5 Bad Action Movie Trends (That Just Wanted To Recapture The Magic Of One Movie)
Action movies are hard. You can’t just pull off classics like Terminator 2, Hard Boiled, Léon, or The Raid out of thin air, so when one action movie succeeds through a particularly good idea, technique, or style, soon enough everyone will want to replicate it. Some may succeed and create good movies of their own, but when they don’t, when they fail at capturing the magic of the trendsetter, that’s when we come in to make fun of them.
Wire-Fu And Bullet-Time: That Time Every Movie Wanted To Be The Matrix
The Matrix is an interesting hinge in turn-of-the-millennium action cinema, mainly because civilization quickly forgot how awesome Face-Off had been. On one hand, it drew inspiration from several different sources that were floating around the zeitgeist back in the late '90s: cyberpunk anime and novels that had even inspired previous Keanu Reeves movies, Hong Kong action, and, erm, cult classics like Dark City that had premiered just a year prior … On the other hand, however, The Matrix also improved upon these influences with aesthetic and technical contributions of its own. The best example of the latter is, of course, bullet-time, which itself was prepared by previous ideas.
But another thing that made The Matrix look so cool was its use of wire-fu, the technique of using unnoticeable (or later digitally erased) wires to make Cameron Diaz fly in the air to kick Geoge McFly’s ass—all right, you know what? Let’s wire-jump to it.
The unique product that was The Matrix ended up inspiring tons of other (uninspired) works in the next few years. As for the trashiests, you have McG’s (ugh) Charlie’s Angels movies, of course, but also stuff like Wanted, The Art of War, that Jet Li-insulting attempt at bullet-time wire-fu in Romeo Must Die (which we’re sure you forgot, but don’t worry, we got you), or that other insult to Jet Li that was The One (the poor guy influenced The Matrix in the first place, and then Hollywood couldn’t but put him in cheap cash-ins before the French tried to provide some quality to his Western career).
But that’s not all. Other bad movies that tried follow the white rabbit were Swordfish (and that visual noise it began with), the Underworld franchise (and its try-hard desperation at looking cool), and the worst of the worst, the Resident Evil movies—for example Resident Evil 4: You Kids Won’t Remember This But That Actress Used To Be Cool.
So check out this goofy nonsense at 0:40, with Milla ‘hey, don’t forget about Ultraviolet if you’re talking about my Matrix rip-offs!’ Jovovich dangling from a wire in midair, with no sense of weight nor momentum.
If your fight scene looks like a joke from an Austin Powers sequel, you failed.
Or how about this next peak of Resident Evil cringe, with Wesker hammin’ up the cheese. The Resident Evil movies ruined the video games, Milla Jovovich, The Matrix aesthetic, and A Perfect Circle.
Shaky Cam: That Time Every Movie Wanted To Be The Bourne Identity
Back in the early 2000s, when Doug Liman made The Bourne Identity and then Paul Greengrass followed it with Supremacy and Ultimatum, shaky cam was somewhat of a novel idea for Hollywood action movies. Now, horror is a whole other thing, but in terms of action, it was a style that hadn’t been used all that much, and when it was used, it tended to be for good reasons, like when Spielberg famously tried to put the viewer in the middle of D-Day in the opening scene of Hey, Another Matt Damon Movie!
Greengrass is, of course, the key man when it comes to shaky cam. Having used such a documentary-style technique for his own 2002 film Bloody Sunday, he’s who truly raised the Bourne idea to its more respected heights (only to see himself become the villain a few years later). In the case of Bourne, the idea of narrow shots, quick cuts, and fast-paced, jittery cam movements made perfect sense for the gritty, realistic story about amnesia, paranoia, and surveillance Liman had set up and he would continue (Liman would later get a try at the whole shaky cam, D-Day thing with his wonderful Edge of Tomorrow).
Shaky cam, in other words, was necessary to get into Jason Bourne’s shaky perspective.
Jury’s still out on whether it was necessary to show John Taken jumping over a fence, though.
Haha, what a loser *groans from back pain as he gets up from his office chair*
Even if shaky cam in the Bourne movies had its detractors, the technique quickly devolved into a head-spinning, vomit-inducing, action-obscuring, ridiculous gimmick. Let’s run down the bad movies that attempted to emulate Greengrass’ style: Taken, The Expendables, and all their sequels that we will just call ‘squeakquels’ out of sheer, unapologetic disrespect—but also the Transporter squeakquels, Colombiana, Salt, Battle: Los Angeles, Abduction, Tony Scott’s Man on Fire and Domino, Zack Snyder movies (because of course), and Alex Cross’ classic(ally awful) final fight scene. Oh, and we can’t discuss horrible, confusing examples of shaky cam without mentioning this timeless masterpiece of the genre:
I just remembered The Expendables 2: The One With Van Damme wasn’t that bad, and now I feel kinda guilty for the squeakquel diss.
Die Hard On A … : That Time Every Movie Wanted To Be Die Hard
Old friend of Cracked’s Die Hard revolutionized the action genre back when it was dominated by Stallone and Schwarzenegger, just dominating it and pounding it with their hard, throbbing muscl—all right, back to Die Hard, sorry. Instead of greased-up bodybuilders, John McTiernan’s other '80s action classic featured Bruce "surely I won’t ruin my own legacy with bad Die Hard sequels and bottom-tier Chinese sci-fi" Willis playing John McClane, an everyman trapped in a skyscraper and trying to save the day from a terrorist plot. It was truly the ‘Die Hard’ of Die Hard movies—and I don’t care what you think, snowflake, I won’t back down that statement no matter how ‘woke’ you think it is.
Now, Die Hard’s influence on a whole slew of confined-location action movies is well established, and we all know the fun, awesome movies it spawned: Die Hard on a bus, Die Hard on an inmate airplane, Die Hard on a New Jersey Quick Stop, and of course, the first two sequels: Die Hard on an airport, and Die Hard on—yeah, yeah, go listen to that awesome Lovin’ Spoonful song, we know you want to.
Sheesh, where to begin—and no, we don’t mean Home Alone or its French, Die Hard-copying original. We mean duds like Passenger 57 (sorry, it sucked), Turbulence, Half-Past Dead, Final Score, Icebreaker, Lethal Tender, Speed 2: Do We Really Need Keanu?, that Die Hard on Air Force One movie whose name just escapes me, and this Charlie Sheen vehicle that, to its credit, does have the greatest lines of dialogue ever written. Also, we couldn’t forget about the horrid Has Fallen propaganda franchise, with that Die Hard in the White House (not to be confused with the good Die Hard in the White House), and its sequel (Die Hard in London) where John McLame unironically calls the US a thousand-year realm. Yup, that is something that really happens. Anyway, let's leave aside suspiciously proud lack of self-awareness at Nazi tropes and look at a movie made by Ben Shapiro!
Yeah, Shapiro media company The Daily Bad Faith Argument distributed his own Die Hard rip-off. I would try to make a political joke, but *points at the trailer for Run Hide Fight again*. Uh? What's that? Do you want Die Hard knock-offs that are even worse than tacky, reactionary hero-fantasies? Well, for that you’d need stuff like Terminal Rush, Maximum Conviction, or Command Performance—all real movies that sound like boner pills, which is just … just awesome. And speaking of phallic metaphors, here’s an idea: Die Hard on a skyscraper!
Yes, Dwayne Johnson’s literal Die Hard rip-off has the same name as Anna Nicole Smith’s literal Die Hard rip-off. Remember those dark times three seconds ago before you knew that?
Cool Gangsters And Snappy Dialogue: That Time Every Movie Wanted To Be Pulp Fiction
Okay, Pulp Fiction is not ‘technically’ an action movie, but who cares, labels are just made up words, like all words. So, back when Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, its critically and commercially successful blend of nonlinear storytelling, vintage pop tunes, highly stylized violence, and cool gangsters quick-witting about pop culture (dorks) soon opened the floodgates for the copycats (Copycat, by the way, tried to recapture the magic of The Silence of the Lambs, which is definitely not an action movie—words have meanings, you know?).
But if Tarantino’s movie itself was a pretty amazing pastiche of existing ideas, does that mean constructing a personal style out of inspiration from other sources is the problem here? Nope. The problem is friggin’ Big City Blues.
Pulp Fiction paved the way for a whole slew of good '90s movies with quirky criminals in convoluted heists, and hyper-cool, dialogue-driven, gimmicky styles (sometimes even with cockney accents). But the bad ones, those were the true shining briefcases of the genre, and they even had actors from the first two Tarantino classics as a common, genre-uniting feature. We mean stuff like Suicide Kings, 2 Days in the Valley, Phoenix, Clay Pigeons, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, The Immortals, Truth or Consequences, N.M., Mexican Standoff, Albino Alligator, Thursday, Gridlock’d, or 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Alright, I made up one in that list, because I’ve also seen Tarantino movies and thought ‘hey, I could write that!’
This guy couldn’t, though.
Now, while researching this unholy subgenre one movie slipped everyone’s radar. Also belonging to that weird period between ZAZ and Mel Brooks’ decadence but before Scary Movie’s success brought the whole parody movie trend to its non-hilarious death, one obscure flick truly epitomized the worst of the Tarantino-milking trash. Seriously, you’re not ready for this adrenaline shot-demanding cringe overdose:
Julie Brown didn’t deserve this. At least I think she didn’t? Haven’t thought about her in years, to be honest.
Slo-Mo, Bullet-Ballet Gun-Fu: That Time Every Movie Wanted To Be The Killer
It is hard to imagine what the last three decades of the action genre would be without the towering influence of John Woo’s dual-wielding classic The Killer. For example, we probably wouldn’t have The Matrix nor Pulp Fiction, which, you know, sucks—although their absence would have saved us from empty bro-trash like Torque and The Boondock Saints, which doesn’t suck so much (also, you thought we had forgotten about Torque and The Boondock Saints, didn’t you?).
Point is, Woo’s 1989 masterpiece not only represents a pinnacle of the Hong Kong action scene, but also had a major influence on the later history of Asian and American action cinema. Not bad for a movie filmed without a script.
The Killer’s wide-reaching influence makes it tricky to pinpoint exact copycats, particularly since its specific, somewhat ‘official’ subgenre—heroic bloodshed—never really kicked off in the US. So instead of just, like, pointing to every bad action movie from the last 30 years, let us focus on some especially bad derivative works. 1998’s Dollar for the Dead, for example, ripped off specific shots, set pieces, and choreographies from The Killer, something that, surprisingly, hasn’t been noticed until this day.
Wait, is there a thing going on with Hong Kong-influenced action and Westerns?
Sadly, one key culprit of The Killer’s bastardization in Hollywood was Woo himself, who produced the mediocre The Replacement Killers and Bulletproof Monk (and thus Chow Yun-fat’s participation means a special mention must be given to The Corruptor as well). Moreover, during his American period Woo also directed duds like Blackjack. Oh, you don’t remember Blackjack?
Yes, there is a scene where Lundgren shoots goons by jumping up and down a trampoline, which on the bright side, suddenly makes Broken Arrow not look all that bad.
And here we come full circle, as just one year before The Matrix finally enshrined the influence of Hong Kong action in Hollywood, John Woo produced a movie drawing from his own style and following the already-discussed template of early Tarantino. Is it bad? Yeah, kinda. I mean it’s very bad. But it’s also one of the few movies on this list that is so bad it becomes good—and it also happens to have the best trailer ever:
Look, at least Face-Off’s awesomeness is an objective fact—it is the Die Hard of action movies, if you will.
Top image: Warner Bros.