Let’s be honest. When you break everything down to the core—despite the many gurus that push their own philosophies on structure—everything has a beginning, middle, and end. This has been the story structure followed by mankind since the days of telling stories around the village fire or etching cave paintings on stone walls depicting worthy stories of hunting for prey (beginning), confronting the prey (middle), and defeating the prey (end).
The three-act screenplay structure is the most basic and pure structure that most films—no matter what gurus and pundits say—follow.
There is the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. Four-act structures, five-act structures, and the seven-act structures for television movies—as well as many other variations—are just additions to the core three-act structure.
Even the core story structure of screenplays that utilize the following nine other structures that we present below can usually be broken down into three acts, but just portrayed in different ways.
When you choose to use the basic three-act structure for your screenplay, you’re offering perhaps the most accessible story design for audiences.
Each scene matters. Each scene progresses directly to the next, carrying the momentum of the story forward in natural progression—void of any excess. There is the setup of the character and their world, followed by a conflict that they are either forced to face or choose to take on, and then we’re led to the resolution.
Movies like Star Wars, The Fugitive, Witness, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Die Hard are perfect examples of the three-act structure. Anyone, in retrospect, can apply varying degrees of guru philosophy and beat sheets to each of them, but in the end, those types of stories showcase true beginnings, middles, and ends with constant forward progress as every scene builds towards the finale.