ZEITGEIST: 4 Hollywood Trends Every Screenwriter Should Take Advantage Of

4 Screenwriting Trends Worth Capitalizing On

 

Written by Devon Forward

When you begin to outline your script, it’s always a good idea to consider what’s currently popular in Hollywood and identify the trends that are most marketable and most likely to sell. You can be sure this is what your potential producer is thinking about. The entertainment industry is constantly changing, and it can be hard to keep up with what audiences like and producers are looking for.

For example, right now the streamers — Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO — hold a lot of power. They are establishing huge production/first look deals with writers, directors, and all types of creators, to make sure they are getting a constant influx of the best content. While there are of course still plenty of studios to sell to, writing with the streamers in mind should be a focus for writers.

But what if you don’t have any idea what story you should be writing? Well, look at what’s being produced right now. Notice any patterns? There are a few specific trends we can see currently moving through Hollywood, and it is incumbent upon every writer to consider how they can position themselves and their material to capitalize on these trends.

 

Tight, Well-Designed R-Rated Action Pics

One extremely popular trend running exciting producers and forward-thinking production companies right now is creating R-rated action films with intense, well-choreographed fight scenes. The most popular example of this is the John Wick series starring Keanu Reeves as a retired assassin getting revenge on a young man who wrongs him. It’s already had two sequels, with another one on the way.

People don’t need to see a perfect, squeaky clean protagonist anymore. Instead, many films feature an antihero with questionable morals and a more vigilante-style justice. This might not be a new concept in Hollywood, but it has made a strong resurgence of late. A few extraordinarily successful films in this genre you’re sure to recognize are The Equalizer, Extraction, and Taken.

Alongside this trend, the action genre is opening to more diverse characters, particularly female action stars. Actresses Gal Gadot and Charlize Theron are arguably the leaders of this trend, with Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, the Old Guard and Gadot’s upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. Other actresses, like Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider and Scarlet Johannson in her role as Black Widow, follow close behind. Realizing the potential for big profit, producers are always looking for the next hit action script they can build into an extensive franchise while

pulling in a broader audience.

 

More Adult “Superhero” Comic Movies and TV

It’s obvious that the superhero genre has flourished over the past 20 years, led mostly by big studios like Disney’s Marvel Universe and Warner Bros. But recently it’s started moving into new territory with adaptations of more alternative or adult material, like Amazon’s The Boys and Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Even the forementioned action films, The Old Guard and Atomic Blonde, are adaptations of indie graphic novel series. The Old Guard came out recently and has been a huge hit for Netflix, with talk of sequels and spinoffs already in the works.

Hollywood has tapped into a rich vein of source material in comic book adaptations and graphic novels catering to a wide range of audiences, not just young kids. Riskier subject matter is also welcome. Just look at the television adaptations of Outcast or Preacher, two incredibly unique projects that found success.

For a screenwriter looking to take advantage of this trend, you could either produce entirely original content, or look at adapting an already existing comic series or graphic novel. If you are considering adapting, you must find Intellectual Property (IP) that you’d be able to get the rights to for a reasonable amount of money.

With so much creative freedom, many people are publishing their own work, giving you easy access to so many independent and lesser known — and likely cheaper — comics. Look for something that really sparks your interest, or you think would appeal to a broad audience, and reach out about acquiring the rights. Another plus of going this route -- Studios are far more likely to back a project based on a proven IP that has some brand recognition than an original work that has never been tested and to which audiences are wholly unaware.

 

A Rise in Diversity Representation and Social Commentary

A major push for change that is blazing through the entertainment industry is the drive to highlight diversity, and to really explore social commentary through movies and television.

After seeing the success of projects like Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians, and Get Out, Hollywood is quickly realizing that diverse stories and characters can make them money. The proof of the box office success of these films has been so effective that having diverse representation on screen is now a focus for big studios in all genres, not just with smaller independent movies or dramas.

Diversity is also getting a lot of award recognition. Black Panther got a Best Picture Academy Award nomination, while both Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and last year’s South Korean standout Parasite actually won the big award. If people can make lots of money AND win awards, why wouldn’t producers and studios support this movement?

Movies and television have always been very intertwined with society and political issues, and with the heightened past few years it’s no surprise that we are seeing it more now. In the past, there have been powerfully humorous political satires, like Dr. Strangelove, Bullworth, and Election. But recently, this has spread through all genres and forms of entertainment, with shows like Parks and Recreation looking at small town politics, Succession commenting on powerful media companies and rich families, and movies like Vice and Four Lions addressing similar topics in unique ways.

 

Biopics, Biopics, Biopics

Biopics have, and always will be, popular and highly desired in Hollywood. There’s no lack of interesting historical figures to focus a story on. If it’s a controversial figure, even better, since it usually means there’s a more interesting character arc to explore. These stories are proven to be favorites with audiences, who tend to love movies based on a true story.

Along with that, biopics have always been able to draw bigger talent, which is a huge plus. As long as it’s a good, well-written story, any actor would love the chance to portray a well-known historical figure. Actors like Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Gary Oldman, who portrays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, have been praised for their performances, with both winning the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Next year’s recently announced Napoleon starring Joaquin Phoenix and Cleopatra starring Gal Gadot prove this trend still has legs.

Whether Hollywood wants to admit it or not, many of these projects are not just a draw because of the compelling roles, but also because they have historically gotten a lot of attention and recognition at awards shows. Along with that, the streaming networks are taking on these projects in new forms, like Netflix’s series The Crown and American Crime Story, or Hulu’s The Act.

Attaining the rights to an existing story, the person’s life rights, or a story that’s in the public domain, writing a biopic is a dream for a screenwriter. You have existing information to draw from and can alter the timeline and play with the facts to make it as exciting, romantic, or tense as you want. There’s plenty of source material, and your audience is always receptive to learning more about interesting and inspiring people. 


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