It can be argued just as anything and is. As it is questionable for many is the genre of action movies in its variety an art form and can it even be talked about in critical academic context for example cultural influences of action movies, what is important, valuable, interesting and worthy of research and looking into. In a time of mass production of movies to rise cultural discourse about action movies may raise a question of what for, they all seem very much alike, work from an entertainment factory where muscles and fast cars are getting the most attention, use of power, fire arms and force of a solitude man interests a wide audience. The visual information in movies does have a massive role. What kind of impact, one can guess. To me action movies at their best represent an image of our time especially those movies which clearly pay attention to political conflicts, solving environmental and humanitarian catastrophes and showing way to the future. Interesting is the machinery behind blockbuster movies which seems paying attention to making the most profit and the contrast there can be between the world view of such movies as Alien and The Terminator and Hollywood, the plastic, entertaining Hollywood.
The true events in world history have been effectively used in many action films, true intentions, true motives which have caused wars and conflicts speculating the rest. My interest lies in the action where oppression, wrongdoings and ill intentions of politicians and business men are fought back and there are actual results: the bad guys lose and get punished accordingly. Maybe action movies reflect our hope for real action men and women who do instead of having speeches, to explain their success. Best of the genre in my opinion mix science fiction, future vision, pay attention to gender roles and today’s world ideological and economical mess, telling our future prospects if we do not wise up. Terminator 1 begins with a scene where cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) emerges naked from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) future mother of John Connor. At the same time to stop the plan of machines’ to assassin Sarah Connor Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) finds his way through a time machine to save Sarah.
To answer to the question what makes an action movie masterpiece is quite similar as what makes any movie a masterpiece, a classic, image of its time and mentality, morals, events, what it is to be human living this time and think what future will bring. Masterpieces are of course difficult to define as they are complex packed with meaning references and questions, also some answers. Visually and artistically masterpiece has to fill criteria of excellence, excellence that serves the story and philosophy of that movie pushing boundaries of what action film can be, what a movie can be and tell. It is faithful to the message, giving and telling something essential of our time and of us. As Terminator is very much a mainstream kind of series of movies, it is extraordinary in its preciseness and visuals that strike to tell true kind of story.
Other reason why Terminator 1 and 2 and Alien movies interest me as works of art and important movies of our time is that the one who wants to save the world and works her ass off to do so is a woman. Romance is cut to the minimum or erased completely. There is only the mission to save something worth while and there is no other way, threat is so big and it is a nuclear war, destruction of mankind and AI having control and power. It is not obsessed, it is necessary to act and start to think our responsibility for saving life on earth. The meaning of these action-science fiction movies is not to bring on fire arms and show endless killing. They are to show what one person can do.