Let’s see if we can give these Oscar-winning dramas an ultimate action kick!

Some stories could be told as dramas or action films. Filmmakers tend to prefer to make dramas because they’re more prestigious than action films. A drama can get you an Oscar nomination. An action film can get you lambasted by pseudo-intellectual film critics. Action films have something that dramas can never have: die hard (pun intended) fans.

There are some great dramas that know how to incorporate action. Braveheart is the best among them. Other dramas could have benefited from a similar treatment but failed. Here are three dramas that should have been made into action films. Note that two of these three won Oscars for best picture of the year.

Trainspotting (1996)

As a drama: Trainspotting is the story of one man’s struggle to overcome heroin addiction in Scotland. The protagonist, Renton, and his group of friends do drugs, sleep with girls, get in fights, go to prison, die, kick the habit, relapse, and more. The climax of the film is when Renton and his crew come across to kilos of heroin and sell it to some established drug dealers. While everyone is asleep Renton takes off with the money and chooses life.

As an ultimate action movie: Trainspotting is the story of one man’s violent life in the junkie underworld, his escape from that world, and his vengeance on the men who want to pull him back into it. Initially, Renton and his crew of violent junkies do drugs, sleep with girls (cue gratuitous nudity), get in fights (emphasis on these scenes), go to prison (emphasis on prison fights), die, kick the habit, relapse, and more.

The climax of the film comes when Renton’s old crew learns the whereabouts of two kilos of heroin. There is a violent heist scene as they steal the two kilos and approach Renton to negotiate a deal with some high-level drug dealers. Renton arranges the meeting, and during that meeting a gunfight breaks out. Most die. Renton and Begbie, the most violent psychopath of Renton’s crew survives. As Begbie picks up the sac of cash, Renton shoots him and takes off with the money.

Trainspotting is a good film as a drama, but as an action movie it would be ultimate.

The English Patient (1996)

As a drama: The English Patient is the story of a Hungarian cartographer’s love affair in the Sahara Desert at the beginning of World War II. The protagonist, Almasy, falls in love with Katherine as they survey the Sahara Desert and find caves with ancient cave paintings, an important archaeological discovery. For Katherine their love is an affair. She breaks off their fling to return to her husband. Her husband finds the couple and crashes a plane into their location, killing himself, mortally wounding Katherine, and leaving Almasy uninjured. Almasy tries to save Katherine but is detained by Nazi forces. He escapes from a train and returns to Katherine to find her already dead.

As an ultimate action movie: The English Patient is far less boring. Hungarian cartographer Almasy falls in love with archaeologist Katherine as they search for an ancient cave system. They have an affair (cue gratuitous nudity). Katherine’s blatantly evil husband, who wears an eye-patch, vows vengeance on the couple. He recruits some Nazi SS officers to help him by telling them his wife has found the ancient cave system where the original Necronomicon is believed to be hidden.

The Nazis want to use the book to summon demons to fight allied forces, so they agree to the manhunt. Almasy and Katherine fight and flee. They’re captured. Almasy is being tortured on a train. There’s an exciting escape scene on the train, after which he saves Katherine from torture at the hands of her evil husband just in time. They escape on a boat to America, the best country in the world.

As a drama, The English Patient is just another piece of sleep-inducing Oscar bait. As an action movie, The English Patient is a worthy successor of the Indiana Jones franchise.

Dances With Wolves (1990)

As a drama: Dances With Wolves is the story of one man’s experiences on the western frontier just after the American civil war. Dunbar, having performed some valor for the union in a civil war battle, chooses for his next assignment a fort in the western frontier. He is alone there, and initially antagonized by a Sioux tribe. Dunbar makes friends with the tribe, hunts with them, battles the Pawnee tribe with them, and even gets one of their women.

Eventually, some American soldiers find his fort, and when Dunbar returns in Sioux clothes, they mistake him for a traitor. The Sioux rescue him from the soldiers. Dunbar leaves with his Sioux bride so that future Americans that come to the fort won’t be able to get the location of the Sioux winter hideout.

As an ultimate action movie: Dances With Wolves has the same plot. The main difference is that there are more scenes of Sioux vs. Pawnee, the civil war battle at the beginning of the film is extended with added action elements as is the rescue of Dunbar from American soldiers. Sometimes the line between action and drama is just that thin.

Take note film makers; a drama may get you an Oscar, but nobody cares about those anymore. Action movies bring in the money.

To read more from Jared Trueheart about the art of masculine story-telling check out legendsofmen.com.

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  1. Very good ideas. All 3 would have been perfect as action thrillers. I feel that the Bruce Willis film Unbreakable could have had more action as it did have a superhero theme. Se7en could have had a few more scenes like the one where Mills and Somerset chase John Doe and the Miami Vice movie should have been an action-packed epic rather than saving it all at the end.

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