Michael Bay’s Transformers movies proved that a big budget, lots of special effects, and heaps of Hollywood stars don’t guarantee a hit action movie.
There are amazing action movies with no CGI, no huge budgets, and no explosions, and yet they are still brilliant. Here is what makes a great heart-pumping action film.
A Cleverly Chosen Background Score
How does something so inconsequential make a difference? Sure, we all know about the foreboding tracks that indicate suspense in a horror movie, but the best background score is one that plays in the background and you do not even notice. The best ones will also say something about the scene or the characters.
Probably the finest-crafted action movie ever made is Die Hard. They got everything right, including the background score that plays as different characters come onto the screen and different scenes take place.
One example is the “When you go down to the woods today” song that plays when the robbers are frustrated. Another is the big threatening score that plays when the FBI agents are in the helicopter that cuts to nothing when the scene changes. This focuses us on them, even though the terrorists are threatening themselves in some of those scenes.
There are 21 songs that play in Die Hard, and only on very few occasions do they rise above or pull focus on their own.
Consistent Suspension of Disbelief
What makes or breaks an action movie is how consistently your disbelief is suspended. It doesn’t matter how much your disbelief is suspended. It can be people surviving buildings collapsing in Avengers End Game or some ninjas being able to fly in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. What matters is how consistent our suspension of disbelief is.
A great action movie will not tamper with your suspension, even if the movie premise is outlandish, such as people being stuck in the Matrix. What ruins an action movie is when suspense it not consistent.
An example is where plenty of people survive helicopter crashes (Suicide Squad), but we are asked to believe or care when one person is supposed to have died in a helicopter crash (the Joker). It is like showing up a bunch of people easily surviving car crashes and then having a protagonist die in one.
Character Building Or Character Motivation
We become very intimate with McClane in Die Hard because we spend so much time with him. We have to experience his problems from very close proximity. Watch again and see how many times the director purposefully pulled close to Bruce Willis so that we could sit there and experience the pressure personally.
You do not always have to build a character. Sometimes you can give them a suitable motivation and drift on it quite exquisitely for the rest of the movie. The first John Wick film did this perfectly, as did Mel Gibson’s Payback movie.
Quentin Tarantino did a brilliant thing with Kill Bill because he gave the motivation at a very beginning of the movie. He then slowly built the character over the course of the movie by showing small chapters of her life like jigsaw pieces being slotted into the puzzle.
Something Familiar That People Can Hold On To
There are some movies that are especially brilliant because they touch what some people would call something “real.” Trainspotting did this by setting its world within a grottier side of Scottish life. Harry Brown set its world within the overt criminal underbelly of England.
The Rob Zombie versions of Halloween 1 and 2 are amazing because not only do they refuse to shy away from the seedy underside of American life, they actually shine a light on it. A similar thing was done years before by spaghetti westerns.
People had spent years watching cowboys with white teeth and perfect hair. Then suddenly Italian directors gave us movies like the “Few Dollars More” trilogy, where the cowboys had yellow crooked teeth, dirty skin, and dirtier habits.
People often describe these as being “real” in a movie, but that is not the case. They are exaggerations of truth that are so broad that a great many people can hang onto them. It gives the viewer a little more reason to be invested in the movie. You can visit this website to read insider stories about the films mentioned in this article.
A Form Of Wish-Fulfillment
When it comes to action movies, wish-fulfillment usually includes part of you wishing you were the character in the movie. Sometimes the wish fulfillment comes from what the character goes through or what the character represents.
Brad Pitt in Fight Club represents freedom. He answers the question, “What could I do and how far could it go if I didn’t care about material things and just did what I wanted?” The Fast & Furious franchise has built itself on a similar premise where it asks what life would be like if one could exploit breaking the rules and do it with their friends.
The other forms of wish-fulfillment are a little more obvious. We watch the Hulk smash because part of us wishes we could smash through town throwing cars and breaking the necks of alien invaders. Part of us wishes we could fly like Neo, shoot like John Wick, fight like Black Widow, or move as quickly as the Flash.
An Action Film That Has A Villain With Depth
Black Panther was a seriously stupid film, but the main villain had a believable issue, and he took it very seriously. He didn’t run around quipping like Ultron or delivering monologues like most villains. The fact he had a believable and genuine reason behind his actions made him deeper and caused the viewer to be conflicted about whom should win.
Thanos in Infinity Wars was committing terrible acts now to save suffering in the future. In our “minute to midnight” world of 8 billion, you can almost see Thanos’s point. Thanos actually suffered in order to do what most people thought was evil. If Thanos had been as well written in End Game, then maybe the End Game movie wouldn’t have sucked.
A Villain With Character
Loki from the Marvel universe is a great example of this. We obviously see his character development grow, becoming more and more complex over time, but the true reason why he is the best Marvel villain is that he has oodles of character.
The Dark Knight features the very best villain character of all time. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, doesn’t even have his character developed. In fact, the movie even makes fun of this by changing his backstory, but throughout the movie, he has tons of character that is almost accentuated by the lack of character that Batman has.
Explosions And Chases Are Not Enough
Most action films you love contain at least one of the elements discussed above. One of the hardest things about watching action movies is when they give you these things and then strip them away; you almost feel cheated.
If you ever speak to anybody about the movie “Dusk till Dawn,” they will tell you how it was brilliant up until the middle. It sets itself up perfectly with many of the principles in this article but then it strips them away in the matter of a few seconds.
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