There is an eternal war raging in almost every household. It is the great contest of which movie two or more people will agree to watch together. One side favors action, adventure, fighting, and explosions, and the other wants romance, romance, romance. The two genres are classically called guy movies and girl movies, action and rom-coms, adventures and chick flicks.
Let me quickly make it clear that I am not at all going to argue about the stereotypes of guys and girls. One can like whatever they like, regardless of their gender.
No, this is just a little theory I have come up with based on examing my own personal preferences. It’s a fairly simple one, really.
I, obviously, tend to favor the action movie. I’ll take a testosterone-fueled explosions over brain-scarring love stories (so-called) any day. But, wait, I suddenly realized! How many of my action movies feature a romantic subplot? It’s practically a standard feature of such movies for the hero to be fighting, in the end, to save (or avenge) their romantic loved one.
In the words of Captain Hook, when Wendy was telling him about the adventure stories Peter Pan listened to her telling, he said, “Love stories… They all end in a kiss.”
And there are plenty of movies, anime, and other stories I like which feature little to no action at all. So, I asked myself, if it’s not the love stories I hate or the explosions I absolutely must have, then what is the real reason for my preferences? What makes the one better than the other?
Action movies are about doing something good, and then getting the girl (or otherwise living happily ever after).
Chick flicks are about just how badly someone can behave, how poorly they can treat others, especially their romantic interest, and still get their coupled-up happy ending.
Thus, action movies are better than chick flicks.
There is a bit of variance, of course, in both genres. This is not a statement that all movies of both types are exactly like this. It is what I, personally, observe to be a general rule of thumb.
Now, you may or may not be protesting what I just said about chick flicks. After all, romantic comedies are about people who make mistakes and overcome them, right? That is a valid perspective but, really… they don’t always just “make mistakes.” It can be worse or better, from case to case, but these characters treat each other like crap so many times it isn’t funny. It’s also disconcerting how such behavior gets held up as an example of some happy, healthy, loving, romantic relationship. It’s not.
Naturally, as with most any debatable stance, I come armed with examples! 😉
First, let’s start off with a fairly domestic, harmless example: While You Were Sleeping.
Starring Sandra Bullock as Lucy, the story follows her as she has a mad crush on a man who pretty much doesn’t know she exists. Then he gets mugged, she saves his life, but he falls into a coma. There’s a little mixup when his family arrives and she gets confused for his fiancé. She rolls with it, out of immediate concern for the man’s loved ones, and then keeps up the charade on the advice of a friend of the family. As she’s suddenly swept up as part of a family she never had before, she soon comes to genuinely love them all, and she also falls for the brother of the man she had a crush on. There are a number of hilarious hijinks involved, and she almost makes a terrible mistake towards the end, but she comes clean and, when the truth is known, the man’s family accepts her once again, and the brother, whom she loves, proposes to her. Happily ever after.
Now, this one is fairly balanced, I think. It’s true that Lucy tells a lie, and builds entire relationships on it in the short term. That is, in the words of my generation, not cool. However, that lie was an accident at first. She maintained it not for herself, but for the family she came to love in a very short time, and at the encouragement of a wise man who had the family’s best interests at heart. She came clean, in the end, and made herself clearly understood in a more mature fashion. It’s easy to see why, and how, she was forgiven, and brought into the family for real.
She actually got pigeon-holed into doing something generally considered “wrong,” but for the right reasons, and she eventually owned up to it. Her happy ending is fairly well-deserved, I would say.
So, that’s the tamest example I could think of.
Now, stepping things up a bit with a second example: Sweet Home Alabama.
Reese Witherspoon’s character, Melanie, is a southern country girl who prefers everything in the big city. She’s a successful fashion designer and has a man of status and wealth who wants to marry her. One small detail: she’s already married, and her husband down south keeps refusing to sign the divorce papers. She goes back home to make him sign, and, while she’s stuck there, she demonstrates how much she dislikes everything in her small hometown. She disparages the people she grew up with and their entire way of life, as if there were something wrong with it and she’s somehow superior to it all because it doesn’t have all the shiny, expensive things she likes. That’s why she ran off to the big city in the first place and even changed her surname to match that of her home’s richest, most distinguished family. She even lashes out at a gay man who never did her any wrong, but is quickly forgiven, even before she expresses any sort of apology.
Then she finds out that her husband has actually put a lot of effort into making himself worthy of her, with an ambitious effort in glass-making, which has become reasonably profitable, due to some beautiful craftsmanship. And this changes her perspective.
When her lies, including her adopted name, are outed, her true past revealed, her fiancé is hurt, but still wants to marry her. But wait! It turns out, she accidentally failed to sign the divorce papers this time around, and now, as she stands at the altar… she finds that she can’t sign them. She loves her husband more than she loves her forgiving fiancé. So she goes and gets the man she loves, and lives happily ever after.
In short, she left her husband, and the home she displays little more than spite for, and went to the city, crafted an entirely new identity for herself based on the fine things she wanted, and concealed everything about her past from the people around her, including a decent man, a rich man, who loves her. She lashes out at everyone around her, but gets forgiven quickly and easily. She wants to divorce her current husband and marry the rich man… until she notices that her current husband has made something of himself (by her definition of such). She still takes her fiancé all the way to the altar, and only then does she stop, and leave him there, and go after the man she wants now, who immediately takes her back, no matter everything she’s already put him through.
…yeah, that one is far less cool, ya know?
And example number three, which has got to be the single most outstanding example I can think of: Rumor Has It.
Jennifer Aniston takes the lead as Rachel, a woman who discovers that there is a man who successfully had sex with both her mother and her grandmother in rapid succession. As this happened just before her parents got married, and she was born within nine months of the nuptials, there’s a moment where she wonders if he might be her biological father. He’s not, but she basically takes his word for it, and sleeps with him herself. She regrets it, even as she obsesses over having done it, goes on a date with him, and kisses him again, until they’re interrupted by her fiancé. Said fiancé is understandably upset about this. She actually tells her sister about all this during a moment when said sister needed a comforting shoulder to cry on, which I just found to be ridiculously selfish. But the sister doesn’t seem to care about that. And then she goes and faces the fiancé she just cheated on with the same man who slept with her mother and grandmother and might have even been her biological father… but she is simply forgiven, just because, he takes her back, and they sleep together every night for the rest of their lives (because that’s what getting married is really all about, right?).
…do I really need to wax eloquent about this one? She freaking betrays her fiancé, willingly becomes the third generation of her family to have sex with a particular man, continues to stay in close, kissable proximity to said man, is so selfish that she takes a moment of her sister’s need and makes it all about herself… and she’s instantly forgiven and taken back by the man she was so outstandingly unfaithful to like five minutes ago.
I say again: it’s about how badly someone can behave, just how poorly they can treat others, and still get their coupled-up happy ending, as if there were nothing really wrong with what they’ve done.
And these three examples are not remotely the outliers. Though an argument could be made for While You Were Sleeping as an outlier, for how decent everyone really was, even when they did something questionable.
Off the top of my head… You’ve Got Mail, Just Like Heaven, The American President, Keeping the Faith, What Women Want, Wedding Crashers, Sleeping With Other People, The Wedding Planner, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Proposal, Two-Night Stand, Life as We Know It, No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits, Killers, Easy A, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Ugly Truth, Runaway Bride, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Mrs. Winterbourne, Love Actually, Never Been Kissed, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, A Guy Thing, Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, Ever After, Meet the Parents, Pillow Talk, Calamity Jane, Can’t Buy Me Love, One for the Money, One Fine Day, and The Wedding Singer ALL – I repeat: ALL of them! – feature plots where people (men and women alike) treat each other horribly, albeit with a wide variety of just how terribly they behave, exactly what they do, how justifiable it is, and how much they make up for it. In every case, though, everyone ends up living happily ever after anyway.
No, this is not remotely limited to movies. Books, television shows, anime, they all do this. And don’t even get me started on popular music!
Contrast this overall idea, which we have been spoon-fed for decades, if not centuries, with that presented by the action move.
There are superhero movies, such as Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 2, only the latter of which involves the guy getting the girl he loves. And then Spider-Man 3 comes along, and it is far lesser than its predecessors for a number of reasons… among which, I note, this time the hero acts horribly and gets the girl anyway. Hm, coincidence? 😉
Spy thrillers, like Kingsman and the James Bond franchise, tend to feature a man who saves the world and immediately gets to bed a beautiful woman. Personally, I like Mission Impossible 3, where the last act is literally a showdown between hero and villain over the fate of the woman the hero loves, marries, and eventually goes on well-deserved honeymoon with.
Other action thrillers, like Die Hard, Taken, Speed, and so on, they all do the same thing. Epic battles, like those found in Pacific Rim, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Zulu are followed by the survivors living as happily as they can to the end of their days. Westerns like Tombstone, Silverado, and The Magnificent Seven all follow a group of brave warriors who stand against evil on the frontier, and then people can live in peace.
How about kids movies? One word: Disney. How many of the animated classics tell the tale of a hero slaying an evil villain, or otherwise saving the day? They do something to help others, to slay an evil, to contribute to society around them… and then they live happily ever after. Even Moana does that, despite lacking any romance.
Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and Shark Tale, same thing.
So, whether they be fantasies, westerns, science fiction, spy thrillers, or kids’ movies, there is a definite pattern: action movies feature heroes doing good and then getting a happy ending. Meanwhile, dozens upon dozens of chick flicks, even the more benign ones, seem to have been written as if someone asked, “Just how badly can someone behave and still expect to get a coupled-up happy ending?” followed by decades of scriptwriters and producers answered with a fierce, “Challenge accepted!”
In essence, both types of stories are about getting what you want, but one of them advertises such as a reward for doing something worthwhile, while the other seems to advocate getting it in spite of behaving badly.
And that is the REAL reason why actions movies are better than chick flicks.
What do you think? Am I just a crazy, aggressive man who gets his adrenaline thrills vicariously, or did I hit the nail on the head? 😉
Eh…both can be incredible boring or really good. It’s not a matter of genre, but of the quality of the various movies. There are just overall more bad romance movies around because they are cheaper to make. You can easily do them on a TV or even streaming budget. Action movies though, they require some level of a budget if they want to feature good action scenes, hence there is usually at least a minimum effort put into them.
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Like you, I do prefer action movies over chick flicks. I do agree with you that so many chick flicks involve lots of leading characters doing bad things, yet getting rewarded for it. That and a bunch of them can be shallow while getting unearned happy endings. I’m certainly with you right there with it being horrible cliches.
With that being said action movies or even the aforementioned animated movies are guilty of protagonist centered morality even if it’s in different ways or circumstances. I’m not talking about heroes doing something bad, getting called out on it, and they don’t do it again. I mean good guys literally getting away with bad things BECAUSE they are the good guys. Here are some examples I can think of at the top of my head from action, anime or kid’s movies.
-Kissing a potential love interest without her consent and gunning down a different unarmed woman with several witnesses (Deckert from Blade Runner).
-Joining a rescue plan only to steal your best friend’s girlfriend (Sinbad from that Dreamworks movie).
-Committing genocide by apartheid and starvation (Mufasa from The Lion King).
-The infamous “Han shot first” cut.
-Yugi cheating most of the time, by switching to his Yami mode in most of his card games in Yu-Gi-Oh.
-Goku teleporting Cell to King Kai’s planet for him to explode and kill him and Bubbles in DBZ.
I’m sure there are more examples out there. I’m just bothered when heroic characters do things villains would never get away with.
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True, character-centered morality is a problem, certainly. I dispute a couple of your examples (Han was under immediate threat, Mufasa didn’t commit genocide or apartheid nearly so much as he just protected those he was sworn to protect from literal predatory invaders, and Goku… I have more qualms with his parenting than with the teleport maneuver), but I generally agree with what you mean.
I’m glad you agree with how protagonist centered morality is a problem. I could see credence with Han even though the self-defense claim made more sense with the Greedo shot first scenario. The Mufasa example is contradictory to his circle of life speech and that method of isolation lead to deaths in real life genocides such as against numerous Native American tribes, the Namibians with Shark Island (the fact it was a food desert with bones really doesn’t help), and part of what happened to the Congolese under Leopold’s tyrannical reign. The fact that the hyenas talk in stereotypical Ebonics only adds to the anti-Black undertones to those characters like how some Disney fans see people of that race. The teleportation technique could’ve been handled another way, but I do agree that Goku’s parenting prowess can be very questionable and would certainly count as protagonist centered morality.
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