The running sequence is a go-to action sequence in some movies to add the dimension of suspense, coupled with giving the depiction of the plot moving forward rapidly. It is unlike the car chase, or a fight scene. Not all actors can pull off the emotional intensity required for the scene to work properly.
Whether it is a hero running to the aide of a damsel, or the same hero chasing after the villain, nothing can be more heroic than seeing the protagonist sprinting with all of his/her heart, determined to stop an injustice.
Now there are different types of running sequences, but I’ll focus on ones that I consider the most heroic in movies. There is no particular order to this list, I feel they’re all equal compelling but in different ways. So let’s begin.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
The sequence in question takes place in the third act. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has just escaped from his enemy clutches and uses one of the phones of the fallen henchmen and makes a call to IMF headquarters.
He is given directions through a small village in the middle of China as he hurries to stop the villain (played by the incomparable Phillip Seymour Hoffman) from killing his new wife.
The tension is obvious, and is sold perfectly by Cruise’s running ability. This sequence will go down in history as one of the most exciting.
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (2011)
By far one of the best action movie sprinters in all of film history, Tom Cruise seems to run as fast as some Olympians. At the very least his body language while running shows his determination to get to the bad guy before he gets away.
In this scene, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, former agent at the time of the now disavowed IMF (Impossible Missions Forces) is chasing after the main villain disguised as his henchman. The villain in question is named Kurt Hendricks (played by Michael Nyqvist) a nuclear terrorist bent on using a nuclear weapon on a civilian population
For obvious reasons, Hunt must catch him, as he has just absconded with the active codes for a nuclear device. The entire foot chase takes place during a monumental sand storm adding a dimension of difficulty and heroic imagery as Hunt sprints toward the villain and away from the massive, all encompassing sand storm.
Casino Royale (2006)
The obvious selection from this film would be for some, the beginning foot chase between James Bond (Daniel Craig) and the free runner terrorist toward the beginning of the movie. My selection though comes from a short sequence toward the end of the second act.
There, Bond has just finished defeating Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in the high stakes poker game and is having some dinner with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). After Vesper leaves Bond for the night, he realizes that she is indeed in peril and must be chased after for protection.
Vesper is put into a car against her will by thugs. Bond witnesses this and as they drive off, Bond hurries after them. The imagery itself inspires heroism from our protagonist. Though it is a futile effort even for Bond to chase after a speeding car on foot, the very look on Craig’s face alone shows the determination that he has had throughout the entire film.
There’s an important sequence at the end of the second act where Bond (Craig) runs to the hearing where M (Judi Dench) is. Silva (Javier Bardem) has just caused an explosion underground, distracting emergency services as well as Bond, freeing him to assassinate M.
In the running sequence, Bond runs after those responsible for the attack. He is running to save his country. We have been living in a world of terrorism. This movie, as well as this running sequence, serves as a reminder that there are forces of good fighting to protect innocent civilians.
When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
It is heart wrenching and emotional because it spoke to those of us who have fallen in love. It told us that even a single moment apart is too long. We cheered for Harry in our hearts to get to Sally and finally declare his love to her.
Billy Crystal’s Harry has suddenly realized on New Year’s Eve that the one he was always truly lived with was Meg Ryan’s Sally. Unable to catch a taxi on the cab services’ busiest night, Harry runs through the streets of New York to be with one he loves, not wanting to be without her for another single moment.
Though there is no particular order to these running sequences, they all shared the same amount of tension and emotion. They are levels of emotion that we expect from all running sequences.
Now my list does have a fundamental flaw, admittedly. Four of the five sequences involve a man running to the aide of a seemingly helpless woman. Is it something inherent in an action movie for the hero to run to save a girl? I’ll leave that question for another time.