If you were to think about the 1980s, the first few things that come to mind would probably be big hair, super tight jeans, and ridiculously cheesy music. The style that dominated this decade is undoubtedly a bit tacky and over-the-top by today’s standards, but the one area where this amount of excesses actually worked to an advantage was in '80s action movies.
The 1980s provided us with a plethora of now-iconic action films that were chock full of uber-Americanized macho men unloading machine guns into their enemies' faces. There was no shortage of explosion, swooping helicopters, or exploding skyscrapers in these action flicks, but the big difference when compared to the blockbusters of today, is that many of these movies actually have some pretty decent plotlines -- even if the heroes and villains are a bit black and white by today’s standards.
Many of the franchises that launched in the '80s have even survived until today, including Die Hard and the Predator series, which both have additional installments currently in the works. While many people could identify these films fairly easily, it takes a true action aficionado to remember the names of the film's heroes. So let’s see how many of these '80s action heroes you can name!
Kurt Russel in Escape from New York
Kurt Russell has played a number of action heroes throughout the course of his fifty-plus year career as an actor, but none have as distinct of an appearance as his character in the 1981 film Escape from New York. The film is set in a dystopian future where Manhattan Island is now an enormous prison where the inmates rule over themselves. Russel’s character is reluctantly sent in with the mission to rescue the president, who was aboard Air Force One when it crash-landed in the city.
Bruce Willis in Die Hard
Based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, this 1988 film often ranks as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — action films of all time. Here, Bruce Willis plays an NYPD cop who finds himself in a Los Angeles high-rise during a highly organized robbery. The film was a massive success, grossing quadruple its original budget and spawning four sequels. Though Willis has returned to reprise his role as this iconic cop in each film, no sequel has ever been able to live up to the original film.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator
Throughout the '80s and '90s, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the go-to actor if you wanted to make an action-packed blockbuster. Many of his films became some of the highest grossing movies of those decades, which often went on to spawn many sequels. And in that regard 1987’s Predator is no exception. Here, Schwarzenegger starred as the major of a special forces team who ends up taking on an extraterrestrial life-form in the jungles of Central America. Though, the actor was asked to reprise his role in the sequel, Schwarzenegger decline, unhappy with the salary he was being offered.
Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
You would think that after the massive success of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, that more writers/directors would start casting female leads in their action films. Unfortunately, that never caught on in the '80s and, arguably, it’s not much different today. That leaves this Sigourney Weaver character still at the top of the list as far as female heroines go. Weaver was even nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Aliens, where she reprised her role as this unlucky warrant officer.
Michael Biehn in The Terminator
Before the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) became the hero of this franchise in T2: Judgment Day, lesser-known actor Michael Biehn played the good guy in the original 1984 film. Biehn plays a Resistance soldier who’s sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor, the women who will one day give birth to the future leader of the Resistance. The studio was originally pushing for Schwarzenegger to take the hero role, but because writer/ director James Cameron wanted the Terminator to be much more imposing, casting Schwarzenegger as the good guy was totally out of the question.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando
This 1985 action film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a retired Delta Force Army Colonel, who is notified that his former unit members are being killed off for reasons unknown. This puts the colonel next on the mercenaries checklist, but instead of killing him off, they take his daughter hostage in an attempt to exploit the colonel into doing their dirty work. What follows is an hour bloody revenge, as this action hero attempts to save his daughter and expose these criminals for who they really are.
Sylvester Stallone in First Blood
Based on the 1972 novel of the same name, this 1982 action film was a box office smash, grossing over $125 million against a $15 million budget and spawning three successful sequels. Here, Sylvester Stallone stars as a Vietnam War veteran and former Green Beret who finds himself at odds with an abusive police department in small-town America. Initial reviews from critics were mixed, with many finding the entire plot implausible and the ending a bit of a letdown. However, it is now regarded as one of the best action movies of the '80s.
Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon
This 1987 film stars Mel Gibson as an LAPD detective and a former Special Forces soldier, who has become increasingly violent and suicidal following his wife's death. This character becomes the bane of his new partner’s existence, a 50-year-old Veteran detective played by Danny Glover. The film was written by a young Shane Black, who has gone on to write and direct a number of action movies that often feature dysfunctional characters, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys.
Peter Weller in RoboCop
Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, 1987’s RoboCop did not gross nearly as much money as many of the other 80s action movies featured in this quiz. The film stars Peter Weller in the title role, who plays a police officer who is murdered by criminals only to be revived by the Omni Consumer Products corporation and turned into a… well, turned into a RoboCop. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge to match this character with his robot name, but do you remember the name of the police officer before he’s killed and revived?
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raider of the Lost Ark isn’t just ranked as one of the greatest action/adventure movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies of all time, period. The film stars Harrison Ford in the iconic role of an archaeologist who embarks on a dangerous adventure to recover the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis get their hands on it. Harrison Ford would reprise the role in three more films in the franchise, with plans for a fifth film to be released in 2020.
Tom Cruise in Top Gun
After being launched into stardom just three years prior with his performance in Risky Business, Tom Cruise continued to win over audiences in the 1986 film Top Gun. Here, Cruise plays a Naval aviator with an insatiable need for speed. The film was directed by Tony Scott and brought in an impressive $356 million at the box office on just a $15 million budget. A sequel to the film has been in the works for the last seven years, but Cruise has recently announced that it will officially begin filming in 2018.
Dolph Lundgren in The Punisher
With the 2004 film starring Thomas Jane, and now a Netflix series on the way, it may be easy to forget that The Punisher was given his own movie way back in 1989. Here, Dolph Lundgren plays the iconic anti-hero who first made his appearance in Marvel Comics. The action film was met with mostly lackluster reviews, though the movie has become somewhat of an underground cult film today, with many comic book fans finding it to be a gritty superhero movie that was a bit ahead of its time.
Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop
This 1984 action film launched former stand-up comedian and SNL cast member Eddie Murphy into stardom, and also went on to become the highest-grossing movie of that year. Murphy plays a cop from Detroit who ends up in Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of a close friend. The role was a perfect fit for Murphy, who excels when playing cocky, street-smart, and fast-talking characters. The actor would reprise the role in two sequels that would never quite live up to the original.
Micheal Biehn in Aliens
After working with James Cameron just two years earlier on The Terminator, actor Michael Biehn teamed back up with the writer/ director to star in Aliens, the 1986 sequel to the sci-fi classic. Here, Biehn plays another action hero, this time a Marine corporal, who travels to LV-426 to exterminate any possible xenomorphs that may be roaming the planet. Actor James Ramar was originally cast in the role (and still made it into a few shots of the film) though he was fired and replaced by Biehn shortly after shooting began.
Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon
Every buddy cop movie needs a yin and a yang. So while Mel Gibson plays the loose canon of the duo in Lethal Weapon, Danny Glover plays the straight-laced police detective who wants to gently slide into an early retirement. Following the massive success of the first film, Glover would reprise his role as the ornery police detective in three Lethal Weapon sequels, where he would make the catchphrase, “I’m too old for this s***!” forever associated with this unlikely action hero.
Val Kilmer in Top Gun
Though Tom Cruise was definitely the star of Top Gun, Val Kilmer’s character certainly has his fair share of impressive moments throughout this 1986 film. Kilmer plays one of the best naval aviators at TOPGUN, and the character often competes against Cruise’s for the number one slot. The two characters, who both have big personalities and a tendency toward cockiness, eventually come to respect one another following a fellow aviator's death and a subsequent firefight where the two aviators must save each other’s lives.
Kurt Russel in Big Trouble in Little China
One of the few action movies on this quiz that can be enjoyed by the whole family, Big Trouble in Little China is one of those films that’s best enjoyed on a rainy day, or when you used to stay home “sick” from school. Who cares if this John Carpenter flick is nonsensical and ridiculously over-the-top when it’s this much fun. Once again, Carpenter casts Kurt Russel as the unlikely action hero who drives a semi and enjoys gambling all night long during his visit to Little China.
Sylvester Stallone in Cobra
Believe it or not, the idea for this 1986 film actually came during the making of Beverly Hills Cop two years earlier. Sylvester Stallone was originally working on the script for Beverly Hills Cops with plans to star as the Detroit detective when the studio decided they wanted to make a more comedic and less action-oriented film. Therefore, Stallone took many of his reject ideas over and made Cobra, where he plays the lieutenant of an elite team part of the LAPD, going by this name…
Carl Weathers in Predator
After starring in four Rocky films as Apollo Creed, actor and former professional football player Carl Weathers teamed up with former body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger to star in 1987 Predator. Here, Weathers plays a CIA agent and former US Army Colonel who oversees a top-secret mission in the jungles of Central America. Though Weather’s character does mislead his team of commandos about the mission objective, he still has no idea that an extraterrestrial is tracking them, and sadly, the colonel never makes it out of this movie alive.
Roddy Piper in They Live
Though today, many of John Carpenter’s films are often regarded as some of the best of the 80s, it’s surprising that many of them weren’t very popular at the time of their releases, including The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live. This 1988 film stars professional wrestler Roddy Piper as a man who discovers a pair of sunglasses that lets him see the reality of the world, which involves a race of aliens vastly exploiting the underprivileged.
Mel Gibson in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
For The Road Warrior, Mel Gibson reprised the role that first made him an action hero from George Miller’s 1979 film Mad Max. The film is a dystopian Western set a few years after the first film and picks up with Gibson’s character roaming the desert wasteland in his iconic black muscle car. Aside from the 2015 reboot (which was also directed by Miller), this Mad Max film was easily the most successful, and most enjoyable, in the original trilogy, thanks largely to Gibson’s portrayal of this iconic character…
Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport
Bloodsport was one of the first films that showed off the skills of famed martial artists Jean-Claude Van Damme to a worldwide audience. The film was based on the real life of a U.S. Army Captain who left the army to compete in a Hong Kong tournament where contestants fight to the death. Though the army captain’s claims have never been backed up they sure made for an exciting film! The main character even became the inspiration for the Mortal Kombat character Johnny Cage.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian
Even if you’ve never seen this action flick, we’d be pretty darn surprised if you don’t get this one right considering the title of the movie and the appearance of the character. The role was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first appearance playing a legitimate action hero on the big screen, and he would reprise the role just two years later for a far less enjoyable movie. This 1982 film is set in a fantasy world where a barbarian seeks revenge on the entity that murdered his parents.
Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn
This 1984 action/war film is set in an alternate reality, where the world teeters on the brink of a third world war when the Soviet’s launch a massive invasion on the United States. Patrick Swayze plays a high school student who becomes trapped behind enemy lines and decides to engage in guerrilla warfare against the enemy with the help of his fellow students. They call themselves the Wolverines after their school mascot and together they take down as many Soviets as they can before being presumably killed by the story's end.
Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Since Harrison Ford gets more than enough notoriety for being an action hero, let’s give Mark Hamill a little credit for his turn as the young man turned master Jedi in the Star Wars series. The much-anticipated sequel to the original Star Wars was released back in 1980 and went on to gross half a billion dollars, with many considering it the best in the series. Hamill reprised the role in The Force Awakens and is expected to play a bigger part in this year’s The Last Jedi.