When it comes to storytelling, setting is incredibly important. This is true for just about any format, from cinema to writing to photography. The background directly influences what people think will happen in the story and, more immediately, in the current scene. It’s a passive form of storytelling that falls in line with the dialogue, the plot, and the next big surprise.
Almost a century into Hollywood’s existence, there are more than a few tropes that audiences are familiar with. A dilapidated hospital, for example, isn’t going to be the primary location of a romantic comedy or a family drama. Conversely, a horror film isn’t likely to take place in a meadow of wildflowers (barring Midsommar).
Over the decades, certain places have become ingrained elements of certain stories, particularly relating to theme and structure. But some settings are more complex than others, allowing for a more diverse and stronger storytelling reach. Let’s cover five of Hollywood’s favorite settings and why they’ve become so important.
The Casino: High Stakes & Intrigue
Today, the vast majority of casino gamers are likely to prefer an online format when they game—regardless of whether they prefer roulette, blackjack, or slots. That’s because online platforms offer quality deals, unbeatable convenience, and a way for players to do things at their own pace. But that doesn’t mean that the real-life casino floor has lost its intrigue.
Casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City remain important settings in many stories because they’re inherently compelling. There’s an element of luck, skill, and putting money on the line. Unsurprisingly, this has made the casino a repeat favorite for dramas, action-adventures, and comedies alike, from Rain Man to The Hangover to Ocean’s 11.
The Vacation Home: A Break from Reality
Sometimes, a setting can take a more abstract form. It might not be a place that’s highly compelling, like a casino—it may just be a place where anything can happen. This is especially true for a vacation home, which separates a character from their daily life. In this way, a vacation home is a way to open up the plot and remove characters from reality.
Just like the casino floor, this means that it can take on multiple significances. It might be a place of horror like in The Cabin in the Woods, a metaphysical journey like The Lake House, or a romantic comedy like The Holiday. When viewed in this way, it’s not a plot device, but a setting device.
The Frontier: A Mythological Hero
Another robust setting that Hollywood likes to draw on is the frontier. A frontier is an unexplored area, whether on earth or on an alien planet, like in James Cameron’s Avatar franchise. The idea here, similar to the vacation home, is to put a character in a difficult and unfamiliar position. From there, the plot is infused with dozens of unknowns.
But, unlike the vacation home, the goal here is to put a hero to the test. Whether facing a desolate place like the American Southwest or a more dystopic frontier – possibly set in the future like WALL-E – characters in this project are pushed to the brink, facing questions about survival as well as the nature of existence.
The Laboratory: Fomenting Evil or Saving Humanity
Stepping away from the abstract frontier and the removed vacation home, the laboratory functions a bit like the casino floor. It’s a place that audiences immediately recognize—and associate with science, technology, and the unknown. Accordingly, laboratories are places where evil and greater good come into stark distinction.
Most often, audiences see laboratories in action-adventure films, dramas, horror flicks, and sci-fi projects. But there’s great breadth in how directors treat these places. For example, Back To The Future’s lab looks a lot different than Batman’s Bat Cave… or the lab in 28 Days Later. When viewed in this way, the laboratory often symbolizes human potential—for both good and evil, as well as for order and chaos.