Wednesday, May 9, 2012

80's Action Movie Project

Brad Williams

                                    The Rise of 80’s Action Movies

The Rise

Throughout the 1980’s a new type of genre was rapidly becoming the benchmark for new releases. Emerging from a history of spaghetti westerns where a typical anti-hero battles his inner demons and some other antagonist, the movies in the 1980’s were a result of three productions late in the 70’s that changed the genre and opened it up to new possibilities. Those three key movies were Star Wars, Superman and The Spy Who Loved Me. What they did was move away from the standard darker characters and create a new type of lead. It became ok to have a character that was heroic, suave and ready to deliver one-liners at a moments notice. However breaking away from the more dark and contemplative movies in the 70’s was going to take some iconic characters that Americans could idolize.

The Key Players

            One of the first movies to embrace this newer feel was The Raiders of The Lost Ark. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indiana Jones become one of the most iconic characters on film and that cocky sort of demeanor became almost standard issue for big budget action films. The time for self-doubting leads was at an end and it was obvious that the audiences embraced it. The early 1980’s really established the pace for the entire decade; most movies in this period followed the simple formula that Eddie Murphy, Sylvester Stone and others made popular. Eddie Murphy’s role in 48 HRS established the Cop-Buddy dramedy that became one of the most repeated stories in film for the next 20 years. At the same time, Sylvester Stallone released First Blood, a movie that walked the line between the 70’s dark style and the new emerging style but had not quite made the switch. These two films arguably had some of the biggest effects on where the 80’s would take the genre.
            In the Mid 80’s Eddie Murphy’s role in Beverly Hills Cop turned out to be a pivotal movie for the rising 80’s action heroes. The film was just full of Eddie Murphy’s hilarious one-liners and after that film we begin to see those same funny lines emerge in the action movies done by Schwarzenegger and others. The duel rise of cop-buddy films and action packed men of steel movies created an interesting tone for the 80’s. Each genre pulled from the other and fed off the interesting dynamics in each style.

The Style

To effectively transform from darker action to this more light hearted destruction, there needed to be a change in the way the movie was shot. Realism in destruction became relatively more important as each action film tried to outdo the last in spectacle. This resulted in a whole slew of new ways by which directors would set up and make shots. It also pushed the industry to develop more special effects that were both bigger in scale and better in quality. These effects have paved the path towards the modern day desire for films to be more realistic in quality. By beginning to push the envelope on stunts and explosions, the whole industry had to expand and develop in new ways. Technical innovations paved the way for some pretty incredible sequences brought out in movies like Die Hard, Top Gun and Robocop.

Production and Music

            Concise, violent and funny was the order of the decade. Most movies clocked in around one and a half hours in order to keep the action high and the audience engaged. While plot mattered to an extent, most movies were centered on their ability to get to the action and maintain a fast paced experience for moviegoers. To do this, the production phase had to create clever new ways to utilize special effects in order to continuously improve upon the level established by other movies in this time. The need to keep growing the action in both volume and realism pushed the industry into evolving more towards the idea that the more realistic it looks the better. Special effects began to improve by leaps and bounds as it became more necessary to achieve the ambitions of the studios. At the same time the music became more involved with supporting the fast paced nature of the films and built situations through strategic scores. The goal was to keep the pace up and the audience passionate about the icons on the screen, so the music often supported the idea that the characters on screen were unstoppable, manly men.

The Decline

            The type of film shot in the 80’s didn’t so much decline as it did shift. The growing ambition of Hollywood began to look bigger and broader as their capabilities grew exponentially in that period.  While the cop buddy film remained timeless, the action movies began to see a shift to more sci-fi action type movies that occasionally popped up in the 80’s. The reason behind this was because the special effects were final at a point where realistic effects could ease the transition from the status quo towards more futuristic stories. The same iconic characters often permeated into the 90’s and even a little into the next generation but it was their role in the early 80’s that cemented their status as American icons. The lingering effects of the two major film types can still be seen in the construction of modern films today that is truly a testament to how much they changed the movie industry.

"Alex Leo." Action Movie Villains From The 80s To Today. Web. 09 May 2012. <>.
"BEST FILMS OF THE 1980'S." BEST FILMS OF THE 1980'S. Web. 09 May 2012. <>.
"T Y S T O » Blog Archive » The Rise and Fall of the ’80s Action Genre." T Y S T O » Blog Archive » The Rise and Fall of the ’80s Action Genre. Web. 09 May 2012. <>. 

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