By Jason Cherubini
If you want to make an action movie, include a relatable protagonist, a well-written antagonist, and plenty of suspenseful plot elements. And don't forget the one-liners!
- Summary Notes
- The tried-and-true recipe for a successful action movie
- The many incarnations of die hard
- The necessary skills of a good protagonist
- The importance of a good villain
- The importance of being submissive when taken hostage
- The benefits of a contained location
- Key elements of an action movie
- The importance of one-liners
The tried-and-true recipe for a successful action movie
"Just take a look at how many different versions of Die Hard there are (I stopped at a dozen, but there are more)."
The movie Die Hard has been copied many times, and that there are a lot of different versions of it.
"The core stories being told harken back to ancient tales."
The stories that are told in action movies are based on ancient stories. This is true to some extent, as many action movies are based on myths or legends. However, there are also many action movies that are original stories.
"Using a story's framework, that has stood the test of time, in order to tell a new story gives viewers a familiar structure to enjoy new content."
Viewers are more likely to enjoy a new story if it is based on a familiar framework. This is because the familiar framework provides them with a structure that they can easily follow and understand. This can be seen in the way that many successful action movies are based on familiar formulas that have been used repeatedly over the years.
The many incarnations of die hard
The article discusses how Die Hard has influenced many action movies that have come after it. The movie established a simple recipe for success that has become the standard for many action films. This recipe has been used over and over again in Hollywood, with many different versions of Die Hard being made.
This constant re-telling of a similar story didn't start or end with Die Hard, or even Hollywood in general. We see the same echoing of stories on television, in theater, and in books. It is a part of the human storytelling tradition. Using a story's framework that has stood the test of time, in order to tell a new story, gives viewers a familiar structure to enjoy new content.
Working from a familiar storytelling recipe makes the overall filmmaking process smoother because everyone knows what the end product should be. This makes it easier to get the attention of sales agents, distributors, and viewers, resulting in a more profitable film.
"It's Die Hard meets Home Alone - set at a Chuck E. Cheese. PG. But instead of Bruce Willis to the rescue, it's an eight-year-old. And Hans Gruber is an animatronic raccoon gone haywire." ~Writing Movies for Profit, Robert Garant & Thomas Lennon, Page 18
By taking the basic premise of Die Hard and combining it with the set-up of Home Alone, you could create a successful action movie. The key elements they mention are having a young protagonist and a villain that is an animatronic animal.
The necessary skills of a good protagonist
"The protagonist should be relatable to the audience, often acts in a non-professional capacity, and possesses a background that justifies how they can stand up to the professional villain."
The protagonist of an action movie should be someone that the audience can relate to. They often act in a non-professional capacity, and have a background that would justify how they could stand up to the professional villain. This allows the audience to feel like they could be the hero in the same situation.
"The hero is the person who is constantly and unexpectedly dealing with the plans and machinations of the villain who tries to throw the proverbial 'monkey wrench' into the works."
The hero is constantly having to deal with the plans of the villain, and that the villain is always trying to throw a 'monkey wrench' into the works. The hero is the one who is constantly trying to stop the villain from wreaking havoc.
"In many ways they are the victim of the circumstance in which they are thrust, reacting to the events that unfold due to the antagonist."
The hero is usually someone who is caught up in the events of the story, reacting to what the villain does, instead of being the one who is driving the story forward.
"The protagonist is going to carry the weight of the movie, often with the most screen time which requires the most time on set especially during complicated action sequences. Because of this, it is often not feasible for an independent film to bring in top talent to fill this role."
The lead actor in an action film is going to have the most screen time, and will often be required to do complex stunts. This means that it can be expensive to hire a big name actor for the role. However, there are plenty of talented lesser-known actors who can do a great job as the protagonist.
"Because of this, it is often not feasible for an independent film to bring in top talent to fill this role."
It is often not possible for an independent film to afford to pay a big name actor to play the main character. Instead, they often have to settle for a less famous actor who is still talented. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the less famous actor may be more willing to do the heavy lifting required for the role, and the filmmaker can focus on bigger names for smaller roles.
The importance of a good villain
"Each film is only as good as its villain" - Roger Ebert
The film's quality is largely determined by its villain. A good villain creates conflict and drives the story, which makes for a more interesting and enjoyable film.
"The role/use of the villain is almost criminally underutilized in most independent films"
The villain is typically responsible for creating the conflict in the story, which drives the plot forward. Without a strong villain, many movies would simply be dull and uninteresting. Additionally, casting a well-known actor in the role of the villain can be a great way to attract attention to your film without having to pay them for a lead role.
"The villain drives the plot, is one of the most interesting characters, and often has disproportionately less screen time"
The villain is often one of the most interesting characters in a film because they are the ones who create the conflict and drive the story. However, they often have less screen time than the hero or protagonist. This means that a well-written antagonist role can be offered to a better actor without paying the hefty price tag to have them as the hero for the entirety of filming.
"A well written antagonist role can be offered to a better actor without paying the hefty price tag to have them as the hero for the entirety of filming." - Michael Emerson
It can be more beneficial to have a well-known actor play the role of the villain in a film, rather than the hero. The reason for this is because the villain is often a more interesting character than the hero, and the actor playing the villain can steal the show.
The importance of being submissive when taken hostage
"Experts agree that if you are ever taken hostage, the safest thing to do is be submissive and obey your captors."
If you are ever taken hostage, it is generally advisable to be submissive and obey your captors. This is because attempting to be a hero and resisting your captors is likely to get you killed, and may also endanger the lives of other hostages. It is usually best to wait for professional help to arrive, unless the situation dictates that it is better for the protagonist to act.
"The last thing they suggest is attempting to be a hero."
The experts are suggesting that the best course of action for a hostage is to not try and be a hero. This is because it could lead to them getting killed, and not necessarily help the situation. The smart thing to do is to be submissive and wait for the authorities to arrive.
"The smart hero knows that the safest thing for themselves and the other hostages is to sit and wait for the cavalry (police/military/etc.) to arrive, so we need to introduce a reason why this isn’t an option."
The best thing for the hostages is to wait for professional help to arrive, but there needs to be a reason given why the protagonist cannot do this. One possible reason is that the authorities do not know that hostages have been taken, as in the Die Hard example. Another possible reason is that the protagonist is the on-duty professional and there are no other options, as in The Rock. This story choice dictates that the heroics be driven by the protagonist in a spartan fashion. In the case of Under Siege, the urgency is created by the fact that the Navy does not know that the battleship has been taken over by terrorists. This creates a situation where the protagonist needs to act in order to save the lives of the hostages.
The benefits of a contained location
"A film taking place on an airplane (Passenger 57) or a mountain (Cliffhanger) already has an exciting angle that can grab the audience’s attention."
Choosing a location for your film that is inherently exciting can be a good way to grab the audience's attention. An example given is an airplane, as the high altitude and limited space can create a tense environment. Another example is a mountain, as the vast height and treacherous conditions can be thrilling for viewers.
"The contained area of the story also has the benefit of being easier and less expensive to film."
It is cheaper and easier to film a movie that takes place in one contained area, like a ship, than it is to film a movie that takes place in multiple locations. This is because you only need one set and one crew, and you don't have to travel to multiple locations.
"By focusing the majority of the story to all take place within an enclosed environment, the filmmakers can use a single set in a single location, drastically cutting down the costs of locations and travel while also streamlining the scheduling process."
Contained locations are easier and less expensive to film. By focusing the story in one location, the filmmakers can save on costs of locations and travel. This also streamlines the scheduling process.
"The contained area does not allow for one group to escape or retreat. They must confront each other."
If the majority of the film takes place in a contained area or vehicle, the characters will be forced to confront each other. This limited area to move, and the impending deadline from earlier, will create a situation where the characters have to take action.
"This limited area to move, and the impending deadline from earlier force a steady stream of action throughout the movie that comes across as more natural and not a forced series of coincidental interactions."
The limited space in which the characters are confined, and the looming deadline, create a sense of urgency that drives the action forward in a more natural way, rather than a series of contrived coincidence.
Key elements of an action movie
"Action movies are built on a simple formula: good guys against bad guys, with plenty of explosions, car chases, and fistfights along the way."
Action movies typically revolve around a battle between good and evil, with plenty of eye-catching stunts and fight scenes to keep audiences entertained. This is a tried-and-true formula that has been used in countless action movies over the years, and it is one that audiences continue to respond to.
While there are certainly other elements that can make an action movie great, such as a well-crafted story or interesting characters, the core of what makes an action movie an action movie is the action itself. Without that, you're really just left with another genre entirely.
So, if you're looking to make an action movie that will really pack a punch, make sure to focus on delivering the goods when it comes to the action. Everything else should be secondary to that.
The importance of one-liners
"Famous lines are common across movie genres, but Eric Lichtenfeld of Slate holds that they have a special place in action movies, saying 'Whether a quip, catchphrase, or callback to an earlier installment in a franchise, one-liners, even at their corniest, provoke the same glee as the most pyrotastic action sequences.'"
One-liners in action movies are often cheesy or corny, but audiences still enjoy them because they are memorable and provoke the same reaction as an exciting action sequence.
"It is often these one-liners (no matter how bad they are) that audiences remember; most of Road House is a forgettable 1980s action film full of bar brawls and movie tropes, but who can forget Patrick Swayze saying 'Pain don't hurt'."
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of memorable one-liners in an action movie. Even if the overall movie is not particularly good, a few catchy lines can help it stick in audiences' minds. This can be a valuable marketing tool, as a memorable line from the trailer can drive interest in seeing the movie.
"Whether a quip, catchphrase, or callback to an earlier installment in a franchise, one-liners, even at their corniest, provoke the same glee as the most pyrotastic action sequences."
Even the corny one-liners in action movies can be just as enjoyable as the big action sequences. I think this is true to a certain extent. Some of the most memorable moments in action movies are the one-liners that the characters say.
"These lines will help lend that comfort and familiarity that audiences look for, and can serve as key lines in the trailer which will drive the demand for the film."
Having memorable one-liners in your action movie can help make it more successful. This is because audiences will remember the lines and be more likely to want to see the movie. Additionally, these lines can be used in the trailer for the movie, which can further increase interest and demand.