Beginning on Friday, October 21, 9:00 p.m. (PDT) thru Saturday, October 22, 2:00 a.m. (PDT), will be performing scheduled maintenance. Please note that you will be unable to access your account during some of this time. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Learn it fast with expert-taught software and skills training at Start your free trial

By Mark Tapio Kines |

Why Do Movies Have a Three-Act Structure?


You’ve probably heard that most feature films tell their stories with a three-act structure. So what are these three acts? The beginning, the middle, and the end?

Well … no.

Instead, let’s call them the Buildup (Act 1), the Adventure (Act 2), and the Resolution (Act 3).

Think about your favorite movies. In most cases, something big happens a quarter of the way into the story. You’ll see a change in location, a leap forward in time, or just a sense that the characters have left their comfort zones.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s when Indy and Marion arrive in Cairo. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s when we meet the astronauts (and HAL) en route to Jupiter. In The Avengers, it’s when the Avengers assemble on the giant airbase. And so on.

Act 1 is the Buildup. This is where the characters receive a big piece of news that kills their routines. This news—good or bad—is an assignment for the characters to go on an adventure of sorts. So Act 1 is designed to build up the characters’ willingness to leave their comfort zones.

You don’t need more than the first quarter of a movie for this, because you’re anxious to see the adventure.

In Act 2, you get that Adventure. Here the characters know what they have to do, but there are a lot of obstacles—big, difficult challenges—standing in the way. Without obstacles, the characters would easily get what they want, and you’d have one boring movie!

That’s why Act 2 is so long—because of all the obstacles that need to be overcome, one by one.

Think back to your favorite movies. Again, in most cases, something major happens three-quarters of the way in. It’s what I call the aha moment, when the characters get some information, or win a decisive victory, that prepares them to finally resolve their conflicts.

Act 3 provides that Resolution. Here the story’s loose ends are all tied up. You enjoy seeing it all come together, but you don’t want it to drag on and on. That’s why Act 3 only takes up a quarter of the movie’s running time.

Next time you sit down for a two-hour movie, check your watch at 30 minutes, and again at 90. You’ll be amazed at the number of films that hit those act changes right on the dot!

Interested in more?

• Watch Mark’s course ‘Screenwriting Fundamentals‘ • Browse all Screenwriting courses at

Tags: , , , ,

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.