Tag Archives: three-act structure

Jurassic Park breakdown

A paleobotanist, a paleontologist, and a couple of kids try to survive a night in a dinosaur park with the security out.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Jurassic Park staff member is killed by a dinosaur (introducing the conflict: “we want to see dinosaurs but not be eaten by them” and NOT “we must escape dinosaurs”). 5

Act 1

As Dr Ellie Sattler looks on, Dr Alan Grant explains that dinosaurs were terrifying killers. (This actually introduces a secondary conflict in which Ellie wants children and Alan does not. This is played for laughs thruout and used to maintain tension.) 10

John Hammond invites Alan and Ellie to Jurassic Park. Dennis takes a payoff for stolen dinosaur embryos. (Introducing the villain.) 15

Alan, Ellie, and Ian Malcolm reach Jurassic Park and see live dinosaurs. 20

John Hammond explains Jurassic Park. 25

John gives them a tour of the lab. Ian warns that “life finds a way”. (This seems to reinforce the conflict, but the fact the dinosaurs are managing to breed is actually not relevant to escaping them; it only speaks the the fact that John Hammond is playing with forces he doesn’t understand. This way, John’s hubris is just as much at fault as Dennis’s greed.) 30

Act 2

The guests witness a feeding and hear Muldoon’s concerns about velociraptors (introducing the secondary villain). 35

The guests express their concerns. John’s grandchildren arrive. 40

The guests go on the automated motor tour but see nothing. 45

The guests leave the SUVs and wander thru the park. 50

The guests find a sick triceratops. The staff is evacuated for the oncoming storm. 55

Midpoint Crisis

Dennis steals the embryos. His program shuts down security and stops the tour. (This is the first actual danger the heroes are in!) 60

The t-rex breaches the fence next to the stopped SUVs . 65

The t-rex attacks the SUVs . Alan helps Lex escape, but the SUV ends up in a tree. 70

Dennis runs off the road and is killed by a dilophosaurus (killing the villain but not ending the conflict!). 75

Alan helps Tim escape the SUV in the tree. Ellie searches for them. 80

The t-rex chases Ellie, Ian, and Muldoon. 85

John waxes philosophical over ice cream. Ellie condemns his vision. (This is the emotional bottom, but it’s unusual because it does not really seem like all is lost. It works because we laid a lot of pipe about John’s hubris, making it a substitute villain for Dennis’s greed.) 90

Act 3

Alan and the kids flee a herd of gallimimus pursued by a t-rex. Ray goes to flip the breakers. (A false turn!) 95

Ray having gone missing, Ellie and Muldoon go to flip the breakers. (The real turn!) 100

Alan and the kids climb over the perimeter fence as Ellie turns it on. Tim is injured. 105

Alan revives Tim. He leaves Tim and Lex in the main building, but raptors stalk them. 110

The kids evade the raptors. Alan, Ellie, and the kids reboot the system so they can call for a helicopter. 115

Raptors break in. The guests escape but encounter the t-rex and slip away when it fights the raptors. (The end of an extended climax with the secondary villain, and John even gets a line rejecting his own park and therefore his earlier hubris.) They reach the helicopter (resolving the conflict). 120


They fly away. (Very brief and resolves the secondary conflict of Alan not liking children. Unfortunately, this is thrown away in sequels.)

Tangled breakdown

A thief meets a captive girl in a tower and agrees to show her the world, but they are betrayed.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


As a baby, Rapunzel was kidnapped from the king and queen by the witch Gothel for the power of her magic hair (introducing the conflict and villain). 5

Act 1

Rapunzel occupies herself. Flynn Rider steals a treasure from the palace with the Stabbington brothers. 10

Rapunzel fails to convince Gothel to let her leave the tower to watch the annual floating lantern ceremony. 15

Fleeing the palace guards and his partner with the treasure, Flynn meets and is captured by Rapunzel. 20

Gothel returns, and Rapunzel tricks her into leaving for three days. (Note that it is Rapunzel and not Flynn who accepts the call to action.) 25

Act 2

Rapunzel demands Flynn take her to see the floating lanterns. 30

Rapunzel leaves the tower and feels freedom and guilt. 35

Gothel returns early to find Rapunzel gone. Flynn takes her to a ruffian tavern. 40

Ruffians and Rapunzel sing about their dreams. The palace guards arrive. 45

Midpoint Crisis

Flynn and Rapunzel flee the palace guards, including the extraordinary horse Maximus, and get trapped in a flooding cave. 50

Gothel offers the Stabbingtons revenge on Flynn. Rapunzel heals Flynn with her magic hair/song. 55

Flynn and Rapunzel get to know each other. Gothel dares her to offer Flynn the treasure. 60

Rapunzel pacifies Maximus. They all go to the palace. 65

Rapunzel and Flynn watch the lanterns. She offers him the treasure. 70

Flynn gives the treasure to the Stabbingtons, but they betray him. Gothel takes her home. (All seems lost!) 75

Act 3

Rapunzel realizes (the turn) and confronts Gothel about the fact she was kidnapped. 80

Flynn escapes. Gothel stabs him. He cuts Rapunzel’s hair. Gothel falls to her death. 85

Rapunzel revives Flynn with her tears. She reunites with the king and queen. 90


They live happily ever after. (very brief)

Pirates of the Caribbean 1: Curse of the Black Pearl breakdown

A swordsmith and a friendly pirate chase a pirate ship to rescue a pretty girl and get more than they bargained for when they learn the pirates are cursed.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Young Will is rescued at sea. Young Elizabeth hides his gold coin. 5

Act 1

Elizabeth wakes up. Will delivers a fine new sword. 10

Jack Sparrow makes port at Port Royal. 15

Elizabeth falls into the sea. Jack saves her from drowning. 20

Jack is defeated in a duel by Will and sentenced to hang. (introducing a subplot and secondary conflict before the central plot?!) 25

Barbossa’ Black Pearl attacks Port Royal (introducing the villain). 30

Elizabeth is captured for her gold coin (introducing the central conflict). Port Royal is sacked… by undead pirates. 35

Act 2

Elizabeth offers her gold coin. Barbossa keeps her for her blood. 40

Will frees Jack in exchange for help rescuing Elizabeth. 45

Will and Jack steal the Interceptor. 50

Jack and Will make port at Tortuga to find a crew. 55

Midpoint Crisis

Elizabeth learns about the pirates’ curse. (This is several minutes early, and that should have been fixed by cutting a few minutes from the second half, which is a little flabby.) 60

Jack recruits a pirate crew and sets sail for Isla de Muerta. 65

Fearing betrayal, Will knocks Jack out again. 70

Elizabeth’s blood fails to lift the curse. Will rescues her and leaves Jack. 75

Jack tries to barter information for the Black Pearl. 80

The Black Pearl pursues the Interceptor. 85

The Black Pearl destroys the Interceptor. 90

Will negotiates the release of the others for his blood. But Barbarossa maroons Jack and Elizabeth on an island. 95

Act 3

Elizabeth signals Norrington’s Dauntless for rescue. 100

Back on Isla de Muerta, Jack convinces the pirates to take the Dauntless. 105

Barbossa has his undead crew attack the Dauntless. 110

Jack frees Will and fights Barbossa. The pirates take the Dauntless. 115

Elizabeth frees Jack’s crew. They steal the Pearl. 120

Will lifts the curse. Barbossa dies. The pirates surrender. (resolving the central conflict) 125

Will declares his love for Elizabeth and saves Jack from hanging. (resolving the secondary conflict) 130


Jack escapes to the Pearl. Will is released to marry Elizabeth. 135

Superman Returns breakdown

Mysteriously gone for five years, Superman returns to Metropolis to find Lois has a son with another man and Lex Luthor has another catastrophic real estate scheme.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Legend: Superman disappeared for five years (suggesting this is the late 1980s, after Superman 2, but it’s not clear, which causes problems with Lois’s character later, since in Superman 2, she slept with Superman but he wiped her memory at the end). 5

Act 1

A dying woman wills her fortune to Lex Luthor. Superman falls to earth on the Kent farm. 10

Lex finds the Fortress of Solitude and learns the secrets of Krypton (introducing the conflict, sort of, with the villain). 15

In the morning, Clark reminisces about his childhood. 20

Clark and Martha talk. Clark returns to Daily Planet. Lois has a son with a pilot named Richard. 25

Jimmy says Lois might still love Superman (introducing a sub-plot conflict, which make the circumstance of Lois’ long relationship with Richard its villain, not Richard himself). Lex tests Kryptonian tech and causes an EMP. 30

Lex’s EMP endangers Lois’s flight. Clark sees it on the news. 35

Act 2

Superman rushes to aid Lois (even tho he has no conflict with Lex; he’s just being Superman and it happens to be in response to an incidental side effect of Lex’s plan). 40

Superman and Lois meet again. Perry declares Superman the big story. 45

Clark meets Lois and Jason, her young son by? with? Richard White (it’s not spelled out; it’s Superweird). Lex prepares for an expedition. 50

Superman spies on Lois’s home life (which is Supercreepy) then stops bank robbers. 55

Lex steals some Kryptonite. 60

The Daily Planet team discusses the news. 65

Kitty rants at Lex. Lois and Clark work late. 70

Lois and Superman talk. He takes her for a flight (which is Superawkward). 75

Midpoint Crisis

Lois says she’s with Richard now. Superman discovers his crystals have been stolen. (The crisis for the plot and the crisis for the sub-plot.) 80

Lois goes to Lex’s mansion and takes Jason onto his yacht (which is Superdumb), and she and Jason get kidnapped. 85

Lex reveals his plan and puts it into action (introducing a ticking clock, altho only Lois knows it). Clark and Richard search for Lois. 90

Lois faxes her coordinates but is caught and locked up after Jason protects her by killing a guy (which is Superdark), revealing he is Superman’s son (which Lois apparently knew, but how much Jason and Richard know remains a mystery). 95

Richard and Clark get Lois’s fax. Separately, they rush to save her and Jason (still unaware of Lex’s plan). 100

An earthquake rocks Metropolis as the new continent rises (all is lost! except Superman still has no idea what’s going on). Superman returns to save people in Metropolis (which is a turn, but kind of a turn in the wrong direction). 105

Act 3, but is it?

Flying the Daily Planet seaplane, Richard almost rescues Lois and Jason. Superman rescues them all. 110

Richard flies the seaplane. Superman confronts Lex but the Kryptonite makes him powerless. 115

Lex beats Superman and throws him into into the sea. Lois and Richard rescue him. 120

Richard just manages to take off in the choppy seas. Superman recovers. He flies to space to recharge from the sun. 125

Lex flees as Superman flies the landmass into space (resolving the central conflict he just learned about; Kitty has heroically dumped the crystals Lex stole), but it makes him powerless again. 130

Superman falls to earth and is hospitalized. A shard of Kryptonite is surgically removed. 135

Lois visits the unconscious(?) Clark and confesses Jason is his (which only vaguely resolves the sub-plot’s conflict, since the real conflict is that Superman and Lois still love each other and have a child together but Lois is in a long-term, loving relationship with Richard). Lex and Kitty are stranded on an island without helicopter fuel. 140


Later, Superman visits Jason and assures Lois he is “always around” (which is, again, Supercreepy as well as demonstrably untrue). 145

Blade Runner – The Final Cut breakdown

In a dystopian future, Deckard is a retired cop who finds and terminates runaway replicants, the android workers built to do work humans don’t want to do. He’s called back for one last quadruple execution.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Narration: Tyrell replicants need to be terminated. 5

Act 1

Leon shoots the replicant test’s examiner (introducing the central conflict). Deckard is “arrested” by Gaff. 10

Deckard is forced by Bryant to take the job to hunt Nexus 6 replicants Leon, Roy, Pris, and Zhora (introducing the rest of the villains). 15

Deckard tests Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael. 20

Rachael is a Nexus 6 with implanted memories. Deckard searches Leon’s apartment and finds photos and an animal scale. 25

Roy and Leon force Chew to tell them JF Sebastian has the information they want. 30

Act 2

Rachel tries to prove she’s human. Deckard proves she’s not. 35

Pris cons JF Sebastian into taking her in. 40

Deckard analyzes Leon’s photos and sees Zhora. 45

Deckard tracks the animal scale to a club but learns little. 50

Deckard finds Zhora in the club and gets attacked. 55

Deckard chases and kills Zhora. 60

Midpoint Crisis

Deckard is told he must also terminate Rachael because she has run away. (Zhora’s awful death and the prospect of killing Rachael the same way is a crisis of conscience for Deckard.) 65

Leon tries to kill Deckard. Rachael kills Leon. 70

Deckard promises not to hunt Rachael. 75

Deckard and Rachael fall for each other. 80

Roy and Pris confront Tyrell and find there is no way to extend their lives. 85

Roy kills Tyrell. Deckard goes to Sebastian’s apartment. 90

Deckard fights Pris. Her death throes horrify him. (Every success is a failure for Deckard. He is horrified by who he has become. This and Roy’s heartbreak over Pris are his emotional bottom.) 95

Act 3

Malfunctioning, Roy hunts Deckard in Sebastian’s building. 100

Roy chases Deckard onto the roof in the rain. 105

Roy saves Deckard from falling and talks about dying. He shuts down. 110

Deckard retrieves Rachael so they can flee together. 115

Total Recall (1990) breakdown

A construction worker dreams of a strange woman and discovers secrets in his own mind about possibly being a spy on Mars, where he finds the woman is a rebel fighting a man who may have been his old boss.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Doug Quaid dreams of Melina on Mars. Lori consoles him. 5

Act 1

Quaid sees terrorism reports and talks about Mars (introducing the central conflict and the villain), goes to work 10

Quaid talks about Rekall with Harry. Quaid goes to Rekall. 15

Quaid picks secret agent fantasy. His memory cap gets popped. He is sedated. 20

Quaid awakens in cab, gets snatched by Harry and pals, kills them. Quaid finds Lori at home. 25

Act 2

Lori tries to kill him, confesses to living a fake life. He escapes, chased by Richter and pals. 30

Quaid escapes Richter and pals, gets on train. Richter talks to Cohaagen. Quaid gets a call and case from an old pal. 35

Quaid gets the case, escapes in cab when spotted. Video self says his life isn’t real. 40

Quaid extracts a bug. “Get your ass to Mars.” He escapes as Richter catches up. Quaid travels to Mars in disguise. 45

Quaid blows bomb when IDed, escapes on train, hears complaints. Cohaagen dresses down Richter. 50

Quaid goes to the Hilton, gets case with clue to find Melina. Terrorists attack as he gets in Benny’s cab. 55

Midpoint Crisis

Quaid finds Melina in mutant bar. She dresses him down. Benny takes him back to hotel. 60

Rekall doc shows up, tries to convince him to stop. He kills the doc but is knocked out by Lori’s thugs. 65

Melina attacks thugs, fights Lori. Quaid kills Lori. He and Melina escape Richter in Benny’s cab. 70

They go to mutant bar and slip into hiding. Richter shoots up the place. Cohaagen turns off the air. 75

Melina takes Quaid thru alien crypt. They have a romantic moment. Kuato’s men find them. Benny reveals he is a mutant. They go to the mutant Kuato. 80

Kuato psychically extracts knowledge of alien reactor. Richter’s men attack. Benny betrays, captures Quaid and Melina. Kuato is killed. (All seems lost!) 85

Act 3

Cohaagen taunts Quaid, prepares to brainwash him. 90

Quaid escapes brainwash machine, kills techs. They escape. Without air, the mutants are dying. Benny attacks Quaid, dies. 95

Quaid and Melina find the reactor. Richter catches up. Quaid tricks and kills them. 100

Cohaagen catches Quaid at the reactor switch. Melina shoots him. They activate the reactor but are swept outside. 105

Mars floods with oxygen, saving Quaid, Melina, and mutants (resolving the central conflict). 110

Flash Gordon (1980) breakdown

American football player Flash Gordon and travel agent Dale Arden are captured by Ming the Merciless, who decides to marry Dale. Flash escapes, gets captured again numerous times, makes friends, and crashes the wedding.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.

Act 1

Ming attacks Earth. Flash and Dale board a small airplane. 5

Flash and Dale’s plane suffer turbulence from Ming’s attack. 10

Flash and Dale crash. Zarkov gets them to help launch his rocket to stop Ming from destroying Earth (introducing the conflict). 15

Zarkov, Flash, and Dale are captured by Ming. 20

Ming holds an audience for tribute featuring Aura, Vultan, Barin, and others. 25

The heroes meet Ming. He tries to take Dale (introducing a second conflict). Flash fights the guards but loses. 30

Act 2

Flash’s execution is prepared. Flash and Dale confess their attraction. 35

Flash is “executed” but later revived, thanks to Aura. 40

Zarkov is brainwashed into being an agent of Ming. Flash and Aura fly to Arboria. 45

Dale is readied for Ming but tricks a servant into trading places. 50

Flash and Aura reach Arboria. Zarkov is sent to recapture Dale. Klytus is given carte blanche. 55

Midpoint Crisis

(There’s a lot going on in a few minutes, and it all serves to feel like a crisis, but Flash being betrayed and captured by Barin is probably the main plot point.)

Flash meets Barin and is taken captive. Zarkov, who was faking, escapes with Dale. Aura is captured and tortured by Klytus. 60

Barin decides to use Flash. Aura is promised to Klytus. Dale and Zarkov are captured by hawkmen. 65

Flash fakes the Arborian rite of passage. Barin saves him from quicksand but they are captured by hawkmen. 70

Barin and Flash are brought to Vultan. Barin demands trial by combat against Flash. Zarkov tells Dale the Earth will be destroyed in 14 hours (introducing a ticking clock). 75

Flash fights but saves Barin; they ally and kill Klytus when he arrives. Vultan flees before Ming arrives. 80

Ming captures the heroes and offers Flash rulership of a ruined Earth while he marries Dale (reinforcing the dual conflict)….

Act 3

Flash escapes and allies with Vultan. 85

Dale is readied to marry Ming. Flash acts as a decoy. War Rocket Ajax is dispatched. 90

The hawkmen attack Ajax. Ming prepares to kill Zarkov and Barin and marry Dale. 95

Aura escapes and frees Barin and Zarkov. Flash crashes Ajax into the palace. 100

Barin and Zarkov stop the weapons. Flash crashes the wedding and impales Ming (resolving the secondary conflict). Earth is saved (resolving the central conflict). 105

Barin heralds a new era. 110


Ming laughs and retrieves his ring.