Action sports and movies have a multi-decade long history, since the flashy and dangerous tricks of skaters, snowboarders, and other extreme athletes lend to great film material. If your action sports viewing history ended with the intros from those video games you played as a kid, you might be surprised to see how far the genre has progressed.
With films like The Dawn Wall premiering in theatres and grossing over a million dollars in ticket sales, action sports have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the film market. While the activities covered in each film are highly diverse, the biggest and best titles share some key features.
Motivation – The best action sports titles are more than just a compilation of tricks, they have an overarching story or expand beyond the sport itself. The Dawn Wall focuses on climber Tommy Caldwell’s ascent of the “unclimbable” south face of El Capitan, but also recounts his personal life and the challenges he has faced. Blood Road focuses on the Vietnam War and how it affected both the country and the film’s subjects. Depth Perception and North of Nightfall are as much nature documentaries as they are sports films.
Location – Most sports have uniform playing fields (basketball courts, football fields, etc). Action sports are different, as each mountain and beach and skate park presents unique possibilities. Interesting and novel locations are key to a good action sports film, and the locations can also be a character themselves. Depth Perception takes a rather literal approach to this, while other films (North of Nightfall, The Fourth Phase) do it less obviously by exploring the history and uniqueness of the locations they are in.
Cinematography – Low angle shots with a fisheye lens don’t cut it anymore. Creative and cutting-edge cinematography defines the biggest action sports films, including extreme slow-motion, macro shots, drone/aerial footage, POV shots, long tracking shots, and more.
Novelty/Difficulty – “Easy” and “familiar” are not words the top actions sports athletes and filmmakers use often. The search for the tallest mountains, biggest waves, and hardest tricks is endless. Multi-day hikes into the wilderness, locations only accessible by helicopter or boat, and travel to the farthest corners of the world are common. Filming can take years as a result, with hundreds or thousands of hours of work distilled into 90 minutes of doing the impossible.
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