Hollywood tends to pump out an astoundingly large number of bad movies. What’s surprising is that these bad movies make the same mistakes over and over again, yet the film directors and writers seem to think A-list stars, special effects, and lots of explosions will substitute for a good script.
If you want to write a bad screenplay, here are three tips that Hollywood has proven works over and over again. First, start the story off with lots of exposition and no story. That’s the secret formula for “Don’t Worry Darling” and “Black Adam.”
In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the first six minutes of the movie simply shows the hero living a perfect life. The trouble is that a happy, perfect life is also boring for the audience. Because the hero’s life is so perfect, we have no idea what the story is even about.
In comparison, study the first few minutes of great movies. In “Jaws,” a woman gets attacked by an unseen menace underwater. In “The Matrix,” police try to arrest a woman hacker, only to discover she can move with incredible speed. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a mysterious archeologist (Indiana Jones) has to navigate past booby traps to retrieve an ancient artifact while dealing with the betrayal of his own men.
Notice that all of these great movies immediately start off with an interesting conflict that gets the story going? That’s exactly what “Don’t Worry Darling” does not do. If you can’t start a story off strong, chances are good you won’t tell a strong story anywhere in the middle or the end either.
A second problem is dumping too much exposition on the audience too thick right in the beginning. This is the fatal flaw of “Black Adam,” which takes nearly six minutes with a flashback telling us the origin of Black Adam. Unfortunately, this origin lacks tension and conflict so we’re left just not caring what’s going on.
Audiences don’t want a story. Audiences want to be entertained so the first goal of every story is to grab and hold attention. If you can’t grab and hold attention, it doesn’t matter how clever, interesting, or intricate your story might be. If it can’t grab and hold attention, it’s boring.
The third way to tell a lousy story is to avoid focusing on the hero. In “Black Adam” (like many DC movies including the original 2016 “Suicide Squad”), the writers clutter the story with too many characters. With so many characters, we don’t get to know any of them, including the hero, Black Adam. With no time to understand any of these characters, they’re reduced to two-dimensional stereotypes that can only be interesting by trying to add more action and special effects.
“Black Adam” makes a serious mistake in the end when everyone’s fighting the villain except for Black Adam. Since the movie is called “Black Adam,” you would expect the hero would be involved in the story from start to finish, but that’s not what happens.
Instead, Hawkman, Atom Smasher, Doctor Fate, and Cyclone fight the villain in the end until Black Adam finally shows up once more. As a general rule, stories should always focus on the hero. If the hero is not involved in a scene, then the scene should focus on actions taken by others that will directly affect the hero. Even then, these scenes should be short and kept to a minimum because the hero is always the main focus of the story.
“Black Adam” and “The 5th Wave” make this mistake. In “Black Adam,” Black Adam (the hero) is absent for large chunks of his own movie. In “The 5th Wave,” the story alternates between the hero and her little brother. In the book, this alternating story is interesting. In a movie, this alternating story is confusing.
So the three ways to write a bad movie are:
- Don’t start the story off with an interesting conflict or problem.
- Pile on the exposition hard and heavy from the beginning until a good chunk of the movie has passed without any action, conflict, or sense of story whatsoever.
- Allow other characters to hog the spotlight and leave your hero out of the story as often as possible.
If you can reliably duplicate these three steps for making a bad movie, you can make a DC movie or at least a typical Hollywood dud like “The 355” or “Downsizing.”