The '80s action movie stars are often forgotten by elitists who prefer three-hour dramas.
Jean-Claude Van Damme secured a spot on the Mount Rushmore of '80s action stars due to his dedication to the genre and his popular films like Bloodsport.
Jackie Chan's Hong Kong action movies in the '80s were pure gold and showcased his stunt background and exhilarating action scenes.
When a viewer thinks of cinema, it’s the faces of ’80s action movie stars that come to mind. It’s the memories of Predator, Rambo, Die Hard, and American Ninja that each of us cherishes until our last breath. In other words, these are the real classics forgotten by the elitists who want to pretend like a three-hour drama is better than a movie where an action hero blows up bad guys and spits out cool one-liners for 90 minutes. Spoiler alert: It’s not.
The ’80s featured no shortage of action stars, as esteemed names such as Cynthia Rothrock to Michael Dudikoff clamoured to become the best of the best. Unquestionably, they were all successful, but like every good action flick, there can be only one. (Okay, four in this case since this is the Mount Rushmore of ’80s action stars.) Keep in mind that certain names like Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, and Dolph Lundgren were excluded from this feature since they peaked in other eras.
The fourth position on this action movie Mount Rushmore proved to be trickier than anticipated. It consisted of a lot of back and forth and heated debate about who deserves the spot. After all, Kurt Russell and John Carpenter’s collaborations are bona fide masterpieces. So too is Bruce Willis as the only policeman anyone likes in Die Hard. Yet, Jean-Claude Van Damme secured this spot because of his pure dedication to the genre. If it didn’t feature punches or kicks, JCVD stayed away from it in the ’80s.
He exploded toward the tail end of the decade, thanks to four films that every action fan adores: Bloodsport, Black Eagle, Cyborg, and Kickboxer. Without a doubt, Bloodsport is the highlight of the lot and inspired a generation of young martial artists to train and do the splits. Plus, the fact that Mortal Kombat‘s Johnny Cage was modelled on Frank Dux makes the Newt Arnold-directed film that much cooler and pivotal to the action genre as a whole.
Jackie Chan broke into Hollywood in the ’90s, but the real ones know his Hong Kong action movies were pure gold in the ’80s and fans scoured video stores to find the VHS copies. Initially, Chan tried to break into the western movie world in the ’80s; however, it didn’t go his way, so he dedicated his time to Hong Kong – and everyone should be grateful that his career panned out the way it did.
From The Young Master to Dragon Lord, Chan brought his stunt background to these pictures and delivered some of the most exhilarating action scenes ever captured on film – with no CGI to boot! Another must-see film from this period is 1983’s Project A, which sees Chan star alongside Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Not only is the action outstanding, but Chan and his collaborators also add the distinct comedy flavour that they have become known for.
Out of all the ’80s action movie stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the prototype of greatness. In every film he appears in, he oozes charisma, toughness, and a hint of playfulness. Make no mistake about it – no one leaves an Arnie movie ever feeling bored because he ensures musclebound entertainment is at the heart of everything he does.
The ’80s was an enviable decade for Arnie. He starred in two Conan films, The Terminator, The Running Man, Commando, Red Sonja, Red Heat, Predator, and Raw Deal. If there was a movie where a hulking man made of muscle needs to hold a sword or big effing gun, Schwarzenegger secured the part. Plus, no one can deny he made the most of the minimal dialogue he had at the time. While the ’90s might have been the period when the audience found out Arnie was a funny guy, the ’80s proved that he serviced the movies before his ego.
Why does Sylvester Stallone topple his archnemesis Arnold Schwarzenegger here? Two reasons: Rocky and Rambo. Even four decades later, these franchises remain relevant and beloved by action movie fans around the globe. Sly cemented himself as two iconic characters, while Arnie has only kept the T-800 alive since the ’80s. There’s a big caveat, though: If Schwarzenegger had revisited Conan or even reprised his role as Dutch in a future Predator film, this might be a different ranking altogether.
Stallone didn’t only shine in Rocky and Rambo; he delivered several fantastic films in this period. From Nighthawks to the supremely underrated Cobra and the arm-wrestling extravaganza known as Over the Top, Sly aimed and never missed a shot in this era. Seriously, put together an ’80s action movie marathon one weekend and see how many of his features automatically form a part of it. He’s undeniably the greatest ’80s action movie star.
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.