The most appealing movie for a studio to buy is a four-quadrant film. But what are the four quadrants, and how can you master them?
When studios and streamers read scripts and examine intellectual property submitted to them, they're always looking for mass appeal. That's a title or a story that will draw everyone in? What are the characters and stakes that almost everyone can identify with and will be interested in watching?
Perhaps you've heard the term "four-quadrant" before and had no idea what it means. That's okay. I think it's one of those things people talk about in the trades without actually knowing the definition.
So what are the four quadrants, and why are studios always looking for that elusive four-quadrant film? How do you WRITE a movie of massive scale in the first place? (Download The Dark Knight screenplay for some insight!)
And if you want insight into making these movies, we talked to two of the most prolific blockbuster producers on the No Film School Podcast:
Today we're going to look through all the quadrants, talk about what goes into these particular movies, and suss out the appeal of such crowd-pleasing movies.
So without further ado, let's dive in.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIB0kaKN79w
What Are the Four Quadrants?
In Hollywood, the quadrants are demographics to whom a wide release might appeal and who might go to the theater to see that movie. These quadrants are made up of specific audiences. Their tastes are to whom trailers, posters, and even casting are tailored. You can be specific and make things specifically for any quadrant.
I know what you're going to say. People's tastes defy these quadrants all the time! Of course they do.
This is just Hollywood's way of mostly getting it right. You see films that have crossover appeal all the time. Think about those perfect "date night" movies where both people want to see them, or those kids' films that serve as nostalgia pieces and draw an older audience.
These are not the end-all, be-all for defining who likes what. But they are a guide Hollywood uses that you should understand.
Let's dig into the four quadrants.
The First Quadrant
The first quadrant is focused on the male audience under 25 years of age. Lots of times they include action, lowbrow comedies, and coming-of-age stories.
Examples of First Quadrant Films:
- John Wick
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- Fight Club
The Second Quadrant
This quadrant is focused on the female audience under 25 years of age. They include things like princess movies, romance films, and adaptations of young adult literature.
Examples of Second Quadrant Films:
- The Princess Diaries
- The Vow
- To All the Boys I Ever Loved Before
- The Hunger Games
The Third Quadrant
This quadrant is focused on adult males over 25. This usually encompasses westerns, science fiction, thrillers, war films, and some prestige dramas.
Examples of Third Quadrant Films:
- Saving Private Ryan
- 3:10 to Yuma
- Ad Astra
The Fourth Quadrant
The final quadrant is focused on the adult female audience over 25 years of age. They usually encompass prestige dramas, female-led thrillers, period or dramatic romances, and romantic comedies.
Examples of Fourth Quadrant Films:
Four-Quadrant Film Definition
A four-quadrant film satisfies the needs, wants, and expectations of all these demographics. They are usually family-friendly films that contain a point of entertainment for everyone.
Nowadays, this term also refers to a movie that not only does well in the United States but can travel and make money across the world.
Four-Quadrant Film Ratings
In the United States, they can be rated G, PG, or PG-13. You want to be able to take everyone you know and love to them without there being too many uncomfortable moments. These movies are generally considered "family-friendly" because they make both parents and kids happy.
Four-Quadrant Film Successes
If it isn't obvious, studios like four-quadrant movies because they make a lot of money.
Taking a family of four to the movies these days can cost upward of $100. Multiply that by tens of thousands of families, and you have hundreds of millions of dollars.
I mean, Disney almost exclusively releases these kinds of films and has become the most powerful studio in the world because of it. Huge successes include The Incredibles, Inception, Meet the Parents, The Fast and the Furious, or even Star Wars.
These are blockbusters that have mass appeal.
Four-Quadrant Film Failures
Not every one of these movies will be a big success. There are lots of times studios take big swings on making a movie for these audiences and whiff terrible. Think about movies like Gods of Egypt, Mars Needs Moms, Prince of Egypt, Titan A.E., The Last Action Hero, Sahara, Speed Racer, Land of the Lost, Monster Trucks, etc.
This is not to detract anything from the quality of these movies. They just were billed as four-quadrant tentpoles that never really went anywhere. Still, studios were hungry for these ideas and put a lot of money into them.
Four-Quadrant Film Examples
We're listed a lot of these movies earlier, but I wanted to give you a fresh batch of examples to take with you for inspiration. Lots of these movies fall into franchises with mass appeal. They make one, it crushes at the box office, and then they make five more.
I'm thinking about a movie like Jurassic Park, which was based on an immensely popular novel and got the biggest director of all time, Steven Spielberg, behind the camera to deliver us something special.
Or what about Mission: Impossible? That might have skewed a little adult, but its PG-13 rating left it open for others to join the audience, and now the franchise is a worldwide bet that brings people together.
I think Pixar is the standout when it comes to making movies for mass appeal. They always have humor for parents, but the animated stories and visuals apply to kids as well. I love a movie like Wall-E, which is so obviously an homage to things like 2001: A Space Odyssey and contains classic movie clips that go way over the head of younger viewers, but the movie never talks down to the viewer and makes sure everyone is entertained at every level.
This is not a new invention of Hollywood. It's been around forever. Movies like The Wizard of Oz and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial paved the way for family-friendly films. Now we see a lot of them built on nostalgia for those movies. Things like Super 8, Despicable Me, The Santa Clause, and Mrs. Doubtfire all play on various applications of this stuff.
So now that you know the definition and examples, go back to writing your next major franchise film, and make sure it hits all four quadrants.
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