The adventure movie genre used to be one of the go-to places for original stories and sweeping epics. But over the last few decades, it seems like these movies are reserved only for superheroes. What used to be the place for writers to showcase their set-piece writing and directors to showcase style has now been scaled back. These movies are hard to get made because they cost a lot of money, need stars, and require some risk.
What if I told you now is a great time to be writing them?
Executives are always looking for the next franchise, and they're also looking for that stack buster script to break up the monotony of their days. Breaking in with an action-adventure movie might be the ticket for you, because people miss them so much.
One of the favorites that I miss, one that I hear brought up all the time recently by tons of people working in the industry, is The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and a CGI Mummy trying to kill them.
Check out this video from Quality Culture, and let's talk after.
Why We Miss Action Adventure Movies Like The Mummy (And How to Write Your Own)
As I mentioned in the opening, adventure movies are a great way to showcase your skills at writing set pieces, but they are also ways to give us exciting characters, snappy dialogue, and usually a really fun romp.
These are not easy screenplays to write—there are no easy screenplays to write. But they can be a lot of fun. So much time is spent on worldbuilding and plotting and twists that when it's done well, people really appreciate it. I wanted to take a look at three things The Mummy does well—so well, in fact, that it got several sequels.
And as we go over what it does well, let's see how you can emulate it.
1. The Story
The Mummy paints a really specific story. A soldier wrongfully imprisoned knows the location of a secret city and is hired to take an archeologist there. In competition with them are a group of Americans who have their own expert, the guy who betrayed our soldier. When they get there, they accidentally unleash an ancient mummy who steals the organs from the rival team, working to use the plagues to take back his power and take over the world.
This story is so clean and has lots of interesting twists and turns.
When you write your story, try to focus on the simple ways in. We want to understand the exact goal of the people on this adventure. Is there a hidden land, artifact, or something more they are chasing? What's driving them to get there? And is there a map or a person leading the way? There's so much room to make this story big and broad, but still have those simple elements that allow people to climb aboard.
2. The Characters
As I mentioned before, characters are what make action-adventure movies tick. The characters in The Mummy all fit into stereotypical archetypes, with little twists. We have a dashing hero, who is sort of a goof as well. We also meet the expert librarian, who also functions as the love interest, and her cowardly brother, who is along for comedic relief.
This blend of comedy and undercutting of the serious versions of these people feels fresh. People are sexy, but they're still very funny and very smart doing it.
Each person has the odds stacked against them in many ways, but instead of ever escaping because of brawn, they often get out thanks to quick wit. Whether it's making a deal, swimming to the right side of the river, or just surviving the mummy attack thanks to not reading from the book of the dead, their brains complement them often.
We also have solid arcs. The coward gets to be brave. The buff guy gets to be vulnerable. And the mousy librarian gets to save the world thanks to her finding the limelight. And the audience cheers along with it, getting the happy ending they deserve.
3. The Adventure
Look, we gotta focus on this! The adventure here is what makes this story stand out, and what made this genre briefly come back.
When you write an adventure movie, remember that the story needs to have a pretty clean plot. This one also takes us to a lot of places, hence the adventure of it all. We see a ton of locations, even though limited to Egypt. We're in lost cities, catacombs, prisons, riverboats, the desert, on planes, and inside ancient ruins. Your story needs to feel expansive and take us to interesting places. Even if you don't globe-trot, try to find those magical places that exist right under our noses.
Also, these places should come with problems. Whether that's bugs that attack, rival gangs, animals, or curses, you can never make the adventure easy. It has to be spectacular that our group survives. The Mummy lets every single scene pop with that immaculate wonder that makes adventure movies feel alive.
So take these lessons and go write your own spec!