’s exciting about this genre is that the screenplay can focus on anyone from any time period! Becoming Jane, Erin Brockovich, The Imitation Game, Amelia and Chaplin are all about real people who struggled, then overcame their struggles and inspired us in different ways.
Because these are true stories, they are inherently relatable. If you can tell a person’s life story that somehow resonates in the current zeitgeist, people will want to make the film, especially if it’s a story no one knows or thinks they know. Revealing something about the protagonist that surprises the audience can be very engaging.
Fresh Takes on IP (Intellectual Property)
If only Mary Shelley had known how popular Frankenstein’s monster would become. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is a story in the public domain that has been retold, remixed, and rehashed for over one hundred years on stage, screen, video games, and books.
But Frankenstein isn’t the only IP in the public domain. The stories of Dracula, Cinderella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll, and Mr. Hyde are all available for you to add your own modern spin. 2020’s The Invisible Man did a feminist take by telling the story from the point of view of a woman in an abusive relationship.
These stories endure because each new generation puts different meaning on the character and stories and that’s the key to rebooting them.
Heist movies will always be popular because the premise is based on a fantasy we’ve all had: what if I robbed a bank? Would all my problems be solved? Most people don’t get away with bank jobs, but there are some who do... Keep in mind the heist doesn’t have to be about cash or diamonds, it could really be about anything the protagonist desires so much they are willing to risk going to jail by stealing it.
Some great heist movies that are not based on books include Logan Lucky, Layer Cake, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, and Baby Driver. Create an unlikely protagonist, have them make a plan, have the plan go completely wrong, then throw in a love story and you’ve got a movie.
Hopefully, by taking a closer look at these breakthrough genres, you’ll be inspired to start writing a movie that will have an easier path getting to the screen.
Shanee Edwards is a screenwriter, journalist and author. After receiving her MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA, she was hired to adapt various stories for the screen including Apes or Angels, the true story of naturalist Charles Darwin, and Three Wishes, based on the New York Times best selfing novel by Kristen Ashley. You can listen to her interview Oscar-winning screenwriters on The Script Lab Podcast, or read her book Ada Lovelace: the Countess who Dreamed in Numbers. Follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards