Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Adam and Barbara live in a perfect house in a perfect town with a perfect life. This is gonna be a really boring movie.
Call To Adventure
As Barbara is driving home from the store, she swerves to miss a dog and accidently hits the side of a covered bridge. This plunges the car in the water, killing the Maitlands. Not a great way to start a vacation.
Refusal Of The Call
At first, Adam and Barbara don't realize they're dead. In fact, Adam thinks that if he steps outside to retrace his steps from the bridge he can figure out why he feels so weird. This isn't his best idea of the day.
Meeting The Mentor
Shortly after their death, the Deetzes move in and Adam and Barbara meet Lydia. They come to really love this moody teenager. Hey, anyone who can understand The Handbook for the Recently Deceased is okay by them.
Crossing The Threshold
The first time Adam and Barbara venture into the afterlife is a big step for them. It's also a really eye opening step. The afterlife isn't exactly what the Maitland thought it might be and crossing this threshold (and sitting in a waiting room for three months) is a bit of a letdown.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Adam and Barbara aren't actually really great at figuring out who their allies are and who their enemies are. At first, they think Betelgeuse might be a useful guy. They also think they Deetzes are the worst. By the end of the movie, they'll realize the opposite is true in both cases.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
When Adam and Barbara are feeling really desperate to get rid of the Deetzes, they finally decide to call on Betelgeuse. Approaching this cave involves two shovels and a pretty bad case of instant regret.
The Maitlands get caught up in Otho's séance and wind up almost decomposing in front of everyone. Or maybe being exorcised. Either way it's not a good look for them.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Lydia sacrifices in order to save Adam and Barbara and they're rewarded with renewed strength. They use that to try to stop Betelgeuse. It doesn't last long. He sends Adam packing to the model town and Barbara to sandworm planet.
The Road Back
Adam and Barbara are determined to make it back to save Lydia any way they can. Adam starts up a little car on the model town and crashes it into Betelgeuse's foot while Barbara rides a sandworm right through the ceiling. That's one way to get back home.
Betelgeuse is gone and the Maitlands are reunited. Lydia is safe and sound and the Deetzes are back together, too. Everything is back to normal. Well, normal-ish, considering two of the home's occupants are deceased.
Return With The Elixir
The last scenes of the movie show us the Maitlands living in peace with the Deetzes. They've also managed to restore their house back to its original New England charms. Looks like match made in the afterlife.