There’s a danger of writing about a topical subject because by the time you write about it and the time the movie gets made, that topical subject may seem like ancient history that nobody cares about. However, if you choose universal themes, then your story won’t go out of date and will still seem fresh and relevant years or even decades later. Best of all, a screenplay that’s relevant today with the potential to be relevant tomorrow will be far more attractive than a similar screenplay that either isn’t relevant today or risks becoming obsolete tomorrow.
“Anchorman 2” may be a comedy, but it’s also social satire as well with the hero creating the meaningless news that appears on TV nowadays with people obsessed with car chases and reality TV. Despite being a comedy, “Anchorman 2” is also about how the news has changed for the worse by giving people what they want to see rather than what they need to see.
“Captain America 2” isn’t just about a super hero fighting bad guys. It’s about who the bad guys really might be and how they could even be us. That’s a far more compelling theme for a super hero movie to tackle that makes it still seem fresh years or decades later.
What happens if your screenplay doesn’t tackle an important, universal theme? Then it risks being less interesting in the present and completely forgettable in the future. Even “Star Wars” still retains a huge following since it’s about the Force being a mystical power that controls everything. Anyone still feel the same way about “The Phantom Menace”?
“Thelma and Louise” is still a popular movie because it tackles the idea of women inequality in the world. “Alien” is still a popular movie because it taps into our fear of the unknown. The “Alien” prequel “Prometheus” is the opposite extreme being utterly bland in the present and completely forgettable in the future.
Movies aren’t just about interesting scenes but interesting stories. That’s why all the computer-generated special effects and explosions can’t turn a bad “Transformers” sequel into a memorable movie, but the lack of computer-generated special effects can turn a movie like “Thelma and Louise” into a classic.
Remember the early days of story telling focused on explaining the world such as why the sun rose every day or why leopards got their spots. Todays’ stories are no different in that they answer questions about our lives. Stories that fail to ask questions about our lives can still succeed, but they may not be as memorable as time goes on. Just think of all the movies that came out at the same time as “The Wizard of Oz” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” When you watch some of these old movies, they seem bland and dull, yet “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” still remain relevant today because they tackled bigger ideas than just showing a bad guy fighting a good guy.
“The Matrix” gave us the idea of a phony, computer generated world where we need to pierce through the illusions around us. Other computer hacker movies like “The Net” and “Hackers” just made stories about good hackers vs. bad guys, and those movies are utterly forgettable today and were bad when they first came out as well.
Think of what your story tells about the world. If you tap into a universal idea that everyone can relate to even decades later, you’re probably on the right track for your screenplay.