It’s the most dramatic prelude to the climax in any action movie: The woman who has captured the hero’s heart is in danger from the villain. Suddenly, the stakes are way up–not only does he have to beat the bad guy because he’s a detective/knight/secret agent/rogue cop on the edge/Jedi/post-apocalyptic road warrior/Spider-Man/etc, but he really has to do it now, because the bad guy has his special lady friend. You’ve seen it in a lot of movies.
Exactly how many movies you’ve seen it in is shocking, though, as this supercut–which features exclusively the moment when the hero shouts “Let her go!” to the villain–makes clear. It opens, as any good supercut should, with Chuck Norris, but then it quickly spins out into movies of all kinds. Keanu says it in one of the Matrix sequels; Indiana Jones says it in Raiders Of The Lost Ark; Jack Black shouts it in the miserable prehistoric comedy Year One, and Hercules says it in Disney’s Hercules; Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, and Gene Hackman all bargain for the woman’s life by promising access to the safe or the gold or whatever; unlikely action stars like Michael Caine, Ed Burns, and Richard Gere bargain with their villains to put their guns down in exchange for letting her go; in one striking sequence, Shaft, Spider-Man, and Jim Belushi all insist that “this is between you and me–let her go!”
It’s a fairly dizzying collection of cliches that speak to something larger when compounded over four minutes: Namely, that Hollywood action movies seem to have very little interest in female characters unless they’re love interests and/or potential hostages (themes that appear in Anita Sarkeesian’s much discussed Tropes vs Women series on the game world). That’s not exactly a revelation–if it were, the recently announced fact of Paul Feig’s all-woman Ghostbusters reboot wouldn’t have been huge news–but it’s still startling to have so many reminders of how little there is for women in most action movies to do besides wait around to get rescued. (One possible exception: the scene in Thelma and Louise when Louise threatens to splatter Timothy Carhart’s ugly face all over his nice car.) At some point, you start to forget that Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Batman, and James Bond have ever said anything else in a movie.