You know when you're writing your third act, and you need that moment where the audience is totally worried the film is going to fall apart?

Well, that moment has a name: We call it the "All is Lost" moment, and it's pretty crucial to your screenplay.

The term originated with Blake Snyder and his Save the Cat Beat Sheet, making it a mainstay of screenwriting vocabulary.

So today, I want to go over that specific moment and explain why it's so important to your process.

Let's get started.

What is the "All is Lost" Moment in Screenwriting?


Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

New Line Cinema

Like I said up top, the "All is Lost" moment is a pivotal turning point in screenwriting. It's the hero's darkest hour, the moment where everything seems to crumble, and achieving their goal feels utterly impossible.

Think of it as the rock bottom for your protagonist. They've poured everything they have into achieving their objective, but every effort has backfired. This defeat isn't just a setback; it's a complete and utter failure that leaves them questioning everything.

Why is the "All is Lost" Moment Important?


All is Lost


Sometimes, I read screenplays where the movie just ends, and I never feel like there's one moment where everything is going completely wrong.

When you miss this moment, you miss the opportunity to get people to feel all the feels. To maximize why you've asked them to get through roughly 75 pages of story.

The "All is Lost" moment is essential for a few reasons:

  • Raises the Stakes: By stripping the hero of hope, the stakes are cranked up to eleven. The audience is left wondering if the hero can possibly recover.
  • Character Development:This moment of despair forces the hero to confront their own limitations and motivations. It can be a catalyst for growth, leading them to discover a new path or a deeper understanding of themselves.
  • Sets Up the Climax: The "All is Lost" moment creates a desperate situation that propels the hero towards a final confrontation or a desperate attempt to achieve their goal.

"All is Lost" Moment Examples

How to Write Your Script's Climax

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back


The best way to understand this moment is to look at it in a few popular movies and try to emulate it yourself.

  • The Empire Strikes Back: Luke Skywalker is confronted by Darth Vader who tells him he is his father. This moment forces him to re-evaluate everything he thought he knew.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: With Frodo and Sam are attacked by Gollum and the One Ring seemingly lost, hope dwindles for the Fellowship. This moment pushes them to make a desperate last stand against Sauron's forces.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones has secured the Ark of the Covenant, but the Nazis take it from him, and tie him and Marion up while they open it. Indy is forced to watch as they reveal its ultimate power.

How Can You Create a Powerful "All is Lost" Moment?

Raiders of the Lost Ark


Of course, creating a powerful moment is hard work. You need ot have the concrete foundation of a great script to make these beats payoff.

But once you get to that spot, here a few few tips to make sure you capitalize:

  • Don't Pull Punches: Make sure the defeat feels real and devastating for the hero.
  • Raise the Emotional Stakes: This moment should be about more than just losing the objective; tie it to the hero's deepest fears and vulnerabilities.
  • Leave Room for Hope: While the hero seems defeated, there should be a sliver of possibility, a hint that things might turn around.

The "All is Lost" moment is a powerful tool that can elevate your screenplay. By understanding its purpose and utilizing it effectively, you can create a compelling narrative that takes your characters and your audience on an unforgettable emotional journey.

Let me know what you think in the comments.