Unraveling Film Storytelling: 15 Horrifying Lessons from Cinematic Missteps

Film Storytelling

Bad writing is often the problem with film storytelling

Everyone loves a good movie. A captivating plot, engaging characters, the right pace, and above all – impeccable storytelling. But what happens when film storytelling goes wrong? Today, we’re going to dissect several cinematic catastrophes, explaining why their writing faltered and how it could’ve been improved.

Just as there is immense value in studying and appreciating brilliant cinematic narratives, there’s an equally rich treasure trove of insights to be gleaned from movies that have missed the mark in storytelling. Dissecting these less successful endeavors allows us to understand where they faltered, what went wrong, and most importantly, how their mistakes could have been avoided. This reverse-engineering of narrative missteps often provides invaluable lessons for filmmakers, writers, and movie enthusiasts alike.

Film storytelling is a complex and multifaceted art, marrying visuals, dialogue, characters, themes, and plot into a cohesive, engaging narrative. It’s an intricate jigsaw puzzle where every piece must fit together perfectly to form a compelling picture. When any of these elements are poorly crafted or ill-fitted, the entire narrative can falter.

In this article, we’ll explore examples of flawed storytelling in some notable films, from character inconsistencies in Dark Phoenix to over-reliance on humor in Thor: Ragnarok. Each case presents unique challenges and mistakes, shedding light on the myriad ways a narrative can go off course. As we delve into these cinematic missteps, we’ll uncover the lessons they offer, providing a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid and best practices to embrace in the pursuit of effective film storytelling. So, grab your popcorn, sit back, and let’s delve into the fascinating world of film storytelling.

Captain Marvel: Misplaced Origin Story

The narrative style of Captain Marvel is daring, but unfortunately, it ends up hindering the storytelling more than enhancing it. The non-linear narrative, a series of back and forth jumps in time, aims to unfold Carol Danvers’ past and present simultaneously. While the idea is interesting, the execution results in a scattered narrative that leaves audiences somewhat disconnected from Carol’s journey.

Her character development becomes diluted and somewhat ambiguous due to the uneven pacing and fragmented narrative. As an audience, we need to feel the struggle, understand the evolution, and eventually celebrate the triumph of our protagonists. This emotional investment was what was significantly missing in Captain Marvel due to its narrative structure.

Lesson Learned: A clear, linear narrative structure is often the best choice for origin stories. Viewers need to form an emotional connection with the character, witnessing their growth and transformation throughout the narrative. For effective film storytelling, the audience should experience the journey with the character, which often requires a more structured and direct approach.

Avatar: Unoriginal Storytelling

Avatar is undoubtedly a visual masterpiece, pushing the boundaries of CGI and 3D technology. However, when it comes to film storytelling, it falls short due to its over-familiar plot. The narrative of Avatar has been compared to films like Dances with Wolves, FernGully, and Pocahontas, among others. Despite the unique and fantastical world of Pandora, the storyline is very much rooted in the age-old trope of the outsider who integrates with an indigenous community, eventually becoming its savior.

The lack of originality in the plot was a letdown for audiences who expected more from the highest-grossing film of all time (until 2019). While the visuals kept audiences engaged, the predictable storyline left many critics and viewers underwhelmed.

Lesson Learned: Strive for originality in your story. Even with groundbreaking visual effects and world-building, a cliched plot will always be a weak point. For a truly immersive and memorable film, the storytelling needs to be as fresh and captivating as the visual elements.

Game of Thrones Season 7 and 8: Rushed Narration

Over its eight-season run, Game of Thrones built a reputation for meticulous storytelling, deep character arcs, and shocking plot twists. However, in the last two seasons, the pace escalated, with the narrative seemingly rushing towards its conclusion.

Major character developments and plotlines that had been nurtured over multiple seasons were hurriedly wrapped up. The storytelling was not up to the standard set by the previous seasons, damaging audience connection and satisfaction. The rushed pace made several narrative developments feel unearned, leading to widespread disappointment among fans.

Lesson Learned: Consistent pacing and character development are crucial elements of storytelling. A sudden change in pacing can disrupt the narrative flow and disconnect the audience from the story. Each plot point and character arc should be given adequate time to evolve and conclude satisfactorily. Rushed storytelling often results in unsatisfactory character arcs and narrative conclusions, disappointing audiences and undermining previous build-up.

Gone Girl: Overuse of Plot Twists

Gone Girl is a gripping thriller that excels in setting a dark, suspenseful mood. However, the film storytelling somewhat falters in its over-reliance on plot twists. By continuously shifting the ground under the viewer’s feet, the film risks alienating its audience and leaving them disoriented.

The labyrinth of twists and turns, while initially intriguing, soon becomes tiresome. Instead of enhancing the narrative, these numerous twists serve to confuse the audience and dilute the film’s otherwise potent commentary on media manipulation and toxic relationships.

Lesson Learned: While plot twists can add suspense and shock value to a narrative, overusing them can lead to confusion and viewer fatigue. Each twist should serve a purpose and contribute to the narrative progression or character development, rather than merely shocking the audience. A well-placed plot twist can elevate a story, but too many can muddle the plot and dilute the narrative impact.

Signs: Logic-Lacking Aliens

Signs is a compelling family drama cloaked in an alien-invasion narrative. However, its film storytelling gets shaky with the concept of water-phobic aliens invading a planet predominantly covered in water. The logic-defying choice of these aliens weakens the otherwise intense and emotion-driven narrative.

While the film works on a metaphorical level, the literal interpretation of the alien invasion concept falls short, coming across as a significant oversight in the storytelling.

Lesson Learned: Consistency and logic are crucial to maintaining audience engagement and belief in a story. Even in fantasy or science fiction, internal logic within the narrative universe must be maintained. Discrepancies, especially ones central to the plot, can break audience immersion and undermine the credibility of the story.

Face Off: Over-the-top Narrative

Face/Off pushes the suspension of disbelief to its limits with its premise of face-swapping leading to perfect impersonation. The over-the-top narrative, riddled with implausible scenarios and exaggerated performances, fails to resonate with audiences on a realistic level.

While the film is enjoyable for its high-energy action sequences and dramatic performances, the film storytelling lacks subtlety and depth, making it difficult for viewers to take the narrative seriously.

Lesson Learned: While cinema allows for stretching reality, maintaining some level of believability is essential for audience engagement. Over-the-top scenarios and characterizations can alienate viewers and reduce emotional impact. Balancing spectacle with narrative substance and character depth can lead to a more impactful and resonating film storytelling.

Titanic: Lack of Character Depth

Titanic is a film that stands as a testament to James Cameron’s ability to create visually stunning and emotionally powerful cinema. However, it stumbles in the realm of character development, particularly when it comes to its main characters, Jack and Rose. These characters often seem two-dimensional, with their traits and motivations not fully explored or fleshed out.

The film storytelling largely revolves around their love story, but without significant character depth, the audience doesn’t entirely invest in their romance. The historical and emotional impact of the Titanic’s sinking sometimes feels overshadowed by a somewhat superficial love story.

Lesson Learned: Developing compelling, well-rounded characters is a critical component of film storytelling. Even in a grand, spectacle-driven film, character development shouldn’t be neglected. The audience needs to connect with the characters to fully engage with the story.

Pacific Rim: Weak Plot and Characterization

Pacific Rim is a film that delivers on the promise of gigantic robots fighting monstrous creatures. However, it falls short in providing a compelling narrative to support these action-packed scenes. The plot is quite thin, serving primarily as a setup for the action sequences rather than an engaging story in its own right.

Moreover, the characters are largely one-dimensional, with limited development or depth. This lack of strong characterization reduces the emotional stakes of the battles, making the action sequences less impactful.

Lesson Learned: No matter the genre or scale of the film, strong plotting and characterization are key to effective storytelling. The audience needs more than spectacle; they need characters they can root for and a story that captivates their interest. The balance between action and narrative is crucial for an engaging and memorable film.

Attack of The Clones: Over-reliance on CGI and Weak Dialogue

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is often criticized for its over-reliance on CGI and its weak dialogue. The film storytelling is overshadowed by the extensive use of CGI, making many scenes feel detached from reality. The spectacle of the CGI fails to make up for the lack of a strong, compelling narrative.

Moreover, the dialogue, particularly the romantic lines between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, is often stilted and unconvincing, further weakening the storytelling and character development.

Lesson Learned: Visual effects should enhance the storytelling, not overshadow it. Overuse of CGI can make scenes feel less authentic and emotionally engaging. Furthermore, strong, natural dialogue is crucial for character development and audience engagement. Poor dialogue can undermine the believability of characters and their relationships, weakening the overall narrative.

Battlefield Earth: A Narrative Disaster

Battlefield Earth serves as an infamous example of a film with myriad storytelling issues, proving that even with a best-selling novel as the source material, there’s still ample room for missteps when it comes to transcribing those pages to the big screen. From the outset, the film’s plot, character development, and dialogue seem muddled, making it a case study in the pitfalls to avoid in film storytelling.

The storyline of Battlefield Earth is riddled with narrative gaps, unexplained plot developments, and instances of deus ex machina. While the sci-fi genre often calls for suspension of disbelief, the sheer number of plot inconsistencies and implausibility’s in this film stretch beyond reasonable limits, leaving viewers confused and disconnected. The post-apocalyptic Earth dominated by an alien race, the Psychlos, could have provided a compelling setting for an engaging narrative. Unfortunately, the storytelling does little justice to this premise.

Characterization is another area where the film fails to deliver. Characters come across as two-dimensional, with no clear character arcs or significant development throughout the film. The protagonist, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, lacks depth and complexity, making it difficult for the audience to root for him or engage emotionally with his journey. The villain, Terl, is equally flat, with his motivations remaining unclear, reducing him to a caricature rather than a formidable antagonist.

Perhaps one of the most glaring problems in the film is the dialogue. Characters often resort to clichéd, awkward lines that do little to push the narrative forward or reveal character depth. This poor dialogue further distances the audience, making it difficult to take the characters and their predicaments seriously.

Battlefield Earth is a textbook example of how not to approach film storytelling. It underlines the importance of a coherent plot, well-developed characters, and authentic dialogue in creating an engaging and impactful cinematic narrative. No matter the scale or scope of the film, these fundamental elements of storytelling should not be compromised. While the film’s premise had potential, the execution fell dramatically short, resulting in a film that’s often referenced for its storytelling failings rather than its narrative successes. It serves as a stark reminder that compelling storytelling is the cornerstone of any successful film, regardless of genre or scale.

Ocean’s 12: Sacrificing Clarity for Complexity

In contrast to its sleek, sharp predecessor, Ocean’s 12 finds itself entangled in a web of overly complicated sub-plots. The film’s focus on elaborate narrative gymnastics and high stakes maneuvering confuses more than it captivates, with the viewer left to untangle the convoluted plot rather than bask in the movie’s charm and wit.

The movie suffers from an overstuffed storyline that attempts to weave in multiple sub-plots, character backstories, and plot twists. However, these additional layers only serve to obfuscate the narrative, confusing the audience and diluting the film’s pacing and momentum.

Moreover, the charm and charisma of the ensemble cast, one of the strongest aspects of Ocean’s 11, take a back seat to the complicated plot. The focus on maintaining the film’s intricacies results in characters who feel underdeveloped compared to the original, reducing the overall emotional stake and personal engagement for the viewer.

Ocean’s 12 illustrates how a desire for complex storytelling can sometimes lead to narrative convolution. While complexity can add depth and intrigue to a plot, it needs to be balanced with clarity and coherency. The audience should feel intrigued by the twists and turns, not lost in them. Furthermore, the allure of an ensemble cast should not be overshadowed by a complicated plot. Engaging characters remain at the heart of effective film storytelling and should never be compromised for narrative complexity.

Godfather Part 3: The Difficulty of Meeting Expectations

The Godfather Part 3, while a standalone film in its own right, could not escape comparisons to its illustrious predecessors. This third installment failed to meet the high expectations set by the first two parts, resulting in a film that was deemed a disappointment in terms of narrative depth and sophistication.

The storytelling of Godfather Part 3 was marred by a convoluted plot and unclear character motivations. The first two films masterfully wove complex narratives around a mafia family, balancing personal drama with overarching crime syndicate politics. However, the third part seems to lose its way amidst numerous sub-plots, making the narrative feel disjointed.

Character dynamics, a strong point in the previous films, also suffer in the third part. The absence of Tom Hagen, played by Robert Duvall, creates a noticeable void in the narrative, disrupting the well-established character relationships. The new characters introduced fail to resonate as deeply with the audience, causing a further disconnection.

Godfather Part 3 stands as a reminder of the importance of maintaining the narrative essence that makes a film or a series successful. Sequels, in particular, should strive to continue the narrative tradition while providing fresh perspectives. When they fail to do so, even a well-established franchise may falter. As Godfather Part 3 shows, maintaining consistency in storytelling, character dynamics, and narrative depth is key to crafting a satisfying continuation of a beloved saga.

Dark Phoenix: Shattering Character Consistency

In the world of cinematic storytelling, consistency is key, especially in franchises where characters and storylines span multiple movies. Dark Phoenix, the final installment in the main X-Men series, serves as an unfortunate example of inconsistent characterization leading to a jarring narrative.

The film suffers from a noticeable shift in the established personas of characters. For instance, Professor Charles Xavier, known for his wisdom and balanced decision-making, is portrayed as arrogant and manipulative, leading the X-Men into dangerous situations. Likewise, Mystique, a character previously torn between her loyalties, suddenly becomes the voice of reason without any clear character arc leading to this shift.

These abrupt character changes disrupt the narrative flow, creating confusion for viewers familiar with the series. Additionally, these changes undermine the emotional impact of significant events within the film, as they seem out of sync with the established character dynamics.

Dark Phoenix underlines the importance of maintaining consistent characterization in film storytelling. Changes in character should be a result of thoughtful development and progression, not sudden shifts without adequate context or reason. By straying from its characters’ core attributes, Dark Phoenix failed to deliver a cohesive narrative, demonstrating the crucial role of character consistency in crafting engaging and effective stories.

2015 Fantastic Four: A Tale of Two Halves

The 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four aimed to breathe new life into a classic comic book franchise. However, the film stumbled in its storytelling approach, with significant pacing and tonal issues disrupting the narrative consistency.

The first half of the film unfolds at a slow pace, dedicating time to establish the characters and their relationships. However, the second half hastens through the plot, speeding towards a climax that feels unearned due to the rushed narrative progression. The shift in pacing makes the storytelling disjointed, preventing the audience from fully engaging with the plot and characters.

Moreover, the film also struggles with its tone. The initial half leans towards a sci-fi exploration movie, only to transform into a superhero action flick in the latter part. This sudden shift creates a jarring inconsistency, affecting the overall narrative flow and audience experience.

The 2015 Fantastic Four emphasizes the need for a balanced narrative pace and consistent tone in film storytelling. Pacing and tone serve as the backbone of the narrative structure, setting the rhythm and mood for the story. Abrupt shifts in these areas can lead to a disjointed narrative and a disengaging viewing experience. A steady pace and harmonious tone can help create a smoothly flowing, engaging narrative that resonates with audiences.

Thor: Love and Thunder: Over-Reliance on Humor

Thor: Love and Thunder can take lessons from its predecessor, Thor: Ragnarok. The over-reliance on humor, while entertaining, sometimes undermined the emotional weight of certain scenes.

Humor can be an effective tool in film storytelling, but when overused, it can detract from the narrative’s emotional depth and character development.

Lesson Learned: Balancing humor and drama is crucial in film storytelling. Too much humor can risk reducing the impact of more serious or dramatic scenes. It’s essential to strike the right balance to maintain narrative depth and ensure emotional scenes have their desired impact.

Suicide Squad: Messy Plot and Flat Characters

Suicide Squad is a prime example of how a film can fall flat due to lackluster character development and a chaotic plot. The film introduces a team of notorious villains from the DC Universe with the task of saving the world. However, it struggles to coherently explain each character’s backstory, motives, and progression throughout the film, leaving viewers feeling disconnected from the characters.

The plot of Suicide Squad is equally messy, with too many threads running simultaneously and failing to tie up satisfactorily. The main antagonist, Enchantress, is introduced abruptly with unclear motivations, creating a disjointed narrative that feels forced and underdeveloped.

Lesson Learned: Suicide Squad serves as a reminder of the importance of character development and a well-structured plot in film storytelling. Characters should be introduced and developed in a manner that allows viewers to understand their motivations and connect with them. The plot should be coherent and well-paced, with clear connections between different narrative elements.

The Last Airbender: Failing to Adapt Source Material Effectively

The Last Airbender represents the challenges associated with adapting a beloved source material into a film. This movie, based on the acclaimed animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” fails to capture the essence and depth of the original story.

The film’s storytelling issues stem from its attempt to condense a season’s worth of narrative into a single film. This leads to a rushed and shallow plot, with many key story elements glossed over or omitted altogether. The characters, too, lack the depth and complexity they possess in the animated series, leading to a disconnect between the film and its source material.

Lesson Learned: The Last Airbender underscores the importance of effective adaptation in film storytelling. When translating a story from one medium to another, it’s crucial to maintain the essence and depth of the original narrative. This includes preserving key plot elements and character development to ensure the adaptation does justice to the source material.

Justice League (2017): Colliding Visions and Unfulfilled Potential

The theatrical cut of Justice League, released in 2017, stands as an example of how varying creative visions can lead to a disjointed and underwhelming film. Originally directed by Zack Snyder and later completed by Joss Whedon due to a personal tragedy in Snyder’s life, the film suffered from inconsistent storytelling that muddled its narrative.

Snyder’s darker, more nuanced approach and Whedon’s lighter, quippier style clashed noticeably, leading to tonal inconsistencies throughout the film. Characters that had been set up with careful arcs in previous films (like Batman and Wonder Woman) felt oddly out of character at times, and the plot development was uneven, resulting in a narrative that struggled to engage audiences fully.

Lesson Learned: Consistency in creative vision is paramount in film storytelling. Clashing styles can lead to tonal inconsistencies and uneven character development, undermining the narrative’s overall coherence. A unified vision can ensure a consistent, engaging story that remains true to its characters and narrative arcs.

The Emoji Movie: Lack of Originality and Depth

The Emoji Movie serves as a reminder of the importance of originality and depth in film storytelling. The film, which aimed to bring to life the emojis we use every day, fell flat due to its lack of innovative storytelling and emotional depth.

The plot largely relied on recycled tropes and predictable narrative arcs, offering little in the way of originality. The characters were underdeveloped, making it hard for audiences to connect with them or invest in their journeys.

Moreover, the film missed the opportunity to delve into more profound themes, such as the implications of technology on human communication, settling instead for a simplistic and shallow narrative.

Lesson Learned: Originality and depth are crucial elements of effective film storytelling. Audiences are drawn to unique, innovative stories that offer new perspectives and challenge conventions. Additionally, characters should be well-developed, and narratives should aim to explore deeper themes and emotions, adding layers of complexity that engage audiences on a deeper level.

The Role of a Ghostwriter in Film Storytelling

Contrary to what the name might suggest, a ghostwriter isn’t someone who writes spooky tales about ghouls and apparitions. In the world of film, a ghostwriter is an unseen force behind the scenes, lending their writing prowess to bring a movie’s narrative to life.

Ghostwriting is a unique kind of storytelling art. A ghostwriter dives into the vision of the original creator or director and crafts a narrative that stays true to that vision. They are the silent partners in the journey of storytelling, often working behind the curtains to weave together the threads of the narrative.

Ghostwriters: Unseen Storytellers

In the realm of film storytelling, the role of a ghostwriter can vary significantly. Some might be called upon to write an entire screenplay based on a basic premise or outline provided by the director or producer. Others might be asked to step in to revise, rewrite, or polish an existing script.

Whatever their specific task, the primary job of a ghostwriter is to create a compelling, coherent, and engaging narrative that fulfills the film’s vision. This requires a deep understanding of storytelling principles, including character development, plot structure, pacing, and dialogue.

Crafting Narratives Behind the Scenes

Ghostwriters often work under tight deadlines and high pressure, as they must deliver high-quality work within the constraints of the production timeline. They must be adept at problem-solving, capable of finding creative solutions to narrative issues or challenges that arise during the writing process.

Despite their significant contributions to the narrative, ghostwriters often go unrecognized in the final film credits. However, the satisfaction of their job comes from seeing their work come alive on the big screen, knowing they’ve played a vital part in the storytelling process.

Ghostwriting, while unseen, plays a significant role in the world of film storytelling. It’s a testament to the power of collaborative storytelling and the importance of a strong narrative foundation, regardless of who holds the pen. From shaping character arcs to crafting dialogue that resonates, ghostwriters wield their storytelling prowess to enhance cinematic narratives, underscoring the importance of skillful writing in the world of film.

Conclusion

When it comes to storytelling in film, there are several lessons to learn from these examples of flawed narrative techniques. From poorly developed characters to confusing plots and inconsistent tones, these mistakes underscore the importance of coherent, compelling storytelling. Each film offers valuable insights into what to avoid and, more importantly, how to improve and evolve in the realm of cinematic narratives.

The magic of movies lies in their ability to transport us into different worlds, live through various characters, and experience their journeys. This magic is made possible by effective storytelling. As these examples demonstrate, attention to plot structure, character development, pacing, tone, and dialogue is essential in creating films that engage, entertain, and resonate with audiences.

Richard Lowe

17 thoughts on “Unraveling Film Storytelling: 15 Horrifying Lessons from Cinematic Missteps

  1. Zab Zaria Reply

    Titanic has always been my favorite movie. This is a very popular and legendary story

  2. Sonia Seivwright Reply

    I couldn’t agree more! Storytelling is truly the backbone of any great film, and these examples of flawed narrative techniques serve as cautionary tales for aspiring filmmakers. It’s so important to create a cohesive and compelling story that draws audiences in and keeps them invested from beginning to end. I’m excited to see how filmmakers continue to evolve and improve their storytelling techniques in the future.

  3. Marysa Reply

    I am not familiar with many of these. I am most familiar with Game of Thrones, and I was disappointed in the ending, which does exactly feel rushed and like there was some kind of disconnect from the rest of the series. These are certainly interesting observations of movie mistakes!

  4. Monidipa Reply

    I really enjoyed reading your article on the flaws in film storytelling. It was insightful and well-structured, highlighting key examples and providing valuable lessons for filmmakers and movie enthusiasts. Your analysis of each film’s shortcomings and suggestions for improvement were spot-on. Great job!

  5. Neely Moldovan Reply

    This is very interesting. I used to be super into movies and this makes me want to watch more.

  6. Ntensibe Edgar Reply

    Oohhh….you really dissected all these classics beautifully, Richard. Just like you, if I don’t get connected to the character in their whole journey, then most likely I won’t like the show!

  7. Rosey Reply

    I haven’t seen most of them. I did see Titanic and Suicide Squad and while I liked them both, you have made some quality points.

  8. Nikki Wayne Reply

    I really love Titanic it will always be the best for me. I also watch the Avatar but I didn’t like it that much

  9. Beth Reply

    I agree with Game of thrones but I think Titanic is perfect. They have such great and deep characters.

  10. Bryan Carey Reply

    I didn’t like Avatar as much as many other people did. I still felt it was above average overall, but not as fantastic as some people felt and you have touched on some of the reaons.

    • Richard Lowe Post authorReply

      I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I’ve never made it through the whole movie. Too much CGI and notenough plot and characterization for my tastes.

  11. Jennifer Prince Reply

    It’s so interesting how some of these movies fall short in some areas. They’re popular, but not everything can be perfect on all fronts.

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