There are two movies currently in the theaters, “Birds of Prey” and “Sonic Hedgehog.” Both are based on marginally popular pop culture icons but one is flailing at the box office and the other is doing well. What’s the difference?
“Birds of Prey” focuses on Harley Quinn, the girlfriend of the Joker from the DC Universe with Batman. When you watch “Birds of Prey,” study the beginning and you’ll find that the hero (Harley Quinn) lacks a definite goal. Because the hero lacks a clear emotional goal, the plot is muddled since it can’t serve a goal that isn’t clear.
The vague goal of “Birds of Prey” is that the hero wants to be on her own after breaking up with the Joker, but what does that mean? Even worse, how does this goal reflect in the other characters? The simple answer is that there is no concrete, physical goal for the hero to pursue that will help her define who she is on her own. Even worse, none of the other characters are trying to become independent either.
So “Birds of Prey” has a hero with a vague goal, surrounded by other characters who pursue goals that don’t support the hero’s goal. That can’t help but lead to a muddled plot and unfocused story. “Birds of Prey” isn’t an awful movie, but it’s not a very interesting one either.
Compare this to “Sonic Hedgehog,” which is about a hedgehog that can run super fast, which came from a video game. The hero (Sonic Hedgehog) has been chased off his own planet because others want his power, so he’s hiding on Earth but he’s lonely and feeling he doesn’t have a home.
That’s a concrete goal and one that the hero constantly pursues. Then the hero befriends a policeman who wants to move from a small town to San Francisco, essentially leaving his home full of his friends. That goal reflects the hero’s goal.
At the end of “Sonic Hedgehog,” the hero finally decides to stop running and make a stand to stay on Earth, which he decides is his home. Likewise, his policeman friend decides not to move to San Francisco but to stay in his small town because that’s also his home. Therefore the hero’s goal and the main supporting character’s goals match completely, helping strengthen the story and keep the plot focused on constantly threatening both characters with losing their home.
“Birds of Prey” lacks a unified goal for all characters to pursue. “Sonic Hedgehog” provides a unified goal, which makes its story stronger and more interesting.
So there should be no surprise that “Sonic Hedgehog” is doing far better than “Birds of Prey.” Given the choice between watching a good movie or a mediocre, unfocused one, why would anyone get excited over a mediocre, unfocused movie like “Birds of Prey”? The answer is that nobody is excited about “Birds of Prey,” which is why it’s bombing at the box office.
If you want to write a unified story, make sure your hero has a concrete goal and make sure all supporting characters have a similar goal. Fail to do that and you’ll wind up with a scattershot story like “Birds of Prey.” Keep a focused goal for your story and you’ll wind up with a much stronger story like “Sonic Hedgehog.”
The secret of “Sonic Hedgehog” is simply that it offers a focused, concrete emotional goal for the hero while “Birds of Prey” does not.