Table of Contents
- What is a Final Battle?
- Why Are Final Battles Important?
- What Makes a Great Final Battle?
- How Do You Write a Final Battle?
- Characterisation and Story Development
- The Three Act Structure: Final Battle Edition
- The Pace of a Final Battle
- 10 Amazing Final Battle Examples
- 10. Mad Max- Fury Road
- 9. Kill Bill: Volume 1
- 8. Avatar – Battle for Pandora
- 7. Avengers: Endgame
- 6. Gladiator
- 5. Saving Private Ryan
- 4. The Revenant
- 3. Game of Thrones – “The Battle of the Bastards”
- 2. Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
- 1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- In Summary
What is a Final Battle?
Final battles occur throughout many films and TV shows. They’re the moment in the story where your protagonist or antagonist can either win or lose everything. Final battles can appear as:
- Large scale battles, for example, on a battleground.
- Or simply on a smaller one-to-one scale.
They might typically appear in action films and for example, play an important role in the superhero genre.
Why Are Final Battles Important?
Final battles are more important than one might think. They shouldn’t just be a way to mix in some random action into your screenplay. Final battles serve as the pivotal conflict within your screenplay.
- A final battle is essential in providing a climax within your story. It is the moment in which your protagonist and antagonist finally face each other.
- The final battle serves to move your story forward and continues to change and shape your characters.
The final battle is by its nature, climactic. In this, it must provide your characters with an all or nothing type of scenario. In simple terms, it’s what your script has been building to throughout its duration. All the tension and investment is released here, which is why it’s so important the final battle provides a satisfying resolution.
What Makes a Great Final Battle?
So one of the tensest but most entertaining moments within a screenplay can be the final battle. Here we will find out…
- What will happen to the protagonist?
- What will happen to the antagonist?
The power is completely over to you as the screenwriter. This is where you make your crucial decisions. But in order to make a great final battle you need to include:
- A Fast pace
- A variety of emotions.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Just because a final battle is the moment your story has been building up to doesn’t mean it will naturally grip the audience. It must be as equally well-crafted as all that has come before it.
Furthermore, the stakes here are higher. Write an unsatisfying final battle and you run the risk of leaving your audience frustrated that all their prior investment wasn’t worth it.
How Do You Write a Final Battle?
First and foremost, you need to sit down and think hard.
- Do you really need a final battle?
- Or is it just an add-in to make your story interesting?
To be more clear:
- Will the final battle aid in developing the story?
- And will it cause a turning point for your character?
Again, don’t rest on your laurels. It can be easy to think that just because you are writing a genre that typically includes a final battle that you yourself must include one. Truly interrogate whether or not your story needs a final battle and whether or not it will add to the story as a whole.
Characterisation and Story Development
To be brutally honest, there is no point in adding a final battle if it does not contribute to the following:
Characterisation: The representation of your character and how they change throughout a narrative.
Story Development: The progression of your story as different events unfold.
Your whole story is based on your characters’ struggles, conflicts and goals, which as a whole help with the progression of the story.
- Therefore, the final battle has to have strong significance.
- It has to change your character(s) either for better or for worse.
- Moreover, the final battle has to serve in moving your story forward.
- The final battle can’t be the focal point, but simply the climax that leads to the focal point.
See the final battle as an opportunity. This is a moment to dynamically convey key elements of your story. Through an exciting set-piece, crucial information will be portrayed.
The Three Act Structure: Final Battle Edition
Structure is an important part of writing a good final battle. Just like any other part of your screenplay, a solid structure helps hammer home the power and effectiveness of whatever you are depicting.
First Act: Set up the battle.
Prior to the battle sequence starting, make sure you give a valid reason and explanation of why the battle is occurring.
Now that you have set up the reason behind the battle, it is time to carry out some world-building and set the scene.
- Describe the location.
- Tell us about the atmosphere.
- Pay attention to the appearance and size of both sides. For example, does one army have more troops than the other?
This is your chance to use as much description as you want, to give your readers a feel of the battle before it commences.
Furthermore, this act will lead to an inciting incident (within the context of the final battle). For example, your character may be faced with an incident that clouds their judgement during the battle, which will result in further drama.
Second Act: Confrontation
- At this point in the battle, show a balanced perspective between both sides.
- Demonstrate the differing motivations.
- Introduce a range of small-scale and large scale obstacles and conflicts.
- Show an area of crisis start to take place. For example, your protagonist’s team starting to lose the battle, giving little hope for their chance of success.
Third Act: Resolution
At this point in the battle, you need to begin to sum everything up. You need to demonstrate:
- Whether or not your protagonist reaches their goals or overcomes their fears.
- Whether or not your protagonist wins or loses.
Moreover, to fit with the intense drama throughout, your battle has to go out with a bang. It shouldn’t be anticlimactic. Instead, you want to keep your audience engaged and continue to bring out a variety of emotions.
The Pace of a Final Battle
Another key area to focus on when structuring your final battle should be pace. The best way to do this is to make sure the pace is evenly spread.
Here are some ways in which you can stick to a fast but even pace within your final battle:
- Keep your descriptions short and snappy in order to keep the movement going.
- Know when to change the pace. For example, it might be worth slowing down the pace to truly get a feel of your character’s emotions, whilst also allowing your audience to reflect on what is happening.
- Alternatively, speeding up the pace may help in reflecting the intensity of the battle sequence.
- You can also use dialogue to demonstrate things that are taking place, instead of just writing it out as a lengthy piece of description.
- Moreover, an important part of screenwriting is to show and not tell. This is particularly true for battle sequences. For example, don’t tell us what your characters are feeling. Instead, show us. Show us through your character’s expressions and behaviour that they are anxious, triumphal or defeated.
In the final battle, you’re taking the audience on a journey. Always make the perspective in this clear. Amidst so much action, it can be easy to lose a sense of grounding. But seeing the battle through a particular character’s eyes (or through multiple but consistent characters) helps in structuring the battle. Dictating pace is a key part of this, allowing the audience to clearly feel the flow of the action, rather than leaving them to work it out themselves, which can lead to them getting lost.
10 Amazing Final Battle Examples
So we’ve established the ins and outs of what a final battle is and how to go about writing one. Now let’s have a look at some examples. Some spoilers lay ahead!
10. Mad Max- Fury Road
Now, this final battle in Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t quite as conventional as one might expect. Instead of having a static battlefield in which the opposing sides face each other, this battle is fought side by side on a road…
The writer, George Miller, adds drama to the final battle as Max and the brides frantically aim to get back to the citadel. However, the antagonist, Immortan Joe, soon learns of their plans and tries to stop them. This instantly results in one of the most entertaining final battles to watch due to it being a fast-paced, dynamic and violent car chase. It takes a final battle and ups the stakes.
The speed of the cars, mixed in with the ongoing conflicts, obstacles and deaths occurring, allows this sequence to let the audience’s adrenaline run wild. We don’t know if the next car will kill the bride or Max or if they will get safely to the citadel.
Furthermore, this final battle has a lack of dialogue. Such a technique emphasizes the instinctual behaviour each character has within this apocalyptic setting. Overall, this highlights the themes of instinctive survival and death within this final battle and the film as a whole.
9. Kill Bill: Volume 1
Throughout Kill Bill: Volume 1, the Bride faces many battle sequences. However, seconds after the Bride’s battle with the Crazy 88 gang, she faces her final battle with O-Ren Ishii.
The Bride’s main aim is to kill all of those on her list, predominantly Bill. O-Ren Ishii is also one of the characters on her list. Earlier in the narrative, we are informed that the Bride and O-Ren Ishii were former best friends. This information is key to providing drama within this battle due to it being more personal.
This is a great example of a final battle through the Bride finally being able to face a key arch-nemesis. This has been hotly anticipated throughout the film, with an air of mystery around the storyline.
- The sequence is limited in dialogue and demonstrates a well-structured and choreographed battle between the two characters.
- The choreography also pays homage to the art of samurai sword fighting, again subtly providing exposition to the character’s past training.
- Moreover, the slow pace results in drama by bringing out uncertainty about whether or not the next move will result in someone’s death.
- Both characters seem afraid of each other, particularly the Bride of O-Ren Ishii. Seeing as we have just witnessed the Bride defeat a whole army, her fear of this one opponent speaks volumes.
This final battle is an intimate one-on-one battle, which truly demonstrates the Bride’s skills. Moreover, the Bride successfully succeeds in defeating one of the characters on her list, which helps in moving the story forward as she is one step closer to killing Bill.
8. Avatar – Battle for Pandora
Another great example of a final battle is in Avatar. In this climactic battle, we see the RDA plan to destroy Pandora.
James Cameron does well to keep the audience hooked through the use of a fast-paced sequence. Amongst this, he explores a mix of large and small scale conflicts from both the perspective of the RDA and the perspective of the Na’vi. In doing so, Cameron allows us to see both the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.
Moreover, Cameron further escalates drama by demonstrating that the RDA have an upper hand from the start. For example, they have bigger and more powerful weapons, which makes them seem almost un-defeatable. Nonetheless, we see the Na’vi successfully fight against the RDA. However, Cameron also does well to demonstrate the cost of their success, this being many deaths of both major and minor characters.
Lastly, another way in which this final battle is powerful is through the fact that it symbolizes and critiques the theme of colonization. In doing so, it provides a deeper meaning for the battle. It is no longer simply about the Na’vi defending their home, but a way of providing the audience with a reflection on an industrial force attacking a people on their native lands. This dynamic is portrayed just in the scale of both sides, the RDA attacking with brute force and power and the Na’vi responding with less technology but more ingenuity.
7. Avengers: Endgame
The final battle in Avengers: Endgame has to be one of the most well-crafted battle sequences of recent years. With its place at the end of The Avengers series, this feels fitting.
Perhaps most importantly, this sequence perfectly brings out a range of emotions.
- Firstly, there is a sense of triumph and excitement at the fact that many different Marvel characters are united in one battlefield.
- Moreover, this feels emotional considering the fact that many of these characters haven’t seen each other for five years due to the blip caused by Thanos.
The most resonant part of this battle sequence is the ending.
- For one, Iron Man takes on the infinity stones in order to kill Thanos. There is a sense of irony at this point, as the weapon Thanos used to wipe out humanity is the weapon that he is killed by.
- Moreover, this ending is bittersweet as the characters only succeed in destroying Thanos at the cost of Tony Stark’s death. Iron Man made the first appearance in this franchise and turns out to be the one who dies at the end of it. This symmetry is powerful.
Overall, this battle perfectly ties up all the MCU storylines in one. It’s an appropriately epic ending to an epic series. But the strength of the battle is how it roots itself in intimate emotions, rather than getting overwhelmed by the scale of what it has to convey.
Already we are beginning to see a recurring theme of duals taking place in final battles. The protagonist and the antagonist face each other, ultimately providing the climax of your screenplay. Another great example of a one-on-one final battle is in between Maximus and Commodus in Gladiator.
The sequence starts off with the crowd cheering on Maximus. This demonstrates his gained appreciation and fame, alongside echoing the perspective of the audience, who want Maximus to succeed throughout the film.
The sequence continues to set up with a conversation between Commodus and Maximus. This moment is essential as it sets up the tension in the sequence for the two characters.
Moreover, memorably Commodus says:
“Death smiles at us all, all we can do is smile back”
This line works as a great way to to add drama by suggesting the inevitability of death. We know that one is definitely going to die, we just don’t know who yet. We then see Commodus stab Maximus. This part in the sequence perfectly reflects Commodus’ treacherous nature. He gives himself the upper hand, leaving us to believe he might just win.
The two then battle against each other – gladiator style. It is interesting, as although this is a fight to death, it is performative. They are fighting in front of everyone. However, this moment is more personal than any of the other performances Maximus has had to carry out as a gladiator. It is his chance to destroy his arch-nemesis and get revenge.
The sequence does end with some triumph. Maximus succeeds in killing Commodus, as he has wanted to do since the start. However, the tragedy arises as we realise that Maximus too is dying. Nonetheless, he still achieves his goals in getting revenge against Commodus.
5. Saving Private Ryan
One of the most bittersweet final battles ever comes in Saving Private Ryan.
- After a long search, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) successfully finds Ryan (Matt Damon).
- However, Ryan frustratingly refuses to leave due to wanting to help defend the bridge against the Germans.
- At this moment, writer Robert Rodat does well in changing the audience’s expectations. It isn’t as simple as saving Ryan and getting him back home. Instead, Captain Miller is faced with yet another crisis, having to fight off the Nazis.
This final battle has been praised for its realism. For starters, we track through the soldiers planning, preparing and waiting for the battle to commence. Moreover, it is a lot more personal than most other battle sequences due to the conversations the characters have with each other as they wait.
Another great aspect of this battle sequence is the use of dramatic storytelling. There is much uncertainty throughout the sequence.
- For one, Captain Miller and his team risked their lives to try and save Ryan.
- However, in this final moment, we do not know whether or not he will succeed in actually saving him – Ryan could die at any moment.
- To make matters worse, they are at a disadvantage against the Nazis due to having limited resources and troops.
The battle ends with the Americans narrowly winning against the Nazis. Nonetheless, Rodat makes a point to show that success does not occur in an ideal nature. The battle results in many deaths, including that of Captain Miller.
This is, therefore, a great example of a realistic battle scene due to its demonstration of the bittersweet reality of war. Captain Miller’s whole goal was to save Ryan, but in doing so it resulted in his death.
4. The Revenant
The Revenant is another great example of a one-on-one final battle. This battle between Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is a highly emotional moment in the narrative.
The writers create drama within this battle from the start.
- For example, throughout the story, Glass’ main goal is to get revenge on Fitzgerald, after he left him for dead.
- Glass is constantly tested with multiple conflicts which ultimately pushes him to a breaking point. This allows us to empathise with him.
- Therefore, when Glass finally confronts Fitzgerald, the sequence becomes emotional and impactful. We want the revenge almost as much as Glass does as we’ve been with him in his hardships throughout the film.
Moreover, another way in which this final battle is well-made is through the use of no dialogue.
- The lack of dialogue creates subtlety in the sequence as we are able to interpret what the characters are thinking or feeling purely through their facial expressions and actions.
- Also, the sequence does well to demonstrate the characters as having a mix of desperation for survival and revenge.
- In doing so, this final battle has to be one of the rawest and most brutal one-to-one final battles in film.
3. Game of Thrones – “The Battle of the Bastards”
One of the most notable battles in TV history has to be Game of Thrones’ “The Battle of the Bastards”. Though not a final battle of the entire series, it did serve as one of the best final battles of season 6. But what made this battle scene so great?
For starters, the battle is between one of the most loved characters, Jon Snow, and one of the most hated villains, Ramsay Bolton. This already creates a vast amount of intensity within the battle and anticipation for it.
The battle also serves well to outline the two characters’ flaws and how they affect the story.
- For example, through the opening section, we already see Ramsay’s corrupted nature come into play instantly as he brutally shoots Rickon to death.
- However, later we see how Ramsay’s corrupted actions are the reason for his own death. There is a sense of irony that his hounds – being a representation of his cruel and animalistic nature – are what kill him brutally in the end.
- Similarly, we see how Snow’s impulsivity and heroic ideals negatively impact his chances of winning. Unlike Sansa, Jon had no strategies in place, which are essential in battle. Instead, he falls straight for Ramsay’s trap and gets the majority of his soldiers killed.
- Therefore, we see how through this battle, the writers outline both characters’ flaws and how they impact the story progression hugely. If it wasn’t for Ramsay’s arrogance and corrupted manner, he may still have hold of Winterfell. Similarly, if Snow hadn’t been so impulsive, he could have won the battle without the need to be saved by Sansa.
A Great Example of Pacing a Final Battle
Another way in which this battle serves as a great example is in its variation of pace. The battle sequence switches from slow-paced to fast-paced through both realist moments and the use of montage. In doing so, the battle sequence perfectly keeps the audience hooked with unpredictability and tension. This is a great technique used to emphasize dramatic storytelling.
For example, the episode starts slowly as we see Ramsay use Rickon as bait to lure Jon Snow into the battlefield.
- We are shown each arrow Ramsay shoots, which in turn adds drama to the scene as we don’t know which one will be the one that kills Rickon.
In comparison, later on in the battle, we see Snow’s outnumbered troops being cornered by the Boltons.
- At this moment, we see Jon Snow being trampled on, which leaves us to believe that he might die of suffocation.
- Here the writer’s use of montage works perfectly to add to the intensity of the scene due to reflecting the characters’ desperation and the hectic state of the battlefield.
2. Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
Another great example of a final battle is in Return of the Jedi. In the final battle of the trilogy (the Battle of Endor), we see the Rebels risk their lives in order to get a chance at destroying the second Death Star and the Empire once and for all.
Prior to the battle sequence, we are given an insight into both the Alliance and the Imperials’ plans. This sets the tense and dramatic tones for the battle, as we become aware of what is really at stake.
- For one, the Alliance is determined to finish off the Death Star and the Emperor. They see this moment as their only chance.
- However, we also become aware that the Emperor plans to use this battle to destroy the Alliance.
- Therefore, both sides have the goal of eliminating the other. This leads the audience to the anxiety of not knowing who will win.
One of the best parts of this final battle is its structure and flow. Being in ships and fighters allows the characters to focus more on strategy over physically fighting the opposition. The battle becomes very well composed.
Furthermore, in this final battle, we are given a range of perspectives. For starters, we are given an outside view of the battle, which shows us the fighters and ships fighting against each other. In doing so, the scene shows the scale and impact of the battle.
We are also given a range of personal perspectives from different characters. This variety perfectly helps us to have a step by step insight into the opposing sides’ plans and next steps. In doing so, it serves well to echo a military perspective, adding credibility to the battle overall.
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
One of the most memorable final battles is the battle of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. At this point in the story, we see Saruman’s army attack the humans in order to weaken their forces and eliminate them.
Although, one of the longest battle sequences in film history, the battle is fairly fast-paced. There is constant movement as we go between different perspectives.
Even better, the battle sequence is coated with dramatic tension. In different scenes, we see the characters failing – whether that is through someone not following directions or the Orks’ greater numbers, strength and resources. With each of these tense scenes added, it leaves us constantly questioning:
- Will one of our favorite characters die?
- Are our heroes going to be defeated?
- Will the children and women remain safe after the Orks breach the gates?
It seems impossible that all of these outcomes will be avoided, which is why the fear feels so tangible throughout the scene.
Moreover, this battle sequence perfectly stays true to each of the characters’ personalities, whilst also providing a range of emotions.
- For one, Aragon remains serious and takes on his natural leadership role during this tense moment.
- This contrasts highly with Legolas and Gimli. For example, the two are seen as competing with each other regarding their death count scores. This provides a sense of familiarity and lightness in an unpredictable, scary environment.
The siege mentality of this scene is part of what makes it so effective. There’s the sense of the characters’ safety being consistently worn down, little by little. There’s a feeling of pervasive hopelessness. This is heightened by the darkness of the scene (being set at night), the scale of the enemy and the panic of our main characters.
1. Define your characters’ goals prior to the battle sequence.
2. Begin the sequence with some brief, but important world-building.
3. Focus on the pace of your battle. Ideally make it fast-paced, whilst still allowing for your audience to be in the moment.
4. Add in realism to heighten emotions.
5. Make your final battle exciting. Add in twists and surprises.
6. Use a three-act structure to help guide your final battle.
7. Focus on the emotions within the battle. This acts as an anchor for the audience.
10. Mad Max: Fury Road
9. Kill Bill
7. Avengers: Endgame
5. Saving Private Ryan
4. The Revenant
3. Game of Thrones: The Battle of the Bastards
2. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
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This article was written by Lily Waywell and edited by IS staff.
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