3 Easy Steps on How to Write a Four-Quadrant Screenplay

If there’s one type of movie that the film industry loves, this would be the “four-quadrant” films. Why? Because nowadays, four-quadrant films are the ones that sell the most.

That’s why for a screenwriter (and aspiring screenwriters), learning the essentials of a four-quadrant screenplay is a must. If you’re looking forward to learning more about this kind of movie, you’re on the right page. So stick around, and we’ll talk about the basics of how to write a four-quadrant screenplay. 

What are the four quadrants?

The quadrants referred to in four-quadrant films actually refer to the four major demographic “quadrants” of moviegoers. They are:

  • male under 25 years old
  • female under 25 years old
  • male over 25 years old
  • female over 25 years old

These quadrants are also sometimes grouped as:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Young
  • Old

When you look at these four quadrants, you’ll notice that all four of them are most likely present in a family. It is also why four-quadrant movies are sometimes called family entertainment films.

What is a four-quadrant movie?

four-quadrant screenplay - theater

Now that you know what the four quadrants are, a four-quadrant movie is a kind of movie that appeals to all the four major moviegoer demographics we mentioned above. It means the film should be enjoyable to watch by all individuals regardless of which quadrant they belong.

Many movies generally aim to target at least two from the four demographics. It’s because a film’s budget is often connected to the number of quadrants the film is expected to reach. With that said, four-quadrant films are more favored and funded by studios due to their broad audience reception. The more people who watch, the more sales the movie gets. Thus, creating more profit.

On the business side of things, studios use the number of quadrants targeted to compute and analyze the film’s estimated budget. The number of worldwide ticket sales will determine any film’s success by covering the production, development, and marketing costs and turning a real profit. 

Some four-quadrant films also act as tent-pole films. A tent-pole film is a film that supports the financial performance of a film studio. They often have heavy promotions, large budgets, and a series of releases, which studios expect to turn a profit in a short period. These films are often tied to selling other movie-related merchandise such as games, toys, and apparel.

Examples of four-quadrant films

1. Avengers: Endgame

Synopsis

After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins due to the efforts of the Mad Titan, Thanos. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers must assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and undo the chaos to the universe, no matter what consequences may be in store and no matter who they face.

– IMDb

One of the recent and probably the biggest movie event of the century was the release of the critically acclaimed movie, Avengers: Endgame. Released in 2019, Endgame amassed a total of $2,797,800,564 worldwide, currently at the #1 spot for the highest-grossing films of all time (at the time of writing). Endgame was the grand conclusion of Marvel’s twenty-two films of the original Avenger’s era.

The combination of its high-concept, powerful characters, theme, and a dash of humor makes it a prime time hit to all four quadrants. Not to mention the large fanbase it has gotten throughout the years. 

2.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens (with the whole Star Wars franchise)

Synopsis

As a new threat to the galaxy rises, Rey, a desert scavenger, and Finn, an ex-stormtrooper, must join Han Solo and Chewbacca to search for the one hope of restoring peace.

-IMDb

The entire Star Wars franchise was and still is loved by many from around the world. There are five movies included on the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens being on the 4th spot. Released in 2015, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has garnered a total of $2,068,223,624 in the worldwide box office. 

It’s no doubt that Star Wars is a staple when it comes to four-quadrant screenplays. The Star Wars movies showcase a perfect combination of action, adventure, drama, romance, humor, iconic characters, and spectacle. Lots of spectacles. These elements and possibly a lot more has appealed to people from all quadrants, making them successful four-quadrant movies overall.

3. The Incredibles 1 and 2

Synopsis

The Incredibles

A family of undercover superheroes, while trying to live the quiet suburban life, are forced into action to save the world.

Incredibles 2

The Incredibles family takes on a new mission that involves a change in family roles: Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) must manage the house while his wife Helen (Elastigirl) goes out to save the world.

– IMDb

This list wouldn’t be complete without the epic Disney animated-film, The Incredibles. Both Incredibles 1 and 2 have been a huge success. Incredibles 2 (at the time of writing) is at the 18th spot of the highest-grossing films of all time. It has garnered $1,242,805,359 in worldwide box-office sales.

The animated film era has undoubtedly evolved and is now one of the biggest contenders when talking about four-quadrant films. The Incredibles franchise has turned the traditional “superhero” story into a family superhero adventure. The fun mix of family drama, action, humor, and superb animation has captured audiences from all quadrants.  

4. Avatar

Synopsis

A paraplegic Marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.

-IMDb

From one of the best directors to four-quadrant films, James Cameron, Avatar took the world by storm and became a major success in the box office. Currently, at rank 2 of the highest-grossing films of all time, this movie has reached a total of $2,790,439,000 in sales worldwide.

Avatar showcased a combination of action, romance, fantasy, hero/villain relationships, and an immersive 3D world that looked highly realistic. Given the time of its release way back in 2009 (CGI was not as fancy it is now), the movie’s stunning setting and characters captured audiences from all quadrants. The film’s story about finding and protecting the place where you belong was also a considerable contribution to its success.

5. Titanic

Synopsis

A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

-IMDb

One of the most memorable classic love stories of all time, Titanic was undoubtedly loved by people of all ages and genders. Although not necessarily for children, this movie has captured even young audiences’ hearts even many years after its release. Even after more than 20+ years, it still holds a spot in the highest-grossing films of all time and is currently at the 3rd spot. It has amassed a total of $2,194,439,542 in blockbuster sales worldwide.

How to write a four-quadrant movie?

Writing a four-quadrant screenplay doesn’t have a specific formula to follow. Just like how everything evolves, people’s preferences change. So it’s important is to adapt to these changes. 

Four-quadrant films come in different concepts, and various concepts call for a variety of elements. Here are some essential elements you should include if you want to write a four-quadrant screenplay. It doesn’t have to be all of these elements, but the more you can include, the better.

Elements of a four-quadrant screenplay

Heroes and Villains

Characters have a massive impact on any movie. So if you want to make a four-quadrant screenplay, there must be characters that the audience will remember—particularly a hero and a villain. But remember not to make their character development and backstory too complicated as these can be confusing to younger audiences. You’ll want a relatable character with a simple story.

A high-concept premise

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a high-concept means something based on an attractive and exciting idea that can be explained in a simple manner. Many four-quadrant films have this premise, and that’s because it easily captivates the audience. Stories of superheroes, sci-fi adventures, fantasy, etc., are among the most common. One thing you should remember is to keep it simple but interesting. 

Plots and Subplots

Various four-quadrant films have different plot types, but most of them contain strong emotions such as danger, action, and other strong emotions that can put your audiences at the edge of their seats. Adding subplots is also great for genre mixing. Many films opt for the romance tag-on, where characters fall in love and all that. Putting subplots can make your story a lot more interesting. But always remember to not overdo it and keep it simple for people from all quadrants to understand.

Theme

The theme also contributes a significant factor to a four-quadrant screenplay. You can use lots of themes for a film, but when it comes to four-quadrant movies, having a universal theme that both young and old audiences alike is essential. Use a theme that has a genuine resonance and is easily grasped by the viewers. 

Four-quadrant movie theme examples

  • Love/Romance: Love is a feeling easily relatable by people of all ages and gender, which is why love is one of the most popular themes to use. Classics like Cassablanca (1942), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and Pretty Woman (1990) have this theme.
  • Coming of Age: A highly-relatable theme is the coming of age theme. People like this kind of theme because both young and old individuals come through this stage in their lives. Young audiences somehow see themselves in the characters, while the story brings nostalgia to some old audiences. Popular examples of movies that have this theme are the Harry Potter franchise (2001-2011), E.T. (1982), and Inside Out (2015).
  • Good vs. Evil: Another classic for four-quadrant movies, good vs. evil is the most successful theme indeed. It’s because the story is easy to follow, and the audience quickly knows who they’re rooting for. Despite the hero/villain conflicts, people expect that the good always wins. Even though that may sound cliche, audiences still love it. Examples of good vs. evil themed movies are The Dark Knight (2008), Iron Man 3 (2013), and the entire Star Wars franchise. 
  • Human vs. Nature: Humans and nature coexisted ever since the beginning. No wonder this theme has also been a cult-favorite when it comes to films. This theme, most of the time, pushes survival and philosophical dilemma, making it more interesting to watch. Viewers will have the feeling of “what will you do in this situation?”. Some of the most famous examples of this movie theme are Cast Away (2000), Life of Pi (2012), and 2012 (2009).
  • Perseverance: Many audiences love the tale of the underdogs and how they strive to conquer all the obstacles and challenges thrown their way. You always see that in perseverance-themed films. The emotional and inspirational impact of these films is well-received by people of all ages and genders. Some classic films with this theme are The Pursuit of Happiness (2006), Rocky (1976), and Karate Kid (2010).

Humor

A little bit of humor hasn’t hurt anyone. Humor can make things feel lighter and more fun. That’s why it’s worth adding to your four-quadrant screenplay. It doesn’t have to be near comedy levels. Just throw in a bit of something to laugh about, no matter how serious your story could be.  

Memorable Lines

“I love you 3000.”

– Morgan Stark

You probably know what movie this line is. Correct, it’s from Avengers: Endgame. This line has become one of the most iconic lines of the decade, and it certainly made the movie even more memorable. If you want to create a remarkable four-quadrant screenplay, consider adding some memorable lines to your script. Not only will it help enhance your movie, but it will also make it more unique to your audience.

What NOT to add in a four-quadrant screenplay

After the essential elements, some things aren’t advisable to add to a four-quadrant film. These are not strictly prohibited. If you feel like these points are necessary to develop your story, don’t hesitate to add them. But if you can avoid these elements, then do so.

Foul language

Using a lot of foul language in your script isn’t suitable for a four-quadrant film. Mostly because you’d want your movie to be watchable by everyone, even young audiences, using F-bombs and other foul languages could put you to PG-13 standards. Thus, cutting out a portion of possible audiences.  

Human-centered gore

Not everyone would appreciate gruesome scenes, especially for younger viewers. Although some horror films are considered four-quadrant films (like The Exorcist), it’s still not as bad as movies like The Saw franchise. If you need to put some blood in your movie, keep it at the lowest scale. Remember, you want your film to be family-friendly.

Nude/sex scenes

Have you ever felt that dilemma of watching a nude scene from a movie with your parents? No matter how old you are, there’s this awkward feeling about that. So what more for children? Well, parents won’t probably let their kids watch it anyway. So to make things more PG-friendly, avoid putting scenes like this. You can opt for implied sex instead (depicting the before and after) if needed in the movie.    

Additional guidelines to follow

Aside from adding and avoiding the mentioned elements, making a four-quadrant film would also require some experience from you as a writer. Here are some writing guidelines that can help you in that aspect and help enhance your screenplay writing.

  • Make sure you have the passion for writing a four-quadrant film. Don’t force it if your heart isn’t there.
  • Watch more four-quadrant films and study them.
  • Don’t copy other movies, be unique in your own way.
  • Don’t chase trends.
  • You don’t have to be Robert McKee to tell a great story. Go ahead and make something you like.
  • Brainstorm ideas and concepts.
  • Of course, above anything else, begin writing.

Making a four-quadrant screenplay can be a real challenge. But with the help of the information presented above, I hope you’ll be able to start writing your own. Try to keep it simple and understandable. Add some of the critical elements, and you’ll get there in no time.

Melbren Baldos

Hard-working content writer and research assistant here at Nicely Said. With over 10 years experience, Melbren is a very competent and reliable member of our team, and has contributed greatly to our catalog of online publications. With a Bachelor's Degree in IT majoring in web application programming, Melbren is both a clever writer and technically-savvy.

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