Action Films

Action movies are all about the visual movement and the environment in which the visual movement happens. The narrative is driven by chase sequences and quick camera cuts in order to stimulate the audience throughout the film.

The action film is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of movies. There are several subcategories worth identifying as their own genre within classic film.

Perhaps most importantly, there is the western. Western films occupy an imperative part of classic film. These films featured the walk and talk of John Wayne, the innovative camera work of John Ford, and sang the songs of Americana.

High Noon (1952)
High Noon (1952)

The western formula includes some key features:

Ringo is a classic westerner, embodying the talents and capabilities of the savage (he is capable of violence, good with a gun), but he feels a necessary allegiance to the force of civilization (Gehring, 29).

Western heroes are typically ambiguous. They enter the world of the film from another distant location, and venture back off into the sunset after the problem is resolved.

There is a formulated list of key characters in a western film. There are usually sympathetic characters used to contrast with the stern ambivalence of the masculine hero. There is always a network of individuals there to help solve the problem, such as a town inebriate or the saloon girl with a heart of gold.

Another quintessential subcategory of the action genre is the war film. With subject matter that transcends centuries, war has been a central theme in all of film history. From All Quiet on the Western Front to The Longest Day, war films have evoked a wide range of emotion to audiences.

Action films have varied drastically through the decades of film history, embodying many different sub-genres. There are always overlapping qualities. For example, there are many common distinctions between the disaster film and the war film.

In both, a society at odds within itself unites against a common threat. In the war film the threat is human; in the disaster film, natural or supernatural. But both genres provide the mimetic harmonizing of a shattered community. War films and disaster films seem to arrive in an alternating cycle, both performing the same general function but with significant shifts of emphasis. War films are at a peak during periods of war and express nationalist confidence. Disaster films express the triviality of human difference in the face of cosmic danger (Grant, 271).

Action films have always continued to be incredibly marketable to audiences. Westerns hold a certain dark ambiguity that intrigues audiences through the dialogue and characters. War films tell historical tales of human triumph and failure. Disaster films play off of the human fear of the forces of nature. In each sub-genre, they each prove human strength when put to the test.

The Big Country (1958)
The Big Country (1958)


Stagecoach (1939)

My Darling Clementine (1946)

High Noon (1952)

Shane (1953)

The Searchers (1956)

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1968)

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Merrill's Marauders (1962)
Merrill’s Marauders (1962)


Wings (1927)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Sergeant York (1941)

Stalag 17 (1953)

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Paths of Glory (1957)

The Longest Day (1962)

The Deer Hunter (1979)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Platoon (1986)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

The English Patient (1996)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)


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