We use the term narrative in the widest of senses. Anything from public speeches of politicians to casual catch-up chats with friends. Stories are simply everywhere.

However, if you are a filmmaker, this word takes up (or at least it should) a special place in your heart.

Wanna know more about it? Let's explore what narrative films stand out with and look at a list of the brightest stars of this genre.

But before we dive into it, visit our Ultimate Filmmaking Guide for more practical knowledge on the topic. Now - off we go!

What is a narrative film?

The process of creating a narrative in film

A narrative film is essentially any movie that tells a fictional story within a specific space and time. It often builds on conflict or a problem the main character(s) faces.

The events appear on the screen in some sort of succession, just like telling a story to a friend - except with much more detail and intent.

Some of the earliest ancestors of the genre were staged plays, and even just stories told orally, which - to this day - share many characteristics with modern movies.

Why use narrative in film? Here are a few reasons:

  • to educate and pass on the gained knowledge
  • to share a vision or idea in a captivating form
  • to make whatever message in the film relatable - people will always comprehend and love stories well told
  • to entertain with realistic scenarios and situations

Examples in film

As with many film genres, there are several types and subgenres. We'll tickle two of the most common ones.

The Quest narrative

A character of a quest narrative film

The name speaks for itself - the main character is put through a puzzling quest.

They are often driven by a mission or a final goal to, for example, find love, find themselves, win a battle or a war, achieve something grandiose. To do that, the protagonist embarks on a back-breaking journey, each of their own.

It is often dramatic and emotive, even exaggerated a little. Quest narratives tend to add more action and saturation to the plot, really grasping the attention of the viewer tightly and not letting go.

When talking about the quests, think The Notebook or Rocky.

The Bildungsroman

Directing a bildungsroman narrative film

This type of film, instead of putting the protagonist through a quest, transforms them on an emotional or spiritual level.

As a rule, the characters are young and only mature as the narrative unfolds, to reach the ultimate glow up into sagacious and sensible adults. The plot may seem less action-packed, but the story is led by the psychology of the main character.

The modern coming-of-age icons of Bildungsromans are, for instance, Call Me By Your Name or Little Women.

Do you feel like we're diving too much into fiction here? Then check out our Documentary Filmmaking Guide, which teaches a more "down to Earth" storytelling side.

6 of the best narrative films

So now it is time to learn from the greatest, the films that nailed the art of exceptional storytelling. Here are 6 of the best fictional stories ever told through a camera lens.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Narrative film - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Starting off with a piece of art commonly referred to as the best superhero movie ever made. An ambitious title indeed, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wins on all possible fronts: the jaw-dropping visuals, the off-beat plot, and especially the realism.

You really forget it’s a fictional superhero universe - it’s comedic, it’s action-packed, it’s heart-warming, it’s exceptionally well “acted” and it tells you a story like no other.

2. Spirited Away (2001)

Narrative Film - Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki. Rings a bell? Of course! Arguably the best narrator in the field of Japanese animation, perfecting the skill of storytelling through film.

This movie creates a comprehensive universe and mythology around the main character; one can not help but follow Chihiro through all of her adventures hand in hand.

Spirited Away was also voted Best Film… of the 21st Century So Far by The New York Times - just saying.

3. 12 Angry men (1957)

Narrative Film - 12 Angry Men

Exploring one of the more off-beat approaches to narrative in films, 12 Angry Men is a one-set courtroom drama. A jury of 12 men with different tempers and personalities are pondering on the conviction of an 18-year-old.

An intricate motive of morality and doubt is masterfully exploited in a narration of one very specific and realistic event. This story sends a strong message and leaves the viewer with a lot of food for thought.

4. Seven Samurai (1954)

Narrative Film - Seven Samurai

Depicting a substantial part of Japanese history, this samurai drama nails the quest structure by the book. An epic tale of a desperate Japanese village, longing for justice and putting all their hope into the arms of a fearless fighter.

A truly powerful story to send chills to the viewers.

5. The Godfather I & II (1972-74)

Narrative Film - The Godfather

A captivating story of a fictional mafia clan of Italian Americans. Gaining instant success in the seventies, The Godfather became one of the most cited and referenced films ever.

With special care and attention to details such as costumes and sceneries, the plot unfolds slowly, but steadily. This is the perfect first stepping stone for a beginner filmmaker tackling a good narrative.

If you're looking to put your own filmmaking skills to the test, who knows? - maybe your movie is the next greatest thing we will review.

6. Parasite (2019)

Narrative Film - Parasite

An instant success and a shocker of 2019, love it or hate it - Parasite takes the cake for mastering the art of film narrating. Telling the satirical story of a low-class South Korean family starved for a better life.

Step by step, the ugly nature of a human striving to survive unfolds, and one small event after the other, the viewer is left in silent terror.

A story so cruel, poignant, and striking unfolds masterfully in Parasite.

Learn more. Become a better filmmaker

With a brush-up of the theoretical part of the film genre world, it's time to take the next steps into the practical stuff.

Pay a visit to our Filmmaking 101 - an essential guide for anyone looking to be the next big thing in the industry. See you at your first movie premiere!


What is a narrative film?

A narrative film is a piece of fiction created to tell a story, describe a situation with a number of events happening one by one.

What is a narrative short film?

A narrative short film focuses on depicting one small and specific event or story, with a simpler plot and a shorter script.

What are the elements of a narrative film?

Narrative films usually include the main character(s) that is faced with a conflict or a problem, it reaches climax and ends with a solution. It has a specific time and space frame.

What is the difference between a documentary and a narrative film?

Documentaries are based on true events, aiming to describe real people, real places, real events with maximum precision. Narrative films, however, are based on fiction, yet still strive for realism.

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