Top 10 Action Movie Clichs

One-liners at the ready

Explosion? What Explosion?

The Cliché: A true badass doesn't blanche in the face of an explosion. He doesn't even bother looking at them. Instead, he simply strolls away, letting the heat of the blaze gently singe his neck hair as he stares into the middle distance. Flinching? Flinching's for pussies…

Examples: Tom Jane has this down pat in The Punisher , sending two different mobsters sky high on two separate occasions, not bothering to look around at either of them. Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek look impossibly cool in Desperado , having tossed a couple of grenades through a book store window. In fact, Banderas loves an unflinching stroll, nonchanently leading a group of refugees away from a collapsing mine in The Mask Of Zorro .

The T-1000 takes it to the next level in Terminator 2 , strolling out of the middle of an explosion as though it were the most natural thing in the world. That thing eats cliché s for breakfast...

If It Was Real Life: It's up to Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg to flag up the absurdity of this cliché in The Other Guys , when an explosion sends them flying to the tarmac. "How do they walk away in movies without flinching when it explodes behind them?" says Ferrell. "There's no way! The movie industry is completely irresponsible for the way they portray explosions!"

He's Mine

The Cliché: Despite being ruthless murderers, a lot of action movie villains are surprisingly sentimental when it comes down to it. How else to explain their obsessive need to be the one who fires the bullet that kills the hero? Despite having billions of dollars / world domination within their sights, most of them will risk it all just to ensure the hero gets a poetic send-off at their own hand. What price a little perspective?

Examples:
This happens twice in Die Hard , with both Gruber and Karl calling off various underlings in their eagerness to finish McClane themselves. The climactic fight in The Matrix Revolutions sees Agent Smith take on Neo one on one, despite the presence of millions of clones, whilst Darth Vader likes to handle things personally throughout the Star Wars series.

Heroes don't tend to be quite so precious about who takes down the villain, although Hook does see Peter Pan order the Lost Boys to leave the Captain to him. They don't listen and Rufio ends up dead, proving once again that it's one rule for the good guys, and quite another for the forces of darkness…

If It Was Real Life: Law enforcement would be a fairly arduous affair if individual criminals and coppers were embroiled in such one-upmanship…

Double-Tap

The Cliché: That bad guy you shot five times before throwing him over a cliffside… are you absolutely, one hundred per cent sure that he's dead? Were you careful to put a bullet in his head, just to be on the safe side? Or are you just going to trust to the notion that nobody could have survived an onslaught like that? Well more fool you, because in an action movie, they're not dead. They're pissed…

Examples:
Bruce Willis' character in Sin City is wise to this one, stressing that even when survival looks impossible, one should always "confirm the kill". It's a school of thought that's also preached by Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland , who stresses the need for a "double-tap" when taking down a marauding zombie.

However, not everyone is so careful. Bruce Willis nearly buys it at the end of Die Hard when Karl rises from the dead, pistol in hand and out for revenge. The rule goes double for alien assailants, as proven by Men In Black . Shooting an alien cockroach so that it splits in half… that just won't do. You need to destroy the brain…

If It Was Real Life: People aren't usually so adept at absorbing bullets / clinging on to rock faces / shaking off stab wounds in the real world. Still, it's probably a sensible policy nonetheless. You know, if you're into killing people…

Too Old For This Shit

The Cliché: Many action movies (particularly later entries in various franchises) persist in putting their leading men through all manner of physical trials, despite their advancing years. Cue an onslaught of bitter, craggy-faced grumbling about how such antics aren't becoming of a man of their years. Put simply, they're too damn old for this shit.

Examples:
Danny Glover made the catchphrase his own in the Lethal Weapon series, before knowingly quoting it in his cameo in Maverick . Bruce Willis was always a slightly unwilling hero in the Die Hard series, and by Die Hard 4 , his age has joined his luck and his marriage in the store of things McClane has to complain about.

Then there's Harrison Ford in the fourth Indiana Jones film. He might not have used the phrase himself, but you can be sure plenty of audiences were thinking it after he came careening out of that fridge…

If It Was Real Life: Falling down a flight of stairs elicits a hearty oath and a muffled grumble on the silver screen. In the real world, you'd be looking for a new hip.

Save The Villain

The Cliché: Despite going hammer and tongs at each other for the majority of the movie, and despite the many, many rounds of ammunition spent on seemingly trying to kill each other, if the villain finds himself in a prone position (hanging off the side of a building is the most popular scenario), the hero will almost always attempt to save his nemesis. Make up your damn mind, can't you?

Examples: Batman is particular guilty of this cliché, but since he's taken a vow not to kill his enemies, we'll give him a free pass. Clint also offers a rescuing hand to John Malkovich's killer in In The Line Of Fire , noting that although he doesn't want to, it's his job. It's even possible to have it both ways, as proven by Eliot Ness in The Untouchables , who spares and then kills Frank Nitti.

It really jars in Daredevil , however, when the titular hero spares the villainous Kingpin after killing practically every henchman and underling he comes across. Talk about double standards…

If It Was Real Life: For starters, catching somebody by the wrist is much, much harder than it looks on the big screen. Most of these moral quandaries would never come to pass in the first place!

Just A Flesh Wound

The Cliché: In an action movie, taking a bullet anywhere but the face or groin can be born with little more than a mild limp and the obligatory, "it's just a flesh wound", made through heroically gritted teeth. Bad guy bullets will always miss a major artery, and a stab wound can usually be shaken off by a spot of light jogging.

Examples: In Stallone's 2008 return as Rambo, he takes a round in the shoulder from a heavy machine-gun, dropping to the floor in considerable pain. That is until he spots a truck full of soldiers bearing down upon him and jumps to his feet, all pain forgotten.

On the knife front, Brad Pitt takes one like a champ in Mr. & Mrs. Smith , shaking off a machete wound to his leg as if it were no more than cramp. It's taken to absurd levels in Monty Python And The Holy Grail by the Black Knight, who responds to the loss of both arms with the immortal phrase, "just a flesh wound."

If It Was Real Life: Funnily enough, there are quite a few arteries knocking about in your arms and legs. And death by blood loss is very possible, no matter what the movies have told you...

Backstabbing Wimp

The Cliché: Whilst the brave, burly action man is risking his neck for the forces of good, there's always a snivelling coward waiting to sell him out at the first opportunity. Said coward is almost always physically inferior to the hero, a telltale indication of a rotten apple…

Examples: Loki is a good example of the backstabbing wimp, lacking his brother's impressive muscles and only too happy to screw him over when the opportunity presents itself. In the Rambo films, the backstabbers are generally represented by shady government types, pulling the rug from underneath our John while they cower behind the safety of their desks.

However, perhaps the most explicit example can be found in 300 , in which burly Leonidas is betrayed by the hunchback, Ephialtes, who jumps into bed with the Persian hordes at the expense of his compatriots. To be fair, they do have a musical goat…

If It Was Real Life: Only men of a certain chest size could be trusted with any kind of position of power. Instead of elections we'd have weigh-ins...

Eurotrash

The Cliché: Whilst the hero will inevitably be as American as apple pie (even if they're played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), an action movie's chief antagonist will almost always be of European extraction. Said villain will preferably be played by an English actor, with facial hair an added bonus. Alan Rickman in Die Hard is the ultimate…

Examples: In the field of Brits playing Brits, we've got Steven Berkoff as Beverly Hills Cop baddie Victor Maitland, as well as Charles Dance's turn as an assassin in Last Action Hero . And then there was Alan Rickman repeating his Die Hard trick as the scenery-chewing Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves .

As for Eurobaddies, Jeremy Irons stepped into Rickman's shoes for Die Hard With A Vengeance , as another Brit playing a German. Ian McKellen does the same in the X-Men movies, while in Raiders Of The Lost Ark we had Paul Freeman playing the Frenchman, Belloq. And even though The Last Crusade 's villain was American, he was played by Julian Glover, proving it's not just the accent that counts… we Brits just give off the essence of evil.

If It Was Real Life: We'd have conquered the world by now! Come to think of it, it's not too tricky to see where this cliché might have originated…

Plans For The Future

The Cliché: The veteran cop with one more day before retirement, the likeable thief tempted into one final job, the loveable sidekick fawning over a wallet-sized photograph of his wife and kids… all of them are doomed, thanks to their foolhardy attempts to plan for a life beyond the film's running time. Any time a life outside shooting things is brought into the equation, expect the character in question to buy it, sooner rather than later.

Examples: Such a hoary old gimmick, you rarely see it played straight any more, particularly after taking such a beasting from parodies like McBain (from The Simpsons ) and Hot Shots! In that film, you'll recall the character of "Dead Meat" Thompson, who heads out on a training mission on the same day he is visited by his wife, whilst carrying his (unsigned) life insurance paperwork alongside some evidence concerning the Kennedy assassination.

Also a favourite trope of the war movie, with one foolhardy soul announcing his wife is set to give birth in We Were Soldiers . He doesn't last the day...

If It Was Real Life: Fortunately, showing those new baby pictures around the office isn't an invitation to the nearest villain to put a bullet in your head. Although maybe it should be…

Talking Trash

The Cliché: Trash talk is the prerogative of any action hero worthy of the name. If they're feeling particularly flash, they'll dole out an apposite one-liner before putting the villain to bed, although there's nothing in the rulebook that prevents our designated badass from giving a bit of verbal to an unhearing corpse...

Examples: Arnie is the king of this particular cliché, with his unique delivery of the English language only adding to the fun. Think, "Let off some steam, Bennet", "I'm the party pooper", "Stick around", "You're luggage" and of course, the mighty, "You want to be a farmer… here's a couple of acres."

Elsewhere, Bruce Willis' "Yippie kay-ay motherfucker," is pretty iconic, whilst Robocop swaps wit for menace with, "dead or alive, you're coming with me." Passenger 57 deserves a mention for Wesley Snipes telling his assailants to, "always bet on black", and when it comes to sheer volume, it's difficult to top Gerard Butler bellowing, "THIS IS SPARTA" in 300 .

If It Was Real Life: You've just killed a man. Your hands are shaking, you're drenched in sweat… you're probably too busy vomiting to come up with anything particularly witty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George is GR's resident movie news person, based out of London. He understands that all men must die, but he'd rather not think about it.
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