7 Popular Screenplay Genres to Explore Right Now
2020 changed everything. From how we greet people, where we eat, and how we work (and pitch) on Zoom. Everything is up in the air right now. So why not take this opportunity to shake up your screenwriting and experiment with a screenplay in a new genre?
Most screenwriters spend their entire careers writing in just one genre, whether they intend to or not. Hollywood likes to put writers into neat little boxes and keep them there. It’s understandable producers want you to be “that rom/com writer” or “that psychological-thriller writer” so they know what to expect when they hire you. But the truth is, you shouldn’t limit yourself because the script market is constantly changing.
If we've learned one thing from 2020 it's that everything can change overnight — even Hollywood. If your writing has been feeling stale, you might just need a change of scenery — or genre — to get the creative juices flowing again. Who knows, you might even open up some new doors and make new contacts in a genre you never expected. There are even plenty of genre-specific screenplay competitions you can enter to tap a new market.
Here's everything you need to know to branch out and write a screenplay in a brand new genre.
Take a stab at horror
If you’re used to writing thrillers or drama, consider writing in the horror genre. Horror has a number of subgenres to choose from so you can find your perfect story, but the best part about writing horror screenplays isn't just a wide range of topics. Horror is simply one of the most popular trending genres in Hollywood right now.
Writing a horror screenplay is similar to a drama. All you have to do is heighten the stakes, usually with a supernatural element. To write horror, just ask yourself, ‘What truly scares me?’
- Scared of vicious hammerhead sharks? Set up a story that puts your protagonist face to face with the predator.
- Terrified of serial killers? Challenge yourself to think of the last person anyone would think is a cold-blooded killer and make them your antagonist.
- What about a deadly, invisible virus that’s silently killing hundreds of thousands of people? All you have to do it look around you to get ideas for your screenplay.
Writing a horror screenplay can be cathartic. You might even discover a healthy way to channel your anxiety into a page-turning script.
The world needs more meet-cutes
War and other uncertainties like a pandemic have a lot of people longing for escapism. The fun and safety of a rom/com is a great distraction from the world’s woes. Just choose characters or an environment we haven’t seen in a rom/com before, which shouldn't be too hard considering how strange things have gotten over the past few months.
- Is the love story about a thruple trying to make the polyamorous romance work? You can explore the complications and upsides of a three-way relationship, from hiding it from family and co-workers to the possibility that one person’s bed simply isn’t big enough to hold all three.
- How has dating and meeting people changed post-COVID? What does a meet-cute look like when you're not supposed to get within six feet of someone?
- Or… could your rom/com take place in the ride-share world? Could it be a star-crossed romance between a Lyft and an Uber driver?
The possibilities are endless — and growing. Stick to the traditional rom/com structure, but make the world feel fresh and surprising. There's plenty of room in this genre for new perspectives and unexpected stories.
Get your spurs jangling and write a Western
The Western film is a truly American art form no matter where it’s set. From small towns like Hadleyville, New Mexico in High Noon to far-flung galaxies like Star-Trek, or the techy future of Westworld. The setting doesn't matter as much as getting the "western" tone and style right. Get creative when it comes to your western setting and focus on the genre-specific elements.
The Wild West is thought of as a lawless, dangerous place with harsh elements and uncivilized people. It’s a place where people feel a duty to conquer the wilderness in the name of civilization or fight for justice. Could the new Wild West be the lawless tech landscape of artificial intelligence? Of course! Just remember to avoid old cliches and make the stakes as high as possible.
Get in touch with your inner-child and fly high into Fantasy
Fantasy films are some of the most powerful genre films out there. From Avatar to The Shape of Water, these films capture our imagination (and Oscars) and create wonderful metaphors that resonate deep in our psyches. Now is the time to get creative and dream up a world that makes you happy.
Maybe it’s a land of Munchkins and witches like in The Wizard of Oz. Or maybe you prefer a remote tropical island where mermen and mermaids are real but dying from ingesting too much plastic? Dark, but ok. Writing a fantasy genre screenplay is a great excuse to let yourself go to unexplored places. Don't limit yourself to the stories you've already heard. Find somewhere no one else has dared to go and write your back to the rest of us.
Celebrate life by writing a Holiday movie
Halloween and Christmas movies have become ubiquitous in October and November/December, so why not see if there’s a way to push the envelope a bit and tell a holiday story from your unique perspective?
What is that one strange tradition your family engages in every Christmas that you hate? Or you could look to another popular holiday like Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day for inspiration. Maybe a human child is mistakenly raised as a Leprechaun but doesn’t fit in because he’s so unlucky? (Yes, that’s basically the plot of Elf, but a funny Leprechaun movie does have potential.)
Regardless of which holiday you pick, write a screenplay about a holiday you love to celebrate so your creative juices flow.
Pro Tip: Decide ahead of time if your script is going to be a family movie or something more adult, like a rom/com. It'll save you some time down the road.
Gas is cheap so fuel up and write a road trip movie
The best road trip movies are characterized by the journey, not the destination. Great road trip movies like Little Miss Sunshine, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Y Tu Mama Tambien are all great metaphors for personal growth and change. In each one, the characters travel the proverbial long road of life and are constantly tested by emotional roadblocks along the way.
Considering we’ve all been stuck in a car with our dysfunctional family or person we didn’t like, it should be easy to look to your own experiences to find conflicts. Just make sure the stakes are as high as possible to create tension and a sense of urgency like the characters in Thelma and Louise who are running from the law after killing a would-be rapist.
Write a film based on history
History-nerds unite! My personal favorite genre is historical fiction and I love getting lost in the research. There are so many interesting and surprising characters from history, especially lots of dynamic, impactful women whose stories have never been told. And if you're anything like me, you've had some spare time on your hands to read a few biographies.
Are you fascinated by the Civil War? Ancient Greece? The painters of the Renaissance? Pick a part of history that most intrigues you and watch every documentary and narrative film on the subject you can find. Become the expert and figure out how themes from this specific piece of history are relevant to today. If you’re fascinated by the Industrial Revolution, you may want to find the similarities to today’s tech revolution. Unfortunately for us history always repeats itself, but that gives screenwriters many cautionary tales to tell.
How to write in popular screenplay genres
Most of us have watched our world transform in a matter of months. If you ever wanted to experiment with a new screenplay genre, now is the time to test the waters. Because we're all hungry for new stories right now.
Want to know more about genre screenwriting? Check out our library of screenplay writing books and courses for every genre from Comedy to Horror to help kickstart your next genre screenplay.