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One of the most basic functions of every film is to communicate information over a length of time to an audience. How this film is communicated often determines how engaged an audience may be. One of the most difficult types of information to weave naturally into a story is exposition. What is exposition? In this article, we’ll define exposition and take a look at a few examples of how exposition in film can be implemented without disengaging an audience.

Watch: How to Write Exposition That Works


First, let’s define exposition

Exposition can be delivered through many vehicles, but all serve a basic function. What does exposition mean? Before we dive into the means of implementing it into a script, let’s first establish an exposition definition.


What is exposition?

Exposition is a comprehensive description or explanation to get across an idea. It is a device used in television, films, poetry, music, and plays. Exposition in literature is a writer’s way to give background information to the audience about the characters and setting of the story. This exposition definition applies directly to film. Which can be dialogue, narration, or even visual information that helps the audience better understand what is going on in the story.

What is exposition used for?

  • Reveal theme
  • Describe the story world
  • Entice audience curiosity
  • Establish the rules of a film
  • Reveal more about character


The purpose of exposition

There are many secrets to writing great exposition in a screenplay. But they all rely on its main function. The purpose of exposition is to reveal details around the circumstances that surround a film’s narrative. This can be character traits, motivations, background information or themes that all allow the audience to further comprehend the central narrative of a film.

Expository “info dumps” often get a bad rep when they aren’t used well. But it can be a necessary component for a film to function. Using the right tools gives exposition meaning.

Exposition in film can often be difficult to implement naturally. Too little and the audience becomes confused — too much and the audience becomes disengaged. The right amount of exposition is usually a product of a filmmaker trusting the audience’s ability to be able to put things together. It’s also recognizing what information is absolutely necessary for them to know.

This video by Lessons from the Screenplay examines how Ex Machinaexecutes the balance of information perfectly to keep the audience engaged throughout.

Exposition Examples in Ex Machina

Take note of how writer/director Alex Garland cut pages of expository material from the final cut of the film. He did this because he trusted the ability of the audience to put things together. This is an important aspect that is often overlooked. It can result in information being spoon-fed to audiences through lengthy dialogue scenes or completely unnatural conversations.

So how exactly do filmmakers implement this information naturally into a film while keeping the narrative engaging? The first way is through visuals — using what we see instead of what we hear.



Define exposition with visuals

Visual exposition is often more engaging, but also more difficult to pull off. Sometimes it is used through the mise-en-scene of a scene. For example, a character’s bedroom often reveals their personality traits. Let’s say a character really loves rock ‘n’ roll music. Having them say, “I love rock ‘n’ roll” would get the job done. But having their room decorated with posters, albums, and concert tickets would be more organic.

Using visual aids is among our list of tips in this video breakdown of how to write exposition into a screenplay. Watch how Jurassic Park makes the genius decision to reveal scientific jargon and concepts through an educational video.

How to Define Exposition in Film

This scene is extremely efficient at communicating information. But not every narrative has the luxury of introducing a concept in a matter-of-fact video. To incorporate crucial information into a film visually and organically, it is up to the script must first entice curiosity in the audience. 

A film that does this brilliantly is The Matrix. If you read The Matrix screenplay, you’ll see how it uses visual information when it answers the film’s most burning question: “What is the Matrix?”

We brought The Matrix screenplay into the StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to break it down. In this scene, Neo and the audience first encounter “the real world.”

The scene enables the audience to understand the central narrative of the film and how the world of the film operates.

What is Exposition - The Matrix Example - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

What’s the Exposition in The Matrix  •  Read Full Scene

This video breaks down various action sequences that also serve as visual story and plot information.

The Matrix  •  Exposition Examples

As shown in the video essay, The Matrix does not only use visuals to exposit key information. But there are other means of communicating the plot details of a story that utilizes what a character says to the audience or to the other characters.


Exposition meaning in narration

Beyond the visual elements of a film, filmmakers also utilize sound to communicate information. One of the most efficient ways to do this is through voice over narration.

When it is executed well, narration can connect an audience to a film’s protagonist while communicating vast amounts of information over a short amount of time.

Few filmmakers do narration better than Martin Scorsese. Voice over narration is a common aspect of Scorsese’s directing style and screenplays.

In this scene from Goodfellas, Scorsese uses voice over narration to establish Henry’s backstory, introduce the power of the mob, and highlight Henry’s motivations. This is done all within three minutes.

Goodfellas makes a valid case for voiceover in film

For more exposition examples in The Goodfellas script, download and read the entire screenplay. By using voice over narration, filmmakers have a way to directly communicate exactly what they want to the audience. This can be both a good and bad thing depending on how you write a voice-over in a screenplay.

Narration can often spoon-feed audiences information or disengage them completely. It is important to use narration with restraint. This means letting it complement the visuals rather than take over the scene completely.


Deliver exposition through dialogue

One of the more engaging ways to include vital info is through dialogue. What is exposition in dialogue used for?

Dialogue is one of the more difficult ways to lay out the details of a story. Poor dialogue is often criticized for being unnatural. When used naturally, it can be incredibly effective.

Take a look at this video that analyzes exposition examples in dialogue — both poor and great examples that make a scene memorable.

What’s exposition in dialogue?

As you can see, good expository dialogue has to be motivated. When it isn’t, it becomes “on the nose” and can distract or disengage an audience. Writing realistic dialogue can be difficult, but can also be the most natural and effective way to communicate information to an audience.


Tips for writing great exposition

What is exposition? It’s an opportunity to bring the audience into the film. Now that you understand the importance of handling this information carefully and how it can be necessary for a film to function, read on to learn about specific tips and techniques that will help you implement exposition seamlessly into your script.

  1. Keep it Brief
  2. Exposition Through Dialogue
  3. Using Genre Tropes
  4. Exposition Through Character
  5. Reveal Exposition Through Conflict
  6. Exposition Through Montage
  7. Using Flashbacks
  8. Narration Exposition
  9. Breaking the Fourth Wall
  10. Reveal Information w/ Title Cards
  11. Using Diegetic Media
  12. Keep Exposition Organic

Exposition is simply information for the audience’s benefit.  It can be background information about a character that helps the audience better understand her motives, or the choices she makes in the narrative.


What is exposition?

Exposition is a comprehensive description or explanation to get across an idea. Exposition is a device used in television, films, poetry, literature, music, and plays. It is the writer’s way to give background information to the audience about the characters and setting of the story.

Exposition can be dialogue, narration, or even visual information the audience receives that helps them better understand what is going on in the story.


  • Reveal more about character
  • Describe the story world
  • Reveal theme

Exposition can be historical or contextual information about our story’s setting, or even the rules that govern our world. We often see this kind of exposition in the form of a prologue.



A prologue is an introduction, separate from the rest of the story. It provides a history, or gives important details about, the setting and/or characters up to the point where the story begins.

As a screenwriter, you’ll have to be able to provide these crucial tidbits of information in a way that doesn’t bring the story to a grinding halt or overwhelm the audience.

So now that we have that taken care of,  let’s take a look at some ways we can weave exposition into the narrative. 


1. Exposition should be brief

First things first. Brevity is key. No matter how you choose to deliver your exposition, always keep the audience’s patience in mind.

This is mostly relevant when you’re using dialogue to give expo. (Although, we wouldn’t want a 10 minute montage either).

We don’t need to overdue the point. If we’re revealing exposition in an organic way, using character, genre, or even conflict to do it, we probably won’t run into this problem. Let’s dive a little deeper into this.


2. Exposition through dialogue

In screenwriting, there are several conventions for conveying information to the audience. Some are specific to certain genres, or characters, and audiences readily accept, even expect them. 

But convention can quickly turn cliché. Our screenwriting goal is to avoid cliché by bringing something new and interesting to even the most basic story.

The easiest way to exposit information is by having characters talk about it. Dialogue can be a natural way for your characters – and the audience – to learn things they need to know about the overall narrative. But the dialogue has to be motivated by something. Otherwise it may appear to be too “on the nose.”

There are ways of including necessary information in your dialogue that are realistic for the context.

This is true especially for certain genres. Let’s explore below.


3. Exposition tropes of genres

Common tropes follow certain genres. For example, in the Fantasy genre, there is often some kind of battle that has taken place, must take place, or inevitably will take place.

And if there is a battle, there is usually the big battle plan meeting. The leaders of the disparate allies discuss how they hope to vanquish the evil bad guys once and for all. Here’s just one example:

Exposition Examples: GoT Battle Plan

No doubt you have watched many versions of this same scene. While it’s pretty cliché in terms of how often you’ve seen it, these scenes are as organic as they come…in fact, it wouldn’t be believable if they didn’t have this scene. And what works is that we’re given important information about the coming battle – which ratchets up the tension when the outlined plans inevitably don’t work.

Though audiences of Fantasy expect a scene just like the one above, as screenwriters it is our job to give those scenes an original spin. 

But this can be especially challenging with genres like Fantasy and Sci-Fi, where screenwriters are often tempted to write more exposition through dialogue than is necessary. There is a need to overly explain because the plot might be complicated. While Inception delivers, especially on Nolan’s shot choice, there is a bit of over-explaining:

Exposition Examples: Inception Cobb Explains

We want to avoid clichés like having one character who explains everything, especially while it’s happening. Once you start writing, you’ll be able to tell right away. You can use StudioBinder’s free screenwriting software to practice:

Writing Exposition Cobb Explains

Check out the rest of the scene

Try to trust that your audience will be able to figure out most things without having it spelled out for them.

However, this leads into the next point, that there are certain characters who are organically built to reveal exposition. It’s literally woven into their character…


4. Exposition through character

Choose characters whose job requires giving exposition.

For instance, teachers, doctors, or as we saw above, leaders of armies, are all great vehicles for delivering exposition. The amount of exposition they give agrees with the role they inhabit.

Why does this matter? Well, it’s helpful when you’re trying to pull off hard asks.

For example, trying to set up an important question or theme at the start of a film is a major responsibility. If a character’s role is organic to the exposition they are giving, revealing major information is easy.

Let’s look at an example from Dead Poet’s Society that does this well. If you haven’t seen it, watch this scene below:

Exposition Examples: Seize the Day Lecture

When we take a look at the scene scripted, initially, it looks like way too much exposition. There is a ton of dialogue. And it’s coming, mostly, from one person, Mr. Keating:

Writing Exposition Dead Poets Script

Why does this lengthy dialogue work? Read the scene

This is normally is a huge no-no. But why does it work here?

The character of Mr. Keating, his role as a teacher, is an organic way to reveal information to the audience because all he has to do is reveal information to his students. So even if the dialogue is lengthy, it’s natural because that’s how teachers normally act, that’s how classes are.

But let’s get more specific into the content of his lecture. And see how the specific information given was also just as natural.

Early on in the scene, Keating acknowledges that he too attended the strict prep school. We understand that he knows what it’s like to grow up in Welton, and serves as motivation for his unconventional lecture about to come.

As he takes his students out of the classroom and into the hallway, he asks several boys to read a few lines from a Walt Whitman book. He calls out something critical in the poem, but also for the theme. 

Writing Exposition Dead Poets Carpe Diem

“On the nose” dialogue works here because it’s motivated

He calls attention to the theme of Whitman’s piece—“carpe diem” or “seize the day.” The confines of a prep school don’t escape him, and he stresses the importance of this.

He has them look at pictures of deceased Welton students that hang on the walls in the hallway.

He continues giving this unique mini lecture comparing the current students to the deceased students.

One day, hard as it is to believe, each and every one of us is going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die!”

Writing Exposition Zoom in Lecture Keating

Organic characters can naturally reveal theme  

While intimidating to some of the boys, Keating is a breath of fresh air. He provides some relief in the uptight school setting. And his lecture serves as a warning. 

Mr. Keating’s unique style and nature are in perfect juxtaposition to the rest of the story world. He represents freedom, and choice, in a place that feeds off of conformity.

The iconic “seize the day,” lecture sets up the question:

Will the boys take control of their lives, and truly live? Or will they conform to their surroundings?

The rest of the film is watching how the boys take this advice.

Using character is an organic way to set up your story’s theme. Check out StudioBInder’s entirely free masterclass on character development.



5. Exposition through conflict

Writing compelling conflict is a challenge all its own. But when you begin to get comfortable with the process, it’s one of the best ways to reveal exposition.

Again though, it needs to be organic.

We can’t have a character come up to another one and simply start yelling at them, revealing exposition that we don’t care about.

If we setup a reason to care about this situation, have some real stakes for the character if they fail at their goal, conflict comes easy. And when conflict starts showing, exposition starts flowing. (Sorry, it just felt right).

Now how does this work?

A great example of revealing exposition through conflict is in an early scene of Tootsie. Dustin Hoffman’s character is a bit of an arrogant guy, trying to become an actor in New York City. He feels pushed aside by his agent, and we see them arguing. Watch below:

Exposition Examples: Tootsie

Notice how every time Michael (Dustin Hoffman) says something, more information is revealed to us through the agent. Michael begs for work. He says he doesn’t care what the job is, “cat commercial, dog commercials,” he just wants to be put up for something. But George refuses to put himself out there for this unprofessional client.

What Michael wants is in direct opposition to what his agent wants. We get exposition, a ton of it, but it’s motivated by this conflict:

Writing Exposition Conflict Organic Tootsie

Opposing views reveal exposition naturally

We can see more information being revealed as the conflict mounts.

And with each ask from Michael, we learn more and more. The agent holds his position and begins to bring up issues from the past. Notice how the exposition flows in the conflict.

Writing Exposition Tootsie Close Up Script

Use conflicts to reveal info from the past

Everything in this scene is information that the audience needs to know about the character and the plight he’s in, and why he’s in it. It also helps setup the entire premise of the movie – he needs to become a different person (a woman) to get more roles.

Of course, there are a ton of other ways to reveal exposition without using dialogue. Let’s explore the idea of “showing, not telling,” as it relates to exposition.



6. Exposition through montage

Writing for a visual medium like film or TV demands that we “show, don’t tell” as often as we can. So, a clever way of revealing a character backstory, for example, is through a montage.

A montage is a series of brief scenes, usually without dialogue, typically illustrating the passage of time. In Pixar’s Up we learn everything we need to know about Carl in this beautiful, memorable montage: 

Exposition Examples through montage

This montage gives the audience everything they need to know about Carl’s marriage. And now that we know we are invested in their love, and can connect deeply to his pain when he loses his wife. We understand why the journey he is about to go on could be exactly what he needs. This was all accomplished through the montage, with no dialogue at all.

You can practice this technique in any screenwriting software, to get a better understanding of how to format this visual exposition. For now let’s use StudioBinder’s free software to see what it would look like:

Writing Exposition Montages

Learn exposition through the Up Montage

We also see montage used a lot to show a character preparing for a specific event (i.e. “training montage”) or to show a character on a self-destructive binge. While these can be a bit overdone, writing a montage sequence to inform character, or to move your story along can be a very powerful technique, and a fairly simple way to reveal exposition.

Another visual technique to give exposition is the flashback.


7. Exposition through flashbacks

Similar to the montage is the flashback. A flashback is a scene where we jump to an earlier point in our story, or to a time before the current time.

Like the montage, we can use the flashback to show instead of tell something that happened in the past. What makes a flashback different from the montage is that a montage is strictly a storytelling device.

Characters do not “experience” the montage. But a flashback is someone’s past experience, so a flashback must be motivated by character. In Coco, Hector remembers his life: 

Exposition Examples: Coco, Hector’s flashback

Like in Coco, flashbacks can be useful to reveal a character’s true intentions, or even information about the setting. 

Because of the genre of Coco, being a musical, this flashback was scripted mostly as lyrics. Let’s see how Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich revealed this exposition in the writing of the scene:

Writing Exposition Flashback Coco

See how Coco used flashbacks to reveal exposition

It’s a brief flashback. A quick scene of father and daughter revealing that Hector was actually the writer of the famous song, “Remember Me.” We go back to present day, and are met with Miguel’s dialogue as he realizes Hector is the rightful songwriter.

Writing Exposition Coco Zoom In

Miguel realizes the truth about Hector

But too many flashbacks are confusing and make it hard to follow your current narrative. So once again, make sure it’s motivated and necessary to your character and story. But if done right, it’s another easy way to reveal information.



8. Exposition through narration

A screenwriting tool that essentially combines the flashback with dialogue is narration. Narration is information provided for the audience’s benefit only. Often it’s told from the point of view of the protagonist recounting the story from some time in the future. So that’s why it can intermingle with the flashback.

Note, even though the flashback is inferred because it’s a retelling, it doesn’t always have to be shown as a flashback. If we look at an iconic scene from A Christmas Story, we have narration of an older Ralphie, but we never see him. 

Narration Exposition Examples

We can use StudioBinder to see how to format narration. It’s simple. But in this case, just make sure to distinguish between Narrator, Ralphie, and the younger Ralphie.

Writing Exposition Narrator

Differentiate narrator from Ralphie

…or in this episode from Arrested Development, a character providing secret observations from within the story.


ion Exposition Examples

This narration inside of the story is a great way to reveal exposition, especially about what a character is feeling internally.

But narration can quickly become overused. So remember that narration needs to be just as motivated and internally logical as any other aspect of your story.  

For example, if you establish that a particular character is the narrator, you can’t really kill her off in the first scene unless you also establish that she’s a ghost relating the story to the audience from “the beyond.”

And of course, there are different styles of narration.

What about those times when characters narrate directly into the camera? This too, can be an effective way to reveal exposition.


9. Exposition through the fourth wall

We call this style of on-camera narration “breaking the fourth wall”.

We’ve all seen it, it’s not hard to miss. It can have a huge impact on your film, for better or worse. Use it to reveal your critical information.


What is the fourth wall?

The fourth wall refers to an imaginary wall that separates the story from the real world. This term comes from the theatre, where the three surrounding walls enclose the stage while an invisible “4th wall” is left out for the sake of the viewer.

The 4th wall is the screen we’re watching. It’s the wall that separates the story world from the real world.

We treat this wall like a one-way mirror. The audience can see and comprehend the story, but the story cannot comprehend the existence of the audience. If you break that wall, you break that accord.

This is called Breaking The 4th Wall.” It can also be described as the story becoming aware of itself.

3 tips for breaking the fourth wall effectively

  • Be extreme: This means you need to break the fourth wall all the time, or very rarely.
  • Be thoughtful: Consider opportune scenes and moments within the scene for wall breaks.
  • Be controversial: Don’t waste your big decision with an underwhelming fourth wall break.

Let’s take a look at an example from the show Fleabag.

Exposition Examples: Breaking the 4th Wall

This woman is completely detached from her surroundings, so breaking the 4th wall here is brilliant.

In the modern era we tend to see breaking the fourth wall more as a comedic device. But writing little asides to the audience goes back to at least as early as Shakespeare, who used them frequently in his dramas.

Breaking the fourth wall is another way to reveal exposition. But it doesn’t always have to be by narration. In shows like The Office, or Parks and Recreation, the characters often reveal their feelings by a mere look at the camera. Looking at The Office, we can see how to format.

Writing Exposition Fourth Wall

Breaking the 4th wall in a script

Many times, breaking the fourth wall is more natural when it comes at the end of a scene if for comedic delivery.

If you want to learn more about this technique, check out this article completely devoted to it.



10. Exposition through title cards

A sort of visual version of narration are titles. Titles (or “title cards”) have been around as long as the film industry itself.

Modern titles are a very quick and easy way to let the audience know key bits of information without interrupting your story’s flow.

You can use titles anywhere from your prologue to your epilogue. Titles can quickly orient your audience to a location…

Killing Eve Title Card

 Villanelle’s first assassination-Killing Eve

…remind them of crucial plot details that build tension…

Chernobyl Title Cards

HBO’s Chernobyl

… or even introduce characters.

But titles can also be used more creatively. BBC’s Sherlock gives us a wonderful example of how titles (and graphics) can be used to keep exposition from being a stale monologue, as well as give us a bit of insight into the mind of the eponymous character:

Visual Exposition Examples

Titles can easily become distracting for an audience. Try to use them creatively. Fortunately, current technology allows us to use titles in a lot of ingenious ways.


11. Exposition through diegetic media

A sneaky little way you can get exposition into your story is through media your characters see and/or hear.

Old letters, an emergency broadcast, even text messages are all types of in-story media devices that can clue the audience in to important information. Diegetic sound is sound that can be heard on screen, in the story world. It’s not sound added in later, like narration, or sound effects.

Diegetic media, often expressed as text messages, can be used to establish the main conflict, like in Crazy Rich Asians…

Exposition in Film, Crazy Rich Asians

…or to explain how to resolve it like in Shaun of The Dead

Delivering exposition in Film

The main thing to be careful of when using diegetic media for exposition is that it can easily be overused, especially in 21st century filmmaking. 

While in real life we might only ever speak to certain people via text or social media, it’s not a very interesting thing to sit and watch for 90 minutes or more. But if you do want to pepper it into your film, there are some ways to make texting look better on screen.

One example is from the emotional thriller, Searching.

Using diegetic media in film

John Cho’s character misses multiple FaceTime calls from his daughter. As the day go on, he realizes she’s missing. The film shows him trying to find out more about her whereabouts through her computer, search history, and live-streaming services he never knew she had.

So diegetic media was used a TON in this film. Let’s check out how they formatted this media in this quick video and then look at a script.

How to format “Searching”

Below is an example from the film. We see a clear heading establishing what kind of media we’re going to see on screen. IN this case, it will be an iMessage, so we can format that to match.

Writing Exposition Format Media

Establish clarity immediately

Formatting for media can be tricky, and it isn’t set in stone. But the biggest takeaway is that it needs to be clear. 

Examples of Exposition in Literature

Because all books involve some form of storytelling, many are likely to include exposition. Some just do it more clearly than others.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

At the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, the heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s mother informs the family that “Netherfield Park is let at last,” meaning that they have a new neighbor. Namely, the wealthy Mr. Bingley, who is accompanied by his even richer friend Mr. Darcy. This opening sequence reveals most of the main characters, their relationships to one another and when the central conflict will be: finding husbands for the Bennet sisters.

“’Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.’
‘What is his name?’
‘Is he married or single?’
‘Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!’”


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Throughout The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway serves as narrator, a role in which he provides exposition for the complex and sometimes convoluted elements of the plotline. It is through his exposition that readers get a sense of the decadence and superficiality of Jay Gatsby’s opulent lifestyle.

“I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited—they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behaviour associated with an amusement park. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.”


Cinderella by Charles Perrault

Like many fairy tales, the story of Cinderella gives significant information for readers to have as the story unfolds.

“Once there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty woman that was ever seen. She had, by a former husband, two daughters of her own, who were, indeed, exactly like her in all things. He had likewise, by another wife, a young daughter, but of unparalleled goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

This excerpt from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an example of exposition that explains the past and previews the future.

“Harry had been a year old the night that Voldemort — the most powerful Dark wizard for a century, a wizard who had been gaining power steadily for eleven years — arrived at his house and killed his father and mother. Voldemort had then turned his wand on Harry; he had performed the curse that had disposed of many full-grown witches and wizards in his steady rise to power — and, incredibly, it had not worked.”


The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings tells the audience everything they need to know about the formation of the rings that ruled over the men, elves and dwarves of Middle Earth and the One Ring created to rule them all. This explosion is revealed through verse:

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

Exposition Examples in Movies

In film and television, exposition often takes the form of a voiceover, flashbacks, text on the screen, or dialogue between characters. Sometimes it is effective and other times it is overkill, but it’s often a useful tool to tell a story.


Star Wars (1977)

While exposition is found in a lot of great movies, one of the best examples is offered by George Lucas through the Star Wars franchise. In the opening of each film, you see a title crawl that begins:

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ….”

This is followed by the text explaining what is happening in the Star Wars universe as it pertains to the plot.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Based on the book by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park cleverly employs exposition through an informational video that the characters watch. This reveals to both the characters on screen and the viewers watching it how the technology behind the dinosaurs they are about to see works. Additionally, the cheesy, childlike tone of the video downplays the seriousness of the information and the devastation that is about to occur.

The Matrix (1999)

As with any fantasy or sci-fi story that’s tasked with creating a whole world with its own rules and history, The Matrix is filled with exposition. The opening scene of the film drops the audience into the middle of a conversation, arousing their curiosity to learn more. The audience is privy to the following dialogue:

Cypher: “You like him, don’t you? You like watching him?”
Trinity: “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Cypher: “We’re going to kill him. Do you understand that?”
Trinity: “Morpheus believes he is the One.”

We do not yet know these characters and we don’t hear who is speaking. We only hear voices, yet instantly we are drawn in and given information that will be useful later. Without giving anything away, the audience knows the stakes and who and what will become important later in the film.

Up (2009)

The opening scene of Up is a notable and tear-jerking example of exposition. The wordless montage is a perfect display of show don’t tell. It opens with the main character, Carl, as a young man and follows him through his marriage to his wife to old age and his wife’s ultimate death. This reveals to the viewer why Carl is the way he is throughout the rest of the movie and allows them to empathize with the character.

Sherlock (2010)

The exposition in the first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson is the perfect balance between heavy-handed and essential. Due to Sherlock’s almost superhuman abilities to read people within seconds, he lets the audience know that John is a war veteran and deduces that John is looking for a flatmate. He then offers more exposition in the following monologue:

“I know you’re an Army doctor, and you’ve been invalided home from Afghanistan. You’ve got a brother worried about you, but you won’t go to him for help, because you don’t approve of him, possibly because he’s an alcoholic, more likely because he recently walked out on his wife, and I know your therapist thinks your limp’s psychosomatic, quite correctly, I’m afraid. That’s enough to be going on with, don’t you think? The name is Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street. Afternoon.”

However, while he’s telling the audience — both on the screen and in front of it — about John, he’s also revealing a lot about himself. The dialogue also highlights the difference between the two men, making them foils and clues the audience in that their differences will complement each other to form a strong partnership and eventually friendship.

Purpose of Exposition

Understanding the purpose of exposition helps you use it properly in your own work.

  • In a play, movie or television show, exposition could be used anywhere in the work to give background information on characters and other parts of the work.
  • In written texts, the exposition also gives background and character information. Writers often provide exposition via narrators, who provide backstory details.
  • In music, the exposition is the opening section of a fugue or the first part in the sonata, which introduces the theme(s) used in the composition.

Importance of Exposition

Exposition is important because it helps to ground the reader, viewer or listener within a work by providing context for what is about to unfold. Not only does exposition provide clarity on characters and time, but it also helps people orient themselves within the work. Without an exposition, readers, viewers and listeners would be confused as to what is happening and why.

5 Types of Exposition With Examples

Now that you are familiar with exposition examples from popular works, consider how you can incorporate this literary device into your own writing.

  • Description – The writer explains the characteristics of a topic, shows examples or describes features of an item or person.
  • Comparison – Clarify how two topics are alike or different.
  • Cause and effect – Provide background through insights regarding the cause of an event and an overview of its actual or potential effects.
  • Problem and solution – Sets forth a problem and then explains possible solutions to it.
  • Sequence – Depict events in either chronological or numerical order based on the order in which something happened or in which information will be presented in the work.

Examples of Types of Exposition

There are several different types of exposition, all of which need to be concise and easy to understand when used in a work of writing or entertainment.

  • Description: The U.S. flag consists of thirteen alternating stripes of red and blue, representing the 13 original states. In the top left of the flag, there is a field of blue with fifty stars, one for each state.
  • Comparison: The alligator has a u-shaped, round snout and tends to live in freshwater swamps and streams. The crocodile has a long, v-shaped snout and can live in saltier waters as well as freshwater habitats.
  • Cause and effect: The Civil War was caused by conflicts between states on the subjects of states’ rights and slavery. Before the war, the southern states relied on slaves to plant and harvest crops. These southern states wanted to make decisions separate from the northern states and banded together as The Confederates, threatening to leave the U.S. The northern soldiers were victorious in the Civil War, reestablishing that states in the South had to conform to U.S. laws, including the abolishment of slavery.
  • Problem and solution: Every day in the United States, approximately 29 people die as a result of driving while intoxicated. That means 10,000 people die each year in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. This issue can be addressed by actively enforcing the 0.08% BAC laws, upholding the minimum age drinking laws and establishing more sobriety checkpoints.
  • Sequence: Key timelines of the Civil War include:
    • 1600s – States begin to adopt laws regarding slavery that are appropriate for their individual states.
    • 1700s – Some states begin to express opinions indicating that slavery should be abolished.
    • 1800s – Rebellion against slavery starts with seven states threatening to secede from the Union. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. The Civil War began; the North eventually won.