Effective screenwriting features many challenges, not least of all the creation of compelling storylines, engaging characters, and relevant themes. But, the savvy screenwriter also has to consider what makes a film marketable and, by extension, valuable to a distributor. Among the most important of those considerations is genre. To be clear, not all genres are created equal. Several have a much better track record of selling well in the modern marketplace than others.
Here’s a rundown of the best and worst screenplay genres, according to global buyer interest, along with a brief examination of why. First, the best.
Shoot-em-ups, car chases, explosions, daredevil stunts – all of these things elicit the same thrill from audiences everywhere, regardless of country, because there are no language or cultural barriers that prevent comprehension. In addition, higher production costs for action has left a dearth in the low-budget marketplace, thereby increasing demand.
Films that focus on large-scale catastrophes have proven to be box office gold. The calamity can be natural (earthquakes, floods, etc.) or man-made; local or global; and rooted in drama, science fiction or even the supernatural. The draw is based on movie-goers’ attraction to spectacle and the high cost of visual effects makes the genre similarly rare.
G-rated movies are accessible to the widest audience pool, and often attract families with young kids. Parents don’t have to be concerned about inappropriate content, and often purchase rather than rent because they expect to watch these films multiple times. Stories with kids or animals in lead roles have the greatest appeal as they prove most relatable to tykes.
Christian films have an enormous and underserved audience craving content that focuses on moral, God-centered messages. Faith is often overlooked in favor of “sexier” genres but viewer loyalty, low budget requirements, and scant marketplace competition create a perfect storm for profitability.
The American cable TV market has fortified the demand for thrillers with female leads, also known as “women-in-peril” films, but this demand has expanded overseas as well. Female audiences are a significant driver of box office revenues, and yearn to see strong women in roles that task them with overcoming domineering male figures. And, like action, thrills translate well across territories.
The universality of romantic relationships increases global interest in this genre but, since female audiences also drive these films, distributors seek stories with female leads, or those told from a woman’s point of view. Relatable protagonists and attractive male conquests satisfy a sense of wish fulfillment in viewers.
On the flip side, distributors tend to shy away from certain genres for a number of reasons. Some of the most prominent examples might be surprising.
Dramas typically require a strong hook (i.e., based on an interesting real-life person) and an expensive A-list cast to generate box office heat. Moreover, most foreign markets boast their own local film industry that produces films with local stars catering to local audiences, making for excessive competition.
Stories occurring in some historical time and place often require large amounts of cash to properly capture the period, many of which do not hold much appeal to general audiences, And, like dramas, they often need big names to generate interest, creating an unacceptable risk/reward profile to most buyers.
The subjectivity of comedy means it’s unlikely to properly translate across territories. Jokes and gags are often based on cultural references so what’s funny to audiences in one country is unlikely to be funny to audiences in another.
By extension, dark comedies are even more of a challenge to market than broad comedies because they’re rooted in dramatic irony, tragic endings, and a variety of narrative subtleties that make them far less accessible to broad audiences.
If there was one distinctly American genre, it would have to be the American Western. But, with that badge of honor comes the downside – a genre rooted in historical and cultural references that don’t mean much to audiences outside the U.S.
Many indie filmmakers turn to low-budget horror as an access point to the film industry. But, it’s exactly that reason that the marketplace has been flooded with horror flicks, making them far less desirable to distributors. Additionally, name actors often avoid this genre for fear of being stigmatized.
Mark Heidelberger began writing professionally in 2009 and has since had more than 1,200 articles published online and in print. He specializes in travel, entertainment, finance, tech and business-related content. His work has appeared in a diverse array of publications, including USA Today, AZ Central, Houston Chronicle, LA Examiner, The Nest Woman, Livestrong, Dollar Stretcher and the Global Business Centers blog. He has worked as a film and TV producer for 20 years, served as a literary manager for eight years, and has also ghostwritten or rewritten numerous feature film screenplays.
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