What Makes a Good Action Scene?

July 31st, 2019What Makes a Good Action Scene?

The FAST & FURIOUS franchise has proven that action movies can come in all shapes and sizes. A growing challenge — no pun intended — with each new installment comes in creating a stunt or set piece that is bigger and better (but especially bigger) than anything that fans have seen in previous films ... which is what leads to Dwayne Johnson pushing a torpedo with his hands while skating on a glacier. How do you top that?

The latest chapter of the ongoing saga, FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW, will attempt to out-shock everything that has come before it, taking its action from London to Hawaii as it connects the film to the roots of the characters played by The Rock and Jason Statham.

The upcoming release got us thinking, “What makes for a good action scene?” Major movie stars from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li to Angelina Jolie, Linda Hamilton and Tom Cruise have wrestled with the formula, usually getting it right, but sometimes missing the mark. Here are the three things that we think every successful action sequence needs.

A Hero

Audiences only become engaged with an action sequence if there is a character that they can invest in. The most elaborate stunt means very little if you don’t have a human element that pulls you to the edge of your seat, hoping against hope that they will cheat death and succeed in the mission at hand.

Watching someone hang onto the side of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper is cool. But knowing Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and understanding why he NEEDS to walk along the side of the building while racing the clock? That elevates the scene to an all-time high.

A High Threat Level

Let’s take car chases, as an example. They can be a dime a dozen. Even ones done practically nowadays, with real cars shuttling down real streets, have the tendency to feel repetitive, unless an imaginative director thinks outside of the box.

The car chase in Michael Bay’s BAD BOYS II is an all-timer, because it ramps up the threat level. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are racing to assist Gabrielle Union, who’s being chased by an army of bad hombres. The villains have hijacked one of those massive trucks that carry additional cars on the back. How does Bay escalate the thrills? He starts dropping cars in the path of Smith and Lawrence, as shown in the clip above.

It immediately takes a scene that could have been routine and brings something new, different and dangerous to the table. It’s why that sequence remains so memorable, 16 years later.

Survival of the Fittest

We all like happy endings. We want to see our heroes succeed, with good triumphing over evil. So quite often, when an action director is tinkering with an action set piece — no matter how big or how small — it's important that he or she solves exactly how the main character pulls it off.

You can almost work backward from there. “OK, Bruce Willis will wrap this hose around his waist, and he’ll jump off right as the rooftop blows up.”

“Great! How does he survive it?”

If DIE HARD director John McTiernan didn't have that answer, the sequence (and the movie) would have failed. So yes, an action movie can cook up some amazing stunts. But if the director and stunt coordinators don’t know in advance how the sequence is meant to end, then all of the planning that goes into the stunt is wasted.

We expect HOBBS & SHAW to deliver a handful of truly memorable stunts, particularly with David Leitch (DEADPOOL 2, JOHN WICK, ATOMIC BLONDE) behind the camera. Soon, you'll be able to see for yourself, as the movie will be everywhere starting on August 2. Get your tickets now.

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