Top 80’s Action Movies

First Blood (1982)It’s been quite some time since I came up with any kind of a Top 10 list.  I was flipping through the channels the other night in a hotel room and ran across First Blood on AMC.  Naturally, I sat there and watched it till the end and it got me to thinking what a great era the 80’s was for action flicks.


Revenge Of The Ninja (1983) – When I think of “ninja movies” this is the one that comes to mind.  Main character Cho (Sho Kosugi) swears off being a ninja only to be brought “out of retirement” by the silver-masked “demon ninja”.  Some unbelievable kills in here and off the chart action.  Some additional thoughts here.

F/X (1986) – Bryan Brown plays Rollie Tyler, a special effects guru who is hired by the Department of Justice to fake the murder of a mob informant.  Brian Dennehy plays a cop who gets interested in the case when things go south.  Naturally some great special effects combined with a story that’s actually very compelling.

Cobra (1986) – Sylvester Stallone plays Marion “Cobra” Cobretti who’s part of the elusive Zombie Squad. He’s called in to deal with the city’s latest threat: The Night Stalker.  A quick 87 minutes of fury that stars Brigitte Nielsen in the lead female role.

Action Jackson (1988) – Action Jackson (Carl Weathers) is a Detroit cop out to bust a crooked businessman (Craig T. Nelson).  The end scene features Jackson driving a car up 3 flights of stairs to get to the bad guy.  AWESOME.  Cast also includes the smoking hot Vanity and Sharon Stone.

Tango & Cash (1989) – Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell) are two LAPD cops who are framed for crimes they didn’t commit.  The flick follows them as they break out of prison and clear their names.  Two HUGE action names in one flick and they share the screen brilliantly.  Also features Teri Hatcher and Jack Palance.

Please note these are listed in chronological order.  I didn’t have it in me to try and rank them.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Many people will argue that this is a science fiction movie.  I’ll say I don’t care how you define it, it’s on my list.  I’ll admit that the original Star Wars is more of an “action” movie in my mind, but that came out in the 70’s so it doesn’t qualify for this list.  I’m not going to go into plot details here cause if you’ve never seen Empire you’re no longer allowed to read this post or this blog.  Be gone.  As I’m sure you can tell, I’m a HUGE fan of not only this franchise, but also of this iconic 2nd (or 5th depending on your point of view) entry in the saga.  Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader.  Enough said.  May the Force be with you!

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) – Just thinking about scenes from this movie gets my blood pumping.  Between Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indiana Jones, some incredible action sequences and probably the best score to a movie ever, this one has it all.  Guns, whips, explosions, fistfights and chase scenes.  What more could you ask for in an action movie?  It’s unfortunate the the 4th installment of this franchise was ever made, but no amount of crappy sequels will ever take away from the pure brilliance that is Raiders.

Commando (1985) – When I think of Arnold, this is the one that pops to mind.  He’s certainly had some definitive roles, but for me, John Matrix is THE one.  Matrix, a retired special forces guy, has to save his daughter (Alyssa Milano pre-hotness) when she is kidnapped by mercenaries.  This leads to some incredible fight and chase scenes as well as some of the best (worst) one liners in movie history.  Arnold wasn’t interested in doing a sequel to this so the script was rewritten, retitled and given to another actor.  It became known as Die Hard.

Die Hard (1988)Die Hard (1988) – John McClane played by Bruce Willis is a cop caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There are so many bad ass moments in this flick that I don’t dare list them for fear of leaving one off.  This is probably the most well known “stuck in one place” action flick and it’s one of my absolute favorites.  I purposefully didn’t rank this list as it would be too damn difficult, but if I did I’m nearly sure this would be at the top.  Alan Rickman plays a villain for the ages and the amount of flying glass, explosions and blood is second to none.  Yippie-kay-ay motherfuckers!!!

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) – This is another of those “one man against the world” type movies that we’ve grown to love.  John Rambo (who we first met in First Blood, the movie that inspired this list) is given the opportunity to get out of prison if he’ll go on a mission back into Viet Nam where he served.  He’s looking for American POWs who are being held captive.  His insertion goes awry and he’s forced to make due with what equipment he’s got behind enemy lines with no backup.  This one is less “campy” than some others on the list as it’s got a real “gritty” feel to it.

The Delta Force (1986) – There’s a reason that there are so many Chuck Norris references out there in pop culture today… this film is part of the reason why.  The Delta Force tells the story of a hijacked plane en route from Athens, Greece to New York City.  Lebanese terrorists take control of the plane and take it to Beirut and begin making their demands.  The Delta Force led by Scott McCoy (Norris) and  Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin in his final appearance) are tasked with rescuing the hostages and saving the day.  This one always felt very “real” to me as the flick ends with one of the Deltas dying after the hostages have been thwarted.

Iron Eagle (1986)Iron Eagle (1986) – When it comes to fighter jet movies from the 80’s most people think Top Gun first but I MUCH prefer Iron Eagle.   Many people think that Eagle is a copy of Gun, when in fact Eagle came out 5 months prior (Jan 17, 1986 vs. May 16, 1986).  In any case this flick tells the story of Doug Masters (Jason Gedrick) as he attempts to rescue his old man who’s been shot down behind enemy lines.  Doug enlists the help of his father’s fried Col. Chappy Sinclair (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and without the knowledge of the Air Force plan the excursion.  Top Gun was the by FAR the better performing flick at the box office, but this one makes my list.  NOTE: for Transformers geeks out there, Stan Bush said that his song The Touch was inspired by this flick.

Lethal Weapon (1987) – Widely considered the best “buddy cop” flick of all time, Lethal Weapon tells the story of soon to retire Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) as they attempt to get to the bottom of a plot involving sex, drugs and murder.  Along the way, Riggs treads dangerously close to the line of breaking the law as he’s a bit unstable mentally.  As they dig deeper, they unearth the elusive Shadow Company headed up by a retired general along with his enforcer Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey).  As the sequels play out, Riggs and Murtaugh become great friends and there’s more comedy thrown in.  If you’re looking for a gritty action flick, this is the place to start.

Road House (1989) – I did a full review of this movie and though I didn’t have this list in mind when I wrote it, the flick was destined to be included here.  Patrick Swayze’s “Dalton” is one of those characters that the audience can really identify with.  The girls love him and the guys want to be him.  The villain here isn’t a monster or a genius… he’s a normal guy.  He’s the type of asshole that we come across in every day life which allows us to connect to the story even more so.  80’s action is all about one liners for me and this one has some of the best: “Pain don’t hurt”.  Awesome.

Predator (1987)Predator (1987) – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura walk into a jungle…  No this isn’t the beginning of a joke – it’s the plot of Predator.  They’re part of a bad ass commando unit that is sent into the jungle of Guatemala on a rescue mission.  When they get to their destination they find a slew of soldiers that have been skinned alive.  Before we know it, they’re in a jungle chess match with a highly advanced creature who’s sole purpose is to hunt and kill them.  While there’s not a ton of story this flick delivers from the word go.  And seeing as this is a list of ACTION movies that’s what we’re looking for here.

I’d be remiss not to point out that 4 movies not listed here are part of my Guilty Pleasure Top 10 that could just as easily have been included here: Megaforce (1982), The Beastmaster (1982), Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985) and Big Trouble In Little China (1986).  In addition, this was a VERY difficult list to put together cause there was just so much awesomeness in the 80’s.  Please don’t think that I forgot about stuff like Conan, Tron, Jedi, Mad Max, Missing In Action, Platoon, Aliens, etc.  I had 15 spots to play with and the list had to end somewhere.

Interesting to note that Stallone is in here in 3 roles (4 if you include the flick that inspired the list).  Schwarzenegger is in here twice as is Carl Weathers (though Weathers was a supporting character in one movie).  If you’re a fan of 80’s action flicks, you’ll want to check out the upcoming release The Expendables as it’s looking to be an 80’s action fan’s wet dream.  Cast includes: Stallone, Lungren, Willis, Schwarzenegger and others… WOW.

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  2. Excellent list dude – hard to disagree with any of them. Here are a few additional gems that always seem to get lost in the shuffle of all the truly great 80’s action lists: Sharky’s Machine, Stick (I’m a bit of a Burt fan), Shoot to Kill (loaded with great stars) and Southern Comfort. I’m looking forward to the release of Predators but in my heart, I know it will never match up with the original.

    • Thanks Al! Good additions as well! Agree with you on Predators. Will go into it with an open mind, but the rash of remakes/reboots lately has not been a great thing. We shall see!

  3. I would have to throw Terminator on that list. But more importantly, where’s your Megaforce?

    • Yep… Terminator would definitely have been in say a Top 20 list. Just ran out of slots. See the Comments section for Megaforce 😉 I DID make you sit through that with me some time didn’t I? If not I finally managed to get my hands on a DVD copy. Will put it in the mail for you if you’d like.

  4. I’m happy to say that once again my favorite podcast The Geek Savants took the time to comment on one of my posts. You can listen to the episode here: Enjoy!

  5. The Screen Junkies just did a bracket style Best 80’s Action Movies piece… very cool.

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