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. Nate and Hayes
A flat-out badass pirate epic that is quite the underrated crowdpleaser. What Indiana Jones as a throwback to adventure serials, this delivers easily the best swashbuckler tribute. Headed by Tommy Lee Jones (Coal Miner’s Daughter) and Michael O’Keefe (Caddyshack), the characterization is also dazzling and the film never bores with its twisted fun.
One of many adaptations of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels featuring Peter Coyote as the scheming professional criminal protagonist. The film also has its fair yet vivid share of horror-like imagery while always being rather mind-bending with the heists themselves.The double-crosses manage to be rather suspenseful and the whole film, like many movies selected on this list, welcomes tons of Neo-Noir level style- all without running out of steam or feeling derivative. Either way, one can def not say that this is one of the weaker Westlake adaptations at the end of the day.
8. Uncommon Valor
Another ‘Nam rescue epic with an all-star cast that includes Gene Hackman, Reb Brown, Patrick Swayze and more up-and-comers. The training sequences take their sweet time but are just as interesting as the final showdowns. It helped that it was by the director of First Blood, OTT actor Wings Hauser contributed the story and it’s about the rescue of a son who served in the Army with the veteran father having to really tread carefully. Eat up the melodrama and jungle combat!
Often labeled as a guilty pleasure for the Roger Moore era of James Bond, this film still has a groovy opening, some fun villain fights and a stellar title Bond girl. I always found the stairway fight and gunplay to be the perfect mixture of shit-eating-grin laughs and badass action display. The music really reminds the viewer to have a fun time, everchanging locations are appropriately eye-catching and the whole thing is just the equivalent of a laid-back restaurant where you want to not only try out everything on the menu but don’t want to go home as it’s that flippin’ pleasant.
6. 10 to Midnight
Lone Wolf McQuade might be a popular one but I’m with Team Charles Bronson as opposed to Team Chuck Norris so bias got the best of me here. Primarily a mystery flick, it still has the badass moments when needed. Thrilling in even the quietest of moments and an above-average killer make this exploitation picture overall rather more respectable than one would initially suspect (no, not a pun on that last part). The cat-and-mouse games are sound but then when you get to the legal courtroom (this isn’t the only film on this list that does that), it gets all the more entertaining that you can’t wait for the inevitable “settling outside” finale that’s sure to come. The non-action based dramatic material is also uncanny but never weird or flat-out cringe-inducing like so many a Cannon picture tended to be around this time. A pleasant surprise about gritty material with some occasionally witty dialogue which makes up for the gratuitousness on occasion.
Endgame was more Italian post-apocalyptic garbage that merited no entertainment out of even the lowest of the low-brow standards. An arguably superior remake of the 1960 French New Wave flick of the same name, this is an unrecognizably perfect role for a younger Richard Gere. Always energetic and appropriately welcoming, you, the viewer, end up wanting to strap up and follow the car thief around as he spirals towards inevitable failure while wanting to know more about his troubled lifestyle. It helps that everyone starts showing unusual charisma as the film goes on longer and there’s enough obstacles to want to see how everything will play out. The Las Vegas setting only adds to the mayhem and you’ll def feel out of air when the film finally winds down. For all the stupid material that couldn’t work in real life, you at least feel compelled to go along for the ride as the film is very relaxed in nature inbetween all the intensity.
4. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Krull, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain and The Keep have some action/adventure elements but are still mainly fantasy flicks so I went with the most epic fantasy film from this year. I don’t find it better than the original SW film or Empire Strikes Back but it’s still a mostly solid outing. The ewoks are a silly kids’ additional marketing ploy but the battles and themes are still just as epic once you get to the main portion of the plot and past the Jabba’s palace escape opening.
Eddie Macon’s Run was rather weak, wrong sauce overall and it didn’t improve, let alone have enough gags or captiating things to move its mayhem along. A fun fantasy genre experience, the synthesized music only keeps one glued to the tube all the more so. Beyond dream-like with how it’s shot and captured thru both natural and studio lighting, it easily rivals any Conan, Beastmaster or even Hawk the Slayer type adventure flick. Always attention-getting and rather pleasant to experience, it’s def a cult film you’ll want to invite your moviebuff homies over for.
While this film got shipped around at Cannes, it had to be recut due to graphic shotgun-laden violence and find a distributor so I’ll go with the wide release on this one (and besides, if I put it on the Best Action of 1982 list, there would be no room so it’s going over here!). Regarding the film itself, it tackles an endlessly hopeless city and it manages to be a cool excuse for said title anti-crime groups without feeling like an angry rant or annoyingly vulgar answer to Death Wish. The set pieces, especially the furious courtroom scene which sets off all the remaining events in the film, are all pitch-perfect in their own right and should easily be studied by any filmmaking class on how to make a simple yet above-average revenge picture. The eerie soundtrack is a perfect example on how to layer different moods throughout a film instead of be repetitive or cliche as hell. The cast are all dynamite while giving career-best performances if nothing else.
I hated this epic growing up and watching it but there was always something about I wanted to know more about. In the end, I am merely a fool as this film is just flat-out epically great all around! Endlessly quotable, twisted yet decisive and balls-out testosterone-fueled, it’s a welcome excuse for violent ranting and Godfather 2.0 type crime fare. It’s got so many memorable characters and manages to lay it all out there without doing more than it can actually chew with its giant material. And unlike most films running nearly 3 hours, it doesn’t feel like it once one gets sucked into the gruesome world. Saddle up the Blu-Ray, put on the party game-type extras (like the on-screen deaths and profanity counting meters), have a mixed group of people both who have and haven’t witnessed it and you’ll embrace a film unlike any other.
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