Is the Action Film Dead?
This past weekend I plunked down $20 for myself and my wife to check out this week’s big action release Knight and Day, which was offered as a single, paid sneak preview for anyone and everyone to attend. Despite there being only one showing in the whole city of Austin, it did not sell out. The tracking on the film has reportedly been atrocious, and it will get even worse once the word of mouth on this clunker gets out and we critics finish having our way with it. The one positive thing I can say about this film and its situation is that it gave me pause. I sat down with several friends and began mulling it over, with one question banging around in my head: Is the action film finally dead?
Now the first thing I have to stipulate is that I’m talking strictly about films considered “action” as a genre. I’m not talking about other genre films, like science fiction, fantasy or superhero movies. Those are all doing splendidly. But it seems that their success has led to a kind of boredom among mainstream audiences when it comes to standard, vanilla action movies — you know, your typical spy thriller, man-on-a-mission-to-save-the-world/get-the-truth-out kind of fare. That all seems to be doing terribly.
Take, for example, The A-Team – which was a really great film as far as the genre goes. No, not everyone loved it, but action fans did. It was funny, had an A-list cast and was wall-to-wall action. It got its ass handed to it by a $40 Million Kung Fu family film. Similarly, films like Green Zone, Killers, Cop Out, Edge of Darkness, From Paris with Love, and The Losers all performed dismally. And a Michael Caine return-to-form action film like Harry Brown never even saw wide release. To find a non-genre action film on the list of this year’s highest-grossing films, you have to go past the top 20 to No. 24, where you’ll find The A-Team. Last year was much the same, with only Fast and Furious and Taken coming in at a respectable Nos. 17 and 20, respectively. The next action film on that list is Law Abiding Citizen at No. 44. And the academy Award-winning Best Picture The Hurt Locker? 117th.
Add in time-traveling knives, superheroes, post-apocalyptic wastelands or mythical monsters and you’ve got a hit. But car chases? Bomb.
Now think for a moment about the films for which you’re most excited this summer. Mentally make a list of the top five films you are most anticipating. Are they films like The Last Airbender, Inception, Scott Pilgrim, Eclipse, Predators, or even The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Did Salt make the list? You know, the big-budget Angelina Jolie actioner that seems like a Michael Bay remake of Kevin Costner’s No Way Out? Or did you forget that was even coming out? Only one straight action movie this summer seems to be generating any heat (and that’s only for nostalgia reasons): The Expendables. I have a feeling that will do well for its modest budget, but right now, things are not looking good for action movies.
No, I think for the time being, the action movie is dead. Its patron saint, Michael Bay, is off making his robot movies and Jerry Bruckheimer is off producing genre pictures about guinea pigs, pirates, and Persians. It would appear that once mainstream audiences took to movies about aliens and Hobbits and superheroes, the idea of just some really cool guy running around shooting people got a little boring. Even teams of really cool guys running around shooting people seem uninteresting to audiences. I love a good action film – I’m even eagerly awaiting Michael Bay finally getting around to Bad Boys 3. But in the meantime, I wouldn’t expect any modern-day, non-magical action films to be burning up the charts. And I think that goes for this weekend as well.