It’s well established that most modern Hollywood movies are made up of three acts. Often, however, the second of those three acts can be divided into two — before the midpoint, and after. A midpoint is a major plot point that happens around the middle of a film which has big ramifications for the protagonist and the story arc. Sounds pretty vague, right? That’s because a midpoint can take many forms– bringing the protagonist closer to their goal, or away from it, or something else entirely. In other words, you know a midpoint when you see one. In this post, we’ll break down some of the most popular types of midpoints, along with some of their most famous examples.

Watch: What is a Midpoint Explained

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Examples of Midpoint in Movies

Midpoint Definition

Before we get started, let’s nail down what a midpoint actually means.

MIDPOINT DEFINITION

What is a Midpoint?

A midpoint is a major plot point that happens around the middle of a film which has huge ramifications for the protagonist and the story arc. It can be a good thing or a bad thing– it just has to be big.

Types of Midpoints:

  • Setback
  • Reversal
  • Twist
  • False Victory
  • False Defeat

The midpoint can be found in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat formula. Not sure what Save the Cat is? Check out our breakdown of Interstellar, which, believe it or not, fits into the formula:

Interstellar Midpoint Explained  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Now, let’s break down some specific types of midpoints.

Examples of Midpoint in Movies

The Setback Midpoint

In the first act of a three-act screenplay, the protagonist establishes their goal, and in the break into act two, they set out to achieve it. In the second act, the protagonist’s journey has begun, and we watch as they overcome various obstacles to get closer to the object of their desire.

Three Act Structure Film Examples in Literature Featured StudioBinder

Three Act Structure and Midpoint

Sometimes, things initially go pretty swimmingly for a protagonist; it seems like they’ll get what they want in no time. Then the setback midpoint hits.

The setback midpoint is when a protagonist experiences a major failure that brings them farther from their goal than ever.

In Finding Nemo, both Nemo and Marlin have simultaneous midpoint setbacks. Nemo fails to escape the fish tank, and almost dies doing so, while Marlin has a near-death experience trying to navigate through jellyfish.

Finding Nemo  •  Examples of midpoint in movies

A Beautiful Mind employs a midpoint that is both a setback and a twist (which we’ll look at later). John Nash is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and it is revealed that many of the figures in the first half of the film were only in his head. This midpoint in A Beautiful Mind refocuses the storyline. After the setback, Nash now has to learn to live with his diagnosis.

A Beautiful Mind  •  Examples of midpoint in movies

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has one of the most iconic setback midpoints. Against his better judgment, Chief Brody allows for July 4th festivities to go on at the Amity beach. 

Initially, Spielberg toys with the audience’s expectations. We assume something bad is going to happen, but the first shark “attack” is in fact a couple of young pranksters. Then, when everyone’s guard is down, the real shark attacks. It doesn’t go after just any beachgoer: Brody’s son is one of the targets of the shark’s hunt.

The drama leaps off the page in Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb’s script. Read through the scene using StudioBinder’s screenwriting software:

Midpoint screenplay  •  Read Full Scene

Like most midpoints, the setback for Brody reorients both the protagonist and the story arc. Brody is no longer willing to wait to see what the shark will do next — he’s ready to go on the offensive.

Now, the film becomes about the hunt, with three men out on a boat, looking for a killer.

Jaws Fourth of July scene

Jaws illustrates the power of the setback midpoint. A good setback means your character will never be the same again, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Examples of Midpoint in Movies

The Reversal Midpoint

Sometimes, everything a protagonist initially hopes for changes. This change may not happen until the end of a film, but it can also happen in a reversal midpoint.

Think, for example, of Les Miserables, which conveniently indicates its midpoint through a large time leap (in the musical, it’s the intermission at, yes, the midpoint of the show). 

Here, Jean Valjean’s goals have changed. Initially, he was focused on avoiding getting recaptured by Javert. In the second half of the film, he focuses on keeping his adopted daughter safe, and aiding the French Revolution.

Les Miserables  •  Examples of midpoint in movies

In Jerry Maguire, the reversal midpoint is a bit more subtle. In the first half of the film, Jerry is hell-bent on reestablishing himself as a successful sports agent. His singular goal is to start his own successful agency.

This shifts halfway through the film with the introduction of a romantic arc with his assistant, Dorothy. The midpoint is marked by Jerry and Dorothy’s first kiss, which is intertwined with Jerry’s lowest point in his career.

Take a look at the pivotal moment on the page:

Jerry Maguire  •  Midpoint screenplay

Writer/director Cameron Crowe indicates the weight of the midpoint through his scene direction. If we were to narrow the midpoint down to a single sentence, it would probably be: “There is something inspiring about the way she says the word ‘inspiring.’”

It is in this moment where Dorothy’s life philosophy is crystalized both for the audience and for Jerry. He realizes that her outlook, so different from his and the people he has surrounded himself with, is vitally important to him.

Watch it play out in the hands of Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger.

Jerry Maguire  •  the first kiss

And so there it is — Jerry’s goal is inextricably altered. Though there is no larger tonal shift in the film, Jerry’s desire to make it as a sports agent is superseded by his desire to make things work with Dorothy.

Examples of Midpoint in Movies

The Twist Midpoint

Probably the most easily-recognizable midpoint is the twist, simply because it’s the most drastic. A midpoint twist completely changes a film’s plot line — things we thought were true aren’t, things we didn’t think were possible are. Before you read this section, know that the nature of the midpoint twist means there will be spoilers galore.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has arguably the most iconic midpoint twist. Up until Marion Crane is murdered by Norman Bates, the film seems to be about a woman on the run after stealing money from her work. But the shower stabbing scene in the middle of the film acts as a complete reset. Marion Crane is no longer the protagonist, and the film is no longer about a theft.

Psycho  •  Examples of midpoint in movies

More recently, Barbarian has an equally shocking midpoint twist which also completely reorients who we think are the main characters of the film. What starts as a thriller about a bad night at an AirBnB morphs into a gory horror with a new primary character introduced halfway through the film.

Brad Bird’s The Incredibles masterfully uses a midpoint twist. Like his Pixar colleagues did on Finding Nemo, Bird employs a midpoint turn for two of his characters simultaneously. Just as Bob realizes the organization he’s been working with has in fact been killing superheroes, Helen realizes Bob has been lying to her about his day-to-day activities.

Look at how the simultaneous twists are described on the page:

The Incredibles PDF  •  Midpoint screenplay

This is only part of a larger intercut section, as Bob and Helen both slowly arrive at their own discoveries. The main twist for the audience is Bob’s realization, since we already knew he was lying to Helen.

But Helen’s realization flips the power dynamics of the film. Up until now, she has been the oblivious housewife. Now, she’s the only one who can save her husband from his own hubris.

The Incredibles  •  Examples of midpoint in movies

Another classic midpoint twist can be found in Parasite. Check out our video breaking down the entire film’s structure, including the midpoint:

Parasite Midpoint Explained  •  Subscribe on YouTube

A midpoint twist can take many forms, but however it happens, it changes nearly everything.

Examples of Midpoint in Movies

The False Victory Midpoint

Sometimes, everything is going right for the protagonist. That is — until the midpoint. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t encountering any obstacles, it just means that by the halfway point of the film, it seems like they’ve been able to overcome all of them rather handily. 

This is the false victory midpoint — the midpoint that may prompt you to check your watch and say, “Wait, they’ve already won an hour in?” And the answer to this question is usually, no, not exactly.

The false victory is very common in romcoms. The first half of a romcom is when everything is going right, the couple is getting along swimmingly, and it seems like a match made in heaven. 

Think of 500 Days of Summer, where halfway through the film, Tom and Summer are closer than ever. Then, of course, things get a bit complicated.

500 Days of Summer  •  Examples of midpoint in movies

In 10 Things I Hate About You, Kat and Patrick share an intimate moment on a swing set — it seems like their relationship may be going smoothly.

This false victory is quickly rug-pulled when just a few minutes later Patrick rejects Kat’s kiss.

A budding romance  •  Midpoint in film

James Cameron is a big fan of the false victory. In Avatar, the false victory comes in the form of a kiss. At the midpoint of the film, Jake and Neytiri solidify their budding romance with an intimate moment, so intimate that it has actually now been censored.

Take a look at the original scene on the page:

Avatar script

Cameron writes out the moment explicitly: “The ultimate intimacy.” Though the now-edited scene is just the kiss, the weight of the moment is still conveyed.

Avatar  •  Midpoint in film

Of course, there’s still half a movie left, and Jake and Neytiri are forced to contend with the colonizers sent to destroy the Na’vi homeland. Their romance, too, is tested when Jake’s true purpose for living among them is revealed.

There’s a nearly identical false victory in Cameron’s Titanic. Hint: it’s also a kiss that occurs before a larger-than-life obstacle is presented.

Examples of Midpoint in Movies

The False Defeat Midpoint

A false defeat — hold on to your hat — is the opposite of the false victory. The false defeat is when it seems like the protagonist is completely screwed, there’s no way out, it’s all over.

Almost exactly in the middle of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Aragorn is thrown off a cliff during a battle. His friends, and the audience, are left to assume he’s died. It ends up being a false defeat, however, when (spoiler alert) Aragorn returns later in the film.

Don’t count this man out!

Schindler’s List also employs a false defeat, when Oskar Schindler’s operation to save Jewish people from the Nazis is threatened by the arrival of SS officer Amon Göth.

Amon Göth Arrives in Krakow

Spielberg also uses a false defeat in Jurassic Park (which actually came out the same year as Schindler’s List). The midpoint of the blockbuster, like with Jaws, is a famous set piece: the reveal of the T. Rex. 

Let’s take a look at how the moment plays out in David Koepp’s screenplay:

Jurassic Park script  •  Midpoint in film

Notice how Koepp indicates the drama of the moment by slowing everything down. The writer’s extensive detail allows for tension to build, and for the T. Rex’s entrance to be all the more powerful.

The culmination of the scene results in a false defeat for the main cast of characters. The park is officially out of control, and two prominent characters are dead or injured. Check out the scene itself:

T Rex escape

This false defeat allows for the plot to reset itself. What was first a film depicting the wonders of technology is now a thriller highlighting its horrors.

Up Next

Story Beats In A Screenplay

The midpoint is just one of many beats in a script which adheres to the three-act structure. To get an overview of the other beats that many screenplays hit, check out our comprehensive list. Remember, though: a script with all the right beats in all the right places does not necessarily make a good script.

Up Next: Story Beats →
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