Bleak and weirdly cool: 7 dark, hyper-stylized action-thrillers

1 of 2

Sin City — Courtesy of Dimension Films and Frank Miller

What is a dark, hyper-stylized action-thriller? Some films put violence, cool visuals and kick-ass music in a blender and beat your senses into submission!

There are a lot of films with thriller elements, and they easily spill over into the science fiction, horror and even action genres. However, not every thriller has what I would call a “hyper-stylized” aspect, where much of the story is supplemented by striking visuals (including extremely bright, or extremely darkened colors). Quite often these films revel in moral ambiguity, with the heroes and villains following their own codes of morality (resulting in blurring lines between good and evil).

Some Prototypical Hyper-Stylized Action Thrillers

1) Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Although it’s heavily praised, it seems most people don’t think of Apocalypse Now the way they would some other films here. That’s probably because it involves the Vietnam War. However, it pretty much is a hyper-stylized action thriller. It also comes very close to being a horror movie. While one could debate that all day, one can’t say this movie lacks striking and unique visuals, violence, action and suspense. It’s also obviously dark, if not outright satanic in tone, and the film’s “hero” isn’t exactly a hero at all.

It may be a critique of war, but the action of Apocalypse Now suggests a narrative that people are tantalized by destruction and power, and that it can utterly overtake a person’s humanity. The film also calls into question our sense of duty and loyalty. In a weird way, it’s both a condemnation and celebration of our more absurd, destructive nature. It has the quaint ability to sort of creep along slowly, yet at a break-neck pace, simultaneously. There is a lot of action yet it’s muted. Very few movies tie those two sensations together so well, and so eerily.

2) Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

I have written about Blade Runner here before, so I’ll keep this entry quite brief. However, I should note how similar it is to Apocalypse Now. This film is a bit flashier due to the city-scape, but both films convey the sense of a jungle, and predator vs. prey relationships. This film has style for miles and miles, and Rutger Hauer conveys both a menacing and a gentle soul (much like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now). You get the sense he could either strangle you to death or rock you to sleep.

3) Batman (1989)

Batmen — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s “Batman” was basically the film that made superhero movies cool. It had action, dark humor, lots of action and style, and some pretty strong horror elements. Recall that, in one of the earliest scenes, the Joker is conversing with a man he had recently charred to death with a hand buzzer gag. Batman also blends pop culture with certain elements of a Gothic style, and Nicholson’s Joker seems shockingly overlooked, ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Still, this film introduced the Joke-as-gangster element, and I personally much prefer Keaton’s Batman over the laughable, inorganic Christian Bale version.

What also can’t be denied is that Michael Keaton’s Batman is vastly different from the silly and lovable Adam West version. For example, The Joker’s henchman don’t just throw their fists around. They’re regularly using machine gun fire! Beyond that, the Joker is obsessed with murdering random Gotham City residents with poisons and acid attacks his female companion! Of course, there are some zany lines here, like “You wanna get nuts?! C’mon, lets get nuts!” For some reason, though, my favorite line is after Vickie Vale (Kim Basinger) calls the Joker insane, and he replies, “I thought I was a Pisces!”