I have a theory that art films are starting to masquerade as action films because in a globalized economy, producers can’t pick any contemporary villains, so characters’ conflicts end up being directed internally. Hence, we get a slew of boring action movies, which hire the best talent to pepper the film with 5-10 minutes of amazing action scenes, “delivering on the promise”, but still manage to leave audiences starving for more ass-kicking. Haywire, Drive, Killing Them Softly, and Looper are recent examples.
But demand for good action keeps increasing in the West, especially under hard economic times, and it’s not being delivered in spades here the way the market demands it. That makes my job incredibly easy. Seriously, Hollywood and Europe, keep it up.
I think that films often use genre as a means to get their message out. That’s why movies like Haywire will have just enough action to be classified and promoted as an action movie. I don’t know how new of a concept this necessarily is.
In addition, movies do change genres from time to time during development. Rush Hour was originally a straight action movie with no comedy, Philadelphia was originally a comedy (yes, about AIDS), etc.
I think it’s good that action movies are being taken a little more seriously by the studios these days. I’m a little sick of sitting through terrible movies just to see great action.
Sadly I’m now sitting through OK movies hoping that a fight will break out sometime. Hopefully everyone will meet in the middle somewhere and we’ll get good films with frequent, solid action.
Studios took action films very seriously in the 80s, and money was more readily available, more risks were taken. More diversity among stars, but that is no longer. Today if it’s not a preexisting franchise they have a hard time justifying $200M budgets, so they do these small $20M things, and directors are discovering, “Damn, I can only do 5 minutes of action with that budget. Guess it’s all going in the trailer.” And we, in turn, get ripped off.
Both Drive and Looper were independently produced and found their distribution after presenting at film fests (Toronto and Cannes if I remember correctly), so I’d consider them outside the realm of big studio Hollywood.
The issue with most bigger budget studio backed action films is that they tend to green light terrible scripts. Like, really terrible. Seriously, try to get past the first five pages of The Expendables 2 or Red Dawn or the new Total Recall. Films live and die on the quality of the story. All the cool action set pieces in the world ain’t gonna satisfy an audience.
Indie films like Drive and Looper (and big budget auctioneers like The Avengers and Skyfall) prove this; they’re are hits only because they had a compelling story. Audiences will watch anything with a good story, despite genre. After all, it’s not like people were dying for a movie (or book) in the boy-goes-to-wizarding-school genre…