By: John M Jerva
Today, Chuck Norris is 82 years young and unlike Mark Dacascos’ birthday, I got the right date this time. It’s no secret that Norris has been influential in not only my love of action films but he’s also personally responsible for my love of the martial arts as well to which I have been practicing for well over thirty years now. Ever since I saw Chuck’s early entries like The Octagon, Forced Vengeance and, of course, Lone Wolf McQuade way back in the early 80’s, I have been a rabid fan of the icon of action ever since. Mr. Norris was a big part of the 80’s action boom and even though his films never reached the box office heights of like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, he still is an icon in the genre both on and off the screen.
Last year, on Chuck’s birthday, I was planning on doing a top 10 countdown of my favorite films of his but sadly, life got in the way, and it never happened. Today, I am suffering from a neurological disorder, so writing is a challenge to say the least so instead of a top 10, I’m going to do an abbreviated top 5 of the man that the Grim Reaper is even afraid of. Now this is my list and I do feel that I’m an expert on the matter so please be kind in your responses as I’m sure you all will have different choices.
Without further ado, here is the Action-Flix Top 5 Chuck Norris action movies of all time!
Strangely enough, Missing in Action was supposed to be the second film of the trilogy and the first two were filmed back-to-back but when the producers saw the other film, they felt that this one was the stronger of the two so this one hit theaters first. They then made the second film a prequel even though it didn’t really measure up timeline wise with the other film.
I digress though and don’t really care but Missing In Action is a solid bring ’em back home Vietnam action film that was a popular sub-genre in the 80’s which has Norris starring as one of his most popular characters, Colonel James Braddock. In true action cinema fashion, Braddock is a one man army, as he blasts his way back into Nam to rescue American POW’s that the world has written off.
The movie features enough action to satisfy, and it has one of the best set pieces as Braddock whizzes around on a speed boat as he lets loose with an M-60 machine gun. Countless Vietnamese soldiers bite the bullet and Norris is in true form as he even gets to deliver some hand to hand combat in a few scenes.
This film also has one of my favorite Chuck Norris moments as Braddock erupts out of the water and blasts away with said M-60 as a bunch of enemy soldiers are laughing because they think they got him. Boy were they wrong and they get shredded to pieces in spectacular slo-mo fashion.
The ending is also one of the best as well as, during a conference where the Vietnamese government is about to put to rest any rumors that there are POW’s in the country, Braddock erupts into the courtroom with the prisoners as the credits roll. It’s one Hell of a moment and gives me some serious goose bumps every time I watch it.
Pretty much most of my favorite Chuck Norris movies are from his time with Cannon Films and this one is no exception. As plots go, Invasion USA is totally absurd and the way the enemy handles it is almost laughable but once again who cares as Norris’ ex-CIA operative Matt Hunter is the only one that can stop a terrorist attack on American soil.
Yes, it’s one-man army time again and Hunter is more than up to the task as he roams around in his custom truck as he vaporizes numerous terrorists with his double Mac-10 submachine guns that are shoulder holstered to him. It really is a grand sight as Hunter seems to know where the next attack will be even before the bad guys do. When you’re this good, you just
Invasion USA features the late, great Richard Lynch as Rostov, the head of the terrorist group and Lynch made a great living playing every bad guy in an 80’s action movie. Lynch just had that look and he sold it time and time again as here he is even more slimy than usual.
The movie has one of the greatest finales ever as the US National Guard shows up to eradicate the threat and it’s one huge firefight that includes explosions, tanks, helicopters and countless rounds of ammo. The sight of all the terrorists running out of the building only to see America’s Armed Forces at the ready is truly a geat action film moment.
Let’s not forget that when all that chaos is going on outside, Hunter is inside eliminating a contingent of baddies led by Rostov. Norris uses his double submachine guns to once again vaporize everyone and anyone and then has his climatic showdown with Rostov which ends spectacularly with Hunter blowing Rostov away as they duel with portable rocket launchers. Roll credits. Fabulous.
Code of Silence is one of two non-Cannon Films on the list and this one is clearly the biggest budgeted movie of Norris’ career and was on par with any other cop thriller that came out in the 80’s. Norris plays elite Chicago police detective Eddie Cusack who gets tangled in the middle of a mob war where anyone is fair game, even the innocent.
To make matters worse, Cusack’s own brothers in blue are against him because he wants to take down an irresponsible cop who made a deadly mistake because he was intoxicated. This film is heavy on the drama as well as the action and this is probably one of Norris’ best performances. The late, great Henry Silva is at his vile best as Luis Comacho, the leader of one of the mob families. Silva, like Lynch, played the bad guy in action films to perfection and here is no different. He’s just plain scary in this movie.
The action is plentiful though as there are numerous shootouts, a top tier bar brawl that has Eddie taking on a whole bar because his comrades won’t come help him. This scene is Norris’ moment to shine in hand-to-hand combat and he busts out some of his signature skills including the slo-mo jump kick money shot. Thank the lord he was wearing his Chuck Norris signature kicking jeans as he needed all the extension he could get.
Don’t worry though, Norris gets to go into one man army mode again as he assaults a warehouse full of mobsters to rescue a hostage. The scene is a bullet riddled ballet of carnage that features Cusack using am attack robot to help him out that has machine guns and rocket launchers attached to it. There’s no Karate at the end but Norris definitely blows away a score of assailants before the credits roll.
The score, created by David Micael frank, just oozes 80’s police crime-thriller vibes and is a testament to the times. It fits this type of movie perfectly and it goes without saying that frank really outdid himself here.
This one was helmed by Andrew Davis who was also responsible for directing the big, budgeted action films Under Siege with Seagal and The Fugitive with Harrison ford so this one is certainly on another level. A solid cop thriller all around punctuated with Chuck Norris signature action.
The second movie on the list that doesn’t hail from Cannon is also number 2 on the list itself. It’s the down and dirty, gritty action movie Lone Wolf McQuade and it stars Norris as no-nonsense Texas Ranger JJ McQuade. This character is actually the template that they used for Norris’ Walker: Texas Ranger series although that character was more watered down for network television.
McQuade is another fan favorite character of Norris, and this is the movie that had the well-advertised, climatic showdown with fellow martial arts star David Carradine who played the antagonist Rawley Wilkes, a low life arms dealer who proceeds to go after McQuade and his family when the Texas Ranger gets too close to his illegal operation. I remember when this movie came out and all the advertising was built on this one fight. A smart ploy and one that paid off for action film buffs. I did a Foot Fist Friday article a while back where I talked specifically about this iconic fight and you can read it here.
Norris is at his male chauvinistic best as JJ McQuade and he’s the type of Lone Wolf (get it?) that liked to do things his own way to the dismay of his superiors. McQuade constantly gives the middle finger to his bosses throughout the movie and basically takes down the whole operation himself. He does get some help from a rookie partner named Kayo, played by Robert Beltran and a seasoned FBI agent played by Leon Isaac Kenedy so Norris isn’t all one-man army here, but we’ll give him a pass.
The movie is never boring as there is an action sequence every ten minutes or so and Norris gets ample opportunity to display his fists of fury throughout.
The finale is epic as McQuade, and company launch their all-out assault on Wilkes’ compound and the bullets and explosions definitely satisfy here. This all culminates in the throwdown between McQuade and Wilkes which is a thoroughly entertaining beatdown between two notable action stars. This fight happens to be one of my favorite Chuck Norris fights and is as advertised.
The musical score from Francesco De Masi is epic and it gives me chills to this day with its grand overture. The music starts with haunting whistling, and it just builds to a climatic crescendo that is unrivaled in action movies and it gives this film an epic feel to it. You just have to hear to know what I’m talking about. This score is perfect for our lone hero and delivers a Western tinge to the movie which is essentially a modern day hi-tech Western.
Yes, I know I’m going to take abuse from some of you out there for making this movie number one, but this is my list, so your argument is invalid. The Delta Force is Cannon Films’ equivalent to a disaster epic as it stars a host of celebrities from the day, and it is epic in its scope and execution. The Delta Force is hands down one of the most sensational displays of action mixed with true human drama as Norris and Lee Marvin star as Scott McCoy and Nick Alexander respectively, who are the leaders of America’s top secret anti-terrorist unit. The movie also stars the late, great Steve James who was a fixture of Cannon Films.
Fun fact, the movie was announced with Charles Bronson attached to star in the role Marvin would take and there were even promo posters made up with Bronson on them. The role eventually went to Marvin and this would be his last film before he passed away.
Norris and Marvin are at their macho bravado best as they lead the elite soldiers in a breathtaking rescue mission when terrorists, led by the late, great Robert Forster as Abdul in one of his best performances, hijack a passenger airliner. The ordeal covers the first half of the movie as viewers are thrust into the claustrophobic situation and it generates some real tension and uneasiness, and the cast are all terrific. There’s a real sense of dread throughout as the terrorists put the passengers through hell and the slow burn first half compliments the rousing second half when Norris, Marvin and company do their thing in glorious 80’s action fashion.
And what a second half it is as the payoff is delicious with The Delta Force launching their offensive complete with amped up motorcycles and dune buggies that are armed to the teeth with machine guns and missiles. It truly is a marvelous sight, and the ending is always the way we would want it to play out in real life. The whole last 45 minutes is endless action and there’s enough explosions and bullets whizzing through the air to drive any action fan into a tizzy. Plus, we get Norris sliding down a wire as he unloads a hail of machine gun fire into some unfortunate baddies. Really, what’s not to love?
The musical score from famed composer Alan Silvestri is glorious 80’s action movie synthesizer magic and it is my favorite action film score from this time period. The music is just a sweeping echo of what makes 80’s action great, and it is definitely one that fans know when it starts playing. It’s a rousing score worthy of the heroes in the movie. I have it literally on my Spotify list and listen to it regularly as it always motivates me.
Norris gets his hand-to-hand moment when he literally beats Forster to a pulp. It’s a one-sided affair where Forster’s terrorist slime ball gets what is coming to him and it is a grand payoff to see McCoy hand Abdul his own ass.
I saw The Delat Force three times in the theaters and made my parents but it when out came out on Home Video where I proceeded to watch it five times or more a week. There’s just something about seeing America kick the shit out of terrorists because we all know that life isn’t like the movies so to see Norris and company do what they do here is a welcome sight.
Well, there you go. Happy Birthday Chuck and even though you are retired from action films, you are and will always be one of the toughest sons of bitches out there. You personally instilled my love of action and martial arts within me, and I will never forget that. Here’s to many more birthday celebrations and you will always live on through the high-octane entertainment you gave us throughout the decades. Cheers to the best of the best…
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