I love action movies and the 80s was arguably the best time for action movies. There’s something special about the action movies that came out during the 80s.
Now for me at least, 80s action movies hold a very special place in my little nostalgic heart. I grew up on them, the blood, the gunfire and the explosion’s, I loved it all! This list took me a while to put together and as I was writing this up and was still struggling with it. This list could have been 150 movies, it started with almost 100 even.
Without further adieu, here are my quintessential 80s action movies… (Part 1)
30. Commando (1985)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya and Vernon Wells
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is a retired Special Forces Colonel. After a group of mercs kill off his entire crew, they come for him and kidnap his daughter. They also capture Matrix while trying to stop them.
That’s when he learns the mercs are lead by his ex-member Bennett (Wells), who’s working for a man named Arius (Hedaya), who wants to force Matrix into a political assassination at the risk of them killing his daughter. matrix agrees, but then quickly turns on them, taking matters into his own hands.
He boards a plane with one of the bad guys, kills him and then jumps from the plane like a true badass. He has until the plane lands to get his daughter back before Arius finds out he’s not on the plane. Matrix works his way through the bad guys one at a time until he finds Arius’ compound and that’s when the explosions really hit the fan.
29. Red Dawn (1984)
Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Powers Boothe
Directed by: John Milius
When the United States becomes isolated due to NATO disbanding, they become the target of the Russkis or the Soviet Union along with Cuba. It was a cold September day when they came parachuting into Calumet, Colorado. No one was ready for the hostile takeover.
All Hell breaks loose as the soldiers begin shooting anyone and everyone at the school. Jed Eckert (Swayze), his brother Matt (Sheen) and some of their friends are able to flee the massacre going on. They make it into town where the Soviets have taken over in a hasty coup (basically CHAZ). They stock up on weaponry and survival equipment and head off into the wilderness.
With the help of Lt. Col. Andrew Tanner (Boothe), who they found shot down. They learn that this isn’t just happening in their hometown, but many places throughout America. The teens also learn about teamwork and how to handle themselves basically in a land war, becoming guerillas essentially. They work to save America as World War III begins.
28. Blue Thunder (1983)
Starring: Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell and Daniel Stern
Directed by: John Badham
Frank Murphy (Scheider) is an experienced chopper pilot. He flew in Vietnam and now flies for the LAPD’s air support division. He’s breaking in a new partner, Richard Lymangood (Stern) and they assist police on the ground catching bad guys.
They get brought on board a special protect with a very high tech new chopper called “Blue Thunder.” This new chopper has all kinds of cool gadgets, one of which is a listening device that lets you hear things being said at a distance. Honestly creepy if real.
Once Murphy and Lymangood get behind the wheel, they use Blue Thunder to follow Murphy’s old war “buddy” Colonel F.E. Cochrane (McDowell), who was the original test pilot, flying Blue Thunder. That’s when they use the listening device to learn the true reason for Blue Thunder and wanting to kill off Murphy. They record the conversation and race against time and the officials and politicians to get the info to the news. In doing so Murphy uses Blue Thunder to fight off Cochrane.
27. Action Jackson (1988)
Starring: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity and Sharon Stone
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
After butting heads with his commander due to a high profile case surrounding the son of Peter Anthony Dellaplane (Nelson), getting away from him and putting him at odds with the public, Detroit Police Department Detective Jericho Jackson (such a badass name), better known as “Action Jackson” (Weathers) continues investigating Dellaplane.
Jackson eventually uncovers a string of murdered trade-union members connected to Dellaplane’s company. He finds that Dellaplane is planning to puppet everything from “behind-the-throne” seat of power. He has hired assassins to take out any uncooperative union officials.
Jackson is set up for the murder of Dellaplane’s wife, who finds out what her husband is doing and kills her. Jackson is then confronted by Dellaplane, who openly admits to everything, including his plan to set up Jackson as the person killing the union officials. This backfires of course as Jackson he’s away and meets Dellaplane for one last rendezvous at his mansion.
26. Tango & Cash (1989)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell and Jack Palance
Directed by: Andrey Konchalovskiy and Albert Magnoli
Raymond Tango (Stallone) and Gabriel Cash (Russell) are the best two cops in Los Angeles. of course, if you were to ask them, they’d both say they were the best. They constantly make major headlines in the paper for their work in taking down drug shipments. All of which are connected to a single criminal organization, headed by Yves Perret (Palance).
After the latest bust, Perret convinces his partners that Tango and Cash (roll credits) must be taken care of. However, Perret doesn’t want them simply killed, no. That would be too “quick and easy” apparently and begins to come up an elaborate plan to frame them and have them sent to prison and there finally kill them.
The plan fails, the two detectives escape prison and set out to get revenge on Perret and to clear their names as well. They get into their souped-up truck, destroy Perret’s drug lab and bring about the end of his whole drug trade as you’d expect from the best two cops in LA.
25. Bloodsport (1988)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Roy Chiao and Bolo Yeung
Directed by: Newt Arnold
Let’s start with the 800 lbs. gorilla in the room. Frank Dux is a fraud, he’s been debunked from every which way possible. I didn’t know that as a kid loving this movie and even now, it’s still great.
We see through flashbacks that Frank Dux (Van Damme) was trained as a teenager in the art of ninjutsu. After Dux and some friends broke into a house and stole a sword, Dux returned it and is caught by the owner, Senzo Tanaka (Chiao). He’s impressed by Dux and so he trains him.
Dux gets invited to fight in the super-secret Kumite, an illegal martial arts tournament in Hong Kong. Dux goes AWOL to take part in the tournament. Once in Hong Kong, Dux befriends Ray Jackson (Gibb), an American brawler that’s also there to fight in the Kumite.
Eventually, Dux gained the ire of champion Chong Li (Yeung) after breaking his record in the Kumite for fastest knockout. First Li sends a message to Dux by crippling Jackson and then sends one to the rest of the Kumite by killing one of his other opponents. Finally, it comes down to Li and Dux and well, seeing Frank Dux is a pathological liar, you know how it ends.
24. Escape From New York (1981)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence and Isaac Hayes
Directed by: John Carpenter
In the far distant future of 1997, the island of Manhattan has been turned into one giant maximum security prison. It has been completely walled off and the United States’ worst criminals have been left inside, forming their own anarchic society.
During a flight over (or near) the prison island, Air Force One is hijacked and the President (Pleasance) is run out and crashes inside the large prison area. The police are dispatched to rescue the President but are informed that Duke (Hayes), the major crime lord in Manhattan has him and will kill him if any more rescue attempts are made.
The police commissioner Bob Hauk (Van Cleef) looks to ex-Special Forces soldier Snake Plissken (Russell) for help. Plissken is serving time for robbing the Federal Reserve and Hauk promises to commute his sentence if he saves the President. There’s also the little detail of a bomb put inside Plissken to make sure he doesn’t take off. So Plissken sneaks his way into the prison, finds the President and works to get out before the bomb goes off or Duke gets his hands on them.
23. Top Gun (1986)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Kelly McGillis
Directed by: Tony Scott
Cougar is the best damn fighter pilot there is, until this one time a MiG locks his missiles onto him. He gets shaken up good and quits flying. This means only one thing. Now Maverick (Cruise) and Goose (Edwards) are the number one flight team on the USS Enterprise (Yes it’s real). This means they’re going to Top Gun.
Honestly, there’s not much of a plot here. They attend Top Gun, which is the Naval Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar. They do fighter jet training and all that cool stuff. Maverick must learn how to control his actions and be less reckless in the air. He also becomes rivals with a fellow student Ice-Man (Kilmer) who’s said to be the best fighter pilot. I assume even better than Cougar.
After a tragedy, Maverick quits but finds himself drawn back in when he’s ordered to join fellow rival Ice-Man on the USS Enterprise. There they’re told of a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters. They must take to the air to protect the ship from six MiGs in one of the coolest dog fight action scenes put on film.
22. G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)
Starring: Don Johnson, Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt and Christopher Collins
Directed by: Don Jurwich
As usual, GI Joe thwarts Cobra and they start bickering on who is to blame this time. Cobra Commander quickly learns that everyone that works for him hates him and blames him for constantly losing to the Joes. It’s then Cobra learns of Cobra-La.
It’s also then revealed that Cobra Commander was once part of Cobra-La and that they’re the one that gave the idea to Dr. Mindbender to create Serpentor. We toys err I mean characters are introduced to us. From Cobra-La there’s the leader Golobulus, Pythona and Nemesis Enforcer, who is a badass in his own right. There’s also a few new Joes, such as Falcon (Johnson) a Green Beret, who is the main focus.
There’s a lot going on, after all, it’s’ a cartoon movie. So the TL;DR is Cobra-La wants to erupt space plant pods in space and have all civilians on Earth breathe it in and become crazed snake monsters. The Joes have to stop it from happening and end Cobra-La for good.
21. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Julia Nickson and Charles Napier
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
After the rampage that Rambo (Stallone) caused in Hope, Washington he’s sent to prison to do hard time. Three years later, his old buddy Colonel Trautman (Crenna) pays him a visit while at the prison labor camp. Now with the Vietnam War over, there’s word of US POWs left behind. Of course, there’s only one man for the job.
Rambo accepts the mission and is taken to Thailand to meet Marshall Murdock (Napier), a bureaucratic government official overseeing the operation. Rambo is told to only take pictures, so the Army knows what they’re up against. Murdock temporarily reinstates Rambo into the US Army for the mission. Once behind enemy lines, he meets his assigned contact, a young woman Co Bao (Nickson).
She takes him to where the POWs are held captive and when Rambo sees one of them crucified and left to die, he deems it necessary to break protocol and save the POWs. They reach the extraction with the Viet Cong hot on their heels only to have the chopper left, due to Murdock calling it to abort because Rambo violated his orders. From there Rambo has to find a new way to escape and save the lives of the POWs.