Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Escape and excitement
Something for everyone
Research has shown that the typical audiences for action adventure films are:
1/ Primary audience
a. Male – reflected by male characters; stereotypical interest in explosions and action; stories with closure
b. Nationality – primarily American, as reflected in the films’ lead American actors, which, in turn, reflect the common American opinion that the USA can solve the world’s problems
c. Age – 15-24 – main cinema-going age
d. Class – working class/lower middle – the films put the importance of action over character development
e. Interests – masculinity, sports, computer games, etc
2/ Secondary audiences
a. Older men – who have enjoyed these films, or films from the genres that action adventure relies on, in the past
b. Women – may find actors attractive or see them with their boyfriends or husbands (or, in some cases, both!)
There are exceptions, of course. Think of Tomb Raider or Catwoman. Both films contain typical action adventure TROPES and were aimed at men and the women are sexually attractive and portrayed as objects of desire, but women could find ‘kick ass’ protagonists to identify with.
Uses and Gratifications
The theorists Blumler and Katz (1974) identified several gratifications an active audience can get from looking at media products.
a. Escape from reality
b. Social interaction – people can discuss what they’ve seen with friends/colleagues
c. Identity – people identify a part of themselves in media text through character or circumstance
d. Inform and educate
f. Evaluating self against characters
How many do you think apply to Action Adventure fans?
Most action adventure films are aimed at the 15-24 audience; an 18 certificate would severely cut into its profits, so filmmakers have to be aware of the requirements of the British Board for Film Classification.
The BBFC have become more liberal over the years, so a film like Brotherhood of the Wolf, with some nudity and slow-motion close ups of the result of violent blows can be shown with a 15 certificate; Spider-Man, with similar slow-motion shots of the hero being hit by the Green Goblin was given a 12A.
Here are three examples from the 15 classification
Strong threat and menace are permitted unless sadistic or sexualised.
Sexual activity may be portrayed without strong detail.
Violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury. The strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable. Strong sadistic or sexualised violence is also unlikely to be acceptable.
Nudity may be allowed in a sexual context but without strong detail. There are no constraints on nudity in a non-sexual or educational context.
While strong language may be justified by the context, repeated and aggressive use of the strongest language would not be acceptable.
You can see that there is plenty of room to manoeuvre, but some films that fall, at least partially, under the action adventure category, like Terminator 2 and Die Harder, received 18 certificates, thereby limiting their audience.Other directors aim for an even wider audience. The recent superhero movie, Thor, was a 12A and it was noted that it featured moderate fantasy violence – in other words, not realistic enough to worry about.
Here’s the BBFC report for The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2011): a fantasy adventure film about a novelist called Adele who deals with various real and fantasy distractions whilst trying to restore her comatose sister back to health. It was classified '12A' for brief moderate nudity.The BBFC's Guidelines at 'PG' state there may be 'Natural nudity, with no sexual context'. The film includes a scene in which Adele takes a bath. As she reads a letter, her nipples are briefly visible above the surface of the water. After this, her breasts and buttocks are briefly shown after she gets out of the bath. Although no sexual activity occurs, there is a degree of sexualisation present in the images that means the scene is more appropriately classified at '12A' where the Guidelines state 'Nudity is allowed, but in a sexual context must be brief and discreet'.
The film also contains some scenes of moderate violence. Much of this is clearly fantastical in nature, including sight of a snake necklace coming to life and strangling a man. Other scenes occur within an action adventure context, including sight of Adele kneeing a man in the groin in order to escape, and sight of Adele outrunning a river of fire. In one scene, a giant pterodactyl swoops down and carries a man away from his executioner, causing the executioner to fall back onto the guillotine. The blade descends and the executioner is apparently decapitated, albeit offscreen. The film also includes a scene in which a woman falls backwards onto a hatpin, which subsequently emerges from her forehead and renders her comatose. These scenes lack any real detail and occur within a generally light-hearted and comic context.
There are infrequent scenes showing characters smoking, including Adele briefly smoking a cigarette as she speaks to a reanimated mummy. However, there is no promotion or glamorisation of smoking. The film also features occasional mild language, such as 'ass' and 'damn'.
You can see, in terms of violence, that the BBFC is at pains to distinguish between fantasy violence and the more realistic kind.
It should be noted, however, that for all many of these films feature ‘foreign’ villains, discrimination is not allowed, unless in a critical context, so filmmakers can’t go overboard with this and suggest the villain represents a whole nation.
For further information, go to http://www.bbfc.org.uk/
Following on from the idea of binary oppositions is another key issue/convention of these films: the hero is usually American and the villain is sometimes ‘foreign’.This has led to films being accused of American imperialistic values.
Die Hard (1988) – American hero; German villain (played by an Englishman)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – American hero; Nazi villains
The Mummy (1999) – American hero; Egyptian villain
This can be reinforced in the casting too. All American Tom Cruise’s villain in Mission Impossible II (2000) is played by Scottish actor Dougray Scott; Die Hard with a Vengeance’s (1995) German villain is played by Englishman Jeremy Irons.We can also see this in regards to the supporting cast and the setting of some films, as it is American know-how that wins the day over ‘less civilised’ foreigners. Look at The Mummy (1999), for example, or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), where Indy defeats a group of Indians practising a sadistic, murderous cult.Furthermore, this representation of ethnic groups as inferior to white Americans is noticeable in the use of sidekicks in some films – the Chinese boy, Short Round, in The Temple of Doom; the traitorous Beni in The Mummy; Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark; Bey in The Mummy.
More than that, the white American hero in an American-set film sometimes has an ethnic sidekick (the comic Black limo driver in Die Hard); the cowardly, incompetent Black sidekick in Superman III; Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance; Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard and, later, Don Cheadle) in Iron Man and Iron Man II- suggesting the dominance of the white male American hero and the cultural dominance of the Hollywood film industry.
There are, of course, exceptions, notably the James Bond series about the British secret agent.However, things have been changing. Although there were several films featuring Black American protagonuists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only a few were successful big stars, but increasingly, we have seen Black actors take the lead in films aimed at a general audience – Will Smith in I am Legend (2007) or Hancock (2008), for example, or Denzil Washington in Man on Fire (2004) and Wesley Snipes in the Blade Trilogy (1998-2004).Perhaps another factor breaking down the dominance of the American star has been the influence of Martial Arts films, initially back in the early 1970s with the films of Bruce Lee, but more recently with the films of Jackie Chan, who made his own breakthrough in American cinema with movies like Shanghai Noon (2000), though his sidekick, Owen Wilson, undoubtedly acted as a point of interest to the American audiences. Another non-American influence has been the work of the Hong Kong director, John Woo. You can see the stylish fight choreography of his China-based films like The Killer (1989) in a number of American films, like the Bourne series, but he has also made action films in Hollywood, like Hard Target (1993), starring the Belgian Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Mission Impossible (2000).
Stylish martial arts fighting is now just another component of the action film – you can see it – complete with slow motion and speeded up sections - in the superhero film, Daredevil (2003), for example.Now, we have action adventure films made in other countries. One notable example is Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) set in 18th century France, where a rich nobleman exploits peasants and gypsies to maintain control of the land by using a trained lion, masked as a strange, savage beast to terrorise the land. He’s eventually defeated by the adventurer Fronsac, a typical blonde, good-looking hero, and his Mohawk Indian (played by a Hawaiian American) sidekick who happens to be a master of martial arts! Perhaps typically, the ethnic sidekick dies and it’s only after that the hero shows his own fighting ability and he eventually defeats the bad guy and gets the girl.
Although the film is meant to be saying something about the corruption of the nobility in pre-Revolutionary France, it’s interesting that the hero is an adventurer who has just returned from North America and his companion is American (albeit a Mohawk Indian).
On the surface, this is a historical drama, but is essentially about the two men on a quest or mission to tackle the problem of the beast and it has many typical action adventure features, like anachronistic martial arts fight sequences; it also contains elements of mystery, horror, romance, and fantasy.
This $29 million-budgeted film was an international box office success, grossing over $70 million in worldwide theatrical release. In the United States of America, the film also enjoyed commercial success; Universal Pictures paid $2 million to acquire the film's United States distribution rights and this film went on grossing $11,260,096 in limited theatrical release in the United States, making it the second-highest-grossing French-language film in the United States in the last two decades (this film also did brisk video and DVD sales in the United States). It was shown in major cinemas in Britain, something that rarely happens to non-English language films.
The theorist Levi-Strauss suggested that conflict drives narrative, so it is made up of a series of binary oppositions
Good vs Evil
Man vs Woman
East vs West
Black vs White
And so on…
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Rich vs Poor (upper class fight the peasants and pirates)
Good vs Evil (bad pirates fight good pirates or civilians
Living vs Dead (Living pirates fight the cursed dead pirates)
Water vs Land (action takes place on ships and on land)
Military vs Pirates (soldiers battle with the pirates)
Man vs Woman (Elizabeth Swann vs Jack Sparrow)
The Mummy (1999)
Good vs Evil (Rick and the others fight Imhotep, who conveniently dresses in black)
Man vs Woman (Rick vs Evelyn – they don’t always get on, and this is where some of the tension and enjoyment come from)
East vs West (well, Middle East vs Britain and the USA)
Black vs White (Rick wears a white shirt; Imhotep wears black and, interestingly, when Evelyn is with him, she wears black too; moreover Bey wears black and initially he seems a threat, but later, it has connotations of mystery)The modern World vs the Ancient World (Rick etc vs Imhotep)
Technology vs Magic (guns, aeroplanes vs Imhotep’s magic)
And so on…
A genre where one or more heroes is thrust into a series of challenges that require physical feats, extended fights and frenetic chases. The plot has twists and turns and moments of peril that the main charcaters have to survive, while showing grace under pressure. Of course, the narrative is one of GOOD versus EVIL, in which GOOD will eventually triumph.
Story and character development are generally secondary to explosions, fist fights, gunplay and car chases. While action has long been an element of films, the "action film" as a genre of its own began to develop in the 1970s. The genre is closely linked with the thriller and adventure film genres, and it may sometimes have elements of spy fiction and espionage.
The long-running success of the James Bond series (which easily dominated the 1960s) essentially introduced all the staples of the modern-day action film. The "Bond movies" were characterized by larger-than-life characters, such as the resourceful hero: a veritable "one-man army" who was able to dispatch villainous masterminds (and their disposable "henchmen") in ever-more creative ways, often followed by a ready one-liner. The Bond films also utilized quick cutting, car chases, fist fights, a variety of weapons and "gadgets", and ever more elaborate action sequences.
In essence, the genre is a hybrid of existing genres - the Western, the war movie, the thriller, the spy film, the swashbuckler, the disaster movie, the quest, fantasy, science fiction, historical epic and martial arts (the last named is the one non-western root of the genre).
The obvious example of Action Adventure cinema would be something like the Indiana Jones series (itself inspired by the Bond series and 1930s film serials, where every episode ended on a cliffhanger with either the hero or the girl facing impossible odds of one sort or another), where there’s an obvious quest and a genuine treasure (of sorts), but the action elements of the genre can be found in many other genres.Is Terminator 2 a science fiction film or an example of action adventure? There’s a clear quest, after all. The T1000 must find his arm and save the world. Obviously, there are differences too – he doesn’t get the girl and live happily ever after (or until the next sequel). Increasing use of over the top action sequences often involving CGI and dramatic stunts, main characters who overcome impossible odds, chase sequences and rescues have become staple ingredients of other genres and the lines have become blurred.
Is Spiderman a science fiction/fantasy film? A comic book film? Or an action adventure movie. The quest isn’t to acquire some treasure but he has to save the girl, defeat the bad guy and in the end, I guess the quest involves him gaining knowledge
From the end of the 1980s, the influence of the successful action film could be felt in almost every genre- hybrids were becoming the norm; war-action hybrids (like First Blood and Missing in Action), science fiction action (like Terminator, and RoboCop), horror-action (like Aliens and Predator), and even the occasional musical-action-comedy hybrid (like The Blues Brothers). With the growing revolution in CGI (computer generated imagery), the "real-world" settings began to give way to increasingly fantastic environments. This new era of action films often had budgets unlike any in the history of motion pictures and their success led to whole franchises. Where in earlier decades, sequels were frowned upon by most filmmakers and filmgoers alike, the 1980s saw a serious effort on the part of studios and their stars to not only attempt to capture the magic one more time, but to continually top what had come before. This basic drive led to an increasing desire on the part of many filmmakers to create new technologies that would allow them to beat the competition by taking audiences to new heights of roller-coaster-like fantasy.
Around the world
Of course, the Bond films are esentially British, even if they are made with merican money and the American audience in mind, but there ae action-adventure films made elsewhere. For example, many are made in the Far East, but there has always been a tendencey to rely on martial arts acrobatics; now, however, as the technology has become cheaper, the use of CGI is becoming more noticeable – as in the South Korean film, The Host.Another successful action film produced outside of Hollywood was the French made Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), which managed to mix pre-revolutionary period French politics, the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles, horror, martial arts and a touch of the Western. It became the second-highest-grossing French-language film in the United States in the last two decades.Currently on release is another French action adventure movie, Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010), an adaptation of a French comic book series. The film takes place in Paris before The Great War, in 1912. While trying out his telepathic powers, professor Espérandieu hatches a 136 million year old pterodactyl egg within the Museum of Natural History and wreaks havoc on the citizens of Paris. Adèle Blanc-Sec, a journalist, finds herself involved in all of it after returning from Egypt where she started a quest to find the Pharaoh's mummified doctor. She meets and saves the life of the French President, presumably - from his appearance and the mention of his having been elected in 1906 - Armand Fallieres. She intends to revive the mummy with the help of professor Espérandieu in order to save her sister Agathe, who is in a coma following an unfortunate incident. It has all the ingredients of the classic action adventure movie – except that the hero is a woman!
Basic generic features:
1. Main character (usually white American male) is on some sort of mission or quest (though the ‘treasure’ might be metaphorical)
2. Will have a sidekick of some sort.
3. He’ll fall in love with a beautiful woman who he’ll have to rescue at some point
4. He will face a powerful villain who he will have to defest to accomplish his mission
5. The hero will be on the side of good, but may be a bit of a maverick
6. He will overcome impossible odds
7. Some of the action will invovle majestic landscapes in which the hero looks small and vulnerable
8. There will be lots of fights and extended chases invloving elaborate stunts
9. There will be spectacular speciall effects, often involving CGI
10. There will be cliffhangers and daring rescues
11. There will be rousing music – the hero is likely to have his own theme – remember in The Mummy, the way the hero’s theme and the darker theme for Imhotep battle it out on the soundtrack, reflecting the action on screen.
12. There will be some sort of disvovery of treasure or the secret ingredient or knowledge or whatever, although there may be fights ahead before the hero can have this securely
13. There will be an element of betrayal – though, of course, the hero will overcome this!
14. The villain will likely be male and non-American
Shots and editing:
1. Action sequences will often involve fast-paced cutting to try and increase the excitement amongst the audience
2. CGI/stunt/chase sequences will often cut to a close up of the actors so the audience will be convinced that it is them taking part
3. The hero will often been privileged by the amount of screen time he has and by the fact hw will be centre screen in many sequences. Low angle shots will also help heroicise him – you can see this at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example.
4. There will be long shots of the hero against vast landscapes or cityscapes to symbolise the impossibility of the task ahead.
5. The villain will be shot from below – to make him look powerful.
6. An increasing trend – the result of the influence of martial arts films – is to speed up and slow down some action sequences to help increase the excitement and to reveal the skilful fighting by the hero.
7. During fight scenes, you may get close-ups of the impact of blows or the reaction of the person hit.
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Theorist Vladimir Propp posited that characters in all stories fall into certain archetypes.
· False hero
· The donor
· The princess’ father
· The helper
Sometimes, not all these figures are present and sometimes one character can fulfil the function of two of Propp’s archetypes.
The Mummy (1999)
· Hero – Rick
· Villain – Imhotep
· Princess/heroine – Evelyn
· False hero – Beni
· The donor – Jonathan, who gives the map to Evelyn at the start; Winston, who gives his life and his aeroplane, the gun from which is later used by Ardeth Bey.
· The princess’ father – to some extent, this is also Jonathan
· The helper – Ardeth Bey, Jonathan, Winston
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
· Hero – Indy
· Villain – Belloq, the Nazi archaeologist
· Princess/heroine – Marion, Indy’s old lover
· False hero – several characters, including the two men who betray him at the start
· The donor – Abner Ravenwood and his daughter, Marion, who have the Eyptian artefacts that Indy and the Nazis want
· The princess father – Abner Ravenwood, Indy’s old mentor
· The helper – several characters, including Sallah and Dr Marcus Brody, the museum curator
Although the film ends with a new sense of equilibrium (Indy and Marion escape with the Arc of the Covenant, there is a hint of disruption to keep the audience guessing, because the US Army intelligence agents have sored it in a giant warehouse, “someplace safe," to be studied by "top men".
Action Adventure films – conventions of narrative structure
Narrative – important factor in the universal appeal of the genre.
Recognisable structure, following Todorov’s theory:
· Equilibrium – a sense of normality – the calm before the storm, if you like
· Disruption – something/someone is introduced and the story changes
· Restoration – normality (or some version of it – it may be a new sense of equilibrium rather than a return to the first) is restored.
Look at Superman Returns (2006):
· Equilibrium – an introduction to Superman growing up; he saves people (though Lois Lane on a plane could be seen as a mini disruption)
· Disruption – Lex Luthor plans to take over the world; he meets Superman and it looks like he will triumph
· Restoration – Superman wins; Luthor is destroyed; Lois is safe; the little boy turns out to be Lois and Clark’s baby.
It doesn’t always have to be as straightforward as this; sometimes, to grab your attention, the story might start with action.
For example, the opening of The Mummy (1999) starts with an equilibrium of sorts but finishes with disruption that will set up the main storyline:
· Equilibrium: In Egypt, circa 1290 BC, high priest Imhotep engages in an affair with Anck-su-Namun, the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I—other men are forbidden to touch her.
· Disruption: When the Pharaoh discovers their tryst, Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun murder the monarch. Anck-su-Namun then kills herself, intending for Imhotep to resurrect her. He breaks into her crypt and steals her corpse and flees to Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, where they begin the resurrection ceremony. However, they are caught by Seti's guards and Anck-su-Namun's soul is sent back to the Underworld. Imhotep has his tongue is cut out, and he is buried alive with a swarm of flesh-eating scarabs. The ritual grants eternal life, forcing him to endure the agony of his wounds for all time. He is buried in a sarcophagus and kept under strict surveillance by the Medjai, descendants of Seti's palace guards. If Imhotep were ever to be released, the powers that made him immortal would allow him to unleash a wave of destruction and death upon the Earth.
Notice - no return to equilibrium yet!
· Equilibrium and almost immediate disruption: In 1923, Cairo librarian and aspiring Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan is presented with an intricate box and map by her bumbling brother Jonathan, who says he found it in Thebes. After the pair discover the map leads to Hamunaptra, Jonathan reveals he actually stole it from an American named Rick O'Connell, who is currently in prison. Rick tells them that he knows the location of the city because his unit of the French Foreign Legion reached the fabled city, only to be overrun by hostile Beduins. He makes a deal with Evelyn to reveal the location of Hamunaptra, in exchange for Evelyn saving Rick from being hanged.
· A new equilibrium followed by more disruption: Rick leads Evelyn and Jonathan's small expedition to the city, where the group encounters a band of American treasure hunters led by the famed Egyptologist Dr. Allen Chamberlain and guided by Beni Gabor, a cowardly former Legion soldier and former comrade of Rick, who had hidden himself in Hamunaptra during the Beduines' attack. Shortly after reaching Hamunaptra, both groups are attacked by the Medjai, led by a warrior named Ardeth Bay. Bay warns them of the evil buried in the city, but rather than heed his warning, the two expeditions continue to excavate in separate portions of the city. Evelyn is looking for the Book of Amun-Ra, a solid gold book supposedly capable of taking life away, but unexpectedly comes across the remains of Imhotep instead. The team of Americans, meanwhile, discover a box containing the black Book of the Dead, accompanied by canopic jars carrying Anck-su-Namun's preserved organs; each of the Americans takes a jar as loot. At night, Evelyn takes the Book of the Dead from the Americans' tent and reads a page aloud, accidentally awakening Imhotep. Although both groups return to Cairo, the mummy hunts down the Americans who opened the box, slowly regenerating with each person he kills. Beni survives a meeting with Imhotep by pledging allegiance to him and helps him track down the Americans and the canopic jars in Cairo. Evelyn hypothesises that if the Book of the Dead brought Imhotep back to life, the Book of Amun-Ra can kill the high priest once again.
· Further disruption and restoation: Imhotep captures Evelyn, intending to sacrifice her to resurrect Anck-su-Namun, and returns to Hamunaptra, pursued by Rick and Jonathan. Evelyn is rescued after an intense battle with Imhotep's mummies, and she reads from the Book of Amun-Ra. Imhotep becomes mortal, and Rick stabs him. Rapidly decaying, Imhotep leaves the world of the living, vowing revenge. Beni accidentally sets off an ancient booby trap and is trapped by a swarm of flesh-eating scarabs as Hamunaptra begins to collapse into the sand. The heroes escape and ride off into the sunset on a pair of camels laden with treasure.
Furthermore, if we consider the scene we studied, it contains
· Equilibrium – Rick, Jonathan and Bey meet Winston and have tea in the desert.
· Disruption – Imhotep tries to stop them by conjuring up a sandstorm.
· Equilibrium (of sorts) – Evelyn kisses Imhotep and saves the lives of the others, except for Winston, who is buried with his plane in the quicksand – and now they have to start their recue attempt again.
This creation of minor disruption and equilibrium and so on is quite common within the whole narrative of the film and helpsd build suspence through a series of cliffhangers, as the main character is put in danger.
Look at the beginning of Terminator 2 (1990), for example.
· Equilibrium: It’s night time outside a diner
· Disruption: T1000 (Schwarzenegger) arrives on earth and is attacked by several bikers when he asks for clothes and a bike
· Restoration: Equipped with clothing, bike, gun and – to show he’s cool – sunglasses – he rides off
But of course, this is only the start, but it establishes the character is not a killer, has a sense of humour and is strong enough to overcome seemingly impossible odds.
The next disruption occurs with the arrival of the new terminator, the T2, who can turn to liquid metal and seems indestructible.
As a final example, think of the opening of another film we studied, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
· Equilibrium: Indiana Jones and two assistants are searching for a Peruvian idol in the jungles of South America.
· Disruption: One of his men betrays him and leaves him and Indy gets caught in a booby-trapped temple.
· Restoration: He shows his resourcefulness, athleticism, skill with a whip and courage, but he has to surrender the idol to the Nazi before escaping on board an awaiting seaplane – which, of course, is the new equilibrium that sets up the rest of the story.
American (or Western, at least)
Courageous – often in the face of impossible odds
Saves and protects the damsel in distress
Will wear clothing to show off their physique
You can apply this list to most Action Adventure heroes?
Look at the way Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is introduced at the start of Mission Impossible II (2000)Male; white; handsome; American; physically fit (and demonstrating this by climbing, on his own, a clearly difficult rock face); resourceful (look at the way he overcomes the overhanging rock); courageous (see how he’s pictured in long shot to make him look small against this difficult, almost hostile environment); intelligent (you can see this by the way he overcomes the problems and gets to the top); confident (look at the way he almost laughs at the way he tackles the cliff face and leans back with his knees wedged under a rock); independent (there’s no-one helping him). Okay, he doesn’t help the damsel in this sequence, but you get the picture.You could look at the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and note pretty much all the same features. See his resourcefulness in the way he uses his whip to swing across the pit. Note also the way the hero is often framed centre of the screen and sometimes from below so he looks more powerful; note also that we don’t see his face, keeping a sense of mystery about him – similar to the beginning of Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), where the two heroes faces are covered when they first appear.
The Action Adventure Villain
Weak – needs bodyguards
Wear dark clothing
Ruthless enough to be prepared to sacrifice his own men
Not all villains fit all these characteristics. Imhotep in the Mummy is evil, foreign, greedy, ruthless, male and wears black, but you wouldn’t say he’s unattractive or so weak he needs bodyguards or henchmen (but he does have them).
Vincent Cassel as Jean-François de Morangias in Brotherhood of the Wolf is evil; possibly insane; hedonistic (he’s in love with his sister); ruthless (he rapes her); male, foreign (but then so is the hero – he is, however, dark haired as opposed to the blonde haired hero); unattractive (he has a deformed hand); greedy (he’s power mad). With his deforemd hand he appears to be weak – but he’s not; he does, however, have people – and the ‘wolf’ - working for him.Norman Osborne in Spiderman: evil; unattractive (compared to Peter Parker); ruthless (prepared to kill Mary Jane and by-passers); greedy; insane (he becomes insane…)
This is difficult, because there is rarely a heroine in the heroic sense. The obvious exception here is Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films. However, while the woman often acts as a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued (Evelyn in The Mummy, for example or Mary Jane in Spiderman), thus giving us the opportunity reveal his characteristics, she can also be resourceful and helpful, like Evelyn when she kisses Imhotep to stop the sandstorm and saves Rick and the others from certain death.
Of course, they have to be
Sexually attractive (and often wearing sexually attractive clothing)
American or Western European
Fit (in the healthy sense, although this won’t stop her from falling at a crucial moment)
Confident up to a point
Will have (or has had) some kind of relationship with the hero
Will be captured at some point
Marion, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is Indy’s tough former lover, but she still manages to get captured so the Nazi can lure Indy into a trap. This is a fairly standard feature of the genre – think of The Mummy, for example.