The action genre, like romance, often crosses over into many other genres. The difference, however, is that action hasn't always been a mainstay of the silver screen. Only in the last two decades have action films been transformed into blockbusters, and that's primarily due to the arrival of bigger-than-life tough guys Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together, their franchise films such as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, First Blood, Terminator, and Raiders of the Lost Ark brought the genre to the forefront and made millions in the process.
That's not to say that action hasn't been around for a good long while — just ask any swashbuckler fan. Legends such as the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery, Ben-Hur, and Akira Kurosawa's timeless masterpiece The Seven Samurai set the bar for scores of future productions. Rising to the challenge — and indeed setting the bar even higher — was the 007 franchise, which has been entertaining fans since the arrival of Sean Connery's Dr. No in 1962. Action films come in a variety of subgenres, including dramatic action, comedic action, capers, thrillers, heists, science fiction, and horror.
Enter the Dragon
James Bond was still going strong in the '70s, but it was an unknown martial artist named Bruce Lee who ultimately captured universal attention and acclaim with his stunning athleticism. The 1973 film Enter the Dragon set in motion a new breed of action film that would showcase actors such as Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Jackie Chan.
Audiences in the 1970s saw yet another new incarnation of action figure that carried bigger and better weapons and a truckload of attitude. Dirty Harry made his debut in 1971 as did Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, and Richard Roundtree in Shaft. From there, all manner of action heroes and hoodlums made their way to the big screen from The Untouchables to The Hunt for Red October to The Fugitive and several Mission Impossibles.
Chicks with Uzis
The role of women in the action genre has been slow to evolve on the big screen, with only a smattering of films showcasing true female action heroes. While Wonder Woman was waving her golden lasso on the small screen during the 1970s, Carrie Fisher picked up a gun and started shooting Imperial storm troopers in Star Wars. By 1979, the public was introduced to Sigourney Weaver's Lt. Ellen Ripley, whose epic showdown with the mother of all aliens began with Alien and ended eighteen years later with Alien Resurrection. Along the way, director James Cameron gave us a strong female action hero in Linda Hamilton and her role as Sarah Connor in the Terminator trilogy.
Thanks to Ripley and Sarah Connor, female action heroes have become a hot commodity. Films including Nikita, Thelma & Louise, Speed, True Lies, The Fifth Element, The Matrix, Charlie's Angels, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Underworld, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have catapulted a host of talented actresses into the action history books.