The action genre is one where it’s essential for films to be visually-appealing. Of course, all movies need to be interesting to look at, but the visual impact of action films can be especially important.
When much of the focus is on what’s happening, and not what people are saying, the action needs to be captivating and interesting to watch. As special effects have developed, action movies have got better than ever. Bigger and better stunts are possible, producing some truly unforgettable moments.
But it’s not all about the action, either. There are other notable ways many action films have been visually stunning in the last 20 years or so.
‘Immortals’ is a striking epic telling the story of Theseus battling against Hyperion. Directed by Tarsem Singh, produced by Ryan Kavanaugh and others, and starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, and John Hurt, the film made use of modern technology at every turn to produce visually unforgettable results. It was filmed on a green screen set, allowing for the creation of fantastical worlds that are reflective of the Greek mythology behind the movie. In addition to the green screen magic, large sets were built so that they could also be incorporated into the film and the lighting could look like it was coming from far away.
The Chinese action film Hero was released in 2002, following the “wuxia” trend that was started by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Wuxia translates to “martial heroes” and is a genre that deals with the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. This particular movie, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Jet Li, tells the story of how a nameless warrior defeated three assassins sent to kill him. It was the first Chinese film to reach number one in the US and is noted for its stunning portrayal of the Chinese Empire in the third century BC without lots of CGI.
The ‘John Wick’ franchise has become one of the most popular action movie series of the 21st century. The first movie, in particular, is noted for its visual appearance and effects. The film stars Keanu Reeves as an ex-hitman chasing after some men who disrupt his life by stealing all that he has left. The director, Chad Stahelski, used techniques from anime and martial art movies to create a film that stands out visually and was popular enough for two sequels (and another one due out in 2023, plus a spinoff that has been announced).
Another movie that focuses on creating beautiful visuals in a period setting is John Woo’s ‘Red Cliff’. The epic war film is set at the end of the Han Dynasty and presents a truly incredible visual feast that clocks in at more than four hours long in its complete two-part form. This movie won several awards for its incredible appearance at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including awards for costuming, make-up design, and art direction for its first part. At the following awards, the second part was nominated for a number of awards again, although it only won Best Sound Design.
Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is one of the most popular action films, and one of his most popular films. Tarantino is not often recognized for the visual prowess of his movies, but ‘Kill Bill’ is one that stands out to anyone who has seen it. The two-part epic is inspired by martial arts movies and stands out for several reasons. It uses a variety of visually different locations and a variety of colour, plus it stands out for its playful editing too. There’s always something interesting to look at in every scene, making ‘Kill Bill’ one not to miss for anyone who likes beautiful action movies.
The ‘Mad Max’ franchise made a surprising comeback with Fury Road, more than 30 years after the last film had been released. But it was well worth the wait for both fans of the original movies and anyone who was new to them. Of course, with 30 years of advances in technology and the capabilities of visual effects, the gap meant that it was possible to do everything bigger and better than ever before in the new movie. They were capable of making a movie with more action, bigger explosions, and more exciting chases that resulted in a visual masterpiece.
The Marvel movies have been some of the highest-grossing films ever, with Endgame coming in at the second-highest worldwide and two more in the franchise making it into the top ten. The end of an epic arc, it was a must-see for all fans of the franchise. It also presented an extremely exciting visual project that made the movie interesting for more than just its storyline. There’s so much going on during the movie, including a number of fantastical locations, from different planets to moving timelines. While opinions on some parts of the story are decidedly split, there is no denying that the movie is visually appealing.
China isn’t the only country that can produce epic period action movies with martial arts. French film Brotherhood of the Wolf is often regarded as a horror movie, considering it mixes horror with fantasy and more, but there’s plenty of action too. One of the most visually interesting things about this movie isn’t just the fight scenes, but the way that seasonal changes and the elements are used as part of the cinematography. The sets and costumes also add to it all, creating a film that has a host of visual merits.
Action films have a huge amount of potential to allow them to be visually exciting, whether it’s through the use of special effects, great fight choreography, costumes, and makeup, set design, or anything else. Many of the amazing action films from the last couple of decades have stepped up the visuals, and we’re sure to keep seeing more exciting movies.
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