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. Runaway Train
While we did have other Bronson goodness like Death Wish 3, I had to go with something more agreeable for all tastes- also coincidentally by the Cannon group. One of two Kurosawa scripted films on this list, this one def pulls off the dramatics rather well. The audience actually feels like they’re on the out-of-control train with the prison escapees without the film actually becoming an unorganized, heavy-handed stuntshow.
8. Warning Sign
Tuff Turf is a neat high school and crime action-drama- one that’s so stellar that it’s too good for even New World Pictures’ usual modus operandi. Nonetheless, despite the characters and soundtrack being pure perfection, I had to edge out this post to a great disaster film that’s also semi-zombie and viral lockdown procedure. Enemy Mine was great but not always the most action-packed and this film is a great double-feature with anyone looking for an Alien/Geroge Romero-type blockbuster that blends Horror themes with Action thrills and unforced social commentary. Featuring an all-star cast with Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields) as the sheriff, Kathleen Quinlan (Twilight Zone: The Movie) as his security guard grilfriend, G.W. Bailey (Police Academy) as one of the arrogant scientists, Yaphet Kotto (Live and Let Die) as the mysterious military authority and Jeffrey DeMunn (The Hitcher) as the reluctant town doctor- all who get involved in tackling a potential mutant bacteria outbreak. It manages to be attention-getting, neer drag and be more than just a good genre picture but one that is respectably-made in most areas while being a rather thoughtful real-life environmental thriller in addition to all those others positives.
American Ninja is a Cannon classic but arguably it’s hardly a best Action film of the year pick despite it making Dudikoff the cult genre film star he was back then. The Holcroft Covenant might be a far more respectable spy picture but it’s not gonna be for all audiences nor does it have the rapid-fire action so let’s go with one of the best shit-sandwiches of the world! To Live and Die in L.A. is stylish but might as well be a Miami Vice spin-off as opposed to an easy-to-predict theatrical outing. Providing far more silly live-action yet Saturday morning type cartoonishness, it still has some identity of what it is while embracing the whacky training montags and non-stop dangerous missions. It’s also far more creative than most cult films of this era because, I mean come on, it’s got spy-trained gymnasts saving the world while playing an Enter the Dragon type death game while intense Jmaes Bond knock-off music plays. That’s awesomeness that Remo Williams wishes it could’ve pulled off but didn’t.
6. Avenging Angel/Angel 2
A rather consistent sequel which makes one wish this had not only been a bigger hit for New World Pictures but the next Death Wish type franchise given it’s gritty atmosphere, the quick set-up picking up instantly from where the previous exploitation film left off and with a very layered score by Christopher Young (Hellraiser 1 & 2, Species). The film goes from being a vigilante thriller to a cop mystery to a kidnapping thriller all in due time! There’s also various scene-stealing performances by numerous veteran and B-movie regulars including one lunatic criminal played by the always great Ross Hagen!
5. Day of the Dead
While the Romero knock-off Return of the Living Dead was also intense, nothing is better than the real quotable deal. While it’s not as long and arguably not as balanced, quotable, exciting or as mind-blowing as the previous sequel, Dawn of the Dead, it is still nonetheless better well-scored, has more vicious cast of characters, far more terrifying and intense overall. Even some of the gaffing, foley and make-up are some of Romero and crew’s more inspired choices for this go-around. The quieter moments and build-up also make us care a tad more for the heroes especially since they’re having to rely on some of the worst of the worst scumbags to accomplish the impossible task of handling the seemingly endless wave of zombies.
Don’t be like some of the characters and fear collapsing from stress as their pain is your entertainment and this is the show that The Walking Dead should’ve been yet never ever was in all honesty! Now for those millennials that you’re introducing to this mayhem, tell those dumb fucks to get over here and watch it already (the movie’s words not mine!).
4. Rocky IV
While Stick was watchable fun, it was hardly one of the best Action films of the year, despite it being one of Burt Reynolds’ better outings. Silverado was a solid tribute to classic Westerns but it does take awhile to build up to the explosive mayhem it promises. it’s easy to see why some consider this one of the worst sequels of all time but, come on, those peeps are killjoys. You can love goofy films made with a heart of gold. Ivan Drago is one of the biggest scene-stealing villains, the speeches are low-brow yet stellar and the soundtrack is phenomenal. What else do I need to say other than that anyone who can’t have fun with this seriously needs some help.
3. Rambo: First Blood Part II
Shamelessly full of itself, not a care in the world and still well-acted inbetween all the betrayals and war combat rescues, this movie is coming to get you so you better be ready like Murdock was! An overall fun over-the-top display of mayhem, it does it all so naturally and yet so batshit insane that in many ways it formed its own kind of genre of Action film. Unrecognizable from the first film, it still in many ways makes it stand out all the more by being so different. Most action fans will have already seen it many a time if they’re reading this now but if anything, I recommend introducing it to newcomers and being ready to quote scenes as they play so that way they understand the appeal of this escapade.
Noted as having its end finale be ripped off from Rambo 2, it still does its job so much better than the next guy. Far more quotable, even more badass and a one of a kind one-man-army in John Matrix. Director Lester makes use of Joel Silver’s massive budget and Steven E de Souza provides his usually intense yet foul-mouthed characterizations. It’s a winner for everyone involved and like many of the films on this list, it’s a great party game. It’s not just Bennett and antagonist Bennett who are quotable, it’s virtually all the other side villains who are also amusing in their wording of how they’re going to kick Matrix’s ass.
I know that most will mention Back to the Future but I always felt like it got overplayed much like any popular ’70s/’80s Top 20 radio hit. And since “popular” doesn’t always necessarily mean “the best of the best,” and it got done to death with sequels, I have to go with the Master Filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and one of his latter yet still stellar gems.This Japanese dynasty reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear is beyond fascinating and is a must-see, especially if you notice it’s playing at a retro movie theater or get it dirt cheap to test out on your home theater system. It’s always tragically beautiful inbetween the exciting build-up to the final gory battle.
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