When you see a good movie, it can inspire you to achieve the same goal, but it can also intimidate you as a novice screenwriter. However, when you watch a bad movie, it can motivate you to do better. Now when you compare a good movie with a bad movie, you can better see what makes a bad movie so awful.
Think of the movies “The Hunger Games” and “The Running Man.” “The Running Man” was an early Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with a similar theme as “The Hunger Games.” In “The Running Man,” the hero is a policeman ordered to fire on unarmed civilians. Because he refuses to do so, he’s framed for slaughtering civilians and imprisoned. When he breaks out, the government wants to use him as an example by forcing him to play a reality TV show called the Running Man where prisoners try to run away from hit men called stalkers, who try to kill you within a three hour time period. If you can run through the obstacle course in three hours, you win your freedom.
“The Hunger Games” is a good movie. “The Running Man” is a mediocre movie despite having similar themes and story lines. What makes “The Running Man” less satisfying is the lack of emotional caring for the hero.
In “The Hunger Games,” the hero tries to protect her little sister by volunteering in her place to play in the Hunger Games. That’s a noble action that immediately endears us to the hero since we can all related to wanting to save someone we love. In “The Running Man,” the hero refuses to shoot unarmed civilians. Since we don’t know who these unarmed civilians are, we feel much less emotion when the hero tries to save them. In “The Hunger Games,” the hero deliberately sacrifices herself. In “The Running Man,” the hero tries to stop the massacre but fails, so although he puts himself in harm’s way, the consequences are much less obvious.
“The Hunger Games” immediately starts by showing the hero volunteering to protect her sister, and then the story keeps moving from there. In “The Running Man,” the hero refuses to massacre unarmed civilians, then it jumps 18 months later to when he’s in prison. This jump breaks the continuity of the story so it appears we’re starting a new story all over again. Then the prisoners break out, but we’re never given a chance to get to know the other prisoners before they all act. So instead of cheering the hero and his friends on, we’re just watching a bunch of strangers fleeing for their lives.
Comparing these two movies, you can see that “The Hunger Games” starts by throwing the hero into a horrible situation that gives us a Big Question: Will the hero survive? In “The Running Man,” there is no Big Question right from the start, so the story muddles along with good intentions, but poor execution. “The Running Man” jerkily moves from one scene to another with little sense of continuity where the hero constantly runs into different villains and dispatches them relatively easily. There’s no suspense showing us what these villains are capable of doing ahead of time before they actually attack the hero so they just pop up, fight, and lose.
When you write your own screenplay, look for a movie that’s close to your own story, then look for what that movie did right and wrong, and make sure you don’t make those same mistakes. The biggest problem is taking the time to get the audience emotionally invested in your hero. Fail that and the rest of your story will likely fail as well.