Generally speaking, 1980 to 2000 was the golden era of cheesy action movies that are often times so bad, they’re good. The kind of movies that got panned by critics and reviewers alike, but secretly their fan bases were growing into a cult.
To enjoy these movies you have to have a sense of humour and not take yourself too seriously. You are going to see things that maybe more properly belong in a cartoon, but you gotta just roll with it.
These movies were made while the stuntman was still the hero of Hollywood. Action flicks today are synonymous with CGI, which if you ask me takes the fun out of it.
Anyway, here’s a guide to the era (80’s and 90’s) of action movies closest to my heart and the leading men who starred in them.
In no particular order we have…
Known for his love of martial arts and being hard to work with, Seagal has produced some great films that are good for a laugh. He often brings his passion of martial arts, specifically aikido, into his films, tossing, kicking, and breaking arms throughout.
The thing that makes a Seagal film so funny, is that he, in real life, takes himself incredibly seriously. It would be sad that the joke is on him, but the joke is too god damn funny.
Some of his best movies are….
- Above the Law (1988)
- Hard to Kill (1990)
- Under Siege (1992)
- On Deadly Ground (1994)
All these movies are worth a watch, but because one of them is head and shoulders better than the rest it deserves some more attention.
First off, this is the one movie of Seagal’s with a star studded cast. The budget must have been large because they filmed the entire thing on an aircraft carrier.
To summarize the film, all I have to say is that Seagal has to fight off guitar playing terrorists, played by Tommy Lee Jones and featuring Gary Busey, using mostly knives.
Gary Busey, fresh off of filming Point Break with Keanu Reeves, and just before he went completely mental, would have attracted quite an audience in his day.
Tommy Lee Jones is always fucking sick so his inclusion only amped up the hoopla for this movie.
The violence is over the top but not disgustingly graphic. For instance, (SPOILER ALERT), when Tommy Lee Jones is finally done in by Seagal, he is stabbed in the top of the head at a 90 degree angle and then thrown through a television screen.
Who the fuck stabs a human skull?
Steven Seagal that’s who!
Perhaps my all time favourite action star, Schwarzenegger absolutely ‘brings it’ in every film that he’s in.
The reason why he has been so successful as an action star is that most of his movies are built on a template, that we love. It includes, cheesy one liners, great bad guys, the accent, and the muscles.
He’s done so many good movies in his day that it’s hard to list them all here, so I’ll limit myself to the most notable ones of his career.
My favourite (and should be yours too!) Schwarzenegger films are…
- Conan the Barbarian (1982)
- The Terminator (1984)
- Commando (1985)
- The Running Man (1987)
- Predator (1987)
- Red Heat (1988)
- Total Recall (1990)
Notice anything awesome about this list? You guessed it, 5/7 are sci-fi or fantasy. Arnie loves make believe and it loves him back. During the 80’s he dominated the sci-fi/action sub-genre to a point where he’ll never be outdone.
His movies are very quotable and the cheesy zingers are to die for.
The best lines ever uttered by Arnie include…
“What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!”Conan the Barbarian
“He had to split.”Running man, – After sawing a man in half
“Consider that a divorce!”Total Recall – After killing his wife (Sharon Stone)
“You’re a funny guy Sully, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”Commando
I could go on and on about the greatness of Arnie but you probably are already aware so I won’t waste my energy.
On the Subject of Arnold Schwarzenegger, if you want a good read and to learn all there is to learn about this great man, then I recommend reading his biography titled, Total Recall – My unbelievably true life story. You won’t be disappointed.
Stallone has been in two good movie franchises in his day. Clearly, I’m talking about the Rambo and Rocky films.
Both were well received and upon reflection offered some social commentary for the politics of the period.
Rambo First Blood (1982)
Stallone plays John Rambo, a Vietnam war veteran who is travelling the country trying to reconnect with the members of his unit only to find out that most of them are dead.
Anyway he is hitch hiking across the country when he finds himself in small town Pacific North-West. A town sheriff spots him and drives him out of town. Rambo, not tolerating this keeps coming back until he and the police force are locked into a life or death battle.
What the movie was commenting on is the acceptance that the Vietnam veterans did not get when they returned home after the war.
I don’t know if you know this, but the Vietnam war was extremely unpalatable for many Americans. There were riots, sit ins, and draft dodgers, but when all was said and done even the people forced to go fight were not welcomed home with open arms.
Anyway for it’s time it seems like Rambo had kind of a charged plot line. The movie is not as simple as a man running from the cops. It was more about the status of America and it’s relationship with it’s most recent generation of veterans.
The movies in the Rambo franchise include…
- First Blood (1982)
- Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
- Rambo III (1988)
Rocky IV (1985)
I’ve picked the fourth instalment in the Rocky Franchise because I think it might be the best (if you disagree, comment at the bottom of this article your favourite and why).
Essentially, the movie goes like this…Rocky is going to fight a Soviet steroid using super freak, that literally bludgeons people to death with his fists.
There have been a lot of movies that have tried to tackle the essence of what went down during the Cold War, but Rocky IV does it with such finesse and grace that the message is clear as a bell.
The message is that the collective labour and will of the Soviet Union can and did produce some amazing accomplishments, and in this case a boxing apex predator. But they’ll never have what America has, and that’s heart.
(SPOILER) In the end Rocky beats the clearly superior fighter because he will not give up. Just like America….*cough
Other movies in the franchise include…
- Rocky (1976)
- Rocky II (1979)
- Rocky III (1982)
- Rocky IV (1985)
- Rocky V (1990)
On a side note, the Rocky movies that predate Rocky IV are about race relations in America.
Patrick Swayze (RIP – 1952-2009)
The late great Patrick Swayze didn’t do too many action movies, but the ones he did, fucking kicked ass.
I’ll get right to the point.
Road House (1989)
Perhaps one of my favourite movies of all time, Road House, has everything. Including nudity, bar fights, Jeff Healey, a very bad, bad guy, philosophy, a tender love making session and much, much more.
I’m not the only one who loves this movie. It has a cult following and everyone kind of just gets it when they see it.
If you haven’t seen this film, which is a big mistake on your behalf, I’ll give you the rundown of what happens in this movie.
Swayze’s name is Dalton, a drifter bouncer who goes from town to town cleaning up the local watering holes.
He has a set of rules. 1) Never underestimate your opponent..expect the unexpected; 2) take it outside, never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary; and 3)…be nice.
He’s like the Sun tzu of bouncing and he’s really good at what he does. The only problem is that the last town he’s drifted into isn’t taking to kindly to the changes he’s throwing down.
(SPOILER) The town villain sends his henchmen after Dalton many times, until the violence reaches a fever pitch level where a man has his throat ripped out.
That scene….is god damn amazing.
Point Break (1991)
This movie is more about the relationship between the characters played by Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey, but the Swayze fucks up their shit by being an anarchist bank robbing surfer. It’s totally rad.
Here’s the basics of this movie. Keanu is a young cop trying to go undercover amongst the bank robbing surfers. His partner, played by Gary Busey is trying to guide him the best he can but Keanu is falling for a cool surfer chick and it’s clouding his vision.
Oh and by the way, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers make a cameo at one point, so if you watch this movie keep an eye out.
Anyway, the Swayze plays a great bad guy. He’s intense as fuck and makes Keanu look like a prepubescent boy of 9.
Point Break is a great movie, and it just happens to feature Swayze at the top of his game. Just like Road House, when you see it, you just get it.
So there you have it folks, those are some of the movies from the 80’s and 90’s that have earned a place in my heart. Stay tuned for more info about awesome movies.
If you disagreed with my list, feel free to comment below and tell me why. Or better yet send me your list.