Let’s go back, waaaay back, back in time. To a time when action heroes had big muscles, big guns and bigger hair. Yes, I’m talking about the 80’s. Now, I have a friend at work who swears blind that 80’s action movies are crap. They reuse scenes, the special effects were rubbish and the acting and plots were really bad are the reasons he gives for this ludicrous view point. I would argue that this is what gives them their unique charm.
Think back to Commando. Arnie’s daughter gets kidnapped so he goes on a mad rampage to rescue her, killing some old mercenary buddies along the way whilst delivering witty one liners and firing an M60 machine gun from the hip. Classic. Who cares that when the yellow Porsche flips over, Arnie flips it back on its wheels and it has no damage!? Not me!
When you’re watching Top Gun, are you concerned with the fact some of the aerial dog fighting scenes are reused or are you too busy thinking how cool Maverick is, how much you want to join the American Navy and too busy high fiving your mates whilst playing beach volleyball shirtless (just me on that last bit?). Ok then, moving on swiftly.
Arnie featured heavy in the 80’s, dominating the box office with hits like Predator (my favourite), Red Heat, The Terminator, Raw Deal, The Running Man and, erm, well, Twins. Seriously, these films are anywhere between good and classic. Throw in a couple of Conan movies and The Austrian Oak was the king of Hollywood action.
But wait, hold on you say. What about his main rival for that crown. Jean-Claude Van Damme? He had some good movies but he couldn’t lace Arnie’s jungle boots. Tom Cruise? Not really an action star yet. Who could it be? Yes, you’ve guessed it. The slurring slugger from Philadelphia, Sylvester “Sly” Stallone!
The man behind the Rocky franchise, which let’s face it, made us all want to go boxing after watching him go toe to toe with Apollo Creed twice (in the 70’s albeit), smash Clubber Lang (a great heel turn by Mr T), singlehandedly ended the Cold War by defeating Ivan Drago and……then it stopped, no more Rocky films after that, nope, not that I can remember.
He also played tormented Vietnam vet turned fugitive John Rambo in First Blood. He played him again over the years, most notably in the sequel Rambo: First Blood Part 2, that was off the reservation daft but great entertainment. He also made some other very decent action movies like Cobra, Tango and Cash (underrated) and, erm, Over The Top.
Aliens was also a big hit in the 80’s. Read my article about that here.
Ably supporting these two pillars of action cinema was a certain Bruce Willis, carving out a place in Christmas viewing schedules with a little movie called Die Hard. An instant classic, infinitely quotable (Yippee ki yaaaay, motherf**ker, welcome to the party pal etc).
So, the 90’s. Well, they started much like the 80’s ended, with the two top guys being Sly & Arnie. They had more hits like Total Recall, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man and True Lies but by far and away the biggest hit of the early 90’s was Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Given that Arnie was a megastar by now so they flipped it. They made him the hero, sent to protect the still teenage John Connor from the new more advanced T-1000. Using state of the art ILM technology, the T-1000 (played magnificently by Robert Patrick) was able to morph into different people and make his hands into giant stabby things! Director James Cameron described the battle between the two Cyberdyne models as “like having a Panzer Tank fight a Porsche). A big budget led to big action and big box office and the rest is pop culture history.
Then, in 1995 something happened. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer got his shit together. Big time. He had produced hits in the 80’s but the stretch between 95-98 is lights out. Bad Boys (95), Crimson Tide (95), The Rock (96), Con Air (97) & Armageddon (98) was the stuff of legend. If you saw the Jerry Bruckheimer logo before any film in this period, it was going to be good. I have to say though, my favourite of all of these remains The Rock.
Nicholas Cage teams up with a cool as a mofo Sean Connery to take down a rogue US Marine General Francis X Hummel (the always amazing Ed Harris) and his mercenary Marines who have stolen a bunch of lethal VX poison gas rockets, taken over Alcatraz Island and are ready to end San Francisco with it if their demands are not met. It’s a bloody riot from start to end. Cage is brilliant as lab rat, science nerd FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed, reluctantly in-bedded with a Navy Seal team and an OAP SAS agent (Connery) who is the only man ever to escape Alcatraz, so he helps them break in. Some of the shots in this are fantastic (the SEAL team emerging from underwater, the removal of the guidance chips from the rockets pictured above), it’s funny in places and has a great score.
All in all, the 80’s & 90’s was a golden age of action cinema that didn’t just rely on CGI to create the spectacle. It had muscle!
If there’s anything you think I’ve missed or want to add, comment below. (I know I’ve missed The Matrix, but I’m doing a separate post on that).
Hasta la vista, baby!