Way back when cinema was invented, the first director called out “lights, camera, action” – and lo, the action movie was born! Okay, there might have been a little more to it than that, but from the very beginning audiences have been drawn to the movies by feats of derring-do the likes of which we tend not to see in everyday life. Few things make for a more satisfying cinema experience than a hero we can applaud, a villain we can boo, and a whole lot of punch-ups, shoot-outs and car chases along the way.

Cowboys, swashbuckling adventurers and cops had been standard big screen action heroes from the beginning, but they developed a considerably harder edge along the way. The troubles experienced by America in the 60s and 70s made the realities of violence more prevalent in popular culture, hence movies like Dirty Harry, Death Wish and multi-Oscar winner The French Connection presented harsher visions with undertones of social conscience.

However, come the 80s filmmakers had largely lost interest in directly reflecting reality, and instead sought to present macho escapism on a larger scale than ever before. Big muscles, big explosions and even bigger body counts were the order of the day, and a new generation of larger-than-life men of action stepped up to deliver crowd-pleasing spectacles aplenty, usually accompanied by more than a few snappy one-liners.

The action movies of the 80s certainly weren’t that subtle, but they gave the audience what they wanted, setting a standard which some would say hasn’t been met again in the years since. Take a look at the list of thrilling action flicks below: vote up your favourites, and add any you think we’ve missed at the bottom of the screen.

1
0
0

48 Hrs.

One of the most popular action movie formats of the 80s was the buddy cop movie, in which circumstances place two mismatched individuals together (at least one of whom is a cop) in a race against time. This concept was popularised, and in many respects perfected, by 1982's 48 Hrs. Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) is San Francisco's toughest, grumpiest cop, on the tail of dangerous criminal Albert Ganz (James Remar). Cates' investigation leads him to Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy), a one-time partner of Ganz who's now behind bars. Reluctantly, Cates gets the trash-talking criminal a 48-hour leave from prison to help him track down and capture Ganz. Initially developed with Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor in mind for the lead roles, 48 Hrs. was directed by Walter Hill, and marked a couple of famous firsts. For one, it was the first producing credit of Joel Silver, who became the most successful action producer of the 80s with such hits Commando, Predator and Die Hard. Secondly, it was the debut film of Eddie Murphy, then a stand-up comedian aged just 21. Murphy would follow this film with Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, and was soon established as the biggest comedy star of the decade. The hard-edged action and coarse humour of 48 Hrs. helped set the tone for action movies in the decade ahead, as well as inspiring many more buddy cop movies such as Joel Silver’s 1987 hit Lethal Weapon, and Walter Hill’s 1988 film Red Heat. A sequel followed in 1990’s Another 48 Hrs.

See more
2
0
0

Aliens

Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror Alien made a significant impact on the genre film climate, but when James Cameron was tasked with calling the shots on its 1986 follow-up, the result was one of the most distinctive, memorable sequels ever, which really stands apart as a great film in its own right. We rejoin Alien's sole survivor Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as she awakens after drifting through space in suspended animation for 57 years. To her horror, LV-426 - the planet on which she and her crew encountered the deadly Xenomorph - has now been colonised. However, when contact with the colony is lost, Ripley is enlisted to serve as an adviser on a rescue mission, alongside a team of Marines. On reaching the planet, Ripley's worst fears prove correct: the colonists are all dead, and the aliens have taken over. Alongside the Marines, she must now battle to stay alive and wipe out the alien threat, which is even greater than she imagined. The real masterstroke of Aliens is that, rather than try to match Alien as a horror movie, it goes in a different direction, embracing gun-toting action - hence the tag line, 'this time it's war.' Cameron had already proven his skill as an action director with The Terminator, and Aliens further cements this, with explosive set-pieces aplenty. Central heroine Ripley really comes into her own here. Weaver commits hard to the role, and landed a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her efforts; a rare accolade for a sci-fi film. However, Aliens is a tremendous ensemble piece all around, with memorable supporting turns from Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein and Bill Paxton. Two more Alien sequels came in the 90s, followed by the two Alien vs Predator films and Ridley Scott’s prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. However, most would agree the series has never again reached the heights it did with Aliens.

See more
3
0
0

Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy was a 23-year-old stand-up comedian with two hit films to his name (48 Hrs. and Trading Places) when he landed his first leading role in what proved to be the biggest blockbuster of 1984: action comedy Beverly Hills Cop. Murphy is Axel Foley, a fast-talking Detroit cop whose childhood friend is murdered. Anxious to bring the killers to justice, Foley follows the trail to the prosperous Beverly Hills, and corrupt businessman Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). Way outside his jurisdiction, Foley finds himself being followed by detectives Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold); initially assigned to stop Foley, the bumbling local cops wind up assisting in his investigation, alongside the noble Lieutenant Bogomil (Ronny Cox). The brainchild of 80s super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (whose other hits included Flashdance and Top Gun), Beverly Hills Cop was initially offered to Mickey Rourke, then came close to getting made with Sylvester Stallone; but the producers rejected his expensive, ultra-violent script ideas (which Stallone ultimately took to 1986’s Cobra). Murphy was cast very late in the day, prompting hasty script rewrites: the comedian ad-libbed much of his dialogue as a result. A smash hit, Beverly Hills Cop earned over $316 million worldwide and shot Murphy to superstardom, while Harold Faltermeyer’s theme song Axel F also became a chart success. 1987 sequel Beverly Hills Cop II proved equally successful, but 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III flopped. A fourth film is said to be in the pipeline.

See more
6
0
0
7
0
0
8
0
0

Die Hard

Die Hard might well have been a flop. After all, the role of NYPD detective John McClane was offered to - and declined by - at least eleven actors, including eventual star Bruce Willis. However, Die Hard has since become an action movie mainstay and made stars of its two leads. The film sees McClane travel to Los Angeles to reignite his marriage; what the detective doesn't understand, however, is that his estranged wife is attending a workplace Christmas party that's about to be gatecrashed by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his cohort of terrorists. As those at the party struggle to seek help from the outside world, McClane finds himself the lone hero as Gruber's plan begins to unravel. Always intended as a summer blockbuster, Die Hard returned $141.5 million on a budget of $28 million and spawned a franchise. It was also critically acclaimed and is often argued to be the best Christmas film of all time. The film was Rickman's feature film debut, with the actor having previously impressed producer Joel Silver in a Broadway production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses; it was Willis' second-ever Hollywood production, and he was then best-known for his stint in the comedy TV series Moonlighting. The success of Die Hard not only made a name for Rickman and Willis, but spawned an entire genre of action films that sought to recreate the dynamic of a down-to-earth hero battling against a mob of heavily armed thugs. These include Under Siege, Speed and Air Force One.

See more
14
0
0

Midnight Run

Conventional wisdom has it that Robert De Niro didn't go mainstream until the late 90s, when the highly esteemed actor stepped away from prestige dramas to make the likes of the Analyse This and Meet the Parents movies. However, the legendary Raging Bull and The Godfather Part II Oscar winner had already ventured into more light-hearted, mass appeal territory in 1988’s comedy thriller Midnight Run. De Niro is Jack Walsh, a bounty hunter hired to locate embezzling accountant Jonathan 'The Duke' Mardukas (Charles Grodin). Walsh finds him easily enough, but what should be a simple transport job is complicated by both the mafia and the FBI being anxious to get their hands on Mardukas, not to mention the contrasting personalities of the bounty hunter and his mark. Directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop), Midnight Run came together as De Niro was keen to do a comedy, after being rejected for the role that ultimately went to Tom Hanks in Big. Robin Williams and Bruce Willis were both considered for the role of Mardukas, but De Niro wound up having the most chemistry with Charles Grodin. De Niro still approached the action-comedy with his signature method seriousness, working with real bounty hunters and police officers as research, and actually scarring Grodin’s wrists from putting on the handcuffs too tight. Midnight Run was a hit with critics and a modest box office success, making almost $82 million. It spawned three TV movie sequels, none of which feature the original actors.  

See more
15
0
0
16
0
0
18
0
0

Predator

By 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger was already established as the biggest action star on the planet - but he'd rarely been pitted against an adversary that seemed to pose him a genuine threat. This changed with Predator, the sci-fi action thriller that became one of the Austrian Oak's most enduring hits. Dutch (Schwarzenegger) is the Major in command of an elite commando team. Hired by old buddy Dillon (Carl Weathers), a solider-turned-CIA agent, the team fly out into the Central American jungle on a rescue mission. However, when events take a sinister turn in the jungle, the team realise there's something out there hunting them - and, as Sonny Landham's Billy puts it, "it ain't no man." Predator was the first major movie from director John McTiernan, who - thanks to both this and his follow-up film, 1988's Die Hard - would become one of the biggest Hollywood action filmmakers of the decade that followed. Sadly, his later collaboration with Schwarzenegger - 1993's Last Action Hero - didn't turn out quite so well. With Schwarzenegger heading up a cast of muscular he-men, Predator is one of the most testosterone-heavy films of the 80s. Infamously, it very nearly co-starred another action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was initially cast as a very different-looking alien hunter. However, as Van Damme was far shorter than most of the cast (and was said to be difficult on set), it was decided the 7'4" Kevin Peter Hall would make a more imposing adversary. The Predator was also redesigned by Stan Winston, giving us the dreadlocked, crab-faced monster we know today. Reviews were lukewarm on release, but today Predator is held up as one of the best action movies ever. Sequel Predator 2 followed in 1990, before 2004's sci-fi action crossover Alien vs. Predator and its 2007 sequel Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. Since then, the series has been rebooted twice with 2010's Predators and 2018's The Predator.

See more
19
0
0

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

As if playing Han Solo in Star Wars wasn't enough, Harrison Ford landed the part of another iconic hero in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark. From the dream team of director Steven Spielberg and executive producer/story writer George Lucas, this old-fashioned adventure introduced us to the hat-wearing, whip-cracking archaeologist Indiana Jones. Set in 1936, Raiders of the Lost Ark sees Indy (Ford) enlisted by the US military to locate long-lost Biblical relic the Ark of Covenant, which the Nazis are trying to locate. Indy's quest reunites him with his old flame Marion (Karen Allen), with whom he journeys to Egypt to find the Ark before the nefarious Belloq (Paul Freeman), a rival of Indy in the employ of the Nazis. Steven Spielberg had long dreamed of directing a James Bond movie, but when the 007 producers turned him down his friend George Lucas pitched him Indy, a two-fisted hero in the vein of the swashbuckling serials both men loved growing up. When it came to casting their leading man, Spielberg and Lucas first wanted Tom Selleck. However, Selleck had already signed on to star in TV series Magnum, PI and had to turn it down, clearing the way for Harrison Ford. Making $384 million worldwide, Raiders of the Lost Ark was the biggest box office hit of 1981. The decade ahead saw two sequels in 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A TV spin-off, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, followed in the 90s. Then in 2008, the movie series was revived with the divisive Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A fifth Indiana Jones movie is scheduled for July 2022, although only Harrison Ford will be returning. James Mangold is expected to take over from Spielberg in the director's chair.

See more
21
0
0

Road House

For many, the late Patrick Swayze's cinematic legacy is defined by 1987's Dirty Dancing. However, for those who like their movies that bit rougher, Swayze never packed as much punch as he does in 1989's Road House. Swayze is Dalton, a professional doorman known as a 'cooler.’ Renowned as the best in the business (even though everyone who meets him "thought he'd be bigger"), Dalton is hired to come work at the Double Deuce, a small town Missouri night spot being torn apart by crime, violence and drunken debauchery. Under Dalton's guidance, the Double Deuce sees its fortunes improve; but not without incurring the wrath of Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), a shady millionaire who seems to have the whole town in his pocket. Things are complicated further by Dalton developing a romantic connection with Dr Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), with whom Wesley is infatuated. There's not a whole lot to Road House in terms of story; the movie's lasting appeal lies in its distinctive, unabashedly trashy tone. Directed by the aptly-named Rowdy Herrington (who later made 1993 Bruce Willis movie Striking Distance), Road House is bursting at the seams with tough-talking macho men in tight jeans, scantily-clad women of loose morals, and beat-'em-up action that gets crazier by the minute. The down-and-dirty atmosphere is enhanced by a great blues rock soundtrack courtesy of Jeff Healey. As ridiculous as things get, Swayze (who turned down Kurt Russell’s role in Tango & Cash in order to make the film) plays it totally straight as the ice-cool, intellectual tough guy. His fight scenes may be eye-openers - especially that finishing move in the riverside punch-up - but what really lingers in the memory are Dalton's many philosophical asides: "pain don't hurt," "no one wins a fight," etc. While only a modest success on release ($30 million at the box office), Road House has developed a huge cult following. It's also become the stuff of legend thanks to a connection with Bill Murray, a friend of actress Kelly Lynch: reportedly every time Road House screens on TV and it reaches the love scene, Murray calls Lynch's husband to inform him, "Kelly's having sex with Patrick Swayze."

See more
22
1
0

RoboCop

One might think that a movie about a murdered cop brought back to life as a cyborg would be all kinds of stupid. However, as cartoonish as its core concept might be, 1987's RoboCop is probably the smartest action movie of the decade, and - like all the best sci-fi - it may be set in the future, but it's really a reflection on the times in which it was made. At an unspecified future date, the city of Detroit is largely controlled by corporation OCP, which owns the police. In the face of rising crime, OCP executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) pitches a bold new project: RoboCop, a cyborg police officer. However, to build him they first need a human cop, and they find their subject in Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), a principled officer gunned down in the line of duty. Saved at the point of death, Murphy is rebuilt as a heavily armoured super-cop, with his memory erased and new directives programmed into his mind. Once put out on the beat, RoboCop makes a sensation - but soon, flashes of the dead man's memory start returning, particularly once he comes face-to-face with the criminals who 'killed' him. RoboCop established Dutch director Paul Verhoeven as a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. The level of violence and bloodshed on display is surprising even now, and Verhoeven's name would soon be synonymous with the extreme with his later films Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers. But despite all the bullet-ridden carnage, what really hits hardest in RoboCop is its satirical sense of humour. OCP and its sleazy executives are a bald-faced attack on the profit-fixated yuppie culture that was so predominant in the 80s; Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer both relish in playing such venomous characters, although Kurtwood Smith largely steals the show as the deranged criminal Clarence Boddicker. Though not a huge hit on release (earning $53.4 million in cinemas), RoboCop became a popular sensation, spawning two sequels, a live-action TV show and - controversially - a children's animated series. In 2014 a RoboCop remake hit cinemas, but this hasn't stopped plans for a direct sequel to the original, RoboCop Returns, which is currently in development.

See more
23
0
0
24
0
0
25
0
0
26
0
0

The Terminator

Directed by James Cameron and starring former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as the eponymous killing machine, 1984's The Terminator is a science fiction film that proved to be a breakthrough for both its director and its star. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic future where machines have overthrown humanity, his mission being to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose son will grow up to lead the human resistance. However, the machines have also sent something back in time: a terminator, a machine encased in living tissue with the sole purpose of eliminating Connor. Made on a budget of only $6.4 million, The Terminator topped the North American box office for two weeks and accrued a worldwide haul of $78.3 million. Not only that, but the film spawned a wildly successful sequel in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day as well as a further four films. The Terminator continues to be a pop culture stalwart, most notably for Schwarzenegger's delivery of "I'll be back," a line repeated not only in further films in the franchise, but also in other Schwarzenegger projects and countless other films. The actor had previously struggled to find work in Hollywood due to his thick, Austrian accent, but a string of action and comedy roles soon arrived in droves. Schwarzenegger would later parlay his iconic performances into a run for the governorship of California; while running, and once elected, he frequently became known as 'the Governator' in reference to his 1984 role. The character was most recently revived in 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate, which saw Schwarzenegger reunite with Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and James Cameron as producer.

See more
27
0
0
28
0
0

Top Gun

Starring Tom Cruise as a maverick fighter pilot, Top Gun is one of the 80s' most commercially successful films, and much of its dialogue continues to be referenced in popular culture. Released in 1986 and directed by Tony Scott (and produced by the legendary blockbuster duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer), the film sees Cruise's Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell attempt to overcome the death of his best friend, Goose, and continue his promising aviation career. Produced on a surprisingly slim budget of $15 million, the film grossed a remarkable $386 million at the worldwide box office. Cruise, who had previously succeeded in coming-of-age comedies like Risky Business, was turned into a blockbuster megastar virtually overnight. Critical response to the film, however, was mixed. The aerial action sequences were praised, but the dialogue-heavy scenes were less well-received. Nevertheless, the film scooped a statuette, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Berlin's Take My Breath Away. The film is also closely associated with the Kenny Loggins track Danger Zone, which was originally set to be recorded by Toto. Ultimately, disputes with Toto's lawyers nudged the band out of the project. As a result of their prominence in the film, sales of bomber jackets and aviator sunglasses increased significantly, and the film became the world's best-selling VHS cassette, with 2.9 million units shipped. A sequel has been in development for several years, though it stalled after Scott's death in 2012. Titled Top Gun: Maverick, the film will see Cruise reprise his role as Mitchell, who has now become an instructor for TOPGUN. The film was originally scheduled for release in June 2019, but was later pushed back to December 2020.

See more
29
0
0
Not on the list? add item #30

Hey There! Please only add items that are relevant to this list topic.