The 1980’s was a wondrous decade for films, action films in particular. Muscle men such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, became actors, fulfilling the roles of fantasy and of war. Of course, not all action heroes are defined by muscle, some have to use their intelligence. And let us not forget that this decade brought us a female action hero leading a film! There are many to choose from, but for now let’s look at the 10 action films from the 1980’s, to watch at least once.
Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones, an archaeology professor and adventurer. The opening scenes invited me in by showing one of his adventures first, however he doesn’t pose in the professor role for long. This film is filled with superb action scenes. Jones must find the location of the Ark before the Nazis do, as Hitler believes that it would make his army invincible. Well we can’t have any of that can we? I also liked the interaction between Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and she proved time after time that she was not a damsel in distress.
First Blood 1982
Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, a veteran Green Beret who fought in the Vietnam war. He has to rely on his skills of guerrilla warfare as he butts heads with the local, ignorant Washington Sheriff Will Teasle played by the amazing Brian Dennehy. This is definitely one of the early films to tackle PTSD and war veterans, because let’s face it, they have seen the horrors of the inhumanity of war. It also prepared us for what was yet to come.
Escape from New York 1981
Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisskin. Set in 1997, the United States has become crime-ridden. Air Force One has been hijacked and deliberately crashed in Manhattan, which has become converted to a maximum security prison. Plisskin, an ex-soldier and current inmate has the task of retrieving him, he is given 24 hours to do so. If he is successful, then he will be pardoned. John Carpenter directed this, it seems a jump away from the horror films that he is associated with, Halloween for example.
Conan the Barbarian 1982
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Conan in this epic sword and sorcery tale. We follow his odyssey from a young boy, who has become enslaved after his parent’s brutal murder by the savage warlord and sorcerer, Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan grows to become a fearless and invincible fighter, who seeks revenge for the murder of his parents and tribe. This is Schwarzenegger’s first feature film, and he was cast because of his chiselled and muscular physique.
Big Trouble in Little China 1986
Kurt Russell appears again, with John Carpenter directing. This time in a playful romp, but with plenty of action. A rough and ready trucker helps his friend rescue his fiancée from an ancient sorcerer in a supernatural battle in Chinatown. Kim Cattrall (probably best known for portraying Samantha in Sex and the City) also stars as the spunky lawyer, Gracie Law who also becomes kidnapped, due to her distinctive features.
The Terminator 1984
Arnie again! This time as a cyborg/android who has travelled from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a woman named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she becomes pregnant with John Connor. Also, John Connor, (who happens to be the key to human salvation against robots) from the future has sent a foot soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to warn her, but you know time travel, something always happens!
Jean Claude Van Damme portrays Frank Dux, a martial artist and military man. He has dedicated most of life training, so that he can participate in the Kumite, the ultimate martial arts tournament in Hong Kong, known for its severity where participants are seriously injured, or even killed. He defies orders not to attend and is pursued by military police who follow him to Hong Kong. As Frank advances in the tournament, he ultimately will have to face Chong Li, who notoriously kills his opponents.
48 Hrs. 1982
A tough guy cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) reluctantly teams up with a big mouth criminal, Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) who is temporarily paroled to him on a forged 48 hour pass, so that they can track down his old partner Albert Ganz (James Remar) who killed Cate’s colleague. This film is Eddie Murphy’s acting debut after much success from Saturday Night Live This has been considered to be the first buddy-cop comedy style collaboration paving the way for Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, you get my drift!
I had to include this one, because this film was and hopefully still is important to women, both inside and out of the film industry. Why? Sigourney Weaver leads this film. Yes, she has reprised her role as Ripley, she is fricking leading this film, and she kicks ass, particularly aliens’ ass! It has been 57 years since Ellen Ripley encountered the alien and survived. She reprises her role to assist a group of colonial marines fighting against extra-terrestrials. While the marines do their best to defend themselves, Ripley does her best to protect a little girl, who is the sole survivor of the space colony.
Die Hard 1988
Bruce Willis is John McClane, a New York policeman visiting his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at her workplace in Los Angeles, at the Nakatomi Plaza during the holiday season. While they are there, for a Christmas party, he soon becomes embroiled in a cat and mouse game with a group of criminals led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) that are intent on a lucrative heist. This is Bruce Willis’ debut as a movie star as well as an action star. He was previously known for his role in Moonlighting as David Addison Jr. This is also one of the last action films made wholesome, as I would like to think, because the following decade had very different ideas about how to perceive an action hero.
Whether you saw these films the first time around, or only just getting around to them, in my humble opinion, these 80’s action films have to be seen at least once.