Note: There’s a very minor Captain America SPOILER directly below, but it’s worth braving because this tip is a really good one.
Let’s get the minor Captain America spoiler out of the way first. In the climax of the the movie, Captain America saves the world. Duh.
Okay now let’s get on to the tip. And this one’s a doozy. I’m tempted to call it “Save the Cat… Again!”
In an action movie’s third act, make sure your hero is saving someone specific.
Captain America was actually quite an enjoyable movie. The first half, especially, was very strong, and even emotionally moving at times. But the last act left me wanting for some reason. Sure, ol’ Cap was doing his action hero thing, and the stakes were high (the aforementioned saving of the world), but there was something missing.
And that’s when it hit me. There was no one specific to save.
“The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”
– Joseph Stalin
It sounds paradoxical, but if your hero is fighting to save a faceless multitude (even if it’s millions of people), it’s less compelling than if he’s fighting to save even one character you know.
The best action movies
Think of all your favorite action movies. There’s always someone specific that needs to be rescued. It’s either the hero him/herself, or at least one character you know, or both.
If it’s only the hero him/herself that needs saving, then that means the hero needs to escape from a situation that they didn’t willfully put themselves into in the third act.
- The Matrix – Neo had to save Morpheus and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar (as well as defeat Agent Smith)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark – Indy had to save Marion (as well as defeat the Nazis)
- Die Hard – McClane had to save his wife (as well as defeat Hans Gruber)
- Aliens – Ripley had to save Newt (and defeat the alien queen)
- Alien – Ripley had to save herself and her cat (and defeat the alien)
Think how much weaker those movies would have been if they were only about defeating the bad guy(s). Keep that in mind when you’re writing the ending of your next action movie.
Can you think of any brilliant action movies that break my rule?
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