6 Action Movie Tropes Explained by Science

You’re all into snuggling on your La-Z-Boy and you’ve got your caramel popcorn ready and things are getting all good when suddenly your lady’s all, “Baby, why are you into all these unrealistic explosions and guns business? It’s NOTHING like real life! Change the channel to some Real Housewives, already!”

WHAT. You don’t need to take that kind of knocking of your fave flicks.

Take back the TV by backing your love of action movies… in SCIENCE!


The extensive “ticking time bomb” scenes are the butt of jokes, as the 30 seconds on the digital display translates into several minutes of gratuitous explosions, violence, cleavage and one-liners.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

We prefer to think of it as an aesthetic.

However, while screen time may be more than the allotted time left, these directors are actually doing it right. During high stress situations, such as battling Hans Gruber, our brains rush to gather as much detail as possible. Like a film director shooting a camera at a high frame rate to get a slow motion effect, the hero’s 30 second fight seems to go on forever. Film directors are not merely filling space, they are giving us the subjective experience of the hero. Michael Bay might be the ultimate  auteur of the action genre.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

Transformers is actually an multilayered allegory of the alienating fear technology breeds.


We love of films about a lone hero vs. great odds. The average hero has to take on large groups of uniformed henchmen trained with military precision.  How is it that an entire army falls to one man? Uniforms.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

They really ride up in the crotch.

Uniforms instill discipline and work well in large scale, coordinated battles. But throw a curve ball their way, such as a lone cop still pining for his ex-wife, and suddenly the discipline becomes a liability.

John A Challenger, chief executive officer of outplacement firm Challenger, says:  ”When you take away people’s individuality, you greatly diminish their creativity and ability to think outside of the box. Uniformity in appearance tends to lead to uniformity of thought, which is detrimental to any organization that is trying to expand.”

Another thing is the lack of autonomy. With the megalomaniac villain dictating action from the top down, it further erodes the decision-making process of his underlings.

Contrast faceless henchmen to the criminals in Ocean’s 11, who all have a defined role, creative control and colorful personalities and dress.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

Casual Fridays: Daniel Ocean’s master stroke.


Hans Gruber has planned his heist well, and really, he should. Taking over a corporate Christmas party in Los Angeles is no small feat.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

Traffic jams alone are the cause of 90 percent of bank heist failures in LA County.

The excessive plans by the villain can be a downfall if the planning interrupts the ability to creatively adapt. Japan is a nation of planners, yet the government failed to deal effectively with the major earthquakes in 1995 and 2011. Japan’s criminal Yakuza, who are used to working in less-than-controlled situations, were able to get supplies to victims.

Add to the fact that high-stress situations can kill our creativity and force us into familiar habits rather than developing new strategies. The uniformed and unmotivated henchmen will fall back on his plan to guard the door, even as he hears the sound of John McClain climbing in the vent above him.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

This wasn’t in the Powerpoint!


But even if the henchmen creatively weak, they are still armed to the teeth. Can’t they rely on unloading a storm of lead at John McClain thanks to their machine guns? Actually, they’d be better with a hand gun.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

He’s compensating for having to wear a uniform at his day job at the gas station.

The US Marines, who know a thing or two about battle, made a switch from full auto to three round burst when they found high volumes of ammo were a waste.

The Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual states: “Volume of fire can seldom replace accuracy of fire… The majority of personnel in an infantry patrol should be armed, therefore, with weapons that care capable of delivering deliberate, aimed, accurate fire rather than with weapons whose chief characteristic is the delivery of a great volume of fire.”

In the case of a small scale battle like a skyscraper, John McClain is far better prepared.


Why do our heros always spout of cheesy one liners instead of focusing? Every “yippie-kay-yay motherfucker” takes seconds away from planning who gets the next bullet in the head.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

It’s certainly not the case on Xbox, unless you think “LOL, fag!” is high wit.

Humor is a coping mechanism, and when the hero is thrust into a situation where he must kill other men, he needs something to take the edge of the carnage he has to inflict. He could fall down and curse the gods for this cruel fate, but that wouldn’t be as helpful or badass.

Freud differentiated wit from benign humor (based on irony or misfortune) and saw it as aggressive, exactly the type of response you need when you have a dozen more henchmen in need of their daily dose of lead.


During the run of the show 24, their was always the guy at work who thought he was clever pointing out the you never see Jack Bauer stop to pee.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

Everyone knows Kiefer Sutherland has worn catheters since filming Flatliners.

The real reason is that during times of danger the sympathetic nervous system readies the body for action by increasing heart rate, blood sugar and blood flow to the arms and legs. It also shuts down other functions, such as sex, digestion and urination. When danger is over the parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a relaxed state.

6 Ridiculous Action Movie Tropes (Explained by Science)

Followed by the leg-numbing long piss.

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