Ah, the Eighties was a time of real men, real violence, and real action. No decade since has done real action. And The Expendables, hitting theaters on August 13 like a calloused fist of pure gristle, may be the closest we get to the Eighties at the cinema.

Now, to get you ready for the explosion of testosterone and napalm this film promises to be, we have assembled our list of the 15 baddest action films of the Eighties. Watch them and remember what men of action used to be (And, yes, watching these movies will put hair on your chest… and every other available surface of your flabby, 21st-century body):

Red Dawn15. Red Dawn

A band of all-American kids escapes a Soviet invasion in their town and launches their own guerilla war against their occupiers. Awesomeness ensues. You see, in the Eighties, teen heartthrobs weren’t created sparkling in the sunlight- they were born with a M-16 in one hand and a handful of whoop-a$$ in the other. If you were a kid in America, this movie made you want to kick some serious Soviet tail.

14. Under Siege

When a bunch of mercenaries, led by Tommy Lee Jones, tries to steal a nuke from a battleship, it is up to cook Steven Seagal to singlehandedly stop them. And stop them he does. Jones goes out with a knife stuck in his cranium and his head stuck into a computer monitor. Yes, justice in the Eighties was swift and final.

13. They Live

One of John Carpenter’s lesser known flicks, this film gives us one of the most unlikely action heroes of the era, goofy but tough-as-nails “Rowdy” Roddy Piper of the WWF. He finds a pair sunglasses that allow him to see alien invaders disguised as humans for what they really are. Piper’s pro-wrestling moves are in full-force here, and he even gets one of the best one-liners in action movie history (which I will let you discover on your own).

12. Delta Force

There’s a reason why Chuck Norris is considered a man among boys- and it’s not Walker: Texas Ranger. Norris showcases his ice-cold stare and bone-shattering roundhouse kicks with particular panache in this rescue flick based on true stories about the elite squad of Special Forces.

11. Lethal Weapon

Mel Gibson has made a career playing crazy-dangerous guys. In real life, he has made a laughing stock of himself playing crazy-dangerous guys. But that doesn’t lessen his punch as insane detective Martin Riggs. With Danny Glover, the two created the cross-racial buddy flick while displaying some serious action awesomeness.

Terminator10. The Terminator

In one blinding moment, the king of action stars was born. That moment was James Cameron’s The Terminator. Ahnuld starts the film stark naked and goes on to take pretty much whatever he wants (clothes, guns, etc.) as an unstoppable cyborg from the future. It also features what is the most recognized one-liner in action movie canon: “I’ll be back.”

9. Rambo II

Sylvester Stallone’s barely human Vietnam Vet is released from prison to search out some Vietnam War POWs but not to engage in any combat. Overcome by righteous indignation (it ran deep in the Eighties), Rambo starts rescuing POWs with his knives, arrows, and quivering pectorals. He endures the indignity of getting dipped in a cesspool. After escaping, he kills a small army, frees all the POWs, and gives an impassioned speech on appreciating our veterans. Truly, a warrior-poet.

8. Robocop

Before Paul Verhoven made the insanely action-packed Total Recall, he directed this little ditty about a savagely murdered cop who is reborn as a cyborg. Naturally, the robot comes fully equipped with commercial-ready one-liners.

Predator7. Predator

Manliness hit an all-time high with this film. Witness the tidal wave of masculinity as Arnold and Carl Weathers lock hands in a mid-air, bicep-popping arm-wrestle, Arnold and company take down a fort full of Central American guerillas, and then get picked off one by one by an even manlier alien. Brains are blown out. Arms are blown off. Chest cavities are blown open. Until Arnold the Unstoppable takes the Predator on caveman-style.

6. Escape from New York

When Air Force One crashes into the prison island that used to be Manhattan, it’s up to inmate Snake Plissken to retrieve the President. Armed with big guns, a mean tattoo, and an eye patch, Snake shoots and asks questions later through armies of gangsters and soldiers, all the while standing as a one-man symbol of American independence. Now that’s bad.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Two scenes secure this first Indy movie a place among the hallowed action films of the Eighties. First, the boxing match on the airstrip. In one of Spielberg’s signature setpieces, Indy dukes it out with a massive bruiser of a Nazi while an airplane turns around them with his girlfriend inside. Stuff gets blown up and the Nazi guy gets up close and personal with the airplane propeller. Second, the truck chase scene that follows thereafter. Indy gets shot in the arm, thrown through the windshield, and slides under the truck. And then, yeah, he takes the truck back. And he still has the machismo to make out with his girl ten minutes later. Yes, Indy makes me proud to be an American.

4. The Road Warrior

This movie drops rocket launchers and automatic machine guns in favor of arrows and blunt objects. The tanker chase scene is a work of sheer velocity (watch below). Absent of any CGI whatsoever, the stunt work is pretty much insane by our current namby-pamby standards. And, yes, Mel Gibson is crazy… again.

3. Die Hard

You could argue that Bruce Willis’ turn as regular-sized action hero John McClane was the beginning of the end for towering meathead action stars. Or you could just argue that McClane’s attitude and grit more than make up for his lack of beef. I choose the latter. Forget about him taking down scores of terrorists. Forget about him taking out their helicopter. The man does it all in his boxers and runs across freaking glass BAREFOOT. That’s what puts Die Hard at number three. His action hero doesn’t have an arsenal in his toolshed. He doesn’t even have freaking boots, for pete sake.

2. Aliens

Arguably, James Cameron’s best action picture, Aliens combines an insane situation, an unstoppable enemy (Acid blood? Really?), and the baddest hardware ever featured on film into one mean enchilada. Cameron has a gift for upping the ante, and that gift is on full display here. Just when you think the movie can’t get any crazier, it does. A few survivors escape from the compound in a panic attack-inducing firefight. But that’s not enough. The little girl gets taken by the aliens deep into the Queen’s lair. Oh, and, if that ain’t enough, the whole place is set to go nuke. And if that ain’t enough, they are depending on a shady android dude to pick them up. Ellen Ripley (a.k.a. the Toughest Broad to Ever Grace an Action Movie) faces down the Queen, saves the girl, and very nearly gets singed by the nuclear blast. Oh, but we’re not done yet because we have a hitchhiker. A very big hitchhiker.

1. Commando

Simply because of its iconic nature, Commando gets the number one spot. Herein is the archetypal Eighties action hero embodied. Awesome/stupid one-liners. Flattop. Weapons and ammo strapped to every inch of his body. Muscles so big and bad, who needs acting skills? Like a one-man nuclear arsenal, Arnold goes after the guys who kidnapped his daughter. And he is not happy. Guys get dropped off cliffs… headfirst. Guys get their crowns cut off, their necks snapped. They get impaled on table legs and by pipes.
About the Author: Marcus Varner is a beloved blogger and writer on College Life and several other blogs. He enjoys writing, reading, movies, comic books, and trivia. Lots and lots of trivia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *