When audiences see something they’ve never seen for the first time—a loud, collective gasp goes up. If it’s a stunning enough innovation, screenwriters and directors take note and rush to incorporate that thing in their next script/project. Ten years later, that thing has become completely passé, and we want to see a new thing. So what kinds of things? Here are a few examples:
1) The Headbutt
Is anyone shocked nowadays when, in a fight scene, someone decks his opponent by banging that guy’s head with his own head? Of course not. We’ve been seeing that in movies since exactly 1975. That’s 41 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 does that? It was during a bare-knuckle, brawling cage fight between Charles Bronson and a big skinhead in 1975’s “Hard Times.” Movies haven’t been the same since.
2) The Sideways Holding of the Pistol
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 endlessly cool. How’d a guy like him come up with a stylized move like that? It’s so ghetto. Given the intense research Patric is known for, he probably hung around Crenshaw Boulevard looking for some flair. It worked. All you see these days is sideways-held gun pointing, even though professionals say it’s an entirely stupid thing to do.
3) The Upside-Down Shooting of the Pistol
You know 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 just very impressive.
4) 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 needed to be a white guy for it to become a thing that all young leading-men actors now need to have in their arsenal of things. The male acting résumé must now read, under “Additional Skills”: “Headbutts, upside-down gun-shooting, ripped abs…”
Just to prove it was Dennis who started it all, check out his ridiculous, 19-year-old-looking abs, that he still has at age 61. Yes you read that right. Sixty-one.
5) Kicking People in the Head
This was all Bruce Lee. Back in the 1970s, BB (Before Bruce), kicking someone in a fight was an absolute no-no. So girly-man. An instantaneous loss of cool. It was also somehow, just, morally wrong, like an old-school honor thing, even if you drove a beat-up Pinto, hung around pool halls, had dropped out of high school, and lived in your mother’s basement—you. did. not. kick. dudes. in. fights.
Watch this clip and see why Bruce made kicking people in the head instantly acceptable to men-folk of all classes and ages:
6) The Flippity-Doo-Dah Knife
Its real name is the balisong. I don’t know 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. One would probably not go wrong in guessing that this flippy edged-weapon business kicked off not too long after Bruce Lee introduced the nunchaku, which is a larger, bludgeony form of flippy weaponry.
7) The Rising From the Dead Multiple Times Thing
This got started with 1987’s “Fatal Attraction.” It’s ho-hum now, but the first instance of it was so ridiculously 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 U.S. Navy SEALs, and Live Fire
“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.
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) The Use of Bodybuilding Shock-and-Awe
Normally we think the first instance of seriously pahmped-up bodybuilders was Ah-nuld in “Conan the Barbarian,” but it was really Ah-nuld’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 reading stacks of Joe Weider’s “Muscle and Fitness” magazines in the bathroom were beside themselves with the very concept of it.
Appreciate, if you will, ’70s style at its finest: feathered hair, porn moustaches, high-waisted pants, knee socks, skinny legs, bad wigs, and lame Hulk moves. But do not laugh. It had to start somewhere. Now it’s everywhere.
10) Bullet Time
“The Matrix” of course, in 1999, started all this coolness. “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
This would be 1973’s “Westworld,” but it’s not a sure bet that anyone would have gasped at the CGI (computer-generated images) 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.