These Sounds Define Action Films

Arnold Schwarzenegger steps onto the big screen. There’s a quiet moment while the audience anticipates a one-liner. 

Once he delivers it, the action begins. That’s when you hear the signature sound that defines all action films.

It’s a dropping bass audio clip that starts high before descending into the sub-bass frequencies. A pan effect gets applied for the stereo surround to draw the audience into the action they see on the screen.

From there, high-energy background music plays while the action sounds commence. It might be tires squealing from a car chase to bullets firing from a gun, depending on the movie. Every movie genre has its own defining sounds.

Why Does Every Action Movie Use the Same Effect?

The reason why the movie industry uses bass drops all the time is surprisingly simple: everybody expects it.

If you took the drop out of an action sequence, it’d be like telling the Foo Fighters to play without Dave Grohl. It doesn’t make sense to the audience.

Although it’s hard to say when the first bass bend sounds were added to action movies, the 2006 Transformers trailer incorporated it into its clips, soundtrack, and trailer audio. 

When something works in Hollywood, everyone copies it. That’s why you see remake after remake on franchise films. Profits need to be predictable, just like the sequences for action movies.

Why do bass drops have some extra treble? That effect allows for body or weapon movement. You’ll hear the treble twang when a sword comes out of its sheath, but the impact uses the lower register bend.