August 29, 2014

1987-88: The Best Ever Period for Action Movies?

We all know that action movies were at their absolute finest during the 1980’s; Arnie and Sly were in their prime and 1988 saw the arrival of two new action stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.

During this two year period, we bore witness to some of the greatest action movies of all time, so let’s just take a look at how awesome it really was.

In 1987 we had these absolute classics!



John McTiernan’s other great action movie is essential for any fans of the genre and proves that he really would be the perfect director for an Expendables movie. It’s an ensemble piece where the soldiers actually feel like real people rather than just waiting to say a one-liner. There are still plenty of quips though with Arnie on vintage form as Dutch Schafer. Like the classic Jaws, he Predator himself isn’t revealed until the finale and it’s worth the wait. Although he’s a monstrous killer, he still has a sense of honour and doesn’t kill people if they are unarmed… which is nice.



The original (and best) RoboCop is filled with satire and over the top violence but also has heart and an engaging story. Where the recent remake was bland and far too safe, this movie does it all and isn’t afraid to have limbs blown off… repeatedly. Peter Weller gives a restrained performance as the man turned machine while Kurtwood Smith nearly steals the movie as mega-psycho Clarence Boddicker. I’d buy that for a dollar!


Lethal Weapon

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are a match made in buddy movie heaven in Richard Donner’s classic actioner about two mismatched cops investigating a gang of drug smugglers. This is still the best of the series as it wasn’t ruined by Joe Pesci or any other comic relief characters. Riggs (Gibson) is suicidal and unpredictable with Murtaugh (Glover) the stable family man. Shane Black’s script has plenty of laughs but also heart where you end up totally rooting for these guys to win. Let’s not forget Gary Busey on villainous form as Mr. Joshua. Utterly essential!


The Running Man

The decent version of The Hunger Games has Arnie playing a wrongly convicted man who must try to survive a public execution gauntlet staged as a game show. It has one-liners galore, over the top villains like Dyanmo, Buzzsaw and Subzero and the late great Richard Dawson as the game show host Damon Killian. It has plenty violence with a nice bit of social commentary too. Definitely a classic Arnold movie.


Beverley Hills Cop II

Eddie Murphy is pretty much on career best form in this Tony Scott directed sequel; funnier, slicker and more action-packed than the first movie, Beverly Hills Cop II is definitely a must own. Bridgette Nielsen is great as the villainess too. This time Axel Foley returns to Beverly Hills to help Taggart and Rosewood investigate Chief Bogamil’s near-fatal shooting and the series of “alphabet crimes” associated with it.


The Untouchables

I miss gangster movies like this; it’s been a while since we had one this entertaining but The Untouchables is one of the all-time greats with a cast that includes Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro who are all on fantastic form. Ennio Morricone’s score is not what you’d expect from a gangster movie with Al Capone’s theme being a particular highlight. There are some great shoot-outs and quotable lines too. That’s the Chicago way!


Extreme Prejudice

Walter Hill’s underrated but frankly flawless action movie has one of the best ensemble casts of the 80’s including Michael Ironside, Powers Boothe, Nick Nolte, William Forsythe, Rip Torn and Clancy Borwn.  The story was about a Texas Ranger and a ruthless narcotics kingpin who were childhood friends but now they are adversaries. It has a great script and plenty of tension but doesn’t skimp on action either. You know when Powers Boothe is a bad guy, you’re in for a fun time.


The Living Daylights

Although not that popular at the time, Timothy Dalton’s first stab at James Bond is actually pretty awesome and he did gritty many years before Daniel Craig came along. It has spectacular action scenes and an awesome henchman who kills people with his headphones. The movie also has John Rhys Davies in a major role and he’s always worth watching. I like A-Ha’s theme song too, despite John Barry saying that they were “the worst people I’ve ever worked with” or words to that effect.


American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

I’ve always preferred this movie to the original as it had a better story, more buddy banter with Steve James and tons of action. Michael Dudikoff kicks plenty of ass as Joe Armstrong. This time he investigates the disappearance of several marines on an island, which leads him to The Lion, a super-criminal who has kidnapped a local scientist and mass-produced an army of mutant Ninja warriors. It’s ridiculously awesome and is a must own.


Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

Although teetering on the brink of parody, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown still kicks an unholy amount of ass with Charles Bronson still on fine form as the vigilante Paul Kersey. It’s not as a gritty and sleazy as the first two films, but it has plenty of violence and action, making it hugely entertaining. This time Paul takes on the members of a vicious Los Angeles drug cartel to stop the flow of drugs after his girlfriend’s daughter dies from an overdose.


A Better Tomorrow 2

John Woo’s action sequel stars Chow Yun-Fat once again, this time as Mark’s twin brother; the story this time is about a restaurateur that teams up with a police officer and his ex-con brother to avenge the death of a friend’s daughter. Plenty of double gun play, slow motion and doves come as standard with Chow Yun-Fat as effortlessly cool as ever.


City on Fire

Ringo Lam’s action classic has Chow Fun-Fat once again being the coolest man alive. The plot is about an undercover cop that infiltrates a gang of thieves who plan to rob jewellery store. It’s an incredibly influential movie and a certain Quentin Tarantino regularly cites it as his inspiration for Reservoir Dogs.  Although more of a crime thriller, respect is still due as it’s a classic film.


So, that’s only 1987; not bad eh? That’s definitely one of the very best years in action cinema history. But what’s this? 1988 isn’t too bad either.


Die Hard

There are few people who can disagree that Die Hard is arguably the greatest action movie of all time; it’s certainly the most influential with a million imitators which never quite match its premise. Bruce Willis is on career best form as the everyman John McClane; a cop who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when he visits his wife for Christmas. John McTiernan’s expert direction builds up tension and develops all the characters, including iconic villain Hans Gruber; played to perfection by Alan Rickman.



Bloodsport made JCVD an international star with guys and gals; his portrayal of Frank Dux brought him great kudos with martial arts fans. It’s a fact-based story of an American fighter, who was the first Westerner ever to win the Kumite. Jean-Claude Van Damme is at the absolute peak of physical fitness in this movie and the fight scenes to this day are some of the best of all time.


Above the Law

This movie introduces us to a new action star: Steven Seagal. He came out of nowhere and instantly became a hit with action fans, despite running like a girl. His “don’t give a shit” attitude and amazing martial arts made him stand out amongst the other action stars as his ex-CIA character was (maybe) based on reality. Nico Toscani (Seagal) investigates the illegal weapons trade which is being run by a man called Zagon; a man who just looks evil. Above the Law has a great bar fight too, although not quite as good as Out for Justice.


Rambo III

Considered a failure commercially and critically at the time, Rambo III has grown in popularity over the years and a lot of fans consider it the best of the series. It’s easy to see why, with so many great action scenes, Jerry Goldsmith’s epic score and a change of venue to Afghanistan, Rambo III is hugely entertaining and is another must own. This time Rambo’s Vietnam commanding officer Colonel Trautman is held hostage in Afghanistan, and it’s up to Rambo to rescue him.


Action Jackson

It’s a shame Carl Weathers never became an A-List action star because after this, Rocky and Predator, he had certainly proven his action muscles. Action Jackson was a fun film about a tough Detroit cop trying to stay on the trail of a power hungry auto magnate who’s systematically eliminating his competition. There is a great car chase, plenty of one-liners and yes, it even has a shouty police chief.


Braddock: Missing in Action III

The hugely entertaining Missing in Action trilogy comes to a close with Chuck Norris returning as James Braddock. He once again returns to Vietnam, 12 years after the end of the war, to rescue his thought-dead Vietnamese wife and son, and a group of orphans held in another prison camp presided over by a sadistic Vietnamese general. There are some awesome explosions, Chuck kicking ass and plenty of action which arguably make this the best of the series.


Young Guns

Just when you thought the Western was dead, this instant classic shows up and blew audiences away with its fun story and amazing cast. It stars Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Lou Diamond Phillips and Dermot Mulroney as a group of young gunmen, led by Billy the Kid, that become deputies to avenge the murder of the rancher who became their benefactor. But when Billy takes their authority too far, they become the hunted. Although pretty cheesy, the film remains watchable and is a lot of fun.


Red Heat

Arnie is back but this time he’s a tough Russian policeman who is forced to partner up with a cocky Chicago police detective when he is sent to Chicago to apprehend a Georgian drug lord who killed his partner and fled the country. Although the action isn’t amazing, it has some good one-liners and anything directed by Walter Hill is worth owning immediately.


They Live

John Carpenter’s surreal classic stars Roddy Piper and Keith David as two men that discover planet Earth isn’t quite what it seems. The film has a slow first act but the fight scene between Piper and David is the best part of the movie and the sheer originality of the story is to be lauded.


Midnight Run

This movie arguably has the most swearing I’ve seen on-screen; it’s one of my favourite films with Robert De Niro on wisecracking form as Jack Walsh, a down on his luck bounty hunter. The story is about an accountant who is chased by bounty hunters, the FBI, and the Mafia after jumping bail. The script is hilarious and there is enough buddy banter and action to make this a must-own for anyone who likes a laugh as well as watching people getting punched in the face.


Black Eagle

Jean-Claude Van Damme’s other movie from this year has him as the villain but it’s a pretty small role and the film isn’t one of his best. It does have Sho Kosugi as the hero Ken Tami, brought in by the CIA after one of their planes crashes into the sea. To ensure his loyalty, they bring his two young sons to a nearby hotel on the island. Ken Tami’s tough opponent is KGB agent Andrei (JCVD). There are some decent fight scenes in Black Eagle and it’s worth watching just to see JCVD play a baddie.


The Dead Pool

Dirty Harry Callahan returns in this arguably not very good sequel, but it does have Liam Neeson and Jim Carrey in supporting roles. Clint Eastwood is always worth watching and there is enough action to keep things interesting. This time, Callahan must stop a sick secret contest to murder local celebrities, which includes himself as a target.


Red Scorpion

One of Dolph Lundgren’s bet movies, Red Scorpion tells the tale of a Russian KGB agent who is sent to Africa to kill an anti-Communist black revolutionary. However, he has a change of heart when he sees how the Russians and their Cuban allies are killing and repressing the locals, so he switches sides and helps the rebels. What was interesting is that this movie had a great story with an explosive final act that is one man army heaven.


Born to Defend

Jet Li’s early role in this martial arts classic has him play the originally named Jet, a young soldier at the end of the Second World War who must overcome some abusive Americans who are bullying him as well as the Chinese people. It has some legendary fight scenes and really showed why Jet Li would become a true legend of action.


Well I don’t know about you, kids, but that’s a pretty sweet list of movies. I think that’s pretty much solid proof that the period of 1987-88 was arguably the greatest in action movie history.

About the Author

Eoin Friel
Eoin Friel
I grew up watching JCVD, Sly and Arnold destroy bad guys, blow things up and spew one-liners like it's a fashion statement. Action is everything I go to the movies for and the reason I came up with this site is to share my love for the genre with everyone.



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