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The action and adventure genre includes films that focus on fast-paced scenes filled with characters in peril. The films' stories tend to be straight-forward, and scenes that move the plot forward in an energetic way usually out number those that provide in-depth character development. War films, spy thrillers, disaster films and westerns typically fall into the action category, while the adventure genre adds elements of the exotic or the fantastic to the action-film formula. Adventure films may be set in far-flung locales and may involve magical or supernatural plot points, and there's often some sort of quest or goal involved; science fiction, fantasy and horror films often fall into this category.

The center of an action or adventure film is the hero-or heroine, or group of heroes- a character who is put into a situation in which he or she must overcome formidable obstacles in order to reach his goal, to save the day or the world, or merely to survive. In action films, those obstacles generally include violent confrontations, battles, chases, physical barriers or other situations that require the hero to use his strength and cunning to move forward. The importance of this central character in the genre has given rise to the action hero: the swashbuckler, the renegade soldier, the beleaguered cop, the resourceful spy, the starship captain, the monster hunter. Many actors have made a career of playing the action hero; Douglas Fairbanks, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham and many others have depended almost entirely on the genre for their livelihoods.

Indeed, action and adventure films provide a substantial livelihood to those actors, filmmakers and studios that produce them. Because action and adventure films are the quintessential light movie entertainment, they are among the most commercially successful of all film genres. The American film industry channels the majority of its energy and resources toward action and adventure films, and audiences reward the effort; almost all of the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time could be reasonably placed within the category, making it inarguably the dominant film genre, both in the United States and worldwide.

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