They’re cheesy, with poor acting, laughable one-liners and gaping plot holes. Yet despite these glaring flaws, action movies consistently bring in bodies to the movie theaters, and the biggest stars of the genre command huge paychecks as they showcase their muscles and martial arts moves more than the range of their acting ability. These days the action movie has become a dying breed, perhaps because movie-goers are becoming more discerning, demanding that their heroes display at least a modicum of acting talent, or perhaps they have just seen the same movie too many times now. Though the action movie genre still exists, it is nowhere near as vibrant, and tongue-in-cheek parodies like Shoot ’em Up showcase just how far sentiment for these once guaranteed blockbusters has fallen. Still, in the 80s, big hair, big muscles, and big explosions had the audience of the edge of their seats. Here are my picks for the top 10 action movies of the 80s:
10 – The Terminator
Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role he was born to play. The original Terminator movie was not the special effects tour-de-force that its 1991 sequel was, but it held it own back in 1984. With tons of bullets, explosions, and a couple of corny one liners this film squeezes in to the top 10, and it won’t be the last Arnie film on this list.
9 – First Blood
When coming up with the list of the top 10 action movies of the 80s one actor came immediately to mind: Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is the epitome of the 80s action star, with rippling muscles and barely understandable grunts that passed for speech. First Blood introduced the world to the character John Rambo, an ex-Vietnam vet who excels at stalking and killing anything that gets in his way. Rambo is the ultimate action movie character and this is the best of the Rambo series of movies.
8 – Top Gun
The movie that really launched Tom Cruise’s career, Top Gun took us into the high velocity world of fighter jet pilots. Women drooled over Maverick, pumping up box office tallies as they made multiple trips to the theater to see him over and over again. Despite a bit of sappiness that is taboo for true action movies, Top Gun manages to stake its claim to number 8 on the top 10 list, with enough incredibly realistic air battles to thrill even the most demanding action fan.
7 – Robocop
Peter Weller comes back from near death to become the part man, part machine super lawman, Robocop. A little dose of science fiction only makes a good action movie even better, and with a nearly non-stop hail of bullets, and memorable lines like “I’d buy that for a dollar!” including Robocop on this list was a no-brainer.
6 – The Empire Strikes Back
George Lucas eventually made six Star Wars movies, and chapter 5 (the second movie released) is by far the best of them. Gritty and dark with plenty of action this movie strikes the right note throughout, and with it Lucas showed he wasn’t afraid to let his protagonists suffer a little. The movie has plenty of action, and the films greatest moment comes when ultimate movie bad-guy, Darth Vader teaches his son a lesson, schooling him with a lightsaber before eventually chopping his hand off. No Jar Jar in this movie.
5 – Lethal Weapon
This ultimate 80s buddy cop movie pairs the unlikely tandem of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as cops trying to prevail against a vicious gang of drug smugglers. Gibson’s character has both homicidal and suicidal tendencies which make him an amusing counterpoint to the older, more conservative character played by Danny Glover. Gibson is ultimately more dangerous to public safety than any bad guy in this movie, and action, explosions and cheesy one-liners abound.
4 – Predator
When putting together the list of the top 10 action movies of the 80s, one thing was abundantly clear: Arnie would need to appear more than once. Predator is all about guns and muscles. That’s it. What more do you need from an action movie really? The most amazing thing about this movie? Arnie is the best actor in it.
3 – The Road Warrior
Mel Gibson, not to be outdone by the Governator, makes his second appearance on this top 10 list. Mad Max returns in this even more violent sequel that takes place in the desert wasteland of Australia after an apocalyptic nuclear war. Gasoline is liquid gold, and Mad Max provides his own violent brand of vehicular homicide against the bike gang that is trying to terrorize them.
2 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Han Solo or Indiana Jones? Which character is cooler? Too tough to call. The first chapter in a series that now spans 4 movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark electrified audiences with its daring stunts and spectacular chases through ancient cities. I almost hate to include it on this list, as the acting and storyline are so far above many other candidates on this list. Still, it is a great action movie, and is thus deserving of a spot as one of the top 10 action movies of the 80s.
1 – Die Hard
Was there any question? How could this movie not be number one. John McClane is the ultimate one man wrecking crew, and the relentless barrage of bullets, blood, and classic one-liners make Die Hard the runaway victor in this category. The Die Hard series has been hit and miss over the years, but the original is truly a cinematic classic.