Ah, the 1980s – a vision in neon, shoulder pads and swagger. This decade has always been a rich source of adulation or ridicule, depending on your personal preferences. Yet one thing that cannot be contested is that the 1980s marked the high point of the Action movie genre, with its emphasis on over-the-top bravado serving as the foundation of all the tropes we’ve come to associate with it. After all, this is the decade of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and many more.
With so many spectacular action epics coming out in such a short span of years, it’s easy to overlook some of the greats of this period. There’s a bewildering array of B-movies, mash-ups, reboots, and indie gems from this time, and while, understandably, most of these are sub-par, some are minor masterpieces. As such, below we’re going to be taking a look at two of the most underrated action films of the 1980s. What they share in common, is that they nail the intoxicating blend of explosions, car chases, and combat that come together to create a thrill ride of a movie that is perfectly paced and charged with adrenaline throughout.
License to Kill (1998) – Timothy Dalton’s First Outing as “R-Rated Bond”
Following on from Roger Moore in the role of Bond was never going to be easy. With the exception of Sean Connery, no actor has appeared in the role of 007 more times. Following A View to Kill (1985), Moore passed the baton, after 12 years, to the considerably younger Timothy Dalton. Following the increasingly cartoonish antics of the Moore-era Bond films, EON productions and Dalton wanted to revive the franchise with a gritty reboot. Dalton’s Bond is world-weary and pragmatic, delivering the darkest depiction of the spy yet witnessed on screen.
His two films are both considered cult classics, though neither are well remembered, sandwiched as they are in between the bombastic excesses of the Moore and Brosnan films. License to Kill, in particular, is remembered as a particularly noteworthy Bond outing. Not only was it on course to become the first ever R-rated Bond film, before some last-minute cuts took this down to PG-13, but it also brought Bond up to date, taking inspiration from the gritty trend in action that took precedence in the late 80s following the success of films like Die Hard.
The film’s iconic aesthetic and catchy title has seen it live on in a host of popular pastiches, as evidenced by the popular slots title License to Spin, one of the thousands of compelling online one-armed-bandit titles provided by VegasSlotsOnline for gaming aficionados with a taste for espionage. This platform’s commitment to delivering not only the widest selection but the best-curated directory of slots games available anywhere online is but one of the ways Dalton’s legacy as Bond lives on. In truth, Dalton’s influence on the character of Bond has exerted a larger influence than many realize. Daniel Craig, who similarly was tasked with bringing Bond back down to earth and reviving the character for a new generation, cites Dalton’s interpretation of the character as one of his chief influences alongside the Fleming novels. This is understandable, as prior to Craig, no actor other than Dalton took 007 in such a realistic and gritty direction.
Commando (1985) – Arnie in His Heyday, Dialed up to 11
The year is 1985, and Arnold Schwarzenegger has just become a global super-star following the release of The Terminator – the critically acclaimed sci-fi action flick that still survives as a modern classic, boasting an 8.1 score on IMDb. Following this, Arnie was recruited onto the production of a mid-budget, no-holds-barred summer action blockbuster called Commando. Few films before or since have managed to pack as many pithy one-liners and action scenes into their 90-minute runtime.
Schwarzenegger stars as John Matrix, a retired special forces commando who, following the mysterious deaths of members of his former unit, and the subsequent kidnapping of his daughter, must don his war paint and camo once again in order to exact vengeance on his old rival Bennet, played masterfully by Vernon Wells. The action scenes in this mini-epic still hold up today, with car chases, rocket launchers, and a stunning tropical island finale all coming together to make this film the perfect distillation of the 80s action genre.