Science Fiction and Fantasy FilmsIntentional paradigm-challenges have nearly always been a part of artistic creation – both in and out of the film industry. The Romantic thinkers and poets, the French Impressionists, and Modernist novelists such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf are just a few of the authors who created new ways of thinking about and expressing the world. The same type of paradigm shift has occurred in filmmaking as well.

When writing scripts for the science fiction or fantasy film genres, you may want to consider your goal in relation to existing audience expectations related to the field. Do you simply want a film that will fill seats easily, or are you seeking to take a risk with something that challenges and pushes the boundaries of audience comfort levels?

As you make this decision, consider previous films that have been made and their impact upon the film industry. This article looks at films within three broad categories: those that accept their contemporary paradigms, those that reject those paradigms, and those that attempt to merge multiple paradigms into a single film. A number of variations exist within each category, some with more commercial success than others. You may want to take these into consideration as you plan your own science fiction or fantasy script.

Films that accept their contemporary paradigms

Paradigm Replication – The majority of mainstream films fall into this category, and for a good reason. These films take existing plot structures, narrative techniques, and technology and reutilize them within a formula that the audience already knows and has accepted. Generally, these films ensure ticket sales and filled seats by imitating a model that has already been tried successfully. Often these types of films are sequels, as well. Examples: Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), Spiderman 2 (2004), and Spiderman 3 (2007).

Paradigm Redefinition – These films take a minor risk with respect to audience taste when they employ a conventional genre (for example, the established, successful superhero movie) but change the type of film within that genre. Some examples of this would be films that remain safely within the widely popular action hero genre, but which seek to remake the way audience typically view the action hero. Films like this may attempt to redefine the field in subtle ways, but nothing fundamental gets changed. Examples: Aliens (1986), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Begins (2005), and The Dark Knight (2008).

Paradigm Advancement –Paradigm advancement is the type of film that allows for the most cinematic innovation. In general, these films seek to advance the paradigm in a direction that it was already moving. This type of film may lead an approving audience along with its incremental innovation, or (in the case of increased paradigm advancement, described in more detail below) it may risk alienating audience members by propelling the field further ahead than it was ready to go. Some of the more successful franchise films, which reinvented an already existing character or narrative, fall into this category. Examples: The War of the Worlds (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Increased Paradigm Advancement –These films operate much like regular paradigm advancement, except that they jump well ahead of the comfortable pace of advancement. Many of the examples in this category may have alienated the mainstream population at the time of their release but still gained strong cult followings as a result of their innovative techniques. Examples: Brazil (1985), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Blade Runner (1982). Other films in this category, especially those whose advancement falls into the field of technology, still appealed to the mainstream. Examples: Superman (1978), X-Men (2000), Avatar (2009).

Films that reject and attempt to replace their contemporary paradigms

Paradigm Redirection This type of film positions itself within the starting point of the existing paradigm. However, instead of moving forward in the direction that the field was already headed (as we saw in the “Paradigm Advancement” category), this type of film attempts to change course and move in a different direction from what an audience has already accepted. Many examples of this exist as science fiction thrillers that devised new sub-genres or that incorporated alternate influences (such as martial arts choreography or video games, to name two examples) in order to reinvent the genre. Whether a film in this category will be accepted by a mainstream audience can be a bit of a coin flip. Examples: Metropolis (1927), The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), The Matrix (1999).

Paradigm Reconstruction – These films are very similar to Paradigm Redirection, with one key difference: instead of beginning at the current accepted starting point, films in this category reject existing film models and backtrack to a previous starting point. . Once there, these films then redirect the paradigm along a new path. Films in this category are rare. The most famous example is George Lucas’s attempt to reject contemporary sci-fi films’ tendencies toward allegory and heavy-handed morality, beginning instead with older blockbuster paradigms like Flash Gordon. Examples: Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Paradigm Reinitiation – Once again similar to the previous two categories, films of this type also seek to change the current direction of paradigm movement. However, unlike the prior examples, Paradigm Reinitiation films utterly reject already-existing starting points, both current and past. Instead, these films create a brand new starting point and move in a new direction from there. They play with narrative structures and shake up genre expectations. Films in this category are highly unlikely to be accepted by the mainstream audience, although they can certainly attain cult status. Examples: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), Solaris (1972), Stalker (1979), Being John Malkovich (1999), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). It is worth noting that Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey did have a lasting effect on its genre, establishing science fiction as a serious art form. In general, however, these types of films are usually so idiosyncratic and unusual that they fail to establish a new direction to be imitated by subsequent films.

Films that integrate multiple existing paradigms into one

Paradigm combination – As its name suggests, this category includes films that have taken two previously different ways of thinking about genre and merged them into a single vision. These films can also fall into some of the categories listed above, especially Paradigm Redirection and Paradigm Reinitiation. These films are unlikely to be successful with mainstream audiences, although there are exceptions. It is possible for these types of films to be cult classics. One example of this type of film is The Matrix (1999), which combined martial arts choreography, computer gaming, the influences of Japanese animation, and new special effects techniques. Other examples are Blade Runner (1982), which combined film noir narrative techniques with dystopic science fiction, and Alien (1979), which included slasher elements with sci-fi.