What Does It Mean to Reinvent a Genre?

'John Wick'Credit: Lionsgate
Genre filmmaking is always changing. 

What are the big, original movies that flipped Hollywood on its head the last few years? What about the last few decades?

Movies like John Wick, The Matrix, Scream, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, District 9, Pulp Fiction, Alien, and many, many others all have something in common. They flipped their respective genres and tropes on their heads and delivered something wholly original. 

Now, more than ever, genre films are back in style. These movies are not concerned with mash-ups or anything other than leaning into their respective genres. What they do differently is focus on the tropes. They totally subvert, twist, and shake them up. They give the audiences the comfort of the familiar right before they yank the rug out from under them. 

If you want to break into Hollywood with an original screenplay, I suggest you try to reinvent a genre. 

What Does It Mean to Reinvent a Genre? 

Look, I know I'm not some crazy famous screenwriter giving you advice here. At best, I work semi-annually. I get paid to be here on this website. But just like the cool substitute teacher who's been in the game too long, I'm here to tell it like it is. There have never, at any point on this planet earth, been so many people trying to write movies. Websites like The Black List and Stage32 have given great opportunities for people to break in. That's good news and bad news. The competition is fierce. 

The way to get read and to move up the ranks is to become a genre authority. Pick one. Watch everything you can. Write down your list of tropes and then spend a few days thinking about how you can break them. 

In the opening of this article, I wrote down a list of movies. All of them take a tired genre and did something to it that ignited the world.

Look at John Wick. It took the "last job" hitman story and instead did a "first job back." Taking the movie from that point of view absolutely excited people when reading it. 

Pulp Fiction's take on gangsters made Quentin Tarantino a legend.

And we all know how Scream reinvented slasher films by calling out the tropes while still delivering the scares.

My favorite example of this has to be The Sixth Sense. We knew what ghost movies were like. We've seen so many haunting stories. This one took a haunting story and turned it into a psychological thriller. It reinvented the way we understood hauntings and motivated someone to help these lost souls find their way. It was such a smart way to understand the tropes of what we wanted, to deliver a twist, and create a landmark story that's one of the greatest movies of all time

So if you are trying to tackle a new feature writing strategy or trying to come up with a movie idea, I suggest you work on subverting and reinventing a genre you love. It can be liberating, fun, and really hone your storytelling techniques. 

Go get writing.      

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