Skip main navigation


The formula for producing blockbuster movies has been explored by countless narrative theorists and literary scholars.

In 1920, a director named Robert Flaherty created a documentary film called Nanook of the North. Often referred to as the original documentary film shown in theaters, Nanook of the North offered a portrait of people living in arctic regions, devoid of any famous actors, movie sets, or dazzling costumes.

Despite being fairly unremarkable and exhibiting little artistry, Flaherty’s feature became a huge hit in New York; audiences were deeply moved because of its depiction of a seemingly true story. Its popularity resulted in the film’s protagonist later being invited to New York, where he was more or less put on display to awestruck onlookers. This tradition of storytelling, which values real-life events and characters, also affects our concept of fiction, as fiction that is based on a true story continues to be powerfully alluring.

The more surrealistic tradition is seen in films that portray fantastic material, such as Avatar. The originator of this approach can be said to be Georges Méliès’ 1920 film Voyage to the Moon. The 15-minute story revolves around a professor, played by Méliès, who is selected to travel to the moon in a rocket. Though the French director and producer’s efforts were noteworthy for the progression of the art of film, the fact that the movie predated humanity’s first lunar voyage by around 60 years also spoke to its innovation at the time. The tradition of expressing fantasy through a film is still seen in works such as The Lord of the Rings and science fiction titles; it has now become commonplace to use film to pursue ideas that are not yet a reality.

The formula for producing blockbuster movies has been explored by countless narrative theorists and literary scholars. Some have speculated that there are 121 possible plot types in film, while others argue that there are no more than 22. By theorizing on the conventions of each style, films can be evaluated based on their adherence to a set of “rules” and their interpretation of the tropes of the genre.

This article is from the free online

Transmedia Storytelling

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now