How to Write a Final Battle

'Gladiator'Credit: DreamWorks Pictures
When it comes to taking down the big boss, you gotta keep it compelling. 

A story is an amalgamation of a lot of different ideas. When looked at as a whole, it's an entertainment experience. But for writers, they always get broken down into their elements so we know how they work. Storytellers are always dissecting and formulating new ways to attack these elements so we can make our own stories just as compelling as the ones we liked to hear. 

One of the hardest things to get right is the final battle.

It's that moment during the climax where your character has to face off against their biggest fears and their villain. It's a tense scene where we understand their arc and see what the film or episode has been building to... but it does not always go as planned. 

Today I want to cover final battles and grab some tips from Lesson from the Screenplay on how you can make your battles memorable. 

How to Write a Final Battle 

If you watched the video, you know that they used A Few Good Men as their main example.

Rather than regurgitating the information they spouted, I wanted to go through their distinctions but add a few different new examples to help ramp up your creativity. 

Let's dive in. 

Compelling Stakes 

The secret formula for every genre of film is to make sure it's centered around compelling stakes. We have to care about what happens to the characters for the final battle to be entertaining. These stakes will differ between genres. 

A movie like Gladiator could be for the fate of Rome. But in something like Knocked Up, the stakes could just be a happy family and a couple getting back together. In Oceans 11, it's both getting the money out of the casino and getting Tess back. 

In Scream, you're literally fighting for your life. 

The more compelling, the more exciting your final standoff can be. 

A Well-Defined Battleground 

In the video, we see how the courtroom is used as a battlefield in A Few Good Men. This well-defined aspect also addresses how these parties are fighting. It could be swords, it could be wits, it could be fists. More than likely, the odds should be stacked against your protagonist. 

In something like Edge of Tomorrow, it's a literal battlefield. In Knocked Up, it's a hospital. In Scream, it's a house. In Casablanca, it's an airfield. 

Once you know where the action will take place, you lock them inside. Get some pressure here.

You can't escape the courtroom. You can't escape the Colosseum. Or even the basketball court in Space Jam

This is where you will expand on your character's values.

'Space Jam'
'Space Jam'Credit: Warner Bros.

Character Values 

What are your characters made of? When you're getting them to complete their arc, what's a situation you can put them in that tests them to their limits?

Could it be Rocky lasting all those rounds with Creed? 

Is it running through the airport in Love Actually, or running through a New Year's Eve party to bare your soul in When Harry Met Sally

In a movie like The Dark Knight, Batman has to use technology to monitor cell phones to find the Joker, pushing the limits of his morality. Meanwhile, the character is also tested through Gotham's citizens. Will they blow one another up?

That leads us to the final element to discuss. 

'When Harry Met Sally'
'When Harry Met Sally'Credit: Columbia Pictures

Increasing Pressure 

The best way to make your final battle continue the escalation within your screenplay is to continue to add pressure. It's not just bad versus good, but also it could be the walls closing in.

It's not just good enough that Indiana Jones has to pick the right Holy Grail, he has to do it while his father is dying and while guns are pointed at him. 

In 40-Year-Old Virgin, he's not just running down the woman he loves, but he's doing it on a bike because he has no car. 

Or in Gladiator, he's fighting in a ring, while wounded, and surrounded by guards who he is not sure are loyal to him.

You can even have a bomb ticking down like in Armageddon, as Bruce Willis fights to get his nuke into the asteroid as it hurtles toward earth. 

'Armageddon'
'Armageddon'Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

Sum It All Up 

As you can see, adding in other elements boosts the right amount of pressure can really take your screenplay to the next level.  So the next time you want to write your final battle, remember that all this stuff comes from character, stakes, and added pressure. 

You want the audience to care about the outcome and constantly be worried it will not go the character's way.

Got some of your favorite final battles? Let me know what you think of them in the comments. 

It's in your control. 

Now get writing. 

What's next? Get our free screenwriting eBook

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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