Genre Swap: 10 Action Movies That Could Work as Drama Films

Drama films tend to be about conflicts caused by differing perspectives, and action films embellish the physical confrontations from those conflicts. We select 10 action films and show how they could be toned down to become drama films. 

From a movie-watching experience, drama and action films seem like they would be opposites. Action films are all about pushing the audience to the edge of their seat and making sure they have fun. They use physical movement, violence, special effects, and suspense to entertain their audiences. Drama films are more low key and serious. Their entertainment value comes from an emotional appeal to the audience. Rather than wow us with circumstances we couldn’t ever imagine, drama films put the audience into the shoes of their characters so they almost feel like what is happening to the characters is happening to them. 

But at the heart of most action films is an emotional conflict not unlike what you might expect to see in a drama film. In order for the audience to buy into an excessive conflict in an action film, they have to believe that there is a good reason for it to occur in the first place. Certain settings, such as war or in crime films may make such an explanation implicitly. In others, there has to be a reasoning for the bad guys to do bad guy things and the good guys to want to stop them. The best action films don’t just have action scenes for the hell of it. 

So with this thought in mind, I chose 10 action films which could be distilled down to their central emotional conflict to become drama movies. I strip away their action sequences and leave only the characters and the problems they face. In order to be chosen for this study, what remains has to have enough depth and interest to work as a feature film while maintaining the premise of the original film. Not every action film has enough of a plot or interesting premise to make this possible. What other action movies might also work well as dramas?  


Logan

In the realm of superhero movies, Logan already feels like more of a drama than an action film. But don’t let its more emotional storyline fool you, this is still an action film in the same vein as the X-men films which came before it. However, that dramatic approach to the familiar character does make this film ripe for reimagining as a straight drama…

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Laura is actually Logan’s daughter who he didn’t know he had until she shows up trying to escape the clutches of her violent stepfather who wants to exploit her for her powers. 
  • There is no X-24, and no Weapon-X facility. Mutants are dying out and Laura’s step father wants to “cure” her with a medical procedure rather than have her grow up as an embarrassment to his family.  

Drama Film Premise: Mutants are dying out, and the public perspective on them has soured. Mutant Logan spends his days trying to forget about his past and blend in with normal people while caring for his elderly mentor. When a woman shows up with a young girl who claims to be his daughter, Logan must take her in to protect her from her stepfather who wants to rid her of her mutant powers. To keep her safe, Logan must head North on a road trip to get to a sanctuary before her stepfather can stop him. 


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Speaking of superhero movies, this one’s a bit more political/spy thriller than most. To make Captain America: The Winter Soldier more of a drama film, sub out the action for even more espionage and corrupt politicians. So, yes, with these changes it would become more of a thriller than a drama, but it would still be more of a drama than the original released film. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • The Winter Soldier is an ex-agent who had worked with Rogers and had been captured by the enemy and brainwashed. Rodgers had thought he was dead. 
  • Captain America isn’t a superhero, but just a regular secret agent. Super powers don’t exist in this version of the film. 

Drama Film Premise: Steve Rogers is an agent for SHIELD an organization built to combat espionage threats against the US. SHIELD is set to reveal a new Orwellian counter-terrorism network controlled by a supercomputer, but on the eve of the network’s introduction the agency’s director is kidnapped by an enemy known only as “The Winter Soldier”. Rogers is assigned to investigate, and finds that the kidnapper is actually his ex-partner who had been brainwashed, and is a part of a bigger conspiracy where the enemies of SHIELD have corrupted the new counter-terrorism network to use it for their own advantage. At the end of the film it is revealed that the director faked his own kidnapping and framed “The WInter Soldier” so that Rogers would investigate and unravel the entire mystery.  


Rush Hour

Rather than as an excuse to showcase Jackie Chan’s unique martial arts abilities and generate mismatched-buddy-cop-movie style comedy, Rush Hour could have been a fascinating exploration of cultural differences. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Rather than being assigned to assist in the case to rescue the Consul’s daughter, Lee is motivated by his failure to capture the daughter’s kidnapper. He is not operating on official duty, and is a bit of a rogue agent.  
  • Detective Carter is a detective who has been working on a case against the kidnapper, and has not had much success until Lee arrives. They need each other and after working out the differences in their approach, begin to figure things out. 

Drama Film Premise: The daughter of a Chinese Consul is kidnapped by a powerful crime lord after an attempt to capture him ends in failure. Ashamed for his failure, the Hong Kong police detective who was in charge of the raid quits the force and tracks down the kidnapper to the US. Lee smuggles himself into the US, and during his investigation runs into detective Carter who has been trying to work a case against the kidnapper. When Lee tells Tucker the truth, they decide to work together to track down the daughter.   


Casino Royale

James Bond is one of the longest-running action movie franchises of all time. That means there are many interesting stories which could be converted to dramas. But I have chosen Casino Royale because I think the high-stakes poker game at the center of the film’s plot would make an excellent and intriguing drama that would segue into a risky romance. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Ignore the first part of the 2006 film where Bond is galavanting around the world trying to stop terrorism ploys. Instead, consider that he is a poker expert who has been hired by an intelligence agency to bankrupt a terrorist at a high stakes poker tournament. 
  • Bond isn’t tortured, but Vesper is captured by Le Chiffre after he loses, and forces her to become a double agent or else he will kill Bond.  

Drama Film Premise: An international terrorist is down on his luck, and in a last bit of desperation attends a high stakes poker tournament to win back his losses. James Bond is a ex-con gambler who is hired by the British government to win the tournament and bankrupt the terrorist. However, Bond begins to fall for the treasury agent, Vesper, who had been assigned to watch over the money. When Bond is successful, the terrorist does not take this lightly and kidnaps the secretary. She agrees to help the terrorist if he spares Bond’s life. Together they decide to never return home and live together in order to escape the terrorist, but when the terrorist finds them, Vasper has to live up to her part of the bargain. 


Roadhouse

Patrick Swayze found himself headlining several notable action films in the 80’s and 90’s. I chose Roadhouse for this dramatization exercise because it has the most down to earth premise, even if it is a bit rowdy and over-the-top. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Dalton moves to Missouri from New York City to get away from his dark past where he did unsavory things as a bouncer to make money. He wants to start anew in a small midwest town where no one will know him. 
  • Instead of the end of the film where Dalton essentially raids Wesley’s mansion, the police end up tracking him down and he must admit who he is to Doc. 

Drama Film Premise: James Dalton is a big-city bouncer who has dealt with the worst kinds of people. After he accidentally kills a man, he flees to the midwest to start a new life. He takes a job at a rowdy bar in Missouri, and ends up at a hospital after a violent fight. At the hospital he falls for a doctor who comes to support his efforts of cleaning up the bar where she often gets called. He makes more friends who support him, but when Dalton throws out some friends of a powerful business man he finds himself a target. In revenge, the business man figures out who Dalton is and calls the police on him. Dalton has to admit who he is to his new girlfriend and friends, who try and help him because of his efforts to clean up their community. 


Death Wish

The original Death Wish is more like a crime drama by today’s standards, but the last third of the film ramps up the violence enough to make it an action movie in my book. Therefore, only a change in the end of the film would make it more of a solid drama dealing with the loss of loved ones from an encounter with violent criminals. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Instead of Paul Kearsey being driven to become a vigilante, it is his impression on Ames Jainchill which convinces Ames to become the vigilante. The end of the film as a drama would be about Paul finding out how he inspired this man to kill these people in the name of vengeance.  

Drama Film Premise: Paul Kearsey is a peaceful architect who loses his wife to a brutal raping, and his daughter becomed tramitized from it. Paul contemplates becoming a vigilante out of frustration. He becomes friends with a client when they bond over his traumatic past. The client decides to seek out revenge on behalf of Paul, to do the things he can’t. When the client uses Paul’s gun to commit vigilante justice, the police trace it back to Paul. Paul then has to deal with the fact that someone else is acting out on his repressed violent thoughts. 


The Transporter

Unusual careers are often a topic of drama films. It is interesting to watch someone who has a job that is out of the ordinary. In the case of The Transporter, that job is being a hired driver who asks no questions about what he is delivering. Like typical crime dramas, it would be a look at the exciting criminal underworld from a different perspective. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Frank isn’t a mercenary who can fight off bad guys, just a really good driver. He avoids conflict and uses his skills to keep himself and Lei hidden, rather than taking the offensive against the bad guys. 
  • The last half of the film becomes a road trip movie where Frank and Lei are driving to escape the corrupt police and Frank’s employers who are after them. 

Drama Film Premise: Frank Martin is a professional driver who works for hire. His number one rule is to never ask about what he is transporting or for whom. During one job he notices that the package he is delivering is moving, he breaks his rule and opens it to find a woman. The woman is being trafficked, and Frank agrees to help her because he can’t go to the police because he is involved in the crime. The two of them go on the run, and as they try to evade Frank’s employer. Soon, they begin to fall in love, and Frank has to choose between turning himself in so that he can save the woman, or remain free at the risk of both of their lives…


The Bourne Identity

Losing your memory is a topic seen somewhat frequently in drama films (50 First Dates, Memento, Before I Go to Sleep) as well as action films (The Bourne Identity, Total Recall). In terms of good drama material, I think Jason Bourne’s experience would work. It would be interesting to wake up one day with no memory and gradually find out how you are a specially trained operative. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • The CIA isn’t trying to kill Jason, they are trying to bring him in because he has valuable information about a failed mission. They need him alive, and keep trying to get him to remember, which only makes him more eager not to. 
  • Marie is an enemy agent, trying to take advantage of Jason in his compromised state in order to learn what he knows. 

Drama Film Premise: A man rescued by fishermen has no memory of who he is. After obtaining an ID from a safe deposit box, he becomes the target of a CIA agent. When the CIA tries to explain to Jason who he is, he becomes frightened and runs away. He pays a woman to drive him to the address on his ID. The woman takes advantage of the man, trying to understand what he knows, but Jason becomes attracted to her. Over time Jason remembers who he is, and who this woman is; the one who set his memory loss in the first place in an elaborate ploy to learn his secrets… 


The Interview

The Interview starts off somewhat serious, becomes a comedy, and then ends up as a pseudo-action movie. I think the topic would work well for a drama film, with few significant changes required. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • Skylar and Rapaport are more competent than what is shown in the film, but they are very nervous about what they are asked to do and this results in some tense situations. 
  • At the climax of the film during the interview, Skylar doesn’t upset Kim and Kim doesn’t go on a rampage. Instead, Skylar is acting nervously and Kim gets suspicious. He has the film crew taken into custody, but Skylar uses his charm to persuade Kim to continue, and eventually it allows Skylar the opportunity to poison Kim. 

Drama Film Premise: Dave Skylar is a popular talk show host who wants his show to be taken more seriously. His producer Aaron Rapaport organizes an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is a fan of Skylark. On the eve of making the trip to North Korea, Skylar and Rapaport are taken into custody by the CIA, who want them to poison Kim. They have no choice but to agree. Upon arriving in North Korea, they meet Kim and Skylar becomes friends with him, which causes him to feel conflicted over whether or not they should assassinate him. As the two friends disagree on what to do, Skylar begins to learn more about the true condition of the country, which helps to convince him that he is doing the right thing by proceeding with the assasination. 


Total Recall

You didn’t think I’d leave an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie off of this list did you? Arnold’s action films tend to fall into two categories – either Arnold is chasing something/someone, or something/someone is chasing him. Total Recall is the latter, and to make it a drama film, we’d have to make it more about his character trying to find something: i.e. the truth. 

Changes to Make it Become a Drama Film: 

  • We’d get rid of the secret agent stuff, and Mars. 
  • Quaid is a construction worker and became aware of his company dumping toxic waste into the ocean. As a settlement, he had to agree to have his memory of the incident erased. 

Drama Film Premise: Douglas Quaid is a construction worker who dreams of travelling to the tropics. He is too poor to afford to go, so he uses a company called Total Recall to plant a memory of a trip in his mind. After the procedure, Quaid starts having memories about his company covering up an environmental catastrophe in the tropics. He becomes more obsessed to travel there and find out the truth. His wife knows the truth, but doesn’t want to tell him for fear that it will inspire him to take action. She alerts the company who send men to try and stop him, but it only makes him more sure of himself. Feeling betrayed by his wife, Quaid travels to the location in his dreams to find the truth. 

For more Genre Swap, check out: 10 Comedies That Could Work as Horror Films