For my job I work closely with filmmakers (producers, directors and editors). If you ask these creative folks what they do, they will tell you that they are at their core, all “storytellers.” I went to business school, not film school, but over the years with these creatives I have come away with a certain understanding of storytelling. Professional storytellers posit that every good story really falls into only seven basic story plots. Here they are with some old and modern examples:
1. Overcoming the Monster — Perseus, Dracula, Stranger Things
2. Rags to Riches — Cinderella, Aladdin, Jane Eyre, Slumdog Millionaire
3. The Hero’s Journey — Iliad, Lord of the Rings, Any Marvel Movie
4. Voyage and Return — Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland, Apollo 13
5. Comedy — Much Ado about Nothing, Zoolander
6. Tragedy — Mcbeth, 24, Breaking Bad
7. Rebirth — Beauty and the Beast, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The most famous story plot is “The Hero’s Journey.” Most superhero movies follow this same basic plot. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Star Wars, Avengers, Harry Potter, etc. are examples of this story. According to Wikipedia, the elements of this story arc are as follows:
So where did this story come from originally? Now, this is just me, but I believe that most of the best stories ever told, are generally based (even if unknowingly) on the greatest story ever told — which happens to be true. That is the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Most of the world is familiar with Christ’s story, so to illustrate the similarities, I’ll briefly describe the plot of Superman:
From above, a Heavenly Father sends his only son to save the Earth. When he comes down to Earth, he’ll be raised by two earthly parents (whose original names in the comics were Mary and Joseph).
When Superman comes of age, he travels to an arctic wilderness to commune with his father’s spirit. At age 30, Superman embarks on his public mission/ministry where he fights evil with truth and justice.
Superman comes back to life after being killed in the last comic book (the plot of the 2006 film Superman Returns). Even Superman’s everyday character of Clark Kent is one of selfless virtue.
This story obviously follows the pattern of the Bible story — even if it was written by a non-Christian, but if you look at other superhero stories, most have the same basic story elements.
I’m a dad of young kids and I love to tell them stories. My wife and I adopted our first two kids. As I read them bedtime stories it’s so fun to tell them what awesome (even “super”) company they are in.
I’ll ask,“You know who else is adopted? Superman. And Spiderman. And Batman.” (well sort of…he was orphaned and raised by Alfred — his wise mentor straight out of the plot outline). “You know who else? Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.” and then finally, “And you know who else? Jesus.
Jesus was adopted by his step-father, the ever-faithful Joseph, who’s honor and privilege it was to raise the Son of God.” Then I go on to tell them, “It’s my honor and privilege to be your father, and for mommy to be your mother. And guess what?! Since we are all children of God, in that way, we are all adopted! Plus you get twice the Christmas and birthday presents (from us and your birthmoms) so that’s not a bad perk either.”
The story of Jesus’ birth is one of the most beautiful ever told. Luke 1 and 2 are not only read, but re-enacted every Christmas by millions.
Because I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I not only love the Bible and its stories, but I also cherish another book of scripture called the Book of Mormon. It’s like the Bible — it’s a collection of true stories and histories written by prophets who lived in the Americas, and looked forward to the coming of a Messiah. While the beloved Christmas story happened in Bethlehem, an epic story was unfolding at that exact time across the world.
Samuel the prophet had prophesied on the city wall concerning the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He said that there would be a sign of his birth: a day, night, and a day with no darkness. But the unbelievers had decided that the time was up. In his final act prior to coming to earth, Jesus told the worried believers to “fear not, for on the morrow come I into the world and on this night shall the sign be given.” It’s a compelling drama!
As we read in the scriptures of Christ’s life in the Gospels, it is easy to understand how the template for “the hero’s journey” plot was created. I believe the steps of the plot were based on the life of Christ.
In fact, I believe that one reason stories like Superman, and Star Wars are so universal, compelling and successful is because something about that story resonates with us. It’s a familiar story that we know in our very souls. Probably because it’s something that we all watched unfold firsthand from our front-row seats in heaven before we were born.
There is something about the war between good and evil that when told well, is beautiful and inspiring (whether it came from holy scripture or Hollywood).
The reason that the story of the birth, life, mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest story ever told, is because unlike the Marvel blockbusters — this one is TRUE. It actually happened, and when our hero saved the world, that included us.