How to avoid making a bad action movie 

I’m a huge fan of action movies. Any decade, any country there can be goods ones. Many large budget blockbusters have been fairly disappointing and I wanted to tease out the common mistakes I see them make. Money doesn’t make a good action movie. The Prodigal Son from 1980s Hong Kong, for example, holds up well.

Skip the first chapter

Origin stories have become lazy writing in the Marvel Universe. They just keep adding character after character and how they got their power.

Not every little relationship and detail needs to be explained. It is much more interesting to start in the thick of things.

Blue brothers, The Matrix (ignore the sequels), even Back to the Future doesn’t need to explain why a high school kid is friends with a disgraced nuclear physicist. Not knowing why everything is the way it is doesn’t take away anything from these movies.

The real world has no answers and true beginnings. You only know what you get when you enter it.

The only good motivation is love or hate for another living thing 

The love of brothers. A father and daughter. A husband and wife. A fan and his hero. A man and his…elephant? (The Protector).

Or it can be motivated by a failed relationship.

A criminal that killed your daughter. The best friend who crossed you. The coworker who is trying to sneakily steal the promotion.

Doing it for “The love of the game” can be fairly convincing as well. One of the bad guys in The Man From Nowhere pulled this off.

Bad motivations are cop outs. Things that wouldn’t really motivate anyone in real life:

  • It is in our nature.
  • We are running out of resources and want more.
  • Actually, I am saving the world!
  • Nothing in the world matters

I would like to see an alien action movie that has not made one of these mistakes.

I hate the Nihilism cop out the most. A true nihilist wouldn’t fight at all, because who cares?

In the real world, sure, that’s why wars happen.

But that’s not what motivates a guy to shoot another guy. Love and hate do that. A soldier shoots to protect their family. To honor their grandfather.

One potential exception to this rule may be a reluctant guy “Just doing my job.”

Saving the world is so much less interesting than saving your neighborhood 

Go small. The smaller the better.

When you start fighting over the future of the world, the stakes are immediately gone.

Next you try to make the stakes the future of the universe. Then all of the universes. All of time itself.

I’m no longer watching in anticipation.

Jessica Jones did a decent job of making a supervillain that was only terrorizing a coupe blocks in Manhattan. Wes Anderson movies are also extremely good making you care about some random town you never heard of.

A beginner fighter can’t become an expert in a single movie

The learning to fight montage always takes me out of the story.

It just isn’t satisfying to watch our hero go from beginner to expert in the span of a movie.

Frankly, you don’t want them to be an expert in most cases anyway. The stakes should be higher. They should get injured. They should be unsure of themselves.

There’s ways around this. Maybe they aren’t a complete beginner at the start of the movie. Maybe they are a washed up expert who is drunk now. Or a master who was injured and drugged like in Kill Bill. They download the skills they need like in The Matrix.

Or maybe they simply aren’t an expert at all for the final showdown. Instead, they have a weird trait or weakness that turns out to be great for a cheap shot when it counts.

Good fighting is emotion

It should be sloppy and full of cheap shots.

When it comes to the final showdown, good fighting isn’t perfect kicks and splits and flips. It isn’t Jedis jumping around and doing flips with lightsabers.

The showdown is the confrontation of individuals emotions.

In the Princess Bride, a sloppy sword swing while screaming at the man who killed your father is much more powerful than the polished 5 minute fight scene earlier in the movie.

Perfection is emotionless, the fight shouldn’t be perfect.

Even if it’s a giant war with 10,000 people, the confrontation should be between individuals. Between a guy and his childhood best friend on the opposing side. Between two general brothers.