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Why Don’t Movie and TV Fights Look Real?


I'm gonna fuck you up

I’m gonna fuck you up

I’ve always wondered what makes fights in movies and TV look unreal and lacking. I understand that action movies aren’t exactly the ideal indicator of real, but I’ve always thought that even in drama movies where there is supposed to be a sense of “real”, it is always off in some way. Sure, we’ve made a bit of progress since Captain Kirk fought the Gorn, but most Hollywood directors just straight up get it wrong when they’re trying to get it right, so I compiled lists of what makes fight scenes look unreal and what elements they’re missing from real life fights.

What Makes Fight Scenes Look Unreal:
-Stupid ass bad guys. Why is it that when a group of guys fight the hero, none of them know how to attack at the same time instead of sequentially?
-Laughable power differentials
-Unbelievable dialogue
-Perfect settings
-The fact that this is a movie and that everything is choreographed

What’s Missing:
-A lack of control
-Punches that are missed not because the super cool guy can dodge that fast but because in real life, people sometimes punch air
-The word “bitch” being uttered every 10 seconds

You know what’s producing the fight scenes people actually like? WorldStarHipHop. Specifically those WorldStarHipHop fight compilation videos. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s okay; it just means you don’t squander your time on facebook pages watching vine videos and are a more functional human being than everyone else.

Tweets, vines, snapchats, etc. are basically the freebased derivatives of internet media; when you freebase anything viral, they usually end up on these channels that spread like crack. And these fight compilations, these real fights, these are crack. They spread through the inter-tubes faster than fire because people love it. Watching two kids fight behind the dumpster at school used to be a reason to ditch first period. The best part of football games is the tailgate party where you get to watch some douche fuck up some chode. You can enjoy these adrenaline pumping moments from the comfort of your computer screen but I mean, if you were in one of those fights, those motherfuckers wouldn’t be running their mouths after getting dropped like a sack of bricks, am I right? The next time you’re on one of those videos, take a look at the comments. Half the dudes think they were there. (Seriously, don’t read the comments. You may as well take a bat to the head.)

Of course enjoying a good ol’ fistfight is nothing new. There has always been a primal obsession with watching a dude getting rocked, but film and TV always get it wrong. People like watching real fights more than watching Jack Reacher karate chop a couple of retards because that shit’s fake, son. The element of genuine aggression — that primal feeling — it seems to always be lacking. That’s what makes us drawn to fights in the first place. They are unwritten litmus tests to see who is a man and who isn’t, whether or not we will admit it.

As far as a realistic fight scene goes, here is a scene from The Wire. It’s pretty cliche to say it’s a real fight from a real TV show, but I supposed it’s accurate enough.

This is a real fight in the sense that it is genuine. Some people will say this is just a child getting assaulted and that this isn’t a real fight because it’s not fair, but real fights aren’t fair. I didn’t look for a scene that displays what inner city life is like on purpose, but that’s what people view as genuine; whatever is happening outside of your reality is more genuine than your own. The fact that Kenard is like 10 is what makes it real. A bit too real, as if it’s supposed to belong on WorldStarHipHop or Vine instead of TV.

This post is dedicated to co-editor Fabius who is a large fan of The Wire, which he states as being “the most realest show on TV, along with Breaking Bad.”

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10 Responses

  1. In response to your question, it seems like there is usually a social repression where it comes to television especially if and when you’re watching with your family. You know how you go into a movie with your parents and all of a sudden there’s a sex scene where the actress slides her clothes onto the floor and the camera is directed onto her seductory face and her naked shoulderbones, and you and your parents get insanely awkward and disavow the entire scene altogether, praying that it just moves on. I think violence too does the same effect where if you’re watching it with your family you can’t have it too real, as if the scene would come out and disrupt the very nexus of your life, just like the sex scenes. These scenes are then always imitated just to give a small rush, and then get it over with – same with fight scenes. I guess times have changed and I’m not sure people watch the wire on a television with their families anymore, it seems like people watch TV on the internet, which might explain why it’s more possible to become “realer” and “realer”. This is all just trivial speculation. Perhaps when TV becomes privatized in the sense that everybody watches their own television instead of a communal television, then “realer” scenes get to emerge and push the envelop. Of course, others would say there is an ideological element to it. it might be true, but i’m in no mood for that analysis anytime soon.

  2. ThereIsNoJustice2013-10-25 @ 20:13

    One movie with slightly better fight scenes?:

    It also has an extremely hateable villian.

    In any case the most obvious flaw with most movie fights comes from their choreography. Not bad choreography, but the fact that they are choreographed at all. The “beats” are visible to even the layman, and you end up with something that often looks like a dance. Effective editing has to be combined with effective choreography, to cover up the fact that the fights are fake.

    This doesn’t even touch the insanity you see in medieval or ancient warfare, or I suppose war films in general. People rush into combat with no apparent concern for self-preservation. We might just throw up our hands and say that the point of films and TV isn’t to depict combat or war accurately, but to convey something about them emotionally — but I think that’s really unwise because it’s dangerous. The glorification and romanticizing about war must have some effect on attitudes toward it.

    Video games have actually presented, in some ways, more realistic combat in that it doesn’t have “beats” and defense is more important than offense. And also that some people are much better at it than others:



  3. OccasionallyClever2013-10-25 @ 22:33

    I’m a little busy (and been writing on this site way too much for it to be healthy), so I’ll just propose this, the reason why fights don’t seem or feel real is because nobody actually wants it, in the same way nobody wants real sex in their romances/dramas.

    In stories, fights are choreographed set pieces that visually communicate resistance, intended to serve the story. They exist to provide further explication of characters’ motivations, personality traits, etc. or to introduce new plot points and release dramatic tension. The kind of fight you get and how ‘real’ they feel is usually related to the kind of story that’s being told, how well the fight has been set up, and whether you actually care about the characters. The actual fighting will still be well-choreographed, with maybe a cut here and a broken bone there for ‘realism’.

    World Star Hip Hop fights rarely last a minute. If they do, 90% of it will be posturing, 1% will be actual ‘fighting’ and the rest will be a mob stomping on the poor loser who’s curled up in the fetal position/out cold. If that kind of fight serves the story, sure. But you don’t want that kind of fight EVERY TIME. Even the Wire example you provided, served the kind of story the Wire was trying to tell.

    What about master combatants? If they aren’t being paid by the UFC, they rarely enter into conflicts unless they’re 100% sure they’ll win. Which is why the most realistic depiction of a ‘fight’ in the entire James Bond series happens here:

    You don’t have to read Sun Tzu to know the best way to win a conflict is to put your enemy in a position where you can destroy him but he can’t hurt you. Hence, drones. And hence, NOT GI Joe.

  4. “This post is dedicated to co-editor Fabius who is a large fan of The Wire, which he states as being “the most realest show on TV, along with Breaking Bad.”

    What have I done to deserve such filthy lies! :(

    Nachlasse, as regards TV, you are on the right track. Baudrillard, I referenced the text in the futurama post: “Mass media is characterized by the fact that it is anti-mediating, intransitive, by the fact that they fabricate non-communication, if one is to define communication as an exchange, as reciprocal room of parle et résponse. […] Through the mere presence of television, social control has come around. Unnecessary to imagine it as a periscope, with whom the regime spies on the individual, for it is much more than that: Television is the assurance that people are not talking with one another anymore.”

    In other words, television meant that people were sitting in front of the idiotbox, silently staring at it ( !) I cannot for the life of me find the article right now, but there was someone who actually lamented that television drama has become “too good” in that you now actually have to follow the plot instead of zoning in and out while ironing the sheets or eating your breakfast.

    in tandem with this change in quality of Television, television reviews have become episodical, i.e. every single episode is reviewed on the av club or by alan sepinwall or what/whoever. In these places, the socialization happens. the Breaking Bad finale garnered more than 5,000 comments on The AV Club. When you used to sit in front of the tv with your family, you probably watched something that was sort of a consensus, likeable, nothing great – now you watch exactly the show that you want to watch in front of your computer, and then you go online to discuss the show there. The socialization has, in other words, actually increased, but it has shifted towards the online and away from the screen. The screen was always anti-communicative anyway, sitting in front of it with others was paradoxically a hindrance to discussing television.

  5. The sex and violence scenes, in other words, are uncomfortable for viewing with the family ( because they disrupt the ooze of blissfull anti-communication. The comforting silence becomes uncomfortable, they force you to respond yet keep you from doing so.

  6. Nachlasse, you’re right about sex scenes, but it’s different with violence. If you’ve ever been close to a really dangerous fight (i.e. not two drunk frat boys trying to give each other wedgies), it’s like your first experience with tequila: beguiling but revolting too. Whereas with sex scenes there’s an attraction (unless you’re watching the jacuzzi scene in About Schmidt) that increases with the immediacy/decrease in mediation (which is why watching porn/going to an orgy with your family would be so much worse), with fight scenes it’s the opposite. The closer you get, the more revolting it is. Boxing is still titillating, seeing a Guy lose an eye to a beer bottle is pretty horrifying, and the human scenery of war must be unbearable in the flesh, so to speak. It gets less attractive as it gets more immediate.

    Expecting fight scenes to be realistic might be naive, because if they were really real, you wouldn’t want to watch. But they should serve some symbolic function in the story. They don’t have to be real, they just have to represent the conflict/event effectively. Fast camera work in dogfights or fist fights doesn’t matter so long as you can tell who is chasing/pummelling whom and who’s winning. Bronson (the movie, not the Guy) does this really effectively, because the fights aren’t always that graphic, but you know exactly who is doing what to whom. You might only see a Guy cracking his knuckles and squaring his shoulders without an actual fight, but you’ll be in no doubt about the fact that he got his butt kicked by a dozen guards with billy clubs.

    After all, the only fights whose reality you can confirm are those you’ve lost.

  7. Neoteny2013-10-27 @ 15:40


    That’s the nod of the problem. Fiction is by definition a lie, it’s never real. It does not come from the real and do not aim for the real. Though sometimes the creators try to inject a vision of the real in it, but it’s still artificial.

    Breaking Bad may seems “real” enough because it has a morality, and thus the power fantasy appears limited, but it still depends on the ludicrous premise that an “ordinary” man (and Walter White is revealed to not be so ordinary either) could become a successful drug lord. Whatever difficulties and repercussions he suffers still have to allow him to exist as a character. If Breaking Bad was realistic, Walter White would not have survived for five seasons, if he could ever had existed at all.

    Fiction can never own realism, only appeal to a specific audience’s fantasy regarding how fiction could be made more in line with how they view reality (here: “real life violence isn’t the pornography you see on screen, it’s gritty and stressful”). The result can certainly have merits (here: more emotionally engaging, more ultimately pacifistic, with more serious consequences and thus less gratuitous), but the artificiality of the thing is revealed when you check who find it authentic (here: if you’re reading it…) and who find it biased. It’s the same process that leads to the production of christian roleplaying games. Or medieval films with protagonists defending modern values.

    Question: Why do we hope to achieve through “realer” fictions? What power do we think they have?
    Answer: The power to partly shape reality in a society where communication is omnipresent (read: any human group ever). The distress come when we realize this power can’t be harnessed for our own needs, that it follows its own rules (limitations of storytelling, “tyranny” of the audience, etc…). If that’s not narcissism to think power’s only real problem is that it isn’t in our hands, I don’t know what is.

  8. Hmm, I’ve read your (GuyFox) comment at least five times now and I’m not entirely sure how we differ. It seems like you’re saying we need a distance for both sex and fighting scenes in order for them to be represented as mere scenes as such, and not real, which allows for the plot to go on, am I reading you wrongly? That seems to be what I suggested in my own comment above. The closer you get, the more revolting it is, which is the same for both sex and violence, and I’m not sure where we differ on this.

    I think neoteny’s comment is incredibly interesting and en point, but it seems also that the issue with language is thoroughly complicated. Many people have disagreed about the functionalities of language, etc.In any case, it seems occasionallyclever’s point is that we don’t want what is real – and all of us are essentially agreeing in some way or another, I think Nojustice’s inclusion of tempo choreography makes this point certain. That there requires a symbolic fiction to sustain our existence.

    Problem is… I’m not too sure that’s true. It’s complicated and I’m too lazy to write all of it our here, but this segregation of reality and falsity is increasingly dubious to me.

    Let’s put it this way – it’s not reality against falsity since we’ve already established that it’s family vs non-family. Btw, I’ve heard that european families are more open to sex scenes and cringe w.r.t violent scenes, would a european verify that for me? In any case, it seems to be more of the issue of social repression via the nuclear family w.r.t what determines the relationship or reality and falsity. As individuals, we are more prone to see the real, whereas familial shit requires a mediation. The problem here however, is that it also does seem to me that television attempts to constantly posit a non-reality that is increasingly more real. Okay my point is this, have you guys watched Madea’s like family TV shows? Tyler Perry has these shows about African-American families where I’ve watched one episode or two and it is exactly like a pure simulacra of the cosby show, prince of bel-air and the 70’s show, where there is this tomfoolery that characterizes a form of non-reality within the show itself. On the other hand, there is this surge of breaking bad, the wire, sopranos where (I haven’t watched any TV shows in the past 10 years so it’s all based on hearsay) there is an increasing demand to say it is insanely real. The familial trend requires a form of falsity, the individual watvhing TV on computer trend pushes it the other way into reality.

    Yet, this is my suspicion. It seems to be like that breaking bad, the wire, are recreating a new form of experience, an experience of family without family. In the sense that there is clearly this odd singular aspect to watching these shows, but there is also a form of familiality that exists despite this. This fiction, if you will, sustains what the family will have, while trespassing familial lines into showing real violence real sex, etc.

    I don’t know, these are all hunches and I’m out of the TV loop. I hope this is of some help to anyone who’s interested.

  9. Nachlasse, my qualification was that there is an attraction to sex scenes, not just the revulsion when you’re with family, and the reaction to fights is less dependent on whom you’re watching it with. (Although the revulsion can be tempered by a bunch of other people egging the antagonists on, granted.) The rest of my comment was not directed at yours.

    The idea of the alienation in the content/form of shows reflecting the same sort of thing happening to the viewers, all watching them on their own personal devices is interesting. It’d be an extension of the medium as message, but where the makers are aware of how the content is consumed and bending it to accommodate that medium. That’s not surprising in itself, but you might have found a beautifully clear example.

    As for Euros watching sex & violence, I’d say there’s more moral weight attached to violence than in N. America. That doesn’t mean its verboten. Movies like Stalingrad and Die letzte Brücke are definitely violent, but it´s just more significant and taken more seriously. Sex is not such a big deal. Most people wouldn’t care if they heard about their (grand)parents/teenage kids watching the uncensored version of Eyes Wide Shut or Showgirls or whatever, but that doesn’t mean they want to watch it together. It’s fine if your uncle or kid gets a boner while watching with his girlfriend, but it’s probably pretty universally weird if he gets one with his mom. Oder, Fabius?

  10. OccasionallyClever2013-10-28 @ 18:54

    Looking at what you’ve all said I think another potentially fruitful question to ask is, why do (we think) we want our fights to feel more real? We don’t want it to actually be real, because then the screenwriter would have to allow for randomness, i.e. rolling a die that could result in Jack Reacher losing an eye to a beer bottle, or dying from a brain hemorrhage, leaving behind no story. That would make it ‘too real’. So what I believe mackytrajan is saying is that he doesn’t feel the fights are real enough.

    I used to think I wanted real too, until I watched No Country for Old Men (SPOILERS), which pissed a lot of people off because it chooses a ‘realer’, but deeply unsatisfying, outcome for what happens when a war vet finds a bunch of money that two rival factions are willing to kill for.

    Interestingly, when I was in China 6 years ago, there was no problem with wire fu in supposedly historically accurate dramas. The Chinese had no qualms with how unrealistic their fights were, nor did they have problems with how unrealistic the stories were. Chinese friends who I’ve tried to converse with about this laugh it off as ‘just a story’, aka diversionary entertainment. They treated contemporary pop culture with the same irreverence early 20th century audiences treated their cinema. Not sure if that’s changed at all since.

    Ancient Greek dramas largely strode for realism in respect to the character’s psyches, to provoke catharsis through emotional resonance. Most of the action happened off-stage, and they hardly cared for set-dressing, getting by with a few props and some masks. The aesthetics were intentionally symbolic. I don’t think they were inviting audiences to use their imaginations either, I think it was understood that these elements simply weren’t ‘important’.

    So why would we want the aesthetic elements of our fiction to be indistinguishable from reality, but still want the story elements to remain unrealistic wrt happy endings, just desserts, closure, etc.? Perhaps to better convince ourselves that the narrative elements are plausible, if not outright, reality. It’s why you get Oculus Rift, and every big budget videogame sequel focusing on ‘immersion of play’ with essentially the same plot (or one cribbed from a popular movie). Seems like we’re trying to make a Baudrillard reality out of our fiction. Trying to make diversions feel more real than reality. In other words, what Neoteny said, narcissism.

    Now allow me to try and synthesize this with Nachlasse’s comments on family and posit a historical context. Parents didn’t want their children watching things which were too visceral, too ‘realistic’, because the kid’s too dumb to tell reality from fiction. But parents themselves are too smart to buy the shows that are targeted at the whole family. (Why does somebody consider a show stupid? Because it too obviously contradicts what they think is believable, hence, “nobody does that”.) Meanwhile, parents want better distractions from the mundanity of their existence, i.e. they want more believable fantasies. So a TV is put in the basement and another in the master bedroom. This creates a segmentation in the market that allows cable channels and networks to present stories which are more ‘real’ to the people watching them, i.e. a more satisfying distraction, or a more personalized version of reality. It leads to HBO for the parents and MTV for the teens and Nickelodeon for the kids. These fictions aren’t more believable to everybody, just the audiences that are being targeted in private, i.e. the people who WISH these things were true, who’ve eliminated anybody around who’d say it’s stupid. Give it a decade or so and smaller processors and everybody has their own personal Narcissus lake, reflecting the reality they want to be true back at them all the time.

    Now, if I want to believe I’m a ‘real man’ connected to my primal roots, who gets the streets and the system and how it’s all hopeless, I watch the Wire. The fights help me believe that this is exactly how life is. (Not saying it isn’t, just that if you didn’t already believe the Wire’s position on crime, chances are you wouldn’t watch it to the end or claim it’s a ‘real’ show). But if I want to believe that I can still get ‘discovered’ if somebody just gave me the chance, I watch X Factor. In which case the ‘voting’ and live studio audience and ‘real celebrity judges’ serve the exact same function.

    But the family breakdown in regards to television didn’t happen because technology made it possible. Those technologies came into being BECAUSE people were already breaking up family time in favor of time spent in smaller groups, enjoying entertainment that speaks only to them. We wanted to be alone so the fantasies could better align with our desires, provide a better distraction by appearing closer to reality as we wish it. Now we are alone and the fantasies still don’t seem real enough, still don’t distract enough. And our answer, rather than recognizing fantasies for what they are, is to demand that all the minutiae better mimic reality.

    How do you make a lie easier to swallow? Wrap it in convincing facts.

Got insight?