By: Cam Sully
I continue my mission to rank the best Action films by year. I start with 1980 and continue my route into present-day. As cool as DTV and TV can be, I’m requiring that these films have at least been given a festival or limited theatrical run, contain plentiful action (no brief combat here!) and if there are any sequels the same year then the better of the two gets picked (not both).
10. Rocky III
One of two Stallone classics that made it onto this damn list, this beyond reasonable sequel has some great locker room talk, even more epic training segments and more worthwhile montages getting one ready for the fight finale. To have Apollo Creed and the title protagonist team up makes it all the more epic and while Mr. T convinces as opposer Clubber Lang and isn’t the most notable franchise villain, he still holds his own.
9. 1990: The Bronx Warriors
An over-stylish yet still badass all-around post-apocalyptic cash-in on The Warriors, Escape from N.Y. and Mad Max, this film is comfortable being its own violent vision without being annoying or poorly-paced. This film has a neat score and doesn’t overstay its welcome nor bore despite not always being organized with its vision. Nonetheless, its cast is dedicated and the characters all stand out in their own violent ways.
8. The Beastmaster
I know that most will go with other scifi/fantasy like Conan and The Thing but I think those are mainly of that genre with less action. I got to go with the one that became a new nickname for HBO premium channels (“Hey Beastmaster’s on!”). Comfortable being its own strange brew, no one will ever argue that they didn’t have a shit-eating grin after watching this ‘80s cult movie. The whole film has plenty of what ypu come to expect from goofy awesomeness such as this from animal allies of the hero to random naked people walking around to an epic villain death!
Despite being by Roger Corman’s infamous New World Pictures company, this film has plenty of imagination, cyberpunk display and thrills- all on-board a cool-looking spaceship, mind you! A rather well-done low-budget film, it’s hardly an oddity and more of a hidden gem. It flows well, doesn’t have the infamous moments of most Corman productions and is a neat early subgenre envisioned work overall.
6. 48 Hrs.
Over-familiar with its cat-and-mouse gunplay, this is another film that benefitted from the welcome foul-mouthed dialogue, cultural riffs and the star duo playing rather well off one another. The movie is not just well-timed comedically but also quotable and it ends up being the bigger star. As a whole, this film holds up better than most buddy pictures due to not overstaying its welcome and having the tension well-cranked as well when the plot finally elevates to such.
5. The Challenge
Fighting Back was not a well-constructed yet better constructed cousin to Death Wish so it wasn’t going on this list. Raw Force is an amusing genre mash-up but it’s mainly amusing for the wrong reasons while also having more comedy than actual fighting. The Soldier is one of James Glickenhaus’ less infamous entries but it still is held back by being too self-indulgent and still needing more of a budget to make it to the finish line completely intact. Enter The Challenge, which makes a neat action star out of lead Scott Glenn while having more Enter the Dragon type mystery and some well-choreographed fights by then-unknown Steven Seagal. The film is sometimes a tad too slow by today’s standards but it is a great romp and manages to be reasonable mystical mayhem.
4. One Down, Two to Go
Another Fred Williamson classic makes this list and for good reason. Tailored for the Blaxploitation crowds and anchored like all the men-on-a-mission films, it’s a well-organized vigilante cop action/crime opus making use of each performer and their character. And when you have Richard Roundtree, Jim Kelly and Jim Brown all having their moments and none of the 4-man team overshadows each other. A rewarding display of brutality with the stellar fights one came to see and never a moment that drags!
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
Having the key scene-stealing villain from a highly-rated episode of the original Trek show was a genius idea. Allowing for a neat outer space face-off and finally allowing the Trek franchise to rival the Star Wars films around this same time makes said rivalry a worthy one. Well-framed, scored, paced and all-around exciting from beginning to end, it’s still a cinematic treat thanks to it appealing to a wider audience and not being self-indulgent. When we want to see good vs. evil in space, we want to see it well-realized and after reseeing it for the billionth time, it never gets old shouting the title villain’s name!
2. First Blood
Another Stallone gem makes the rounds here and how could it not? Before the franchise literally goes apeshit, it still resonated with audiences and former military vets for its Bad Day at Black Rock type scenario, perfect build-up and much like the Green Beret protagonist himself, it earned its rank fair and square! Perfectly intense in even its quieter moments, the inevitable rough-housing and gunplay pays off and the film is far more respectable than many like to give it credit for.
1. Blade Runner
A neo-western/action/scifi/drama/fantasy/mystery mash-up that truly delivers still to this very day. In many ways, I credit this film for making me fall in love with detective films without initially realizing it at first! Despite both its lead star and screenwriter disagreeing with director Scott on certain plot elements, it’s an overall consistent vision thanks to well-realized structuring. Instead of being visual effects first, it figures out the humanity, so to speak, of the actual story and the visuals as a result do not distract from the premise. Giving equal stakes and personal conflict to both the human hero and cyborg villain alone makes the film pay off and unlike half the early ‘80s films, it def has stood the test of time better thanks to these positive qualities and expert editing cycling through all this material (and this was before the 3 other different cuts circulated). And when a scifi vanity project gives more than initially expected or promised without feeling unfinished all these years later, that’s a blessing alone!
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