When it comes to action movies, the possibilities are endless. Superheroes jump off buildings, sword fights can seem to last forever and a spy can take down six guys at once. However, are fight scenes in movies accurate compared to what they would look like in real life, or are they exaggerated and unrealistic?
Zachary Bortot, associate professor of theatre, appreciates combat scenes in movies, especially since they are often based on real-world fighting styles.
“The short answer is, no matter what, it is going to be heightened and stylized, so it is not always reflective of real life,” Bortot said. “But I would say many fight directors draw from real-life martial arts and other combatant skills.”
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to ensure that a fight looks real. Because a scene with physical violence requires hiring a fight director and additional training for the actors, the dispute must be absolutely essential to the storyline.
Avery Warren, freshman English and film double major, is amazed at how much time and effort goes into a fight scene — particularly because they take up such a small portion of a two-hour movie.
“These actors train with fight choreographers, where instead of learning a dance, it is basically learning different techniques,” Warren said. “But because they are acting, they use this extra animation to their movements that make it come across as unrealistic. They know what is planned.”
Even something as simple as a fistfight can be unrealistic compared to real life. It is not the individual moves and technique that strain belief, but rather the time the fight lasts.
“If someone gets hit in the face two or three times, they are down for the count,” Bortot said.
“But in a fight scene with supposedly normal human beings, they just keep getting punched time and time again within the span of a two-minute fight. It strains credibility.”
However, it is not always the actor that is preparing for the fight scene. Many have professional stunt doubles — with the exception of Tom Cruise, of course.
“They will have a stunt double for the most dangerous elements, and then they will do the close-up of the actor,” Bortot said. “They teach the actor enough so that they can get that close-up shot and then intercut it with those of the stunt double, often using digital effects to make them look more like the actor.”
There is always competition for actors’ time, especially in Hollywood. Stunt doubles solve this problem. Because they are professionally trained, they can ensure that a fight scene looks realistic by taking risks that the actor cannot take.
Many film critics praise the combat scenes in “The Dark Knight” trilogy. An intensive amount of research was done on different fighting styles for Batman, so the scenes are directly based on real-world fighting.
“There is this one scene in particular where Batman is in the nightclub and they have the strobing lights, so it makes it hard to visually see the fight,” Warren said. “But you can see the punches getting thrown and the people’s reaction to it, which is so smart.”
Patrick Surovec, freshman film major, loves watching action movies, especially for the impressive stunts.
“‘The Fast and Furious’ franchise has the craziest and most exaggerated fight scenes that have ever been seen,” Surovec said. “You have people fighting on cars while going at high speeds and somehow not having a scratch on them, while at the same time, they are being shot from a helicopter and do not get shot once.”
A lot of movies exaggerate these scenes to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The “Fast and Furious” film series has strayed far from what is considered realistic, but the movies remain extremely popular.
“If you’re looking for something realistic with two average people who are not skilled fighters, ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ has some good examples,” Bortot said. “They are comedic in nature, but part of what makes them funny is that they reflect how two average people would probably fight in real life — which is not well.”
Creating a fight scene takes an extensive amount of time and energy. It requires a large team of experts dedicated to ensuring the scene is choreographed well.
Although fight scenes may not always be realistic, the added drama and exaggeration can be exactly what makes movies so captivating.