11 First-Time Appearances of Attention-Grabbing Things in Action Movies

June 10, 2021 Updated: June 10, 2021

When movie audiences see something they’ve never seen onscreen for the first time—a loud, collective gasp goes up. If it’s a stunning enough innovation that produces a small adrenaline rush, screenwriters and directors take note and hurry to incorporate that thing in their next script/project. Ten years later, that thing has become passé, and we want to see a new thing; get a new rush. So what kinds of things? Here are 11 first-time appearances of attention-grabbing things in action movies:

1) The Headbutt

Is anyone shocked nowadays when, in a fight scene, someone decks his opponent by banging that guy’s noggin with his own head?  Of course not. We’ve been seeing that in movies since exactly 1975. That’s 46 years’ worth of headbutting.

But let me tell you—that first instance of a headbutt in a movie? The degree of shock that rippled through the audience was powerful. Nobody’d seen that before. It was outrageous! Completely devastating, unnerving, shocking, animalistic—who did that? Nobody did that. It was during a bare-knuckle, brawling proto cage-fight in a Charles Bronson film; 1975’s “Hard Times.” Movies haven’t been the same since.


2) The Head-kick

This all started, of course, with Bruce Lee. Back in the 1970s, BB (Before Bruce), kicking someone in a fight was an absolute no-no. It was a very, very girly-man thing to do; resulting in an instantaneous loss of cool. It was also somehow, just, morally wrong; an old-school honor thing. Even if a guy drove a beat-up, no-hubcaps-having Pinto, hung around pool halls, had a “Born Loser” tattoo, had dropped out of high school, and lived in his mom’s basement—he. did. not. kick. dudes. in. fights.

Watch this clip and see why Bruce made kicking people in the head instantly acceptable and desirable to men-folk of all classes and ages:

See the video at the top of the article to see Bruce’s “Enter The Dragon,” upside-down, back-flipping headkick. Now, in movies and in mixed martial arts, head-kicks are everywhere, even for women. In the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) recently, American straw-weight MMA fighter Rose Namajunas struck a blow for democracy when she head-kick-KO’d Communist China’s Weilei Zhang:

Is the headkick a progression or regression in terms of it’s effect on society? Feminism would say it’s progression. Probably … the head-kick regressed  society. The headbutt definitely did.

3) The Sideways Pistol Grip

Nowadays, we see that gangsta sideways-holding-of-the-pistol and go “yawn.” But when Jason Patric did it for the for the first time in 1991’s “Rush,” it was somehow electrifying. How’d a guy like him come up with a stylized move like that? Given the intense research Patric is known for, he probably hung around gangland territory, like Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, looking for some flair. It worked. All you see nowadays is sideways gun pointing, even though professionals say it’s a very stupid thing to do.

man hold pistol in 11 First-Time Appearances of Attention-grabbing Things in Action Movies
Jason Patric doing the sideways pistol grip in 1991’s “Rush.” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

4) The Upside-Down Pistol Grip

If you’re an action fan, you probably remember where this took place: 2002’s “The Bourne Identity.” This nouveau-James Bond flick changed everything in spy movies, but this bit of extreme manual dexterity  gave us to understand that military and CIA operatives are facile with their equipment to the point that guns and knives become extensions of their bodies, and deadly no matter what grip is brought to bear. And that’s thrilling stuff for thrillers. And by the way—note that Jason Bourne’s use of Krav Maga (the martial art of the Israeli military) includes a headbutt here. Come to think of it—Krav Maga should also be on this list.

5) The Ridiculously Ripped Abs

Ripped abs are all the rage, and one could make a good argument that it was Bruce Lee who started all this, but it was really Dennis Quaid. It became a thing that all young leading-men actors now need to have in their arsenal of things that women swarm to the movies to see. The male acting résumé must now read, under “Additional Skills”: “Headbutts, upside-down gun-shooting, ripped abs…”

Just to prove it was Quaid who started it all, check out his ridiculous, 19-year-old-looking abs, which he still has at age 61. That’s right. Sixty-one. This one might have been good for society.

6) The Butterfly Knife

The butterfly knife’s real name is the balisong. I’m not sure exactly when this got started, but someone was so thoughtful as to make a movie compilation of balisong occurrences. Kind of grainy, but very important in terms of historical documentation of this flippety-doo-dah knife. One would probably not go wrong in guessing that the cinematic preoccupation with butterfly knives kicked off not too long after Bruce Lee introduced the nunchaku, which is a larger, bludgeony form of flippy weaponry. Actually nunchucks also belong on this list.

7) The Rising From the Dead Multiple Times Thing

Rising from the dead got started with 1987’s “Fatal Attraction.” It’s ho-hum now, but the first instance of it was so insanely catch-you-off-guard terrifying. It was like some kind of Looney Tunes episode where the collective physical bodies of the audience ran shrieking out of the theater waving their arms in the air, while all their ghosts still sat in the seats with eyes bugging out and teeth chattering like castanets.

8) Actual US Navy SEALs; Live-Bullets Shock-and-Awe

Act of Valor” in 2012 featured the first use of actual, active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs in a movie. The directors told the SEALs to just do what they do, plan missions, and the cameras would come along for the ride.

It also featured the use of real bullets. For the first time, you can see in film why it’s called a “fire-fight.” Flames shoot off the end of gun barrels. Super dangerous. When they run out of bullets the guns look like this:

11 First-Time Appearances of Attention-grabbing Things in Action Movies
A red-hot barreled mini-gun. (screenshot from a former special operations team member on Instagram)

Check out when the SEAL boat team comes tearing around a river bend and unleashes an unholy mini-gun/50-caliber-machine-gun torrent of lead at a drug cartel truck convoy. Live fire. Cinematic shock-and-awe.

9) Bodybuilding Shock-and-Awe

Normally we think the first instance of seriously pahmped-up bodybuilders was Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger in “Conan the Barbarian,” but it was really Arnold’s real-life bodybuilding competition—the gigantic 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound Lou Ferrigno, who played that green behemoth, the Hulk, on TV. All young men of the 1970s who’d been perusing stacks of Joe Weider’s “Muscle and Fitness” magazines as bathroom reading, were beside themselves with the very concept of it. Then again, as we’re talking about movies here, it’s gotta be Arnold. With anything having to do with bodybuilding—it’s always Arnold.

With all his ridiculous world-class extracurricular achievements (being at one point the world’s highest-paid movie star, becoming the govern-ator of California, marrying a Kennedy) we forget what a specimen Arnold was in his bodybuilding prime. He had the genetics, the passion, the artistic flair, the innovation, the good looks, the charisma, the talent, the toughness, the athletic competitiveness, the entrepreneurial business savvy, the glad-handing people skills, the humor, and the ruthless overall ambition to be the G.O.A.T.. Here’s Arnold in his prime. Movies were never the same.

10) Bullet Time

“The Matrix” of course, in 1999, put “bullet time” on the map. “Bullet time” is the term for detaching a viewer’s time and space from something that viewer is viewing. It simulates depth enhancement by use of extreme transformation of time (slow enough to show normally un-seeable, un-filmable events, like flying bullets) and space (by moving the audience’s point-of-view around the scene at a normal speed, while events are slowed). The term “bullet time” is actually a registered trademark of Warner Bros., in connection with the video game “The Matrix Online.”

11) First Use of CGI

The first use computer-generated images (CGI) would be 1973’s “Westworld,” but it’s not a sure bet that anyone would have gasped at the CGI therein, and the point of this article is the first occurrences of movie things that made people sit up and take notice. That screen moment goes, hands down, to 1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

Of course, Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” was another leap forward for CGI, but that’s a whole ‘nuther article unto itself.

Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years’ experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch