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Powerful Short Film Themes for Any Genre

Theme is an incredibly important element to any story, particularly because the theme acts as the central message of the narrative and represents what the audience thinks that the film is about as well as what the film says about the overall subject of the story. With short film themes, the message has to be powerful and direct. There’s no time to beat around the bush and there’s certainly no room for fluff. When it comes to formulating the most appropriate short film themes for any project you’re working on, there are a number of considerations that come to mind. 

Take the themes from some of the most famous films of all time:

  • Titanic – Love. a true love story if I’ve ever seen one. The film takes the traditional approach that love conquers all and that some people will literally risk everything for love.
  • The Lord of the Rings – Sacrifice. Despite a lust for power, the heroes are all about redemption through sacrifice for the greater good.
  • Lonesome Dove – Death.  Like many American Western films, death is the thematic element of this one. It’s inevitable and guaranteed no matter who you are.
  • Star Wars – Good vs. Evil. The cinematic theme that identifies not only characters that are diverse but very good, there’s equal representation of those who are cold and evil.
  • Harry Potter – Coming of Age. Featuring fundamental experience details about growing up, Harry grows and matures but not without experiencing loss, death, and plenty of other events we can all relate with.
  • Back to the Future – Family drama.  Representing the unbridgeable gap between Marty McFly and his parents we see that as much as we like to think that families are so much different with their drama they’re all very much the same – we all struggle.

These are just a few of the themes that are common in feature films, but themes like this can just as easily come together and unfold in a short film. Short film themes can be equally as sophisticated and deliver just as much connection as the them of a feature film, the filmmaker is just responsible for delivering the message and making the overall thematic connections much, much faster and with far less footage.


The use of theme offers an opportunity for the filmmaker to create a universally engaging message for the audience. In fact, the stronger and more cohesive the theme is, the more likely the film is to impact the audience, sticking with them long after the film is over. The theme of any short film should engage the audience, create emotion and connection, and give every person that watches the film something to walk away with. It’s like creating a tiny little thought that will stick with the viewer, just for a bit.

 Consider any of the following common short film themes that are likely to require substantially less plot development and fewer twists and turns than you may expect:

  • Justice – we all want justice of some sort. Consider using justice as your central theme or message.
  • Love – Whether it’s love for others, love for animals, or love for humanity any film that focuses on love as the central message is sure to be powerful. 
  • Redemption – stories of redemption are particularly powerful and can be used in number of different ways. 
  • Friendship – spreading love and kindness is an important topic and one that audiences really can’t get enough of, particularly in a world where things are often dark.
  • Transformation – messages of transformation that prove power and the ability to persevere can be incredibly powerful. 
  • Perseverance – sharing a message of overcoming harsh obstacles and defeat can be uplifting and particular inviting. 
  • Adventure – proving that overcoming larger than life obstacles and engaging in fast paced environments that lead to exotic places can be particular engaging for audiences.
  • Rags to Riches – stories that take the viewer on a trip as a nobody becomes somebody can be particular powerful, uplifting, and inviting. 


As a filmmaker, how can you come up with the best short film themes for your projects? Do you just wing it? Do you choose what everyone else chooses in your industry – like a love story or a coming of age story? What if you’ve already tried that route, more than once? Coming up with short film themes and ideas can be challenging, particularly if you’re not exactly sure how to get started.

Seasoned filmmakers know that when it comes to them, the overall central message is something that we really don’t need to mess around with. Tried and true is successful for a reason – it works! There’s really no need to reinvent the wheel here or to fix something that’s not broken Instead, if you’re interested in coming up with short film theme ideas, all you have to do is make a list of the following questions and brainstorm between 3-6 answers to each question open-mindedly:

  • What’s something in my life that I love?
  • What’s something that’s currently happening that I don’t like?
  • What’s something that’s a current event that I’m passionate about?
  • What’s something that I feel I’ve kept oppressed?
  • What’s my favorite type of story?
  • What’s my favorite theme or central message?
  • What’s an important belief that I think everyone should be aware of?
  • What do I fear?

If you just brainstorm these elements, you’re likely to find a common theme and to create a central message that’s going to be ideal for your short film.

Some of the most common, and useful, short film themes are those which you’ve probably seen many times over, but just because your film delivers the same overall central message, this does not make your short film any less powerful or less interesting, in fact, it might make it just the opposite.