Back to Blog
As a long time fan and student of comedy movies, I’ve seen so many off-beat team comedies that I absolutely love and adore. During a meeting of the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Project, I realized just how intimately I know and understand these films, and thus I present to you my pretentiously titled unified theory of team movies.
Here are some examples of the greatest team comedies out there. Great is subjective, but I love them so, whatever. Here they are.
Balls of Fury
The Longest Yard
Some of these aren’t traditionally “team” as they are much more about one man preparing to face the big game, but they have a lot of people rallying around them that essentially function as the team in question.
While all of the ones that I’ve listed are sports comedies (including Beerfest, because drinking is a sport if you’re doing it right), this category of film applies to much more than just this type. It also heavily applies to heist films, and to some extent ensemble superhero pieces. They all focus on a group of people teaming up to prepare for one big game with one main character as the point of view and focus. In heist films, the big game is the heist. They’re no different!
Using the films on my list, I’ve come up with a unified theory of team movies. It includes the common character types that they all hold, the structure that they all follow, and the emotional journey that the hero must go on.
Note: This is not a mandatory guide to follow. It’s simply an analytical tool that breaks down these movies in a general sense. All of these break from the form in one way or another and those moments are what make them unique and memorable. Use this only to get yourself unstuck on the structure of your own piece, not as a plug and play guide.
Let’s dig in!
The common denominator of all of these films is the premise. You meet someone who could be totally incredible at what they do, but life has gotten in the way and now they’ve got a big problem that needs solved. The “big game” comes into their life as a solution to their big problem, but they’re initially reluctant to go on that journey.
Over the course you take them from washed up weirdo to realizing the potential that they always had inside of them, with a big team of people around them. It’s heartwarming stuff and has MAJOR comedic potential throughout with physical humor and emotional humor inherent in all of it.
What makes this premise work is the cast of characters that work around the main person with a problem.
The Players On Your Chess Board:
I know that saying “the team” would have been a more fitting title for this section given the sports of it all, but I like chess so sue me. The chess metaphor works better anyways because you have enemies in all of this! There are people working counter to the goals of the main character and the team as a whole, and they absolutely must be overcome. So badaboom…chess board.
When you boil down these movies they all have a very similar cast of characters that serve a super specific role in the plot. I’m listing them in order of their relevance to the plot in the hopes that if you read this list, you can understand the implied structure of it.
So that’s your chess board and all the pieces. I’ll now break down my theory of the structure in the shortest way possible.
That’s it! That’s all. That’s my entire Unified Theory of Team Movies. They all fit this mold with some variations. Heist films match it, superhero ensembles match it, and all of these wonderful sports comedies match it, with a decent bit of variation. They make changes to the expectations of all these scenes, they change up small bits of formatting, but this is what they all do to make it work.
I contest that any team movie at all could be viewed to fit this mold. Use it as you will for inspiration on your story beats, but do not use it as a hard and fast guide.
P.S. You’re Beautiful