As an action-movie fan, I go to the theater to be wowed by the new and the impossible, and to have my eyebrows singed off by increasingly elaborate explosions. But when they rely too much on tried-and-true formulas, and the likes of Jason Statham, Channing Tatum, or Steven Seagal's sentient ponytail sleepwalk through emotional beats, set pieces, and groan-worthy exposition airlifted in from other blockbusters, action movies can disappoint.
But that doesn't mean that action-movie clichés suck. The best ones find inventive ways to tweak, subvert, and playfully upend conventions. Like, we've all seen a shootout before, but have you seen the one where the hero dispatches baddies while having sex the whole time? Probably not. Or how about the shootout at the Guggenheim? I didn't think so. And these are just from Clive Owen movies! But even the straightforward clichés can work well when done right. To celebrate the endurance of our favorites, let's take a close look at a few classics and examine why they remain, like an army of liquid-metal Terminators, so unkillable.