Why Is Every Movie a Love Story?
Spoiler alert. We’re about to tell you the ending of every action movie ever.
The bad guy is either dead or being hauled off to jail. The hero, beaten and bloodied, stands triumphant as sirens whir around him. Maybe it starts to rain. Then he shares a long, passionate kiss with the smoking hot love interest. Maybe they call back to an inside joke from earlier in the film, something to let you know they’re going to live happily ever after.
It’s become so common, in action films, thrillers, dramas – across every genre, really – it makes you wonder: Why does every movie have to revolve around a love story?
Everyone remembers the broken glass and the “Yippee Ki-Yay” from the Bruce Willis classic, Die Hard. But if you recall, John McLean not only had to defeat the terrorists in the end, he had to win back his estranged wife, Holly.
Better known for its iconic “painting” scene rather than its depiction of one of the most famous events in human history, Titanic isn’t so much about a sinking ship, but about star crossed lovers who overcome impossible odds to be together.
The Lord of the Rings is primarily about an epic battle for the fate of the mythical Middle Earth, but you’ll also notice significant screen time is dedicated throughout the trilogy to the love story between Aragorn and the beautiful Arwen.
Why is this?
It’s sure as heck not about great storytelling.
It’s about marketing. It’s about ensuring the profitability of the film’s release. It’s about what Hollywood execs calls “quadrants”. You know – young women, older women, young men, older men. The four broad demographics that define a film’s audience.
By inserting a love story into a shoot-em-up action flick, for example, studios are able to (at least, this is the rationale) make that film more appealing to women and therefore hit additional quadrants in terms of ticket sales.
When it works, it can be really effective. The balance of emotional stakes and high-octane action is cooked to perfection in Die Hard, for example.
So why wouldn’t filmmakers try it? Everyone in Hollywood dreams of creating the next billion-dollar franchise; one capable of entrancing viewers both young and old, male and female. The next Indiana Jones. The next Star Wars. Who wouldn’t want to make a movie that everyone loves?
But it also leads to a lot of watered down creative work.
It leads to story elements that are shoehorned in for the sake of hitting certain quadrants. It leads to plot points that aren’t organic to the story and are simply the brainchildren of nervous studio marketers.
And it’s not just love stories that are guilty, here.
Ever watch a romantic drama only to stumble into a scene that feels inexplicably spooky, like it belongs in a horror movie? Every wonder why there are things like action-comedies, drama-thrillers, and rom-coms?
Crossing genres is nothing new in Hollywood. The name of the game is appealing to as many people as possible. Being all things to all people.
We’ve talked about this before, but the best marketing is targeted to a very specific type of person with a specific worldview. It doesn’t try to appeal to everyone. It knows that, by speaking to everyone, you speak to no one. It knows that you can’t reduce people to base stereotypes. It knows that not all men are averse to romance and intrigue. It knows that plenty of women love to watch helicopters explode.
So this Valentine’s Day, let’s take a lesson from the one day a year universally dedicated to love. That’s what Valentine’s Day is for. Just like Thanksgiving is for food and St. Patrick’s Day is for beer.
The takeaway? Know your audience. And, no, it can’t be everyone.
Unless you’re Bruce Willis.