Eighty years ago, life was relatively slow-paced and an “action movie” might involve very low stakes, such as a large amount of money or the safety of a husband and his wife.
The trailer for High Noon takes about 96 seconds and uses a narrator to literally tell a story the old-fashioned way, with a human voice:
A trailer for Treasure of the Sierra Madre requires three minutes!
Fortunately, most of the trailer is text, so the audience does not need to spend much time looking at sweaty men wearing too much clothing in hot weather.
These movies did not reflect the fear of atomic annihilation. The “stakes” were low; the deaths of two or three people were supposed to motivate the audience.
By the 1960s, the new standard “stakes” had been set: a single nuclear weapon outside of the control of the USA or the USSR was supposed to be the ultimate issue:
Note that the realism in some respects might be arguable. Bond tells a “little fish” to warn his employers. This use of diplomacy rather than lethal violence is not entirely unrealistic. However, the technology and geopolitics are combinations of fantasy and propaganda.
The “stakes” of a 1960s Bond movie set the stakes at an easily imaginable level: limited atomic war could mean the death of many humans. Later nuclear-bomb-centered action movies explicitly set the stakes at the highest level the audience can imagine — the utter destruction of all civilization, including the death of every human everywhere. The technology is mostly realistic.
It appears that Avengers: Endgame represents the current standard for Hollywood output. This movie may fall short of the quality standards of earlier action movies. Some action movies have combined elegance, excitement, and novelty.
Some other action movies have attempted to inject novelty by using dark-skinned actresses instead of pale-skinned actors. The results have not been inspiring.
Some classic action films combine exotic settings, implied sexual tension, stylized danger, and prettified violence, together with very fast-paced shocks of novelty. An example is The Fifth Element:
Note that the “stakes” are higher in theory, but practically speaking these are the same stakes as a 1970s-era atomic horror film: every human and human-like being will be destroyed unless the hero and the heroine succeed in their task. The technology is unexplained fantasy science.
Some critics have noted that this film continues action-movie tropes (such as cigarette smoking) that fit well with 1970s culture but are strange and unfamiliar to American audiences of the 20th century. Note in particular the line at 4 minutes and 9 seconds regarding “childlike traumatized but badass lady sex object.”
Also note that this in-joke trailer takes more time than three old-fashioned movie trailers put together.
[Considering inflation, Gone with the Wind is the highest-earning film in Hollywood history.]
DW has written:
“Avengers: Endgame” has earned $2.79 billion (€2.49 billion) since its release in April, breaking the record for the most financially successful movie of all time, Disney confirmed on Sunday.
The Marvel blockbuster comes as a culmination of a long-running story about a team of superheroes, which started with the release on “Iron Man” in 2008. It currently spans across over 20 movies set in the same fictional universe.
This weekend, “Avengers: Endgame” pushed past the previous record holder, James Cameron’s “Avatar”, which grossed just around $2.788 billion since it was released in 2009. So far, “Avatar” remains the more profitable movie if the inflation over the last decade is taken into account.
Filmbug has written:
Action films are a film genre where action sequences, such as fighting, stunts, car chases or explosions, take precedence over elements like characterization or complex plotting. The action typically involves individual efforts on the part of the hero, in contrast with most war films. The genre is closely linked with the thriller and adventure film genres.
Rise of the action film
In the West, during the 1920s and 1930s, adventure films were popularised by actors such as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, but the settings were often period ones. The phenomenal success of the James Bond series in the 1960s and 1970s, helped to popularise the concept of the modern day action film in more recent years. The early Bond films were characterised by quick cutting, car chases, fist fights and ever more elaborate action sequences. The series also established the concept of the resourceful hero, who is able to dispatch the villains with a ready one-liner.
Action drama – Combines action set-pieces with serious themes, character insight and/or emotional power. …
Buddy cop – Two mismatched cops (or some variation such as a cop and a criminal) team-up as the main protagonists.
Action comedy – Mixture of action and comedy usually based on mismatched partners (the standard “buddy film” formula) or unlikely setting. The action comedy sub-genre was re-vitalized with the popularity of the Lethal Weapon series of movies in the 1980s and 1990s.
Action thriller – Elements of action/adventure (car chases, shootouts, explosions) and thriller (plot twists, suspense, hero in jeopardy). Many of the James Bond series of films are icons of this popular sub-genre.
Caper / heist – Protagonists are carrying out [a] robbery, either for altruistic purposes or as anti-heroes. …
Die Hard – Story takes place in limited location – single building or vehicle – seized or under threat by enemy agents. This sub-genre began with the film, Die Hard, but has become popular in Hollywood movie making both because of its crowd appeal and the relative simplicity of building sets for such a constrained piece.
Science fiction action – Any of the other sub-genres of action film can be set in a science fiction setting.
Action horror – As with science fiction action films, any sub-genre of action film can be combined with the elements of horror films … Monsters, robots and many other staples of horror have been used in action films. In the 1980s, Aliens introduced movie goers to the potential of a hybrid of science fiction, action and horror which would continue to be popular to the present day.