Do Movie Trends Still Exist?

By Justine Owens.

Whenever the discussion of “trends” comes up in screenwriting circles, the seasoned advice is to avoid drawing any conclusions from them and stick to your story. But actually, it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation.

Often, if you set out to write something “on-trend,” by the time you’ve written it, whatever was trending when you started has already been milked for everything it was worth, and everyone’s moved on to the next big thing.

But examining what’s happening in today’s cinema and television and how viewers are choosing to consume media can signpost you to new opportunities to develop your storytelling skills and present new possibilities in terms of getting your story produced.

So, much has been made of the negative impacts on the entertainment industry in the last few years. The pressures of the pandemic, the volatility of employment, growing cultural malaise, and general cynicism have been felt by many screenwriters.

But I would also like to argue that what has quietly been growing in the background is a powerful combination of convergence of storytelling techniques and an expanding field of expressive opportunities.

The audience of today is a demanding one, and rightly so. The rise of personal political activism and advocacy for greater diversity has mirrored the move away from a dependent relationship with network schedules and toward a rise of selective binge-watching on subscription streamers. The pandemic’s check on major studio distribution schedules has changed the debate about what constitutes a proper “release” and growth in the number of industry accolades for independent films.

Over the last few years, what has become startling apparent is that “television” is no longer a poor relation in the family. The popular shows of today not only frequently match the budgets and cast lists of films but have also embraced the more innovative storytelling techniques and the supporting production technology that facilitates those “wow” moments formerly only seen on the big screen.

So, let’s take in 5 emerging storytelling trends in today’s entertainment industry.

Potty-Mouthed Period Drama & Sexy Bodice-Rippers

Granted, period drama has been a stalwart of television for many years. But recently, there has been a clear move away from classic adaption into a more irreverent — yet one might argue relevant — storytelling style. From Bridgerton to The Great, Dickinson to Versailles, we are being confronted with modern-day protagonists setting their goals and facing down their challenges in the context of historical stories. This refreshing reminder that people have always been people lends even greater authenticity and potency to an examination of the constraints of the past — and today!

Diversity and the Female Protagonist

The rise of the female protagonist has surely not escaped anyone’s notice in recent years. And the industry has quickly moved from simply balancing the numbers to creating a series where almost all the cast is female: Fleabag, Killing Eve, Better Things, Maid, and most recently Chloe (from our roster director Alice Seabright). All these shows point up the potential for not just representing more women on screen, but different types of women; flawed women, evil women even. The same is beginning to happen for diversity in race and ability, and more slowly concerning age. We applaud those who continue to increase the opportunities for entertainment to mirror the diversity of the world around us.

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The Rise of Fantasy- from GoT to The Wheel of Time.

At times, it seemed that almost all the world was watching Game of Thrones, but when that epic left our screens, a slew of new dramas rushed in to try and fill the void. What is perhaps more startling than the popular renaissance of fantasy, though, is the huge explosion in craft-related employment as the FX technology that formerly could only be afforded by films has migrated to the small screen. It is no longer the case that you can only see monsters at the movies. Now our small screen frequently takes us to imaginative landscapes filled with fantasy.

Greater Surrealism & Welcome to the Apocalypse

Allied to the growth of fantasy is a much larger appetite for the surreal, the absurd, and the apocalyptic. The recent Harlan Coben adaption, Stay Close, featured two manic assassins whose love of musicals and breakout Broadway routines was both discomforting and yet very effective at conveying the menace of a true sociopath. Satirical fiction and dark comedy never used to play that well on television but shows such as VEEP and Black Mirror changed that. Now an even more astute audience is willing to take on tonal dissonance and happily watch a multitude of stories that show the demise of our race as an uneasily welcomed blessing. 

The Greater Acceptance of Sub-Titles

The last trend I wish to examine here is our growing appetite for world entertainment and the acceptance of sub-titles and/or dubbed drama. Time was when going to see a “French film” had a certain kind of cachet and established the speaker as either a) a member of the intelligentsia or b) a bit of phony — depending on your point of view. Now, the popularity of shows like Squid Game has demonstrated that language is not a barrier to good storytelling. Again, this trend has been building for a while. From The Bridge to Dark, Narcos to Money Heist, we can see that today’s dialogue can transcend the language of a single culture.

So, what can we take away from all this as writers? Firstly, how inspiring it can be to seize the opportunity for a greater diversity of expression. Don’t impose the limited thinking of the past onto your writing today. Sure, your script still needs to be fundamentally “producible,” but that is a much wider playing field than what was possible before, so embrace it and tell your story

In general, when it comes to selling spec scripts, many trends stay relatively consistent. Thrillers, comedies, and horrors are most likely to garner attention. The latter two are usually cheaper to produce, can generate huge profits, and therefore producers are more likely to take a chance on a new writer writing in these genres. The bigger the budget, the more of a financial risk there is, and that’s why seasoned writers with a proven track history of writing bankable movies and TV shows receive their preferment.

That doesn’t mean that your animation, historical epic, or fantasy blockbuster screenplay isn’t worth finishing! Not only are there more opportunities for these kinds of stories to reach the screen, but the scripts where you abandon any notion of budget and let your imagination run wild can often be the ones that can land you a high-ranking placement in a screenwriting contest, which in turn can put you on the radar of agents, managers, and industry professionals.

If you do decide to write these stories, remember, though, that entertainment always has — and still today — holds up the mirror to ourselves. As Shakespeare said some 400 years ago, “the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.”

If there’s anything to take away and to apply to writing your spec script, it’s that no matter how “out there” you decide to take your story, do as much as you can to build an emotional connection between your characters and the audience.

If we care about your characters, we’ll want to see more of them. No matter what genre, what format, or what type of story you’re telling, making the audience care is paramount.


Justine Owens is the Director of Contests at Shore Scripts. For all the updates on our screenwriting contests, films, screenplay feedback, and education programs follow Shore Scripts on TwitterFacebookand Instagram.


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