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Action movie


Action movie

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Action movies comprise a genre of film which involve drama fueled by intense action. This can include fighting, stunts, car chases, explosions and the like. The action typically involves individual efforts on the part of the hero, as contrasted with war movies.


Rise of the action movie

The genre, although popular since the 1950s, did not become a dominant form in Hollywood until the 1980s and 1990s, when it was popularized by actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone. The 1988 film Die Hard was particularly influential on the development of the genre in the following decade. In the movie, Bruce Willis plays a New York police detective who inadvertently becomes embroiled in a terrorist take-over of a Los Angeles office block. The film set a pattern for a host of imitators which often just used the same formula in a different setting.

Action films tend to be expensive requiring big budget special effects and stunt work. Action films have mainly become a mostly-American genre, although there have been a significant number of action films from Hong Kong which are primarily modern variations of the martial arts film. Because of these roots, Hong Kong action films typically center on acrobatics by the protagonist while American action films typically feature big explosions and modern technology.

Current trends

Current trends in action film include a development toward more elaborate fight scenes, perhaps because of the success of Asian martial arts elements, such as kung fu and karate, in Western film. Actors in action movies are now much more skilled in the art and aesthetic of fighting than they have been in the past, apart from a few acknowledged fighters like Steven Seagal. Now, a distinction can be made between films that lean toward physical agile fighting, such as The Transporter, and those that lean toward other common action film conventions, like explosions and plenty of gunfire, such as Lethal Weapon, although most action movies employ elements of both.

The elements that are considered to be important to the majority of "die-hard action movie fans"(the core audience of American action movies from the 70's to today) are: Explosions, gunfights, car chases, and the hero either killing the main antagonist or giving him a severe beating in personal combat. Action movies lacking these elements tend to be less-respected (and even looked down upon) by this audience. While some embrace the shifting toward more martial-arts based movies and the superhero antics of The Matrix, the vast majority of this group does not like these kinds of changes and still prefers the concept of "more explosions, more gunfights, more car chases, and more carnage is better".

Several of the common action film conventions saw their birth in the release of James Bond series (containing many of the original elements of spy movies still seen today). One popular element is the car chase, a feature that is almost standard in action films. Bullitt and The French Connection were among the earliest films to present a car chase as an action set-piece.

Another genre staple employed by many action films is a suspenseful climax centered around a Mexican standoff between two leading characters.

Feminist theory

Feminist film theory has been used to analyze action movies, owing to their rare variance from a core archetype. The separation between the physical male who controls the scene and the look and the female, who is almost always the object of the look is very clear in most such films. Although female characters in most action films are nothing more than objects, a prize for the winner, hostages, loving wives and the like, there has been a move towards stronger female characters such as those in works by James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. However, in most action movies since the 1970s, the female character in an action movie is usually portrayed as incompetent and lacking in good judgment. These characters tend to unintentionally make life harder for the hero.

Female leads

The science-fiction action/horror movie Alien was the first action movie to feature a strong female protagonist, independent of a guiding male lead. Alien has thus been considered a prototype for the Girl Power-effect that occurred in Hollywood towards the early 2000s when more and more action-movies with powerful female leads appeared from the comedic (e.g. Charlie's Angels) to the mainstream martial arts film (e.g. Kill Bill).

See also


  • Action drama - Combines action set-pieces with serious themes, character insight and/or emotional power. This sub-genre can be traced back to the origins of the action film. Graham Greene's The Third Man was an award-winning example of this sub-genre.
  • Action comedy - Mixture of action and comedy usually based on mismatched partners (the standard "buddy film" formula) or unlikely setting. The action comedy sub-genre was re-vitalized with the popularity of the Lethal Weapon series of movies in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Action thriller - Elements of action/adventure (car chases, shootouts, explosions) and thriller (plot twists, suspense, hero in jeopardy). Many of the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the James Bond series of films are icons of this popular sub-genre.
  • Caper/Heist - Protagonists are carrying out robbery, either for altruistic purposes or as anti-heroes. The film You Only Live Once, based on the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde, was one of the first examples of this sub-genre.
  • Die Hard - Story takes place in limited location - single building or vehicle - seized or under threat by enemy agents. This sub-genre began with the film, Die Hard, but has become popular in Hollywood movie making both because of its crowd appeal and the relative simplicity of building sets for such a constrained piece.
  • Science Fiction Action - Any of the other sub-genres of action film can be set in a science fiction setting. The Star Wars films began the modern exploration of this combination of high action content with futuristic settings in the 1970s, based in part on the serials of the 1930s and 1940s such as Flash Gordon. An explosion of science fiction action films followed in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Action Horror - As with science fiction action films, any sub-genre of action film can be combined with the elements of horror films to produce what has increasingly become a popular action sub-genre in its own right. Monsters, robots and many other staples of horror have been used in action films. These were particularly popular in the 1950s. In the 1980s, Aliens introduced movie goers to the potential of a hybrid of science fiction, action and horror which would continue to be popular to the present day.

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Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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