Decade Definers: 1980s – Birth Of The Action Hero

Written by Chris Gelderd

Like most things in life, it’s hard to pin-point the exact formation of something. A season. A movement. A trend. These things just seem to happen when every factor around it comes into alignment and all the signs point to go. Somethings just naturally work with the environment around them. The film industry also does this and has done for over 100 years

The 1980s saw the formation of many things that changed the industry forever. The emergence of special effects allowed film-makers to really let their imagination blossom. Risks were being taken across horror, sci-fi and comedy with franchises taking off left right and centre, content being pushed for teen audiences (the introduction of the US PG-13 rating for such an occasion) and talent was setting the bar high in their chosen genres, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda and Eddie Murphy to name but a few.

Yet the 80s was a decade that discovered a new wave of acting and creative talent that changed the way we look at action movies and their heroes forever, and we can see that winning template is used in films today to cater to new generations.

The world needed heroes, and the right men – and women – came along at the right time to deliver. Not satisfied with your suave Brit Sir Roger Moore and his family friendly James Bond adventures, mature audiences wanted more. More action! More violence! More stars! More outrageous, exciting, balls-to-the-wall popcorn entertainment!

The studios listened. The creative talent put pen to paper. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 1980s and the birth of the action hero!

Ask any film fan to name 5 action stars and they will probably give the same names.  From just a rather small selection of big name stars throughout the 1980s, we certainly got a truckload of memorable and long-standing action films from them. Some spawned franchises that still are going strong today, others simply one off treasures. Either way, they helped shape a genre that inspired much of what we see today on the big (and small) screen.

Let’s take a look at some of the big names that came to be during the 1980s and how they helped shape the action movie itself.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

One man proved you didn’t need to be the next Charlton Heston of the acting world in order to make shockwaves across Hollywood and the world. Sometimes all you needed was a thick, inimitable European accent, muscles the size of watermelons and the passion to chase the American dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ‘Austrian Oak’, did just that when he launched onto the scene during the 1980s with his imposing, unique frame as a bit player in cheaply produced movies before the studio execs took a risk and cast him in films where dialogue and plot were minimal, but action and iconography where high.

Arnie gave us 9 movies during the 1980s that became classics of the genre and his trademark style of witty one-liners, high violence, break-neck stunts and blending action into sci-fi, fantasy and comedy. From ‘Conan The Destroyer’ in 1982 that tested his boundaries for taking any role seriously and dishing out action in any form he was given, he soon was given movies such as ‘The Terminator’ in 1984, ‘Commando’ in 1985 and ‘Predator’ in 1987.

Each film was unique and different, letting Arnie win over fans and critics not with his acting, but with his ability to be an action hero across any genre who was tough talking, physically imposing and looked like a demi-God with his muscles and strong stance. He used any means at his disposal to eradicate bad guys – and sometimes good guys – and gave James Bond a run for his money with the one liners. Arnie became synonymous with action films and many of his 80s films stand strong today and shape franchise on the big and small screen in a career built on action that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

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Sylvester Stallone

Stallone gave us two big ‘R’s throughout the 70s and 80s…and 90s and 00s, all things considered. Rocky Balboa was his character for sport and drama, but Rambo was his character for action and excitement. From 1982 to 1988 (and 2008, but we’re not here for that), Stallone carved a new niche for his action ability in the form of John Rambo, a traumatized Vietnam veteran.

After a debut in ‘First Blood’ that actually gave us a grounded action film that used drama, humanity and tension as its main driving points, it’s two sequels “First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III” threw humanity out the window (literally) and cranked up the chaos to 10.

Muscles bulging as he waged war against the Vietnamese and Russians to save POWs and innocent people, Rambo became the invincible one-man army whom America and the world could count on.  Armed with  rocket launchers and sub-machine guns, bow and arrows and hunting knifes, Rambo proved Stallone could deliver the sort of story fuelled action audiences wanted, and it continued over his career with the likes ‘Tango & Cash’, ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘The Expendables’.

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Bruce Willis

An interesting case study indeed when you look at it. Out of all the action heroes of the 80s, Willis looked least likely. He wasn’t imposing to look at, not intimidating to hear talk and his career launched in the 1984 US comedy drama TV show ‘Moonlighting’ and the 1987 comedy romance film ‘Blind Date’.

Fox produced a film based on a 1979 novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, a sequel to the 1966 book ‘The Detective’, which was adapted into a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra and allowed Sinatra to accept or decline to star in the new film. He declined. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined it as a sequel to ‘Commando’. Who was left to cast? Bruce Willis, obviously.

Now when you say the words ‘Die Hard’, it conjures up a film often agreed to be the greatest action film of the 1980s. A simple story about a New York cop saving hostages inside a skyscraper whilst taking down a small army of European terrorists was just what people wanted. Full of explosive action, snappy humour, a surprising world-weary and iconic portrayal by Willis of NYPD cop John McClane and a villain as dastardly and suave as them come in the guise of the late, great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber.

‘Die Hard’ quickly became a template to base an action hero saving the day against the odds, and shaped the hero who could be an everyday cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, not just a muscle bound war hero or super soldier. It launched four sequels, video games and also Willis’s career into action orbit and also the greatest debate going in movies today – “Is Die Hard a Christmas film or not?”.

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Sigourney Weaver

The 80s action market was a place for men. Women had little chance to show they could do as much damage as the guys sadly, but one woman took a role, built it up over a franchise and proved that with the right support, it wasn’t just the men who could kick ass and save the world…or galaxy.

Sigourney Weaver has her niche in drama and comedy, but her action debut came in a little known sci-fi film in the late 1970s called ‘Alien’ that had her go up and survive against a deadly alien being in space, where nobody could hear her or her ill-fated male crew scream. The role of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley was a big boost to female talent at that time, and while Weaver continued her box-office draw in comedy with other classics such as ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Working Girl’, the 80s saw her return to the role of Ripley in 1986s ‘Aliens’.

This time, Weaver led a group of male supporting actors as space marines to return to and wipe out the colony of aliens and their queen to save the galaxy from extinction. Weaver gave just as good as she got in terms of attitude, action and ability. A fine actress of her generation, she carried over a humane side to her tough-talking and ass-kicking Ripley going up against the deadly aliens and held her own, much like John McClane in ‘Die Hard’, being an everyday person up against the odds but who handles weaponry and heavy machinery as easy as breathing. Weaver cemented a successful and iconic role in an already iconic franchise and is one of the few female actors to carve out a successful action hero over the years.

Now, sadly, I have to rein this piece in because I could go on exploring defining actors and their roles for many more pages, but you all have lives and I must let you get on with them.

I hope this small glimpse into what the 1980s gave us in terms of action resonates with you. A handful of international actors helped produced dozens of action films with the support of creative talent such as James Cameron and Joel Silver that would resonate for years to come and also help launch female talent in front of and behind the camera around the world. The 80s gave us simple pleasures without the need for extensive plots, complicated stories and bloated character development. The era is almost a golden age of simplicity and it’s that simplicity that makes it so easy to return to watch any action film of the time for nothing but entertainment and enjoyment.

There are many more stars out there I could have mentioned. I’ll leave you with a handful more here to explore in your own time as ones who also helped define the action decade:

  • Jackie Chan (‘Police Story’, ‘Project A’)
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme (‘Bloodsport’, ‘Kickboxer’)
  • Harrison Ford (‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘Blade Runner’)
  • Mel Gibson (‘Mad Max 2’, ‘Lethal Weapon’)
  • Chuck Norris (‘The Delta Force’, ‘Missing In Action’)
  • Kurt Russell (‘The Thing’, ‘Big Trouble In Little China’)

Yippie-ki-yay, mother f….

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Daddy’s Home 2

Year: 2017
Directed by: Sean Anders
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, John Cena

Written by Tom Sheffield

Another year, another sequel that we probably wouldn’t have missed if it was never made. Sean Anders returns to direct this festive sequel to the 2015 comedy, ‘Daddy’s Home’. Thanks to a special screening at my local cinema, this happened to be my first festive film of the 2017 (after avoiding ‘Bad Moms Christmas’), and all I can say is the only way is up for my festive viewings this year.

In this festive sequel, Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) have a co-dad routine in place that they think is going swimmingly. It soon comes to their attention that their children don’t like having to spend Christmases at different houses every year, so the co-dads decide to have one big family Christmas. Coincidentally, Dusty’s estranged father, Kurt (Gibson), calls to say he’s dropping by for Christmas too, and Brad’s dad, Don (Lithgow), is also on a plane to spend Christmas with them. Kurt is intent on causing a rift between Brad and Dusty from the second he meets them at the airport, and it doesn’t take long before the cracks begin to show.

As with the first film, Wahlberg and Ferrell are a great comedic pair on-screen. Their friendship in this film is put through its paces, which leads to lots of arguing, hugging, fighting, and the exchanging of kind words through gritted teeth. Newcomers Gibson and Lithgow are fantastic additions to the cast, and play their respective roles superbly. Lithgow is an over-loving, coddling, old-fashioned dad, and Gibson’s character is anything but those things. The child actors also get a thumbs up from me, especially young Scarlett Estevez. The less you know why they’re brilliant in this film, the more hilarious they’ll be in the film if you see it, so I’ll say no more!

Where this film really falters is trying to make us care for each and every one of these characters. The plot delves into multiple character backstories and sub plots that, in all honesty, we don’t really care about. I think the forced addition of making it a festive film also hinders the overall story. Don’t get me wrong, introducing us to Dusty and Brad’s Dads was a great idea, but trying to delve into their backstories, whilst also having all the characters in the story interact with one another, then throwing Christmas shenanigans into the mix, all just lead to one gigantic mess of a plot, which admittedly occasionally got a laugh out of me, but overall is easily forgettable and feels wholly unnecessary.

The addition of Gibson, Lithgow, and Cena is the films only saving grace. The new characters meant some of the comedy didn’t feel as repetitive and I found their characters far more interesting and much funnier than the co-dads. The child actors also have their chances to shine during this film, and again, I found some of their scenes much funnier than Wahlberg and Ferrell’s.

As one of only a few festive films hitting cinemas this year, it’s probably worth a gamble going to see it as you may find yourself liking it more than I did. It does offer up a few good laughs, and a twist or two you don’t see coming! I will also add that there is a particular musical scene at the end of the film that would melt the ice-cold heart of the Grinch, and in those few minutes I forgot what I was watching and actually felt a little Christmas-y! That didn’t last long though, and I soon crashed back to reality and pondered on the other things I could have done in those 100 minutes I’d just wasted.

Tom’s Rating: 4.5/10

 

 

Watch This Space: September 4th – 10th

Every Monday we will be recommending films that are on TV that week, films playing at the cinema, and also remind you of those brilliant films hiding on streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and possibly in your own collection.

In Cinemas

IT: The highly anticipated ‘IT’, the second Stephen King adaptation to grace our cinemas this year, is released on Thursday! It’s been 27 years since we last saw Pennywise on screen, but this time he looks like he’ll really be inducing nightmares. We’ll have our review up early next week.

Patti Cake$: Last week we posted up our review of Geremy Jasper’s first feature length directorial effort. Sarah calls it “a delightful, uplifting comedy drama with a killer soundtrack“. Don’t let this one fly under your radar! 

Logan Lucky: Another film we reviewed last week,  Soderbergh’s ‘Logan Lucky’ hit cinemas at the end of last month and you’d be a fool to miss this one. With Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, and Daniel Craig delivering the charm and laughs, we think this is a must-see this month. 

On TV

Monday

Star Trek (1979): This 1979 sci-fi feature film debut for the crew of the USS Enterprise was made out of an un-used TV pilot. So with ready made costumes, sets and props, a film was green lit to rival ‘Star Wars’ and prove that Trekkies weren’t out of the space film race yet! This isn’t the easiest of watches, I warn you. It’s very slow, very of it’s time and very un-eventful. BUT it paved the way for twelve sequels, multiple new TV shows and a fan base to rival that of the Jedi. With the cast of the original 60s show back, you’re in good company, but don’t expect anything to knock your socks off JUST yet in the early voyages of Captain James T Kirk. Beam up on SyFy at 9pm

Unbreakable (2000): Still the best Shyamalan movie (in my humble opinion of course), ‘Unbreakable’ is also one of the most unassuming “superhero” films as well, with fascinating characters and an interesting narrative. With standout performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, and with the recently announced sequel to ‘Unbreakable’ in the pipeline, what better time to watch it than right now…or this week at least!

 

Tuesday 

Gladiator (2000): The 2000 film that came from nowhere proved to be one of Hollywood’s biggest gambles – a genre that was pretty much dead in the water, leading actor Russell Crowe who was yet to break the big time and a story set in ancient history. ‘Gladiator’ did what it set out to do; redefine the historical epic, shine a light on a forgotten and fascinating culture and showcase top acting and crew talent for a thrilling, rousing and dramatic story of a Roman general who became a slave, who became a gladiator who then defied an Empire. It is quality film-making and it’s all presented in such a bombastic way that it hasn’t been bettered since and given us more swords and sandal epics than we deserve. Be entertained on Film4 at 9pm

Blades of Glory (2007): In 2007, Will Ferrell tried his hand at figure skating. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. What it also is, though, is a frequently funny romp that gives us some hilarious set-pieces, a brilliantly silly chase scene, and some surprisingly well thought out skating routines. Keep and eye out for the scene-stealing Will Arnett and Amy Poehler as the Van Waldenberg siblings, but the real stars are Will Ferrell (as funny as he’s ever been) and Jon Heder (the straight man to Ferrell’s joker who still has a fair few great lines of his own) as the two polar opposites are forced to work together. Witness the hilarity on Comedy Central at 9pm

Wednesday

Godzilla (1998): Roland Emmerich unleashes the Japanese created sumo-lizard in New York City, carrying the tag line “Size Does Matter” in perfect 90’s fashion. Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno give chase to the monster along with a group of baffled scientists and military personnel with plenty of comic relief. Buildings will shake if you forget the fish at 9pm on Sony Channel.

V for Vendetta (2005):  The year is 2028. The United Kingdom is a fascist police state, with political opponents, Jews, Muslims, atheists, immigrants, homosexuals and other “undesirables” executed. Hugo Weaving is the mysterious V, an anarchist and freedom fighter, wearing the infamous Guy Fawkes mask. Natalie Portman is Evey, a young woman who is recruited into V’s revolution. ‘V for Vendetta’ is THE dystopian political thriller to watch. And has never felt more ‘on the nose’ than in our current political climate. Be sure to join the revolution on SyFy at 9pm

Thursday

Kick-Ass 2 (2013): The follow up to the excellent ‘Kick-Ass’, about a young man called Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who puts on a mask to become Kick-Ass, an adequate crime-fighter. Chloe Grace Moretz reprises her role as the fowl-mouthed ultra-violent Hit Girl, with added Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes. Throw in a new villain in Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a supporting cast of loveable misfits, and Kick-Ass 2 is a fun grounded comic book movie that subverts expectations. Film4 at 11:25pm is the place to be. 

Friday

Resident Evil (2002): Up for a solid horror movie on a Friday night? Then look no further than Paul W.S. Anderson’s ‘Resident Evil’, the adaptation to the terrifying video-game series that scared millions. Whilst critics mostly panned the movie for its video-game aesthetic, it’s by far the best entry to the 7-film franchise. Catch Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez in the film that kick started the franchise at 10pm on 5*

Trainspotting (1995): Danny Boyle’s magnus opus ‘Trainspotting’, a masterclass of filmmaking that’ll have you immersed for its entirety. Follow Renton and his gang into the Edinburgh drug scene and all the grotesque imagery that comes with it, and with terrific performances from an incredible ensemble cast, this is a must see. You can catch this cult classic on Film4 at 1am.

This is England (2006): One of the best British films of the 21st century, This is England introduced the world to some exemplary world-class actors; Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun and Stephen Graham among them. It is a hard-hitting and a difficult watch at times, but Midlands-based writer/director Shane Meadows always undercuts the drama with humour as well. This film tracks the ‘rise’ of a gang of skinheads in the 1980s, covering the music and fashion, as well as the much darker neo-Nazi side. Of course, this subject is unfortunately relevant today. If you do tune in to watch this film for the first time, I also highly recommend the TV series that followed. The acting is astonishing and heart-breaking. Catch the film on Film4 at 9pm

Hiding Online / In Our Collection

The Expendables 3 (2014): This is a fair entry into the series, but nowhere near as enjoyable as the second, and a very mediocre offering saved by seeing so many familiar faces clearly having a blast on screen. Ignore the youngsters if you can and just wait for the pay-off. With a cast including the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Terry Crewes and more, you know the bang for your buck you’re gonna get! But it’s a little more…family friendly this time, which is a shame.  If you enjoy this, I urge you to revisit the second film from 2012 which, to me, is the stand-out of this current trilogy.

Men in Black (1997): Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star as the relentless duo assigned to “Protect Earth from the Scum of the Universe.” Slick and comical with timeless entertainment and notorious Sci-Fi creatures, director Barry Sonnenfeld delivers an instant classic with charming wit and suave action built around a plethora of cool-as-they-get gadgets. Head over to Netflix and keep a hold of your memories.

 

A huge thank you to contributors this week: Chris Gelderd, Jo Craig, Corey Hughes, Sarah Buddery, Sasha Hornby, Fiona Underhill, and Rhys Bowen Jones

Mad Max: Fury Road [Preview]

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Nick Deal

News of the plans for ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ absolutely evaded my radar until about a year ago. I knew nothing of the franchise and nothing of the complications in getting this fourth film to the big screen. The project was put on hold for a lengthy 25 years, with financial difficulties, security concerns and the short attention span of Mel Gibson bringing the fourth installment to a standstill. That is, until 2006 when director George Miller declared his intention to make the film, even if Mel Gibson wasn’t willing to reprise his role as Max Rockatansky. Several years later, and my attention was peaked with news that Tom Hardy would be leading the cast for the all-action reboot; I was sold almost instantly.

Click here to read the full preview

Mad Max: Fury Road

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Nick Deal

News of the plans for ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ absolutely evaded my radar until about a year ago. I knew nothing of the franchise and nothing of the complications in getting this fourth film to the big screen. The project was put on hold for a lengthy 25 years, with financial difficulties, security concerns and the short attention span of Mel Gibson bringing the fourth installment to a standstill. That is, until 2006 when director George Miller declared his intention to make the film, even if Mel Gibson wasn’t willing to reprise his role as Max Rockatansky. Several years later, and my attention was peaked with news that Tom Hardy would be leading the cast for the all-action reboot; I was sold almost instantly.

Back in 1979, a fresh-faced Mel Gibson donned head to toe leather and put his Australian ancestry to good use as the titular character in ‘Mad Max’. The lure of fast cars, big explosions and dangerous biker gangs was enough to elevate the film to cult status; the fans wanted more. And George Miller duly obliged, with the hard-hitting 1981 sequel ‘The Road Warrior’. This follow up excelled where its predecessor failed, with more violence, more explosions and a Max with a darker, more dangerous edge. Literally, everything an action movie should be – success all round. Sadly, a trilogy dictates that there must be a third film, and everybody knows “three’s a crowd”. Roping in the help of a pop diva was always going to be problematic, and as the main antagonist in ‘Beyond Thunderdome’, Tina Turner is nothing more than half-decent. Gone are the psychopathic bikers, replaced by a musical matriarch. Nonetheless, the legacy of ‘Mad Max’ lived on, just about surviving on the grounds of two out of three ain’t bad.

George Miller, the mastermind behind it all – as he is so regularly described – enjoyed an unusual career in the years following the famous trilogy. Perhaps it was the stress of the escaping dream of a ‘Mad Max’ quadrilogy which led Miller to settle down in the director’s chair for the farmyard fun of ‘Babe’. Fair play to the man – the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and smashed the Australian box-office – but surely this was an anomaly, a nice, relaxing family film to break from all the violence. Wrong. Three years later and Miller stepped in to make a sequel. Even more odd, in 2006, the man with a penchant for action and explosions took on the all singing, all dancing ‘Happy Feet’ series. From post-nuclear warfare to theatrical penguins, quite the transformation.

Luckily, George Miller finally managed to give his fourth film life, and we have been treated to multiple teasers and trailers over the past year. From the footage we’ve seen so far, we can make certain predictions about what we can expect from this franchise reboot. Aesthetically and visually, this film looks absolutely stunning. Long tracking shots over vast open desert spaces, filled with intense and vivid colour. As far as setting and environment goes, I can’t think of any trailer off the top of my head which has instilled me with such a feeling of awe as ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ has. As we mentioned previously, this is a franchise which has been built on its reputation for all things violent and downright crazy. This fourth installment looks set to not only continue that trend, but take it to a whole new level with gravity-defying collisions, monumental explosions and incredible slow-motion action sequences all look set to feature prominently. And as far as those crazy antagonists, we need look no further than Nicholas Hoult’s stunning one-liner, “Oh what a lovely day”, to reassure us that this film will be just as mad as its characters allow it to be, and from the evidence we have, I would prepare for full-on insanity.

The trailers, particularly the latest offering, conjure up plenty of memories from the original trilogy. We see the famous gasoline truck which has served Max Rockatansky so well in the past, and there’s the haunting tune of the clockwork musical box which Max gifted to a feral child in ‘The Road Warrior’. Will this child return? Will Max’s HGV save the day again? Thankfully, the leading man himself appears to have adopted a delightfully dark and dangerous demeanour to put Mel Gibson’s portrayal to shame. Tom Hardy is a firm favourite with us, and he looks set to revel in his most action-packed role to date. Alongside him, Charlize Theron has the strong, leading lady role down to a tee. No surprise there. Here’s hoping her character, Imperator Furiosa, may finally be the one to match Mad Max and give him a real run for his gasoline.

It appears that this latest installment will have everything that thrill-seeking moviegoers could possibly hope for. Having seen the trailer in the cinema, there is no doubt that this is a film which needs to be enjoyed on the big screen. Truly, a stunning visual spectacle. ‘Fury Road’ promises to be the highlight of the series; bigger and better than ever before. The years have been kind to Max Rockatansky, clearly benefitting from the advancements in special effects. The action sequences look beautifully crafted and the backdrop that all of the action takes place against is absolutely breathtaking . Let’s just hope the curse of the trailer doesn’t strike again and fill us with false hope.

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is released in UK cinemas on May 15th 2015