For 11 Straight Years, This Movie Genre Has Been the Box Office King

by Britton Perelman on May 14, 2021

Quick! What was the biggest movie of the year? What about last year? The year before? How about the year before?

Chances are the first title that came to mind, even if you never saw it or liked it or were into it, came from the Action & Adventure genre. Good instincts!

Action & Adventure films have taken the top spot at the box office for the last eleven years -- in fact, apart from an animated family movie taking the crown every now and again (Toy Story 1 & 3, Shrek 2, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas), there hasn't been a non-Action & Adventure film in the top spot since 1994 when Forrest Gump hit theaters.

It’s enough to make any screenwriter wonder why action movies are so darn easy to get financed -- or better yet, why studios are so willing to take financial risks worth upwards of $200 million solely on Action & Adventure films. 

Let's dig in!


"Mama always said life is like a box office -- nothing ever really changes and then you die."

Action & Adventure Movies Offer an Almost Guaranteed Return on Investment

Sometimes it seems like audiences are inundated with Action flicks, but here's a fun fact: For every Action film made in North America since 1995, five Drama films were made. As far as genre goes, Drama and Comedy make up the majority of the production pie, but here's the rub -- Action & Adventure make up most of the profit pie.

So, to answer the question -- why are studios all too happy to gamble on these insanely expensive movies -- I’m going straight to a term more commonly used when high school seniors are looking into colleges — return on investment. 

That means that studios and production companies can rely on the finished movie making back its budget, plus an additional profit. In that way, action movies are good investments financially. They’re almost guaranteed to make money, especially internationally — even movies that underperform in the U.S. can be huge hits overseas. *cough-John Carter-cough*

Why Do They Have Such a High ROI?

Let's go another level deeper. What is it about action movies that makes them such a slam-dunk in terms of ROI? What is it that snaps so many people out of their Netflix binges and streaming-induced comas in order to draw them back into movie theaters? 

That, my friends, has everything to do with marketability. 

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

'Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker'

An Easy Concept = An Easy Sell

When deciding which projects to fund, executives are thinking about the ROI. They’re wondering if, at the end of the campaign, they’ll get their money back and then some. High-concept ideas, especially those that fall into the “action movie” category, are just no-brainers. 

Action movies are, in almost every case, high-concept. An oft-misunderstood term, high-concept simply refers to an idea that can be easily communicated. High-concept ideas are those that don’t take a lot of explaining, those that can be understood in just a sentence or phrase. 

For example, take a look at the loglines of some recent action movies… 

Earth's mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are going to stop the enslavement of humanity.

A newly fostered young boy in search of his mother instead finds unexpected super powers and soon gains a powerful enemy.

A covert team of immortal mercenaries is suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.

See what I mean? Each of those three ideas is easily digestible, not to mention the fact that the reader gets a complete idea of what action they’re going to be seeing on-screen. High-concept stories are easy to sell because they’re, in turn, easy to market to the public.

(For the record, those movies are Avengers: Endgame, Shazam!, and The Old Guard respectively.) 

Avengers: Endgame

Action & Adventure Films Are Easy to Watch

The Intense Draw of Cinematic Escapism

Escapism! We all want it, especially since COVID has us unable to even escape the four walls of our own homes.

Action & Adventure movies are not only fun and exciting, they’re also often removed from reality, or at least present a souped up version of it that is really cool and really enticing and we should just live there. (Please?) This means that they’ll draw large crowds of those who want to escape the monotony of their 9-to-5 work weeks on a Friday night by watching an epic car chase, fight scene, or battle sequence. 

Simple Storytelling

Unless you're watching a Christopher Nolan movie-puzzle like Tenet, you can just sit back, relax, and eat your popcorn knowing the Action & Adventure film you're watching won't make you have to think too hard about its plot, themes, or characters.

The plot goes from Point A to Point B, the themes are relatable and easily identifiable, and the characters are either somewhat simplistic or are a part of a franchise and are basically like family now.

Keep in mind, though, especially those of you who want to write your own Action & Adventure scripts, that simple doesn't mean bad or unoriginal. There are many great movies out there in this genre that go against the current by telling unique stories like Mad Max, featuring diverse leads like Black Panther, or making bold choices with genre tropes like Kill Bill.

You can do this, too, with your own work. Just be sure to keep in mind what makes this genre so appealing to audiences and financiers alike.

Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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