The 10 Greatest Action Movies of the 1980s

Last Friday saw the theatrical release of action-packed blockbuster “The Expendables 2,” the star-studded follow-up to the equally star-studded 2010 box office smash. Directed by Simon West of “Con Air” fame and starring such no-nonsense macho men as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the newly released old-school action throwback proudly pays tribute to the beloved template of the ‘80s action movie – blood, pecs, testosterone and all that jazz. But here’s a question: what are the ten greatest action flicks of the 1980s? Why, let’s find out!

10. “First Blood” (1982)

Hero(es): John Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone
Obligatory One-Liner: “They drew first blood, not me.”
Plot: A Vietnam war vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is abused by a small-town police force and embarks on a blood-soaked rampage throughout the area.
Awesome Action: As officers restrain him and attempt to shave him with a straight razor, Rambo experiences flashbacks to the torture he endured in Vietnam. He breaks free, effortlessly beats up the surrounding officers and skillfully escapes from the confines of the police station.
The Movie: After underdog Rocky, there was nutjob Rambo: Stallone’s mentally unstable action anti-hero, with his haunted past and penchant for wanton violence, is a complicated protagonist indeed. Yet Stallone’s arresting, gung-ho performance drags us into the troubled mindset of John Rambo, a man lost in the modern world and perpetually trapped in the Vietnam War, and we can’t help but root for his mindless rampage. “First Blood” is a powerful portrayal of the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and the true horrors of war.

9. “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)

Hero(es): Max Rockatansky, played by Mel Gibson
Obligatory One-Liner: “You want to get out of here? You talk to me.”
Plot: In the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Australia, a cynical drifter attempts to rescue a small, oil-rich community seized by a gang of barbaric marauders.
Awesome Action: The opening car chase sees Max’s trusty dog yawning as Max crashes through fiery wreckage while being hotly pursued by bandits.
The Movie: George Miller’s sequel to his 1979 cult hit “Mad Max” was much the same as its predecessor: brief with its dialogue, big on engine-revving stunts and boasting one of the most fully realised post-apocalyptic settings ever projected onto the silver screen. But it was bigger, it was bolder and, arguably, it was better. Like its original, it is a film of sheer, relentless exhilaration and aggression, and its desolate landscape is framed by Miller through the eyes of Sergio Leone. But this time, the world of “Mad Max” was more enthralling, thanks in large part to the increase in quiet charisma and unspoken swagger from leading man Mel Gibson.

8. “RoboCop” (1987)

Hero(es): RoboCop, played by Peter Weller
Obligatory One-Liner: “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”
Plot: In a future Detroit crippled with crime, an honest veteran cop brutally murdered on duty is resurrected as a superhuman cyborg law enforcer programmed to have a zero tolerance attitude towards criminality.
Awesome Action: RoboCop’s first night of law enforcement sees him hurling a liquor store robber into a freezer, blasting off a rapist’s pecker and flinging a hostage-taker out of a two-storey window.
The Movie: Before unleashing ultraviolent, super-satirical science-fiction actioners “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers” upon the world, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven gained global attention for the very comparable “RoboCop.” His breakthrough feature, it is a film drowning in human bean juice and ripe with deeply penetrating satire concerning corporate capitalism and American culture. Controversial at the time of its release for its sudden bursts of excessive violence, “RoboCop” is rousing adult entertainment proudly flaunting the bloodiest of blood-soaked action and the blackest of jet-black comedy.

7. “Lethal Weapon” (1987)

Hero(es): Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson, and Roger Murtaugh, played by Danny Glover
Obligatory One-Liner: “I’m too old for this shit.”
Plot: Two mismatched LAPD detectives, one a young loose cannon and the other a down-to-earth veteran, team up to stop a gang of drug smugglers.
Awesome Action: Riggs, attempting to coax a suicidal man from jumping off a ledge to his death, handcuffs himself to the jumper’s wrist and takes a leap of faith, landing on the inflatable platform placed on the ground below.
The Movie: Truly the exemplary buddy cop movie, “Lethal Weapon” is a super-violent thrill-ride featuring dialogue that sizzles, stunts that dazzle and an accelerated pace that refuses to cease. Though it benefits largely from the high-energy direction of “Superman” helmer Richard Donner, it’s the inspired pairing of Gibson and Glover, whose on-screen chemistry and verbal sparring is just to die for, that really makes the deceptively generic-looking “Lethal Weapon” something very special indeed.

6. “Predator” (1987)

Hero(es): Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger
Obligatory One-Liner: “You’re one ugly motherfucker.”
Plot: An operation to rescue a kidnapped presidential cabinet minister in the Central American jungle results in a battle to the death between an elite special forces team and a technologically advanced alien being.
Awesome Action: The climactic brawl between the villainous Predator and a topless, mud-splattered Dutch, during which the extraterrestrial’s rather unsightly facial features are finally revealed. Cue: that obligatory one-liner.
The Movie: Featuring a team of muscle-bound macho men sweating it out in a sweltering jungle, roaring into thin air as they squeeze the triggers of their impossibly destructive automatic weapons and churning out classic one-liners like there’s no tomorrow, “Predator” is an all-out, unashamed testosterone-fest. But there is surprising intelligence in the craftsmanship of John McTiernan’s action-horror, which is positively littered with raw, old-school suspense given a neat sci-fi edge by the out-of-this-world presence of the butt-ugly Predator.

5. “The Terminator” (1984)

Hero(es): Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn
Obligatory One-Liner: “I’ll be back.”
Plot: A soldier from a dystopian future ruled by machines is sent back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, mother of the unborn leader of the human resistance, from the cross-hairs of a killer robot.
Awesome Action: A bloody massacre inside a police station, which sees the Terminator firing slugs at officers left, right and centre in pursuit of his quivering target.
The Movie: This is the role that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into an international star, and it is the role that he will surely be remembered for. As the villainous Terminator in James Cameron’s noirish sci-fi action thriller, the Austrian muscleman effortlessly flaunts a heart-stopping screen presence, characterised as a relentless hunter of the night. Of course, in sequels “T2” and “T3,” Schwarzenegger assumes the role of the hero, but here he is a bone-chilling antagonist in a film utterly drenched in eye-popping suspense.

4. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989)

Hero(es): Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford
Obligatory One-Liner: “I’m like a bad penny, I always turn up.”
Plot: Archeology professor Indiana Jones goes on a hunt for the Nazis who have kidnapped his father, a Holy Grail scholar, in an attempt to nab the holiest of drinking cups.
Awesome Action: A tank chase in the middle of the desert sees Indy being fired at by torpedoes while riding an increasingly agitated horse and then getting in a punch-up atop said tank.
The Movie: Following the surprisingly dark and occasionally horrifying “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” it was decided by director Steven Spielberg that Indy’s third (and supposedly final) outing be a little lighter in tone. The decision was the right one: “The Last Crusade” is a thrilling, rolicking and spirited adventure, far superior to its immediate predecessor, featuring not just rip-roaring action set-pieces but also a touching father-son relationship at its heart. The comical interaction between Ford and the perfectly cast Sean Connery, as Indy’s father, is priceless.

3. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Hero(es): Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford
Obligatory One-Liner: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”
Plot: In 1936, a heroic, globe-trotting archaeologist embarks on a mission to prevent the Nazis from recovering the long-buried Ark of the Covenant, which they believe will give them the power of invincibility.
Awesome Action: The famous opening set-piece sees Indy craftily snatching a golden idol from its temple, outrunning a stampeding mega-boulder and fleeing angry natives on a seaplane.
The Movie: With “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas decided to pay tribute to the pulpy film serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s. The result was an exciting, rambunctious and shamelessly old-fashioned adventure flick that helped define the term “blockbuster.” The many chase scenes are inventive and suitably exhausting, the production design is magnificent and the memorable moments of comic relief are golden. Plus, in Harrison Ford’s wise/whip-cracking Indiana Jones, it boasts one of the greatest heroes in all of cinema.

2. “Aliens” (1986)

Hero(es): Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver
Obligatory One-Liner: “Get away from her, you bitch!”
Plot: A ragtag squad of armed-to-the-teeth space soldiers get more than they bargained for when they go for a spot of alien hunting on the deserted planet LV-426.
Awesome Action: A suspenseful battle fought between a snarling, towering alien queen and a giant mechanical exoskeleton operated by Ripley.
The Movie: James Cameron’s unexpectedly action-packed follow-up to Ridley Scott’s comparatively meditative sci-fi horror masterpiece “Alien” proved a sensationally successful change in direction – some brave souls would say it’s even better than the first one. With big, fat dollops of nail-biting tension, an unforgettable ensemble of hard-ass soldiers and a terrifying infestation of extraterrestrial killing machines, “Aliens” provides the heart-racing thrills along with the knuckle-gnashing, chest-bursting terror. It stands tall and mighty in the ranks of the greatest movie sequels of all time.

1. “Die Hard” (1988)

Hero(es): John McClane, played by Bruce Willis
Obligatory One-Liner: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
Plot: Attendees of a Christmas party in an L.A. skyscraper are taken hostage by armed robbers working under the guise of terrorists. The thieves have some unwelcome company in the form of a seemingly unstoppable NYPD detective, who takes them down one-by-one while barefoot and sporting an increasingly manky wife-beater.
Awesome Action: McClane’s plucky escape from an exploding rooftop, which sees him leaping off the top of the building with a fire hose wrapped around his waist.
The Movie: Arguably, “Die Hard” is two things: 1) the greatest action movie of all time, and 2) the greatest Christmas movie of all time. Boundlessly rewatchable and instantly quotable, John McTiernan’s immortal classic is a veritable slideshow on everything any self-respecting action movie should aspire to be: intelligent, inventive, exhilarating, intentionally funny, stupendously entertaining and completely gripping from start to finish. With a script dripping with wit and character, an endless stream of pulse-pounding set-pieces, a delightfully slimy villain played by the great Alan Rickman, and a career-defining performance from then-rising star Bruce Willis, “Die Hard” is a truly wonderful piece of mainstream cinema and a master class in action-packed entertainment.


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