How to Find Movie Ideas

You’ve been staring at a blank page for hours. No matter how hard you scratch, you come up empty each time. You wonder:

How do I find the next great movie idea?

Day after day, you just can’t seem to get past that blinking cursor. It’s easy to sit down and say a movie was poorly written. 

That you can do better. However, coming up with a compelling idea from scratch is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes the whole of making a great movie concept barely gets past the second page and that’s it. 

You keep folding up pages for the trash as nothing really good ever pops up.

Does Spielberg get writer’s bloc?

For some, writing is second nature. They have tons of great ideas swirling in their mind. They can write screenplays that sell in their sleep. For the majority of us though, we have to contend with writer’s block and the idea that creativity is always a tedious process. 

Not to worry though. Whether you’re a new screenwriter looking to make a name for yourself, or an established one aiming to stumble upon your next big idea, we have a couple of tips to help you out. 

Here’s how to come up with blockbuster movie ideas your audience is sure to love: 

Get inspired by true stories

When the ideas won’t come from within, sometimes it’s best to search from without. Society is full of amazing stories waiting to be told. An excellent story is always lurking around the corner. We only need to look around us for our next big hit. 

The excellent thing about true story film is that it’s relatable. It provides ammunition for the most moving drama and sets a tone that is quite believable. 

It makes for awesome comedy as well if that is the direction you’d like to take. When you zero in on a chapter of history that interests you, the events can inspire a plot. You need only stuff a couple of story points here and there and you have a great watch on your hands.

Saving Private Ryan for instance was based on a true story. Steven Spielberg borrows the tale of the four Niland brothers who got up in World War II, with the last one saved to ease their mother’s sorrow. A huge chunk of the movie is fictional but the true events provide the backbone for a thrilling plot. 

Here’s an analysis of the movie’s historical accuracy:

The Pursuit of Happyness, a biographical film that lit up cinemas in 2006, also drew from the real-life turmoil of millionaire Chris Gardner. It follows his life before success. Most of the film mirrors his life journey as he rises through poverty to greatness. 

Look to your life experiences

Your next great story could therefore be in the news or some exciting world event. You need only do your homework and find a topic that interests you.

Sometimes, you don’t need to look to the life of others to find a passionate and moving film idea. Our personal lives can be a goldmine of concepts as well. Many excellent screenwriters have drawn from the experiences in their own lives. You too can take a similar path to success. Perhaps you’ve had a dramatic relationship history full of twists and turns. 

Maybe you’ve experienced some tragedy like losing a loved one and you’d like to share your story with the world. Perhaps your career journey has been a rollercoaster of unpredictability. Maybe you had an eventful holiday at the Dalmatian coast two years ago. Analyze your past and figure out if there’s a good story buried within.

You’ll probably start with a premise when seeking to spin your narrative into fiction. This is the idea of the whole story summed up in one or two sentences.  The premise will serve as the traffic lights for your story so you can observe a cohesive plot map.  

An example of a premise includes: an optimistic man struggles to find love in a city devoid of emotion. Now your story would show us how hard it is to find meaningful relationships. Maybe the lead character undergoes a series of heartbreaks. On the verge of giving up, he finds the one. Generally, the premise should establish the main character (a slight description), his goals, and obstacles.

Spoof it!

If ideas prove hard to come by, consider parody film. They are light-hearted, fun and everybody loves a good laugh. When people make movies whose plots are outright ridiculous and so over-the-top, you can make an even better one by poking holes. The best place to start is by identifying a massive franchise, genre, or film that most people are familiar with. 

A wide-reaching plot is always the foundation for every famous spoof. You’d not want to make fun of a movie few have watched or heard of because most of the jokes will be flying right over their heads. So choose a popular genre or movie like Game of Thrones for instance. 

What can you add to that conversation? Look up what critics and fans have found questionable about the plot of your film of choice. Adapt scenes to hilariously bring out these shortcomings.

Here’s a fan’s take on how Game of Thrones should have ended:

1980 Airplane offers a good example of how you can wonderfully turn a serious movie into a spoof. At the time, airplane disasters were a big deal and inspired a line of famous films. Airplane makes fun of the genre, in particular Zero Hour! 

It mirrors most of the happenings from the 1957 film in an almost identical fashion. Ted Stryker persists as the main character. Poisonous fish remains a theme and most of the dialogue is lifted verbatim.

Make your own parody film

It’s important to note though that Airplane bought the rights for the movie to avoid a lawsuit for plagiarism. Although the lawyers had advised the director and writers that the film was well within copyright rules, they still wanted to play it safe so they bought the rights for about $2,500. You don’t need to buy movie rights for a spoof though. 

For your movie, you can use similarly sounding pseudonyms for the characters, and other similar strategies for locations and scenes. Be sure to also read up on copyright rules as they relate to the parody genre before you start.

You can also make spoof movies by making fun of a genre and its clichés. A genre parody is often advised over choosing a singular film because you’ll have a lot more material to work with. Look to the Scary Movie franchise for inspiration along this line of thought. 

The movies ridicule plot loopholes and clichés from popular horror/slasher films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Saw, Scream, and others. The result is a combination of amazing humor that hilariously asks fans’ questions about certain shortcomings they witnessed on the big screen. It’s recommended that you watch all the movies you’d like to parody first before writing. Take notes of possible poking-hole points across individual scenes as opposed to waiting till the end. 

Rely on a proven formula like Save the Cat

Formulas provide a structure for storytelling when creativity fails. You can turn a vague concept into a proven idea for film success. Save the Cat was the brainchild of successful screenwriter Blake Snyder. This guide makes writing easier and offers a bank along which the story runs like a river. It’s a method commonly taught in film school and one that many rely on to get past a case of writer’s block.

In this article, I wrote extensively on how Save the Cat can help deal with procrastination. It can also help with coming up with movie ideas.

Here’s a breakdown of the formula:

Save the cat breaks down a story into 15 beats but we’ll not get into each beat today. Rather we’ll take a look at the general sections. 

The Save the Cat formula

The first is the Setup of the movie. It creates your protagonist’s world and the relationships. If you’ve decided to write a superhero movie, for example, the Setup would introduce us to the character and his pre-super world. 

How was his life like before he discovered his powers? In a romantic comedy situation, how was life before he met his better half? That covers existing relationships like love interests, friends, or family. The setup usually encompasses the first 10 pages or so.

The 2nd section is the catalyst (page 12). This is an incident that gets the story going. That could be an accidental revelation of powers in a dire moment of need. Or a chance encounter between two would-be love birds in a rom-com. 

Next comes the Debate, where the protagonist battles self-doubt or some other form of internal conflict. Then the Break into Two as the protagonist embraces his new self.  Afterward is the Fun and Games part as the conflict begins to surface. In a rom-com, this could be a chaotic first date. In a horror film, this would be the scariest point thus far.

Then the Bad Guys Close In. For a rom-com, this would be a point of failure in a newfound relationship. Now comes All is Lost e.g. the relationship breaks up. Plagued by a devastating event, the protagonist embraces defeat in the Dark Night of the Soul (this may be after a breakup in a rom-com or when a hero decides to call it quits after failure). 

The hero rediscovers his strength or, for the couple, their love, in Break into Three. Then comes the Finale as the couple tackles challenges to be together. Maybe one of them has taken a job abroad and the other has to stop them before they leave. For a sci fi, this is the showdown between the villain and the hero. Then comes the Closing Image or happy ending, which may be preceded by a false ending. E.g. when a villain feigns defeat.

Save the Cat may offer the blueprint for your next great idea. 

Borrow from other screenwriters’ loglines

Loglines from famous movies can also provide hints for your next epic. Some writers have attested to the power of inspiration from plot lines from other works of art. The logline is a summary of a film’s core conflict. It defines the movie triangle. That encompasses the protagonist, his struggle with the antagonist, and the stakes at hand. 

Let’s consider the case of The Hangover’s logline and see how one can get inspired by it for refreshing comedy ideas. It reads: A group of eccentric friends wake up on a Bachelor retreat in Las Vegas to find the bachelor missing. They need to piece together the events of the previous night and find the groom before the wedding.

Maybe your movie doesn’t have to be exactly like The Hangover. But you can derive a couple of ideas from the themes around that logline. The characters in the movie aren’t very lucky with women. They constantly mess up, saying the wrong things at the wrong time. 

Additionally, the movie creates a sense of urgency, where the protagonists need to complete their goals in a limited time. How they continually fail in the quest provides excellent humor to work with. Maybe go with a concept that mirrors these in a different way. Switch up scenarios and play around with alternative ideas.  

One derivation from the primary concept may be: 10 interns do all it takes to secure employment at the law firm of their dreams, with only two positions up for grabs. They must contend with a non-nonsense boss and excessively demanding clients. Well, it isn’t exactly like The Hangover but we’ve established the stakes, the points of conflict, and a plot playground to brainstorm the specifics of the storyline. 

Riffing on existing loglines from a genre you’d like to write about is an excellent way to stumble upon your next big idea. Be sure to sample a generous selection before settling on a plot.

Use a “what if” approach

Some writers have also confessed to using a “what if ” strategy where they kill off the main character in a movie and explore the stories provided by supporting roles who don’t get as much screen time. For instance, Mark Hanna gets only about 10 minutes in The Wolf of Wall Street, yet he is a very likable and strong character. What if the movie focused on him instead of Jordan Belfort? How would that have played out?

Another example would be Lord of the Rings. What if Gandalf took the ring of power? That would be an interesting movie. This concept was even explored by this YouTuber:

Alternatively, one can take the opposite scenario to the movie plot and run with it. In The Hangover franchise, for instance, the story is constantly told from the bachelor’s perspective. What are the girls doing all this time? Maybe they’re having a little fun of their own and getting into similarly mischievous adventures.

Flipping loglines may just be the catalyst for your light bulb.

Of course, you can’t use the actual characters and lore, like Lord of the Rings. But as mentioned above, you can change the characters, tweak the plot and build your own world.

And by exploring and building this brave new world, you’ll find it much easier to find the next great movie idea.

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