The Nine-Act Structure of Feature Films

David Siegel
Nov 3, 2018 · 49 min read
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What is the Nine-Act Structure?

A Short History of the Nine-Act Structure

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The Nine Act Structure vs the Three-Act Structure

In my world, a reversal is very specific — it’s the moment when the protagonist changes her goal.

The Two-Goal Structure

In my world, a reversal is very specific — it’s the moment when the protagonist changes her goal.

If you understand this structure, as Aristotle did, you realize that the change of goal is the fulcrum of the film.

Obstacles and Complications

The Seeds of Conflict: Legitimate vs Illegitimate Reversals

The bad guy’s need to execute his plan drives the plot forward.

Kuato’s history lesson for Quaid
The Godfather: Meeting of the Five Families
Mr Incredible Learns the Truth
Wall*E: Directive A113
The General under-the-table scene

The “bones” of the story are made of the bad guy’s plan.

The Mask jail scene
Gremlins history lesson
Animal House speech
Big — Josh goes back to his old neighborhood
Casablanca: I Still Love You
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The Nine-Act Structure Overview

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Act 0: Someone Toils Deep into the Night
Act 1: Open with An Establishing Shot
Act 2: Something Bad/Mysterious Happens
Act 3: Meet the Hero
Act 4: Commitment
Act 5: Go for the Wrong Goal
Act 6: Reversal
Act 7: Go for the New Goal
Act 8: Resolution

The Nine-Act structure is nothing more than a support structure for a strong reversal.

Film Time vs Story Time

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Act 0: Someone Toils Deep into the Night

Act 1: Open with an establishing shot

American Beauty opening shot
Working Girl opening shot

Act 2: Something Bad Happens

Jurassic Park Act 2
Dark Knight opener
Despicable Me opener
Jumanji opener
Inglourious Basterds chilling opener
Blue Velvet ear find
Lawrence of Arabia opener

Act 3: Meet the Hero

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Act IV: Commitment

The Matrix Red Pill/Blue Pill

Act 5: Go For the Wrong Goal

Fatboy Slim dance scene
Angels and Demons murder whammo
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The Game — picking up breadcrumbs
Splash — fish out of water
Big FAO Schwarz piano scene
Elektra trailer
Jack Ryan — hotel-room assault
Clarice gets a clue after autopsy
Harry Potter — memory of Dumbledore meeting young Tom Riddle

Generally, each new clue reveals information from further back in time before the story started.

Act 6: The Reversal

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The seminal incident from Batman revealed in a flashback
Mr Incredible created Syndrome
Truman Show reversal
Ghostbusters — Evo Shandor story
Lego Movie history lesson
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The turning point in The Fugitive

Act 7: Go for the New Goal

Chicken Run Final Escape
Back to the Future car escape 88 mph
Terminator final fight scene
Croods final scene
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows final fight scene
Aladdin final fight
Total Recall ending
Toy Story 3 Final Mission
Lion King Final Scene
The Graduate Final Scene
True Lies Final Scene
Pretty Woman Knight on White Horse scene

Act 8: Resolution

Summary

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Discussion

Why No One Talks About This

Princess Tiana Party

The Nine-Act Structure based around the history lesson that provides a legitimate reversal has been understood since Aristotle, but it hasn’t been properly formalized.

How to Use the Nine-Act Structure

Films aren’t shot in script order, nor should scripts be written in story order.

What to Do Next?

A strong story is built around a good bad guy.

How to Analyze a Film

Quiz Questions

Easy questions

Medium-hard questions

Hard questions

Quotes

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Epilogue

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