Using Slow Motion in Action Movies

Slow motion makes almost everything look cool. For example, take the opening credits of the movie Reservoir Dogs. In this sequence, the characters of the film, all dressed in suits, walk down a city street in slow motion. While there is something naturally cool about Harvey Keitel, Steve Busecemi, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, they definitely look a lot cooler in slow motion. But, making things and people look cool isn’t the only thing that slow motion can do. It can make beautiful women even hotter and be used to raise the tension of dramatic moments. No other genre of movies uses slow motion more than action movies.

Making the Cool even Cooler

An ex green beret that’s avenging the death of his family looks pretty cool when he is running away from a building full of bad guys that’s exploding. But, it looks a lot cooler when he’s running in slow motion. There’s just something about slow motion that makes the shot better.

But, you need to be careful with what part of your sequence is going to be in slow motion. A car chase to the death between a hero and villain is going to look better in fast and regular playback speeds. But, a slow motion shot could be appropriate if it's used right. It needs to have some kind of purpose in order for the audience to connect with it.

An aimless slow motion shot during a car chase of the hero shifting gears has the power to ruin the scenes pacing, and thus ruin the audiences' experience watching it. But, if there’s a dramatic reason established in an earlier scene which sets up that if he shifts the gear at a certain speed something bad will happen to the car, then a slow motion shot of him shifting the gear would be appropriate to the story, showing that he is desperate and doesn’t have any other choice. 

Raising the Tension

Slow motion can also be used to raise the dramatic tension in a scene. A classic example of this is someone taking a bullet for another person. You’ve seen this slow motion sequence done in a hundred movies; the bad guy aims gun and fires. The intended target looks helpless and scared. The hero comes out of nowhere jumping in front of the target which leads to him being shot. The hero also sometimes shoots the bad guy while diving in front of the bullet.

Although this is a cliché example, the principal is still the same. If this scene was done at normal playback speed, then it would still be dramatic, but if it’s played back at slow motion, you keep the audience at the edge of their seats longer, as they crave to know what happens next.

Using Slow Motion for Style

Slow motion can also be used to enhance the visual style of a film. One classic example is the fight sequences in The Matrix movies. They are pretty complex, but one key aspect of them is the incorporation of slow motion. You can use slow motion as a foundation to create a visual look and style distinctive to your action movies.