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

Action movies have drama at their heart, so it should be possible to transform drama films into action movies with just a few embellishments. We select 10 classic dramas and show how their central premises could be reimagined as action flicks.  

Last week I examined 10 action films and showed how they could be made into dramas. In those cases, the central emotional conflict could be embellished to make a compelling drama film. This week, I’m doing the opposite. Instead of stripping away the action to focus on the conflict at hand, I’m adding action elements to famous dramas to make them into action movies. 

Below I have selected ten drama films which can be transformed into action movies by toning down the emotion and ramping up the violence. I chose films which may have a bit of violence already, but aren’t considered an action film outright. Furthermore, I chose films with titles which I thought would work well as an action movie, and main characters who are up to the task of kicking ass. 

I realize changing a drama film to an action film is blasphemous and contrary to the intent of the original film. It isn’t a criticism of the original film, or an endorsement of such behavior. Let’s just call this a thought exercise. What other drama films could you see working as action movies if they were remade?


Fight Club

Fight Club just sounds like an action movie. It brings up connotations of Enter the Dragon, Mortal Combat, or Bloodsport. As an action movie, it would be more about actually fighting, less about the cult surrounding it (Project Mayhem). 

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • The fight club would not really be depicted to expand beyond a place where people meet up to take out their frustrations on eachother. 
  • The success of fight club makes Tyler/The Narrator into an underground legend, and he/they profit from the club’s success. 

Action Film Premise: Disillusioned from his job, the narrator fights off bouts of insomnia. One day he meets a soap salesman named Tyler and they become friends. After the narrator’s house gets destroyed, he becomes angry and Tyler tells him to hit him. They begin fighting at night, and others join them to create a fight club. Over time the fight club expands to other cities and becomes an underground sensation. Tyler/The narrator manage the club and keep the police at bay. As the club’s fortunes grow, it begins to attract the best fighters from all around the world. 


Memento

How cool would it be to have an action movie centered around an anti-hero who can’t remember what he’s fighting for? The premise behind Memento is a good one, but it could be streamlined to become more action, less puzzle box. 

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • The reveal of how Teddy is using Leonard as a hitman would have to be revealed to the audience sooner in the film, but Leonard would not remember. The twist would remain at the end when Leonard realizes he is Sammy and killed his own wife by accident. 

Action Film Premise: Leonard is a former insurance agent suffering from an amnesia that prohibits him from making short term memories. He believes his condition is because his wife and him were assaulted by two men, and his wife died because of her injuries. Now Leonard is out for revenge, tracking down the killer thanks to notes he leaves himself and tattoos. When he finally catches the man with the help of an undercover cop named Teddy, Teddy reveals that he is using Leonard to take out people. He had been repeating the same lies about the cause of Leonard’s wife’s death over and over. Leonard forgets about this and moves on to more “assignments”, but each time he is able to make a note to himself, and eventually he finds out the truth and hunts down Teddy. 


Erin Brockovich

Movies, even those based on real life events, are dramatizations. That means the filmmakers take liberties with the actual story in order to make it work on film. Some movies take more liberties than others. The action movie version of Erin Brockovich’s story would take those liberties to the extreme… 

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • Brockovich doesn’t go to work at a law firm, but instead she works for a private investigator. It is through her investigations that she encounters an evil corporation poisoning a town. 
  • As Brockovich’s investigation continues, the evil corporation sends people after her to stop her. She has no choice but to fight them off. 

Action Film Premise: Seeking a settlement in a court case for a traffic accident, Erin Brokovich’s behavior ends up causing her to lose her case. She seeks retribution, and is referred to a private investigator, but doesn’t have any money and so she agrees to work for him. She comes across the case of an old woman who has been poisoned by the pollution of an evil corporation. She travels to the town to investigate, and finds out the damage is more widespread. Meanwhile the evil corporation sends people after her to convince her to drop the case. She flights them off, but can’t go to the police or government because they have been bribed. Eventually she has to convince the townspeople to rise up in rebellion to fight against the corruption. 


Safety Not Guaranteed

Time travel goes well with action, see The Terminator, or Looper. For Safety Not Guaranteed to become an action film, it would have to be more suspenseful and less whimsical. I like the idea of everything starting off with the ad in the paper because it would make the main character unaware of what they are getting themselves into.  

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • Kenneth’s last attempt to time travel resulted in the disappearance of his friend, and so he is very reluctant to go again with someone he cares about. The friend was captured because he stole the time machine from a powerful organization, and they are holding him hostage for Kenneth’s return. 
  • The government sees the ad and begins sending agents after Kenneth to investigate. 

Action Film Premise: Intern Darius Britt is assigned to investigate a strange personal ad in the newspaper where a man is seeking a partner to time travel with. She finds a man named Kenneth who made the ad. As Kenneth tries to figure out whether or not to trust Darius, Darius finds government agents on her tail. Darius confronts Kenneth and he confesses that the organization he stole the time machine from kidnapped his friend in retribution. So his plan was to go back and rescue his friend, but the government is trying to find the time machine themselves, and if they find it he won’t be able to save his friend. Together they come up with a plan to lose the government, go back in time, and rescue Kenneth’s friend. 


The Parallax View

Political thrillers centered around juicy conspiracy theories make for entertaining films. So why wouldn’t an action film based on a juicy conspiracy theory also not work? This one is partially motivated by revenge, which almost always makes for an exciting action movie. 

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • The Parallax corporation would place more effort into stopping Frady’s investigations at first, leading to exciting car chases and fight scenes. 
  • Towards the end of the film, Frady has to indocturne himself into the Parallax Corporation. Instead of witnessing Hammon’s assasination, he is the one tasked to carry it out. But at the moment of truth when he is supposed to carry out the assasination, someone does it for him and they set him up. 

Action Film Premise: The former girlfriend of reporter Joe Frady witnesses the assasination of a presidential candidate, and believes her life may be in danger. When she is killed, Frady feels guilty for not believing her. He finds other suspicious deaths of witnesses, and tracks down the clues to a small town where he is almost killed by the sherif for asking too many questions. He escapes with information on the Parallax Corporation, which seems to fund political assassinations. Frady is chased by the Parallax Corporation and has to fake his death to escape. Next, he infiltrates the Corporation by going through their training program. He is assigned to assassinate a senator, but when the time comes and he doesn’t pull the trigger, another agent does. He tries to escape, but realizes he has been trapped. Frady is framed for the murder.  


Stalker

Stalker is a very slow movie, focusing more on philosophical and metaphysical ideology rather than actually exploring its interesting setting. I think an action film could easily flip that approach. 

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • The government is on the protagonist’s tail. He has to live and work in secrecy or else they will find him and his family. The government kills anyone who ventures into The Zone. Stalkers make good money because of the risk. 

Action Film Premise: In the distant future extraterrestrials have landed on Earth. The landing area is called “The Zone” which is full of strange dangers and has been sealed off by the government. In the center of The Zone is a strange room where a person can have a wish granted. The protagonist is a Stalker, a man who can get into and navigate in The Zone. He is hired by a writer and a professor to take them to the Room, but is hesitant to do so because his wife doesn’t want him to leave. When two government agents find him, he has to kill them or risk his family. This encourages him to agree to the trip with the Professor and Writer so that he can ask a wish to protect his family. During the trip, the group has to evade several traps and strange occurrences, as well as other Stalkers who are trying to get to the room. When they get there, the professor reveals a bomb which he will use to destroy the room. But they realize the room doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you subconsciously desire.  


You Were Never Really Here

Everyone loves a good vigilante, and on many occasions they have made good protagonists or anti-heroes in action movies. You Were Never Really Here already has the violence aspect and the motivation covered, it just needs to be a bit more dynamic to be an action flick…

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film:

  •  Joe isn’t a specialist to rescue trafficked girls, instead he is a mercenary who is sometimes used by the corrupt governor. As such, he knows some of the governor’s men who are after him. 
  • The Police don’t take the girl from Joe, he has to try to keep her safe. At the end he realizes the only way to do this is to take out the governor who is too powerful to stop any other way. 

Action Film Premise: Joe is a hired mercenary who has a history of violence working for the Army and the FBI. He lives and cares for his elderly mother. One day, Joe gets a job from his handler to rescue a girl who has been abducted. He infiltrates a brothel, but is recognized by one of the men there. Chaos ensues as Joe is forced to kill a number of people and rescues the girl. He arrives at the agreed meeting place to hand her over, but the police arrive and try to take her. Joe kills them and flees to meet with his handler, who is murdered. Joe decides to hide out with the girl to keep her safe. He realizes the people in the brother recognized him and must be trying to find him. He realizes his mother is in danger, and leaves the girl to find her. He arrives to find men camped out at his house, and his mother dead. He kills them in anger but not before finding out who is behind this, and returns to the girl. He realizes they won’t be safe until the man behind it all, the governor is dead. He tracks him down in his mansion and kills him, also rescuing other girls who were captured. 


I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

As I’ve already mentioned, revenge is an excellent motivator for an action movie. Its even better when that revenge is motivated by the loss of a loved one – that is an idea that hits home with the audience and does not require much justification for on-screen violence. This british crime drama already has a good foundation for an action movie…

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • Boad is Turner’s cohort, and is motivated to attack Will’s brother because of the damage Will had done in his previous life as a gangster. 
  • When Will returns to investigate his brother’s death, he agrees to join his old gang because he realizes he is vulnerable without them.  

Action Film Premise: Will is an ex-gangster who gave up his life in crime in London to protect his family. He is estranged from them, but is drawn back home after the death of his brother. His brother was brutally beaten and raped, and then commited suicide. Upon returning home, Will’s old gang asks him to rejoin. He is at first reluctant, but as he investigates the death of his brother he finds a connection to the rival gang. He rejoins his own gang in order to track down his brother’s assaulter, killing anyone who stands in his way. Eventually he finds the man who raped his brother, and decides to kill him. This ignites a new war as Will contemplates leaving London once again. 


Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

We saw the action movie potential of this retrospective drama in the film’s final moments. What if this movie was like that the whole way through? For this one to work as an action movie, I take more liberty than the others in regards to making changes to the story…

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film: 

  • The film is less concerned about Rick Dalton’s career, and more concerned about the Manson family’s confrontations with Hollywood stars and filmmakers. 
  • I think there would need to be a new character who is a detective following the Manson murders and it would provide a connection to Booth. 

Action Film Premise: The film opens with a flashback when actor Rick Dalton and his friend/stunt double Cliff Booth are filming scenes at the Spahn Ranch for a western TV show. The ranch is operated by an old man who is going blind and hired some helpers to take care of the work. One of the helpers who is a hippie gets into an argument with one of the cast which results in a fight which Booth helps settle. Years later, Dalton is trying to get out of westerns. Booth is asked by a friend to come to the set of The Green Lantern because the stunt doubles are upset with Bruce Lee who hurts them, and they want Booth to talk to Lee about this. Booth gets in an altercation with Lee and injures him, which causes Booth to be black listed. Meanwhile, a series of murders takes place which are later revealed to be perpetrated by the Manson family. Out of work, Booth gives a ride to a young hippie and drops her off at Spahn Ranch, realizing the hippies have taken over. He gets in another altercation and then leaves. They follow him and Cliff has to defend himself, which draws the attention of a detective who was investigating the murders and suspects Cliff. The detective approaches Rick on set to ask him about Cliff, and Rick relays the concerning interaction to Cliff. The detective follows Cliff to Dalton’s house. When Cliff goes out for a walk he leads the detective away, and members of the Manson family approach Dalton’s house because they are after his famous neighbor. When Dalton chastises them for being loud, they decide to break into Dalton’s house instead. 


On the Waterfront

Another classic crime drama that is a few small changes away from becoming a modern action brawler. Marlon Brando was many things, but one thing he never became was an action star. This iteration would change that…

Changes to Make it Become an Action Film:

  • To work as an action film, the story’s interconnecting relationships would have to be simplified. I would get rid of Charley and the subplot of Charley trying to convince/bribe Terry.

Action Film Premise: Terry Malloy is a dock worker who works for a powerful union boss who controls the docks with an iron fist thanks to his connection with the mob. Terry is a skilled boxer, and has a bright career ahead of him. However, the union boss orders him to lose a fight so that he can win a large sum of money. Terry is captured by the police because he threw the fight but refuses to testify for fear of reprimand from the union, and forces a co-worker to help him instead. When the coworker ends up dead, the co-worker’s sister, Edie, demands action against the union. Terry agrees to help her out of guilt and because he is facing death if he testifies. When the union boss finds out about Terry’s actions, he sends men after him to convince him to stop, but he fights them off. Next, the union boss captures Edie, to try and convince Terry. Terry has fallen for Edie and tries to rescue her. When he does, the crime boss forces Terry to tell Edie his role in the death of her brother. Terry fights his way in, but is convinced by Edie to not kill the boss, and instead testify in court against him. He does this, and is black listed. He comes back to the waterfront during a recruitment, and is not hired. He calls out the union boss and gets into a brawl with the boss’ henchmen. Badly beaten, his effort is enough for the workers to be inspired to strike.