Why all blockbusters seem alike

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Does it seem to you that all Hollywood summer movies are pretty much alike. You’re not imagining things. Peter Suderman in Slate explains

Save the Movie! The 2005 screenwriting book that’s taken over Hollywood—and made every movie feel the same.

It seems that a successful screenwriter named Blake Snyder wrote a book called Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. This gives a detailed formula for a blockbuster, including not only the necessary plot elements but also specifying the exact point in the screenplay (down to the minute) when each must be introduced.

Given the huge cost of these movies the studios apparently feel that they have no choice but to follow the formula exactly. Eventually every regular viewer is left with the feeling that every movie is the same.

It’s not that the formula can’t produce good, fun movies: Monsters University is very enjoyable. Star Wars, Die Hard, The Matrix, and The Avengers all follow something like the story path that Snyder laid out. But it does mean that Hollywood produces way too many movies about adolescent men coming to grips with who they are (think John Carter, Battleship, The Bourne Legacy, Tron: Legacy, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, virtually every superhero movie, and the entirety of the J.J. Abrams canon).

It also means that there’s far less wiggle room for even minor experimentation. Think of a classic popcorn flick like Jurassic Park. It’s a pretty classic three-act story, and it includes virtually all of the elements found in Snyder’s beat sheet. But they are out of order and out of proportion. Now compare that to a modern megablockbuster like The Amazing Spider-Man, which follows the Snyder structure beat by beat. There’s a reason that even Steven Spielberg is complaining that Hollywood is too reliant on formulaic blockbusters.