Action Films There are many sub genres that fall under the heading of “Action” such as Chase films, War, Spy, Martial Arts and Disaster Films. In the course of this slide show I will be examining the evolution of the Action Film from its birth to the present day. While trying to encompass as many of the different sub genres as possible it would be impossible to list, examine and write about all action films so only the main or the socially/ technologically most significant.
Attack on a China Mission Created 1900. Made in England. A silent film This is one of the first sort of action films. It is a simple film created around the time of the Boxer rebellion to feed the publics desire to see something of what was happening. In this short film a British mission is attacked the women run indoors and a priest tries to hold off the Chinese rebels with his revolver before he is killed in a hand to hand struggle. A navel detachment arrives and saves the day. Shortly after their arrival smoke begins to billow out of one of thee windows. For the duration of this film the camera is static and it was all filmed in one take. The film was a great success as it was the first film to use a small choreographed army. And this gave the audience a whole new level of action.
Daring Daylight Burglary Created 1903. Made in England. A silent film in this film a burglar who is keen to escape from the scene of a crime throws a policeman off a roof and badly injures him. He is pursued by the policemans comrade intent on capturing him to avenge his hurt friend, he pursued the burglar over open country, over cliffs, across rivers before the thief escapes by train only to be captured at the next station when the police telegraph ahead. It was filmed over three days, it cost £25 to film and was sold for £50. it was extremely popular in America where it sold 100 of its 500-600 copies. Its revolutionary use of jump cut editing and the use of large and imposing backdrops thrilled audiences. This use of editing also allowed the policeman to be substitued for a dummy only at the very last moment of the scene.
The Great Train Robbery Created 1903. Made in the United States of America. silent film This is included because it was one of the first films to attempt a narrative. Some Men hold up a Train, shoot the Guard and rob the passengers [shooting one], before being hunted down and killed by a sheriff and his posy. This is an important point in the making of early Action Films, it had a huge Budget by standards of the time, featuring several horses and a real train. It featured for the first time a camera panning movement and many of the film frames were hand coloured to give colour to the gunfire and some cloths. To increase Box-office revenues by creating dramatic posters to advertise the film. The idea of coloured images, real moving trains and „match-on-action‟ allowing stunt dummies to be inserted were used to make it look more realistic and hep the audience engage more with the film.
Early Action Films Early Action Films were for mostly silent and had classical or historical settings with Westerns, classic storeys and tales of empire being some of the most popular. The immobile nature of some cameras and the complex process of editing the film meant that the plots often had to be simple and the actions of the actors had to be exaggerated at times. As technology became more advanced and the public began to become more and more accustomed to films; styles of films changed as did the specific genre of the films most in favour with the public. Action films were at the forefront of that.
Westerns At the beginning of this period and throughout westerns were extremely popular. This is because they appealed to a wide audience because of their reasonably simple plots of good against evil, the frequent chase scenes, gun- play and the large settings in deserts and small towns. Camera movement progressed rapidly as did editing techniques to capture the fast speed actions and the expressions of the actors. Large, medium and close shots were more widely used in scenes, made easier by better editing and match-on-action gave a sense of drama and reality to some gunfights.
North By Northwest This is one of the first big espionage Films. It is a story of spies and mistaken identity. By now editing and camera movement were similar to that used today. The previous move into colour for all films had had the same effect that the move into sound had had. It thrilled audiences by making it more realistic and engaging. As budgets grew with public demand more and more amazing stunts were called for. Including the famous aeroplane and mount Rushmore scene.
Bond Films The series of James Bond films first took hold in the 1960s and are an obvious part of any history of action films. The Bond Films started the public liking for spy films. It was also one of the first sets of films to really establish the character of the super villain. One man behind the scenes who is running the whole operation, these characters often had a unique quirk or physical abnormality that distinguished them from the rest of the villains in the film. But by far and away the most lasting impression they made was in the creating of the high speed car chases.
The 1970s In the 1970s two film genres began to take off. police/ detective films and martial arts films. Police films were originally popular in the west and gradually spread east and the original martial arts films were filmed in the east and gradually became more popular in the west, especially America.
Dirty Harry This 1971 film stared Clint Eastwood in his firs major role outside a western, this in marks the transition point in action films from when westerns were the only films involving guns and chases. This was one of the early films to give the police guns and allow the hero to be nasty. At several points in the film the hero tortures people mildly to get information but he remains the hero with the audiences support.
Enter the Dragon Enter the Dragon staring Bruce Lee was the first film to popularise the Martial arts genre of action film in America. The high levels of violence thrilled American audiences and the high level of English or American actors made it more accessible for western audiences than previous films of that type. The archetypal evil villain conformed to western film stereotypes while the themes of honour and betrayal created a new stereotype in the west regarding eastern style action films.
The 1980s The 1980s was one of the busiest times regarding action films. It was during this time that different sub genres of action films were merged. the overall budget of most action films were also increased. It was during this time that serise of action films were produced. An action film that was popular at the box-office was likely to be made into an ongoing series of films.
Rambo Rambo is the archetypal action film. They revolve around high levels of action with one main character at its heart. The first film was a great sucsess at the cinema box-office so it was decided to create more films staring the same main character. All of these films feature simular plots with different backdrops. These were some of the fastest paced and most violent films yet produced.
48 HRS. This film was the first film to fully merge the two genres of Action and Comedy. Despite initially bad reviews the film made $78,868,508. It was a great success and has lead to the creation of many police comedies or action comedies but few films combining all three were made.
The 1990s Developments in Computer Generated Images took a leap forward in this decade, allowing bigger and bolder scenes in action films and allowing people with little or no training to seemingly do physically impossible feats. Film budgets continued to grow and more film sequels were produced. At the same time westerns, war films and spy films became more popular again but by this point those films had begun to be parodies of themselves. The majority of action films made at this time were filmed either in America or Hong Knong.
Siege Films Due to the success of films like Die Hard in 1988 films following a similar plot were made to feed of the success of that film. These were... The Under siege series Sudden Death Air Force One
Speed Speed is a basic action film of the time. It focuses around high speed driving, explosions, an evil villain and a pair of heroes who win the day through luck and their ability. It had a budget of $25 million and made $350,448,145 at the Box-Office. The film depends heavily on CGI and well known actors.
Con Air Con Air was an action film that was meant to conform to the idea of action films. It has plane crashes, car chases, maverick policemen, gun fights, explosions, a reformed convict, a controlling villain and death. This film is based on action films and is there purely to entertain the audience, it uses lots of CGI and famous actors.
Conclusion In this brief history of action films I have been able to track the evolution of action films. Budgets have risen from £25 to £25 million. The plots of action films have also become more complex and the physical action required has increased. When once the ability to jog and fire a gun was all required in an action film. Now physical fitness, running, driving and a suitable voice is important in an action film. The type or sub-genre of action film that is popular with the public has changed the basic function has not changed, to thrill and entertain the audience. Genres have now started creating vague parodies of themselves and this is just a further evolution of the genre. In short action films must have none stop movement and escapism at its heart.