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. The Evil That Men Do
Despite some rough sections at the beginning, this film isn’t stupid and is far more of a respectable B-picture as opposed to going the exploitation route like earlier Bronson pictures tended to tread. Holland makes for one of Bronson’s better hired gun/anti-hero characters, he has a good leading gal to play off of and the morality on human rights abuses for prisoners in South America isn’t heavy-handed, if not 100% completely constructed in the best way. It manages to be as suspenseful as one of the better 007 films without reliance on spy intrigue and the stealthy dispatching of one of the mansion’s security cameras and end car chase are both just flat-out stellar in their presentation. Aside from the creative dispatches of the numerous baddies, it still hosts plenty of surprises and its music manages to convey many cautious yet perilous tension foreshadowing as needed. I also think that many filmbuffs will dig how near the end, Bronson has to travel through a run-down village while encouraging the inhabitants to fight back at the end, which is a nice tribute to Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, let alone a throwback to Bronson’s earlier hit, The Magnificent Seven.
9. Wheels on Meals
There’s countless other outrageous films released for this year. It includes: The Lost Empire, Blastfighter, 2020 Texas Gladiators, Alley Cat and Le Marginal. At the end of the day, why not go with the Hong Kong Three Stooges equivalent Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung? Slow at first and partial hit-and-miss with its amusing antics initially, it still is rather comfortable showcasing a loose P.I. and food truck co-workers storyline before ditching it for some non-stop choreography, swordplay, car chases and crime comedy galore. And as often mentioned, the finale with opposer Benny “The Jet” Urquidez truly hits the spot. Hard as it can hit it that is!
8. Repo Man
A cult robbers-and-losers picture that won’t be for all, this nevertheless holds up on a repeat viewing or as a party movie. A genre mash-ups of Action-Crime-SciFi-Mystery-Comedy, it’s a one of a kind picture that could easily make John Carpenter jealous. Catchy soundtrack, addictingly quirky and almost its own subgenre of film, this film is a great ride and viewers shall have plenty of discussion afterwards when it’s concluded. A batch of then-unknown and reknown cult character actors all leave a whacky first impression and Emilio Estevez is up to the task of being the lead star without overshadowing or hogging everyone else’s moments in the sun. Speaking of sun, this film looks great and conveys its many moods without losing sight of its tone and some of its conspiracy and social commentary manages to enter without intruding on the actual enjoyment of this rebellious yet deliberately insane world it’s crafted. And once you’ve seen it, get ready to rewatch it and be ready to quote it the next time your pals bring it up!
7. The Pope of Greenwich Village
The Naked Face has some partial action but is primarily a mystery-crime thriller with some brief action instances and since it’s both inconsistent with the action and it’s heavy-handed twist(?) ending comes out of nowhere, I can only recommend it to Roger Moore completists as opposed to a Year’s Best contender. Going with this gambling film which features real-life pals Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts and Daryl Hannah in career-best roles, the whole film propels and fascinates from beginning to end. Neat hustling, foot chases and creative montages help make the drama more personal to the viewer and it truly pays off in the end, that’s for sure.
Light on action until mainly the second portion, this film is still relentless in exposing (no pun) another seedy crime world where a teen prostitute decides to unleash her vengeance on mysterious necrophiliac serial killer who’s terrorizing her colleagues. Adding to the vigilante subgenre of Taxi Driver and Death Wish, this film easily leaves its own mark by being its own deal while also having some quirky characters, supporting cop protagonists and other mystery to form its own identity and before it’s over, you actually want more of this gritty world to view.
A cyberpunk film that’s easily one of the best for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures brand, this owes its existence to Blade Runner and The Terminator but it easily gives next year’s Back to the Future a run for its money. However, the time-travel itself and heroic cop character of Jack Deth, so smoothly and stellarly portrayed by comedian Tim Thomerson, make this film all the more gripping. A shameless B-picture, it still has some nifty photography, themes and chases while also embracing its goofier moments. The zombie-like Body Snatchers-type creatures aren’t schlocky, the deliberate ’80s L.A. setting and synthesizer-heavy score all make the film deeper than it actually is but if you’re in the mood for escapism, it should deliver.
4. Streets of Fire
An instant Walter Hill neo-western classic with a rock-tastic ’80s soundtrack and fun villains, this futuristic yet ’50s-styled, feature-length music video is like many of these films on the list: one of a kind (and in a good way!). The characters are all rowdy yet badass and the western type showdowns put other modern-day westerns to shame with its no-holds-barred yet welcome vibe. It just shows one that it’s possible to make a different yet mainstream fantasy with a loose yet intriguing story and be indescribable at times (much like Repo Man) yet make sense with its own twisted logic. Many actors early in their career get started here while having plenty to do and the two leads Lane and Pare both convince with their chemistry. I have yet to find anyone who violently dislikes this film and that’s probably because there’s no such damn thing!
3. Beverly Hills Cop
Much like Streets of Fire, this film has a dreamy look. Much like Repo Man, it’s stunningly shot (especially for a crew that wasn’t experienced filming Action movies before). And unlike Jack Deth, the protagonist Axel Foley is known worldwide for being the funniest, badass Detroit detective. The change of scenery, improvised comedy, soundtrack and car rides not only sum up what made ’80s films their own signature but it is the virtual existence of this ’80s classic. It just shows you that when you combine a cop revenge premise with buddy comedy content that scripting isn’t the most germane and being comfortable being your own identity is! Much like Caddyshack and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, this is a perfect film that you just could not recreate today and the fact that every generation references it and views it continually each year is a testament to its magic.
2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock had some brief action near the end but it was overall a like-it-or-hate-it follow-up that still couldn’t outdo the previous chapter in the franchise. Enter the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark where the pre-established world gets deeper, the adventures quite deadlier, the one-liners far catchier and mayhem far gorier than expected. I wasn’t the biggest fan about it initially until the finale but nowadays it’s its own gem, especially for having more dark fantasy/horror elements half the time along with the creative deathtraps. The villain isn’t as notable but Short Round makes for a likeable side-kick while Willy is annoying yet cute. It might not be superior but it’s still a solid continuation of the trilogy (yes, this is only a trilogy in so many people’s eyes!).
1. The Terminator
This is the film that made violent scifi, time-travel and action-packed, semi-slasher films cool for many. A mostly original concept that does plenty with its gimmick while also having a well-crafted horror vibe. So many scenes can be broken down and analyzed from the subtexted dialogue to the suspenseful build-up. And as more of the material gets let out of the bag, it still manages to get more chaotic without losing sight of what it’s trying to accomplish: another troubled good vs. seemingly unstoppable evil reflection. Enjoy the neverending ride, be amazed at how bigger it is than it’s actual low-budget indicated initially and see one of the few genre pictures to successfully use special and isual effects to actually enhance an already solid story.
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