In case you’re wondering, we’re not going to belittle ourselves with the “bad guys can’t shoot for shit” or the “loose cannon cop” cliches. Those are readily obvious and acceptable cliches within the genre. After all, how long would your movie be if the legion of bad guys with .50 caliber machineguns could shoot one dude walking calmly through them, mowing them down like ants? No, these are some of the most overused action movie cliches that have popped up once or twice in an action movie, but you might not necessarily have noticed them. And no, running from exploding fireballs is also not on the list. Like bad guys that can’t shoot the broadside of a barn, you just naturally expect action heroes to evade explosive fireballs. I mean, that’s where the action part comes in, right?
In no particular order…
1. Saved at the Last Second by an Unexpected Character’s Well-Timed Gunshot
Tom Smith down the street is no good in a tight situation. But when the bad guy has our hero in his crosshairs and is about to pull the trigger, Tom Smith just might find the courage to save the day with a nicely well-timed gunshot! This usually happens at the end of the movie — Reginald VelJohnson’s hapless cop character, who just happens to have a “bad shooting” story in his past, saves John McClane’s life in “Die Hard” — or it could come early to prove a character’s mettle or trustworthiness. After all, nothing says “trust” like when someone saves your life with a well-timed gunshot to the bad guy’s dome. Good guys shooting people in the back is usually frown upon in action movies, unless, of course, it’s for dramatic effect. There’s nothing more dramatic than an improbable appearance at the very last second by a savior, especially when that savior is the last person you’d expect.
2. The Badass Masked Killer Who is Revealed to be a Woman
Oh look, it’s a really dangerous looking killer! Wearing a mask! (Or a helmet, if the killer happens to be on a motorcycle.) We can’t see the killer’s face, but we assume it’s a guy due to the fact that the killer does their job with expert precision/deadliness, cause what dainty lass could do such evil things? But then the killer whips off their helmets to reveal — GASP! It’s a girl! A hot, smoking hot girl, at that. Of course, if you had eyes, you would have known this before the supposed big reveal. Unless, that is, you’ve never seen a woman in your life and can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman’s bodies. Here’s a hint: chicks have more curves and moves WAY differently than guys. This cliche almost always never works on me, but that won’t stop filmmakers from thinking they’re clever and re-using it over and over anyway.
3. The Super Badass Hero Whose Super Badass Past is Ridiculously Badass
Tobin Frost in “Safe House” isn’t just a very good former CIA agent, he’s a brilliant former CIA agent. Steven Seagal is never just a really good former shadowy agent, he was one of the best, if not the best. There is always a moment in any action movie where the bad guy (or some doofus) wonders out loud who it is they’re dealing with, leading a third party to scoff at their ignorance, before helpfully informing them (and us) about our hero’s super secret badass past that is so super badass that it borders on being super ridiculous. See, this guy isn’t just really good at his job, he might very well be the best. The exception to this cliche is when you’re dealing with an action movie where the hero is an Everyman. “Die Hard’s” John McClane also bucked this cliche at first, but let’s face it, even John McClane has become something of a supercop since the first movie. “Let me tell you a little something about John McClane, when it comes to dealing with terrorists in a confined space, this guy is the best there is or ever was,” etc.
4. The Amazingly Super Quiet Silencer
PFFT PFFT! It probably comes as no surprise to you that most Hollywood filmmakers have never actually used guns before. Or even been around real guns, it seems considering all the ridiculous things they have guns doing in their movies. Here’s the truth for you kids out there: silencers/suppressors for guns are NOT THAT QUIET. They don’t produce a soft, barely audible PFFT PFFT! sound when you use them. In fact, they tend to go BANG BANG!. You know, just like when you don’t have silencers attached to your fancy handguns. There is a noticeable difference, sure, between a gun with and without a silencer, but the difference isn’t so dramatic as shown in movies. Sorry to burst your bubble, but having a silencer on your gun won’t turn you into a silent assassin. It will, though, turn you into a slightly quieter (thought not by very much) assassin. Here’s what a real gun with and without a silencer sounds like in real life:
5. The Helpful Local Who is Different From All The Rest
Everyone in the Scott Atkins movie “El Gringo” is a backstabbing, uber violent, gangbanging Mexican except that one hot chick who, for whatever reason, decides to help our hero out. Likewise, everyone in the Mel Gibson prison movie “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” is a vicious Mexican criminal except the spunky kid and his mom who decide, for whatever reason, to show our hero the ropes so he can survive his new surroundings. Most action movies have the subtlety of a sledgehammer when it comes to portraying cultures different from the filmmaker’s. Which is why they tend to compensate by offering up at least one exception to the rule so they can point to and say, “See? We’re not saying all Muslims are terrorists, look at the spunky kid/hot babe helping out our hero!” Obviously one “good” character in a sea of stereotypically “bad” ones doesn’t make action films any less racist/culturally insensitve, but at least they’re, you know, trying. Right? Plus, if she’s a hot babe, that’s just gravy.