It's a Guy Thing

The Greatest ’80s Action Movies

You’ve Got to See AGAIN!

The ’80s is mostly remembered for its terrible fashion, insufferable music (looking at you here heavy metal) and just all-around weirdness. But the one thing the ’80s did right was action flicks. From stupid plots, to one-liners, to iconic action stars, the ’80s was the birthplace of the incredible action genre we know today. That’s why we are celebrating our favorite movies from the least liked decade ever.

Die Hard

Seen by many as the ultimate ’80s action film and of course the connoisseurs Christmas movie of choice, the first Die Hard was near perfect. Unlike other movies on this list, our protagonist John McClane was an everyday man, a totally relatable schlub that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is still to this day Bruce Willis’ greatest role and McClane’s cocky charisma and constant one-liners elevated the character to action movie greats. NYPD cop John McClane goes on a Christmas vacation to visit his wife Holly in Los Angeles where she works for the Nakatomi Corporation. While they are at the Nakatomi HQ for a Christmas party, a group of criminals led by Hans Gruber takes control of the building and holds everyone hostage, with the exception of John, while they plan to perform a lucrative heist. Unable to escape and with no immediate police response, John is forced to take matters into his own hands. The plot is basic, but the characters and action scenes are incredible. And let’s not forget the wonderful villain Hans Gruber, played wonderfully by the late great Alan Rickman, who was the perfect over the top nemesis to Willis’ everyday man hero. Although the sequels became ludicrous action set pieces, the original Die Hard still holds up today and is still highly influential on action movies today.


There can be only one. And that one is Highlander. This often forgotten classic was ahead of its time, blending an epic fantasy story with modern-day action sensibility. Connor MacLeod is one of a waning few survivors of a clan of immortals. The breed have been dueling each other for centuries in the quest to be the last one remaining, and hence achieve a supreme enlightenment that would be dangerous in the wrong hands. In present-day America, the troubled hero MacLeod lives a brooding and lonely existence, having lost his true love centuries ago. The evil Kurgan, an immortal who plans to use his power toward unspeakable ends, has fought MacLeod before but is still trying to finish him off. After emerging victorious from a parking garage skirmish with the third-to-last immortal, MacLeod knows that only Kurgan is left, and the two are on a collision path toward the inevitable. It was a unique story at the time and with the Queen-inspired soundtrack one of the most epic movies of the decade. With ’80s movies washed with explosions and guns, it was refreshing to see a movie that focused purely on the art of the sword duel.


The late ’70s and ’80s saw the birth of some of horror’s most iconic characters, from the Xenomorph in Alien to Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th. Yet one of the most recognizable monsters came from a muscle infused, action schlock film that starred a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger, the cult classic Predator. The story of an elite squad of commando warriors hunting down an unknown and invisible killer in the dense jungle surroundings is a basic one, but the thrills and excitement comes from the slasher horror trope of each individual army man being picked off in extremely gruesome ways by a seemingly unstoppable alien force. The role of Dutch, played by Schwarzenegger, is perhaps one of his most iconic roles and saw the birth of one of the best and often most parodied Arnold lines ever… “get to the chopper!” Predator is a simple, sleek, action-packed slasher movie that birthed a villain that is still immensely popular today, spawning numerous sequels and spin-offs, but like most movies on the list, the original is still the best.

First Blood

No ’80s action flick list would be complete without one Sylvester Stallone, an ’80s action movie icon. Stallone, along with Arnold would go on to dominate the ’80s with their big-budget over the top action extravaganza films. However, the very first Rambo movie was a lot more grounded than what the hyper-masculine, shoot ‘em up sort of mindless action that the series would become known for. First Blood is actually a stripped-down and emotional character piece about a veteran grappling with PTSD, and over the course of his journey to the secluded town of Hope, Washington, he’s forced to survive in the wilderness once again as he’s hunted by law enforcement. Yes, there are action set pieces and classic one-liners, but this was a tragic story of a man unable to cope with his own demons and society refusing to understand or help. The Rambo sequels would entirely lose this personal story and focus on Rambo the one-man army, yet it’s the original that still holds up today and is still a fascinating character piece of the post-war trauma man a veteran faces.


The concept of a former policeman becoming an unstoppable robot is as ’80s as one can get and Robocop does not disappoint with extreme violence, great set pieces and wonderful one-liners. Yet there is a lot more to Robocop than meets the eye. Director Paul Verhoeven had the unique ability to combine razor-sharp political and social satire with visceral world-building, violent action sequences, and memorable characters. The political satire is still as relevant today as it was in 1987 and a lot of Robocop’s made up vision of the future sadly isn’t too far off today. Set in Detroit sometime in the near future, the film is about a policeman killed in the line of duty whom the department decides to resurrect as a half-human, half-robot supercop. The RoboCop is indestructible, and within a matter of weeks he has removed crime from the streets of Detroit. However, his human side is tortured by his past, and he wants revenge on the thugs who killed him. Robocop was truly a movie ahead of its time and it is still incredible how it handled the satire of consumerism and aggressive marketing, a deconstruction of political and corporate corruption, and a study at how corporations and regulations can be depleting to humanity and morality. Sadly Robocop’s satire is more relevant now than it was 33 years ago.

The Terminator

From a futuristic robot policeman who wants to save the world to a futuristic cyborg that wants to destroy it. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most popular and well-known role ever, sees a rare turn for Arnold as he actually plays the villain, a relentless cybernetic monster sent from the future to hunt down Sarah Conner. The movie begins in a post-apocalyptic 2029, when Los Angeles has been largely reduced to rubble and is under the thumb of all-powerful ruling machines. Kyle Reese, a member of the human resistance movement, is teleported back to 1984. His purpose: to rescue Sarah Connor, the mother of the man who will lead the 21st-century rebels against the tyrannical machines, from being assassinated before she can give birth. Likewise thrust back to 1984 is The Terminator, a grim, well-armed, virtually indestructible cyborg out to eliminate Sarah Connor. This was the move that catapulted not only Schwarzenegger to stardom, but also gave the big break to director James Cameron who would go on to make some of the most iconic movies in cinema history. And although many would say that the sequel is the superior film, it’s the original that truly sets the scene for cinema’s most famous cybernetic killing machine. Sadly the series has been turned into a mess of terrible sequels and nonsensical action schlock, but this low budget classic will also be a shining light in ’80s action movie history.

Beverly Hills Cop

Many people today may forget that Eddie Murphy was a massive movie star in the ’80s and it all truly started with Beverly Hills Cop, a fish out of water comedy with a great crime movie premise, the film follows a Detroit detective, Axl Foley, who’s been sent on involuntary vacation because he refuses to drop his intention of avenging his friend’s murder. Warned by Beverly Hills police chief Ronny Cox to stay out of trouble, Foley nonetheless dogs the trail of above-the-law Steven Berkoff, the British crime czar who was responsible for the murder of Foley’s friend. With the help of sympathetic local cops Judge Reinhold and John Ashton and lady friend Lisa Eilbacher, Foley attempts to corner Berkoff in his mansion. Murphy turned in an incredible star-making performance as Foley and combined his witty and unique humor with some great action set pieces and shootouts. To this day many feel this was Murphy’s best character and very few would argue with that. It is a movie that is copied to this day and will arguably go down as the inspiration for many, many more action comedies in the future. 


The original Alien movie from 1979 was a truly terrifying experience, mixing sci-fi with a horror slasher film to create a unique experience and elevate Sigourney Weaver to instant stardom. James Cameron, fresh off his sleeper hit Terminator, turns the original horror slasher into an action-packed, ass-kicking machine with Weaver’s Ripley turning into a fully-fledged action hero star. Adrift in space for half a century, Ripley grapples with depression until she’s informed by her company’s representative, Carter Burke that the planet where her crew discovered the alien has since been settled by colonists. Contact with the colony has suddenly been lost, and a detachment of colonial marines is being sent to investigate. Invited along as an advisor, Ripley predicts disaster, and sure enough, the aliens have infested the colony, leaving a sole survivor, the young girl Newt. With the soldiers picked off one by one, a final all-female showdown brews between the alien queen and Ripley. Cameron lived up to his special effects hype and turned in a movie that was not only an instant classic action film, but a special effects bonanza with the massive Alien Queen taking center stage. Aliens is still an incredible film that is yet to be bettered by the numerous sequels.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Is there a more iconic or more recognized action hero than Indiana Jones, the ultimate action hero. Director powerhouses Steven Spielberg and George Lucas poured all of their love of serialized escapism into an elaborate globetrotting adventure that combines history and mythology. Every environment in Raiders of the Lost Ark has a deep history written into it, and the cheeky sense of humor gives the film a deep emotional authenticity. Set in the year of 1936, Indiana Jones, a famous archeologist, adventurer, and college professor, is hired to receive the Ark of the Covenant by the U.S. government. Unfortunately, the Nazis also want to acquire it, including Indy’s personal rival, Rene Belloq. With the help of his ex-lover, Marion Ravenwood they set out on an unforgettable quest and adventure. This is the role Harrison Ford was born to play; the brash, nerdy, wisecracking, and somewhat jaded archeology professor has all the qualities of a classic protagonist, and these are traits that Ford amplifies with his performance. Even though Indy tries to play himself off as a cynic, he cares deeply about the search for these artifacts, and his love for Marion grounds him in a very human way. Raiders of the Lost Ark and it’s sequels are still seen as instant classics and timeless cinema that wows new audiences to this day. Some may always see Ford as Han Solo, but for many he will always be the whip swinging archaeologist Indiana Jones.