Writing the High ROI Screenplay (Part 10)

This week we continue with part ten in a twelve part series of JT Velikovsky’s doctoral thesis: “Understanding And Exploring The Relationship Between: Creativity; Theories Of Narratology; Screenwriting; And Narrative Fiction Feature Film-Making Practices.”

By JT Velikovsky

Some more findings from my doctoral research:

Ten Story/ScreenplayPatterns – In The Top 20 ROI Films

So – these are the top 20 ROI Films of the past 70 Years:



And – 10 Patterns In the Top 20 ROI Films:

#1 – Two-Part Structure – The story is always in 2 `parts’: i.e. “Before”, when everything is `going well’; then – disaster strikes; and the 2nd part is “After” – when everything goes badly for the hero/s due to `the disaster’.

(Note the similarity to Aristotle’s `2-part structure’ of ancient Greek plays. Not that, ancient Greek plays are films…)

#2 – Villain Protagonist: The villain `acts first’, and “drives” the story – and the hero is constantly reacting to the villain’s actions (and/or their outright attacks, on the hero/s).

#3 – Villain Triumphant – The Villain / `story-protagonist’ either:

1) wins (i.e. the hero either loses, or, dies), and/or

2) escapes justice, and/or

3) at the very least: escapes.

(Note: With Rocky – Rocky actually loses the fight, and Apollo Creed wins it.)


#4 – No Character `Arcs’ – With these specific films – by the film story’s end the hero/s has not undergone a `transformational character arc’; if anything – they are just even more like they were, at the start of the story…

#5 – The 3 Primal Themes – 1) Life & Death, 2) Family/Community, and 3) Justice/Revenge.

In other words: all very “survival of the `fittest’”.All about intense conflict.

#6 – Present Day Setting – the majority of the Top 20 ROI Films (17/20) are set in the Present Day (relative to when they were made).

This is logical – as period pieces and future stories are (usually) more expensive.

#7 – Temporally Linear – No `parallel narratives’ (like say Rashomon, or Pulp Fiction, or even reversed time like Memento, etc).

As cinematically wonderful as those non-linear story structures are (I would suggest, those three films are uncontested masterpieces) the structure of the top 20 ROI Films, is just plain: Linear.

There are sometimes narrative ellipses (eg Starting with `the Backstory’: 30 Years Prior, as with Halloween and Friday The 13th), but otherwise – the films are linear. The obvious `exception’ is Primer but, ironically – as a time-travel story, it is, actually,(even – ironically) linear.

#8 – A Love Story – This is not in all 20 (it is absent in The Blair Witch Project).

But is in the majority (19 out of the 20). So include one, if you wish – but it is (clearly) not mandatory for a High ROI Film. Blair Witch got in the list, without it.



#9 – Be a Writer-Hyphenate!– all 20 of the top 20 ROI films, the Writer (and conceiver of the Story) was involved in production (as Director, Actor or Producer, etc), and, did not simply provide the Story/Screenplay and then `step aside’ during production/further story development.

Note also how, this also correlates with DK Simonton’s finding in the excellent Great Flicks (Simonton, 2011) – whereby, overwhelmingly, the writer-director is more successful in realizing a quality (award-winning) cinematic vision.

(And, hey wait – Is this an argument for auteur theory? Yes, but only in the case of Writer-hyphenates with this empirical Top 20 ROI study, and, in the case of Writer-Directors in Simonton’s empirical study. Classical auteur theory posits the director as the `Author’ of the film. Contrapositionally, this new knowledge positions the Writer-hyphenate as `the primary author’ of the Top 20 ROI Films.)

#10 –A 10-Act Story Structure – and Average Scenes of 50 seconds– trending towards 1 minute



These 10 key ideas/memes/points above can potentially increase the statistical probability of your film going viral.

(Note: Do they guarantee it? No. Luck and timing/Zeitgeist plays a part; and this largely cannot be controlled… However – these (memes, listed above here) are: 10 things that can indeed be controlled, by a film storyteller/writer/director/creative producer.)

So – that’s just some of the patterns in the Top 20 ROI Films.

There are in fact, many more…

Experiment: Watch these 20 films – and read their screenplays, for yourself; see if you find any patterns…


Next month’s post:

Part 11: One more characteristic I’ve (just: personally) observed in the Top 20 ROI Films: namely – `Cinematic Awesomeness’.

– JT Velikovsky


image020JT Velikovsky is a million-selling transmedia writer and consultant (films, games, TV, comix, novels) and produced feature film writer.

His doctoral thesis research on Film/Story/Screenplays of The Top 20 ROI Films can be found here.

Photo Credits: JT Velikovsky

2 thoughts on “Writing the High ROI Screenplay (Part 10)”

  1. Am I reading this right? #4 No character arcs – seriously? In Mad Max, Star Wars, ET, American Graffiti, Once, Primer…?!


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