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30 Best Action Movies Of The '80s Ranked

Since the dawn of cinema, action has always been king. From punch-ups to shoot-outs, and car chases to army combat, even the earliest movies did what books, radio, and the stage couldn't achieve in the same way — delivering excitement and adventure the likes of which audiences had never seen. Through the decades, ballooning budgets and filmmakers with bolder ideas meant movies with more fantastic flare, and each new generation upped the ante with bigger and more extravagant action.

But perhaps no decade raised the bar like the '80s, with directors like Richard Donner, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron broadening the canvas of the action genre. New heroes hit the screen, and they were bigger than ever, with oversized muscle-bound actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone packing plenty of firepower. Flat, lifeless gun battles of earlier eras — that relied on taut suspense for excitement — were replaced with explosive firefights. Bloodless brawls that saw baddies bopped with backhands gave way to brutal and uncompromising fistfights, full of visceral violence. 

All told, the '80s gave rise to the action movie as we know it: Full of bombastic excitement, massive explosions, and outsized heroes and villains. From Rambo and Indiana Jones to RoboCop and Snake Plissken, the decade did it all. Here's our ranking of the best '80s action movies.

30. Conan The Barbarian

First debuting in magazine stories in the '30s, pulp hero Conan had been featured in dozens of novels by the '80s (via Britannica). But it would take the emergence of muscled superstar, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to finally bring him to life on the screen. Picking up a giant sword and sporting long flowing hair, the former bodybuilder was perhaps the only actor who could have played the role of the mighty Cimmerian warrior. 

Released in 1982, the film was directed by John Milius and co-written by none other than Oliver Stone and showed the hero's tragic origins as an orphaned child. His parents were brutally murdered by the ruthless warlord Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), and his father's mighty sword was taken in the attack on his people. Years later, Conan escapes enslavement and sets out for vengeance, embarking on a blood-soaked quest to find and kill Thulsa Doom, with new allies that include a wizard (Mako) and the adventurer Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) — who becomes his lover. 

Full of magic, sorcery, and plenty of violence, "Conan the Barbarian" had a brutal bluntness rarely seen in a mainstream fantasy movie. Its success kicked off a resurgence of the sword-and-sandal genre — spawning a sequel, "Conan the Destroyer," and the quasi spinoff, "Red Sonja." The film was also Schwarzenegger's first leading role that brought him to mainstream attention, serving as the first step to making him the definitive '80s action hero.

29. Silverado

By the '80s, the Western genre was mostly dead, as old-school cowboy shoot-outs and saloon fist-fights seemed too quaint next to violent action movies like "First Blood" or "The Terminator." But amid those more violent action pictures came "Silverado" — a throwback Western that proved the genre still had some old-fashioned, pistol-packing thrills left in the tank. With an impressive all-star cast, "Silverado" centers on a ragtag group of cowboys out to stop a ruthless cattle baron.

Scott Glenn stars as Emmett, who along with his little brother Jake (Kevin Costner), rides to the town of Silverado. Along the way, they pick up a few new friends including a beleaguered outlaw named Paden (Kevin Kline), and a steely-eyed desperado named Mal (Danny Glover). By the time they arrive in Silverado, they've had several adventures, grown into tight-knit compadres, and worked together to thwart the plans of a land thief who also has ties to their pasts.

From sharp-shooting, gunslinging Western action, rough-riding horse chases, and bare-knuckled brawls, "Silverado" has it all, and it's done up in perfect '80s fashion. Plus, if you ever wanted to see Jeff Goldblum as a Wild West gambler, "Silverado" is your ticket.

28. Commando

Having played a muscle-bound sword master in "Conan the Barbarian," and a killer cyborg in "The Terminator," Arnold Schwarzenegger was a major Hollywood star by the mid-1980s. Next came a string of raucously violent action movies with Arnold as a gun-toting hero — the first of which was 1985's "Commando." Here he played John Matrix, a former soldier who proves every bit as frightening as a futuristic cyborg or a Middle Age warrior.

Now living an otherwise ordinary life with his teenage daughter, Matrix is called back into action when he learns that several members of his former unit have been targeted by President Arius (Dan Hedaya) — a vicious South American despot. His old squad had helped depose Arius years before in a covert mission, but now the madman has hatched a plot to get back into power, and he needs Matrix to do it. Kidnapping Matrix's daughter, he blackmails the former soldier into helping him overthrow the new government of his former homeland, but it isn't long before Matrix turns the tables.

In addition to Arnold, "Commando" is packed with a roster of '80s all-stars including Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke, and Bill Paxton. Setting the stage for just about every Schwarzenegger film that would follow, it mixed bloody violence with some solid one-liners, proving the action star could do more than shoot up bad guys — he could be sly and charming too.

27. The Living Daylights

Following the commercial and critical disappointment in "A View to a Kill" — the 14th official James Bond film — the studio decided to relaunch the series with a new actor and a more grounded tone. While "Remington Steele" actor Pierce Brosnan had been their first choice to replace the outgoing Roger Moore (via Los Angeles Times), obligations to his TV series left him unable to commit, so the part fell to Timothy Dalton. His first film in the role was 1987's "The Living Daylights," which returned the series from the silliness and camp of the Moore films to more serious spy thrillers of old.

Dalton himself impressed as a more strait-laced Bond, though he wasn't without his critics — like Roger Ebert — who missed the more sly humor of his predecessors. The film eschews the bombastic, goofy plot lines and villains seeking world domination and opts for a more down-to-earth Cold War-era spy thriller. It begins with a Russian defector — former KGB operative Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) — who becomes the target of an assassination attempt by his former colleague General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies). But to thwart the plot, Bond must face down a diabolical arms dealer (Joe Don Baker) who is allied with KGB. With a back-to-basics story and loads of action — including a memorable runway chase sequence — "The Living Daylights" brought Bond firmly into the world of '80s action movies with aplomb.

26. The Running Man

Some of the best '80s movies were dystopian sci-fi that envisioned grim futures where technology had taken over our daily lives, while governments suppressed freedom. Others, like the 1987 cult classic "The Running Man," went further, with disturbingly prophetic predictions of widespread civil unrest, the rise of reality television, and the growing power of the media. Based on a short story by Stephen King (under his alias Richard Bachman), it posited a day when criminals were run through a violent gauntlet to earn their freedom.

In the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a cop named Ben Richards, who refuses his orders to slaughter a group of protesters during a riot. Framed for the murders, Richards is forced to become a contestant on a live TV program called "The Running Man," where he must fight his way through a series of deadly combatants. These gladiators include Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), a madman with a chainsaw; Sub Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka), a killer hockey player; Fireball (Jim Brown), a crazed killer with a flamethrower; and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), a jingoistic fan favorite champion.

While the film departed from King's original story, "The Running Man" was full of brutal, bloody fight scenes and many classic Arnie one-liners. It may never have lit up the box office, but over the years it became appreciated for its dark story and fast-paced action, and today could be viewed as a spiritual precursor to Schwarzenegger's 1990 cyber-future classic, "Total Recall."

25. Rocky III

"Rocky" and "Rocky II" might be two of the best sports films ever made — and both were released before the '80s began. After the dawning of the new decade, "Rocky III" hit theaters in 1982, and it more than lived up to audience expectations. In some ways — particularly regarding the jaw-popping action in the ring — it even outdid its predecessors. Once again, star Sylvester Stallone was back writing and directing, but this time, the story shifts focus from the underdog stories to show a new side to Rocky Balboa.

Having earned the title of the heavyweight champ in his bout with Apollo Creed in "Rocky II," Balboa is on top of the world. He's living it up as a celebrity sensation, but his newfound success and decadent lifestyle have changed him. He fights in charity bouts for publicity — including a memorable fight with Thunderlips (played by wrestling star Hulk Hogan) — and his ego has grown to make him believe he's invincible. But when a powerful hotshot fighter named Clubber Lang (Mr. T) challenges him, Balboa's longtime manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith) worries he's finally met his match. 

While "Rocky III" boasts even more impressive fight scenes in the grand tradition of the "Rocky" films, it's also a moving drama that helps it go beyond just a great sports action movie. Plus, it introduced the world to newcomer Mr. T, who'd parlay his appearance into a five-year run as B.A. Baracus on "The A-Team" — a show synonymous with the '80s.

24. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

The first two "Mad Max" films from writer and director George Miller were big hits with audiences, and the studio was eager to cash in with a third. But the mercurial filmmaker wasn't as keen, with little interest in a sequel for the sake of it, according to an interview with Australian Screen. But in time, a story came to him, and he returned to the dystopian world of warlords and wastelands for "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome." With an even bigger canvas, Miller was able to cast pop star Tina Turner, and push the envelope with more thrilling stunts and epic gritty violence than ever.

The film sees Max (the returning Mel Gibson) pulled into a fierce power struggle between the nefarious Aunty Entity (Turner) and her slave-driving lieutenant known as 'Master Blaster' (Angelo Rossitto and Paul Larsson) — who also happens to have stolen Max's prized vehicle. After losing a battle in the gladiatorial arena called the Thunderdome, Max is left for dead, and befriended by a group of wild children who see him as their savior.

Though "Beyond Thunderdome" is often overlooked by fans, critics have always lauded its impressive action, furious fight sequences, and top-notch production design. Despite not matching the first two films — which just so happen to be two of the best post-apocalyptic movies ever made — it's still a big step above the average action movie, and one of the finest that the '80s had to offer.

23. Licence to Kill

The "Bond" series had been relaunched with "The Living Daylights" in 1987, with new star Timothy Dalton leading the film to a decent box office performance. A follow-up two years later hoped to build on that success, with "Licence to Kill" released in 1989. Dalton — who'd proven a different kind of 007 — was joined by new Bond girls Talisa Soto and Carey Lowell, while a young Benicio Del Toro played a dangerous henchman.

Though it still has its trademark humor, the film is a more down-to-earth take on the British super-spy and takes the daring route of having James Bond booted from MI6 and going rogue. In a bold new story, Bond finds himself with a personal vendetta, hunting down a South American drug kingpin who has murdered the wife of Felix Leiter — his long-time friend in the CIA. The action is delightfully old-school — with a bare-knuckle bar fight with Benicio Del Toro, and a clash with a group of thugs in a warehouse filled with sharks, electric eels, and maggots. 

Despite its finesse, however, "Licence to Kill" struggled at the box office, and was the worst performing "Bond" film to date when adjusted for inflation. But its poor ticket sales weren't reflective of quality — as it's more highly rated than "The Living Daylights" — but instead, it suffered from dropping in one of the biggest summers of all time (via the New York Post).

22. Big Trouble in Little China

Kurt Russell is remembered as one of the '80s best action heroes — a reputation that comes in no small part thanks to his role as Jack Burton in the 1986 action comedy "Big Trouble in Little China." Directed by John Carpenter — who'd already worked with Russell on "The Thing" and "Escape from New York" — the film took a circuitous route to the screen, starting as a kung fu Western set in the 1890s. As originally envisioned by writer Gary Goldman, Burton was a tough-talking buffalo hunter who teams up with a Chinese railroad worker for a journey to San Francisco. But that's not quite what wound up on the screen. 

Influenced by "Indiana Jones" — with its pulpy adventure, roguish hero, and supernatural MacGuffins — Goldman ultimately moved the action to the modern day, and the final film is all the better for it. Here, Burton is a truck driver who gets drawn into a dark world of magic and mysticism after his best friend's girlfriend is abducted by a group of Chinatown thugs. As it happens, she's been taken as a human sacrifice to help give life to the ancient sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong), who needs her brilliant green eyes to keep her alive.

Despite having a relatively low budget, Carpenter and Russell bring "Big Trouble in Little China" to greatness with fun fantasy fights, magical mayhem, and some off-the-wall humor. Long beloved for its memorable one-liners, breezy action, and mixing of genres, "Big Trouble in Little China" earns its place as an '80s action classic.

21. Top Gun

Tom Cruise was an ascendant young star in 1986 when he stepped into the cockpit of an F-14 for the Tony Scott actioner, "Top Gun." A slickly produced military action movie, "Top Gun" boasts a solid cast of Hollywood greats alongside the up-and-comer. Beyond Cruise, stars like Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, Michael Ironside, and Anthony Edwards rounded out its roster of stars. 

But of course, the film centers on Cruise and McGillis as young hotshot pilot Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell and female flight instructor Charlie Blackwood respectively — an on-screen couple that oozes sex appeal. While Maverick charms Charlie into bed, his devil-may-care tactics in the cockpit cause friction — not just with his superiors but with fellow flying ace Iceman (Kilmer). But just as Maverick begins to prove that he's the best of the best, he's suddenly confronted with the consequences of his reckless attitude. 

Featuring exhilarating supersonic dogfights, "Top Gun" was a nail-biting thriller and romantic drama rolled into one. As for Cruise, the young actor shows off his star power, helping to turn an otherwise by-the-numbers character into one of the '80s best heroes. But the legacy of "Top Gun" was also helped by the emergence of home video, as it was the first film to be released on VHS with an affordable purchase price, making blockbuster entertainment accessible to the average home viewer for the first time (via Los Angeles Times).

20. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" had taken the box office by storm in 1981, and in the grand tradition of the pulp serials it had paid tribute to, a sequel was quickly in production. Released in 1984, the follow-up "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" was actually a prequel — set a year before the first film, in an effort to avoid using the Nazis as the villains a second time. But this film was notably darker, more violent, and packed a more gruesome punch.

The adventure this time begins in Shanghai, where Indy and his sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) find themselves joined by damsel in distress and lounge singer, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw). Their adventure inadvertently drops them into India where they come to the aid of a group of oppressed villagers being menaced by a Satanic Thuggee cult. To save them, Indy is tasked with retrieving the last of the five ancient Sankara stones — which the villagers believe will be able to help them fight the evil on their doorstep.

Like many sequels, "Temple of Doom" is a step down from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but remains a definitive '80s action movie. Edge-of-your-seat excitement, vine-swinging action, and the most twisted villain of the series in Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) all combine to make "Temple of Doom" an unforgettable romp. But the film also has an important place in movie history, as its graphic violence and dark tone prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating (via The Hollywood Reporter).

19. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Capping off the original "Star Wars" trilogy in 1983, "Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi" landed in theaters to droves of moviegoers eager to see the final installment and the continuation of one of cinema's most unexpected cliffhangers. It had been three years since audiences had been stunned by the revelations in "The Empire Strikes Back" — learning that Luke Skywalker was the son of Darth Vader, and Han Solo's life holding in the balance after he was frozen in carbonite. 

An opening action set piece sees Skywalker (Mark Hamill) become a full-fledged Jedi, embracing his mystical powers in the riveting rescue of his old friend Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of the intergalactic gangster, Jabba The Hutt. From there, the Rebel Alliance learns that the Galactic Empire has constructed a new Death Star, and must rally their fleet at the forest moon of Endor to destroy it before it's operational. Meanwhile, Skywalker must confront his father Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) — and face the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) himself — in a final showdown to decide their fate.

With a few new plot twists of its own, "Return of the Jedi" doubles down on the action. A three-tiered climax brings the spectacle, with an epic space battle, a high-stakes lightsaber duel, and a firefight between rebel soldiers and stormtroopers — with the fate of the entire galaxy hanging in the balance. While it doesn't quite match the first two movies, "Return of the Jedi" nevertheless stands tall as one of the most thrilling conclusions (for now) in sci-fi saga history.

18. Batman

Tim Burton's "Batman" was no sure thing when it was released. While the "Superman" franchise had been a big success early that decade, the last two films flopped, leaving questions as to whether comic book heroes were a fit for the big screen. There was also plenty of risk in going dark and brooding, as the brighter, sillier '60s Batman TV series was still in the public consciousness. Plus, with comedy star Michael Keaton being cast as the titular hero, audiences looking for a darker take were up in arms (via Sun Sentinel). But it all paid off in the end as "Batman" became one of the biggest — and best — movies of the decade.

With Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson as the Joker, "Batman" told the familiar origins of the "Caped Crusader," including the death of his parents, and his first encounter with the "Clown Prince of Crime." A milestone superhero adaptation that laid the groundwork for practically every comic book film that would follow, director Tim Burton portrayed a world only slightly removed from popular crime thrillers of the era. The world of Burton's "Batman" was dark, gritty, and gothic — a stylized, heightened version of the real world. 

But it was the superhero action that had audiences captivated, including a rousing chase scene with the now-iconic Batmobile, jaw-dropping street fights, and plenty of Bat-gadgets that suddenly didn't seem so silly. Complimented by a terrific score from composer Danny Elfman, "Batman" became an instant classic that stands the test of time and is still regarded as one of the best in the genre.

17. Predator

Director John McTiernan helmed two of the most iconic action films of the '80s — the first being just his second film behind the camera. The year was 1987, and the film was "Predator" — a sci-fi action movie about a monster from outer space who stalks a military unit in Southeast Asia. To play the film's hero, McTiernan turned to the biggest name in action movies — superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger — just a year after his appearance in "The Running Man." Packing a massive machine gun and flanked by '80s action greats Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and Carl Weathers, Schwarzenegger added the role of Dutch to his long list of signature movie roles from this decade.

Dutch is a Vietnam vet who leads an elite paramilitary strike team into the jungle to rescue a government official from a group of extremists. While there, Dutch and his team come under fire from a mysterious creature that wants nothing more than to kill every last one of them. With advanced deadly weapons, the predator stalks them through the jungle, picking them off one by one, in ways more blood-curdling than the last. If Dutch is going to survive, he may have to outsmart the creature, because no gun — no matter how big — seems to be able to stop him.

An innovative sci-fi action epic, "Predator" sparked a long-running franchise that continues today, and added the dreadlocked, mandible menace to the pantheon of great movie monsters.

16. Beverly Hills Cop

In what might be one of the best speeding tickets of all time, "Beverly Hills Cop" was originally dreamt up by Paramount's chief executive Michael Eisner after getting cited on an LA freeway. The future Disney CEO has claimed he came up with the idea after he'd been pulled over by a snarky LAPD officer in downtown Los Angeles, and was fascinated by what the life of a Hollywood cop must be like (via The New York Times). 

From there, "Beverly Hills Cop" was born, and Eddie Murphy was an easy choice for the raucous action comedy as the wild, reckless, Detroit cop named Axel Foley. Pursuing a ruthless killer from the mean streets of the inner city to the glitz and glam of sunny Beverly Hills, Foley finds himself out of his element amidst the flashier lifestyle of Southern California. As much as the film is full of exciting, fast-paced action, it also revels in its unpredictability, zany antics, and big laughs.

Paving the way for every comic cop that came in his wake, Axel Foley was a trailblazing cinema star. The Hollywood Reporter was right on the money when they gave the film a rave review on its release in 1984, praising it for its zip and pizazz, and Murphy for giving "a silver-bullet performance ... that's practically criminal in its accuracy."

15. First Blood

The late '70s saw a handful of movies dealing with the fallout of recently returned Vietnam war veterans. From Martin Scorsese's "Deer Hunter" to Henry Winkler's "Heroes," these films captured the trauma of soldiers as they re-entered society. But in 1982, along came "First Blood," which took the story of a Vietnam vet to a much different, darker, and more violent place.

"Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone stars as John Rambo — a beleaguered Vietnam veteran still haunted by his experiences during the war. He arrives in Hope, Washington, with the promise of reuniting with an old friend. But instead, Rambo encounters the town's short-tempered sheriff who wants him out of town. When a despicable deputy decides to antagonize Rambo, the troubled vet's survival instincts kick in, and he fights back and finds himself on the run. Now waging a one-man war against those who wronged him, Rambo becomes an unstoppable killing machine ready and eager to take out anyone in his way.

A watershed movie, "First Blood" spurred a cottage industry of imitators — with movies like "Missing in Action" and "Uncommon Valor" all taking cues from the 1982 classic. With uncompromising brutality and unparalleled levels of blood and gore — almost equivalent to a slasher flick — it changed the face of action movies forever and gave Stallone his second franchise role. The actor would return for four sequels, with the latest "Rambo: Last Blood" landing in 2019.

14. Lethal Weapon 2

The '80s was the era of the franchise, and so when "Lethal Weapon" proved a hit with audiences and critics, that meant a sequel wasn't far behind. Arriving in 1989, in a summer packed with great sequels, "Lethal Weapon 2" managed to stand out from the bunch, with the duo of Riggs and Murtaugh — played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover respectively — back for one more round of action-packed laughs. However, this time they're not alone, as they're joined by a smart aleck crook played by Joe Pesci.

Pesci is Leo Getz, a wise guy accountant who worked for the mob and has turned state witness. He's got the goods on the gang, and he's been placed into protective custody of Riggs and Murtaugh who must keep him alive long enough to testify. But their job won't be so easy when Getz finds himself in the crosshairs of a couple of ruthless killers who arrive on orders from a foreign government. 

There's long been debate about which of the first two "Lethal Weapon" movies is better. And while the sequel does a few things to top the first — from more polished action to the addition of the scene-stealing Joe Pesci — it doesn't quite top it. But the sequel is nevertheless one of the most perfect buddy cop comedies that exist — and that says a lot in a decade rife with some of the best in the genre.

13. 48 Hrs.

The forefather of the '80s buddy action-comedy, "48 Hrs" was the theatrical debut of comedian Eddie Murphy. The comedy legend had cut his teeth as a featured cast member of Saturday Night Live's forgotten season when he was just 19 years old. He was plucked out of the sketch comedy show to play Reggie Hammond — a smart-mouthed punk pulled out of prison to help solve a murder. Murphy's gruff, no-nonsense partner in the film is San Francisco cop Jack Cates, played by Nick Nolte — who was then a veteran TV actor who'd yet to have his breakout hit on the big screen.

Cates is on the hunt for Albert Ganz (James Remar) — an insidious ex-con and deadly killer who's just broken out of prison — but nobody knows where to begin looking. Luckily for Cates, Ganz's old partner Hammond is behind bars on a three-year stint, and eager to earn points for an early release. Now, the grizzled cop and the slick, streetwise crook work together — combining Cates' investigative know-how and Hammond's knowledge of his old criminal partner — to find a killer before he can strike again. "48 Hrs" is not just funny, but full of suspense with some off-the-charts action — including a dramatic hotel shoot-out, and an intense showdown with Ganz.

12. Lethal Weapon

The '80s were the decade that popularized the buddy cop action comedy, with Eddie Murphy leading the way in a pair of classics. But while "Lethal Weapon" wasn't the first, it did add something to the formula — honing it with several new tropes that lead the genre to become what we know today. Written by Shane Black in his Hollywood debut, and directed by Richard Donner, the film took the idea of polar opposite partners from movies like "48 Hrs," but made them both cops. 

In this case, it's "Mad Max" star Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs — an outrageous, out-of-control LAPD detective who cannot be contained. His reluctant partner is Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) — an officer who does things by the book and is far too old to be dealing with Riggs' antics. Together, Riggs and Murtaugh investigate a drug ring, but their efforts are hampered by the former's unpredictable behavior. As they work together though, the two form an unlikely friendship that just may convince Murtaugh to stick around a little longer.

A first-rate action thriller with plenty of laughs, "Lethal Weapon" is one of the only buddy cop comedies spawned in the '80s that endured. While other franchises slowed, "Lethal Weapon" received three sequels and even a TV reboot in the 2010s. A fifth installment has been rumored for years, but as of yet, nothing has materialized.

11. Escape From New York

From John McClane to Indiana Jones, the '80s were awash in smarmy action heroes. But the best might still be futuristic outlaw Snake Plissken from "Escape from New York." With a cavalier attitude, Plissken isn't interested in right or wrong and doesn't even care if he wins or loses — as long as he gets the last word. Perfectly played by Kurt Russell — who just a few years before had been starring in wholesome Disney flicks — Plissken's signature eye patch and leather jacket proved instantly iconic.

Another dystopian sci-fi action movie, "Escape from New York" sees the former soldier, Plissken on his way to a life sentence for attempting to break into the Federal Reserve. But just as he's ready to do his time, he's recruited by the U.S. government for a dangerous mission into Manhattan — which in this dark future has been walled off and turned into a lawless island prison. There, inmates are holding the President of the United States hostage  — who'd crashed there aboard a hijacked Air Force One. Now it's up to Plissken to get in, face down a horde of angry criminals, save the President, and get out alive to earn his freedom.

An all-time '80s favorite, it wasn't a hit on its release, but quickly became a cult classic. Over the years it's become lauded for its stinging satire, stirring suspense, and of course a flurry of gloriously constructed action.

10. Superman II

In 1978, audiences did believe a man could fly thanks to Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie" soaring into theaters. A barn burner at the box office, a critical hit, and a big win with moviegoers, the film's sequel was ready to go right out of the gate because the studio had made the unprecedented decision to film two films at the same time (via VHS Revival). "Superman II" had a controversial road to the screen, however, with Donner departing before the finishing touches could be put on the film, and journeyman director Richard Lester tying up the loose ends.

Following the events of the first film, Superman continues to protect planet Earth but struggles to balance his Superman adventures with living an ordinary life as Clark Kent. But just as he decides to ditch his powers altogether, three former Kryptonian villains are inadvertently released from an inter-dimensional prison and track Superman to Earth. There they decide to use their powers to take over the planet, and it's up to Superman to embrace his role as a hero and save the world a second time. 

Another hit, "Superman II" had more early '80s superhero action, with the "Man of Steel" now going toe-to-toe with three villains even more powerful than he is. Though the original version of the film had its issues, a later director's cut by Donner — that emphasized the action and drama — has elevated it to even greater heights (via Film Stories).

9. RoboCop

In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven introduced the world to "RoboCop" — a dark and violent hero that was perfect for the grim and gritty '80s — who'd go down as one of pop culture's most enduring lawmen. A highly influential dystopian extravaganza, "RoboCop" presented a dark future world where crime runs rampant, consumerism is out of control, and corporations wield real political power. This unsubtle social commentary was lined with side-splitting razor-sharp satire — commenting on the real world with a warning that we perhaps should have heeded more closely. 

But in this twisted future of 2043, the city of Detroit is all but owned by Omni Consumer Products (OCP) who now operate the city's run-down police department. With the streets riddled with crime, they look to technology for the answer, using the mortally wounded cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) as their prototype — rebuilding him as a half-man, half-robot cop. Sent out into the streets to stop a local drug lord, RoboCop soon discovers that he may be a pawn in a vast conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of OCP.

One of the most brutally violent films of the decade, director Verhoeven never met a squib he didn't like. And he gets to use plenty of them as bodies explode left and right in graphic sequences that may shock even the biggest gore fans. A smash hit with audiences and critics, it spawned two sequels, a remake, and more than one TV spin-off.

8. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

We've all heard the myth of the third movie curse — that the final film in a trilogy can never live up to the first two in the series. But "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" defies convention — not only better than its predecessor "Temple of Doom," but many fans even feel it's on par with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (as per an IMDb poll). Moving away from the second film's darker tone, the follow-up has a more upbeat attitude and sees Ford's whip-wielding relic hunter on a quest for the Holy Grail.

The film begins with Indiana Jones learning that his father — Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery) — has gone missing while nearing the end of a decades-long mission to find the fabled Holy Grail. Now — aided by the alluring Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) and his old friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) — Jones must rescue his father and complete the quest before Hitler himself can get his hands on the grail and use it to defeat the Allied powers.

With bigger and better action set pieces — from a sky-bound escape from an airborne zeppelin to a death-defying tank chase — "The Last Crusade" does it all. But best of all, Connery and Ford have endless charm as father-and-son sparring partners, and the film signed off the original trilogy on a spectacular high note.

7. Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

When it comes to dystopian '80s classics, "Mad Max: The Road Warrior" stands high above the rest. For many American audiences, it was the first movie in the series they'd see, as 1979's "Mad Max" did not initially receive an official release stateside. But no matter, because in every meaningful way, "The Road Warrior" is even better, upping the ante with even more adrenaline-fueled, gas-guzzling action, unrelenting madness, and spirited, stylish direction from filmmaker George Miller.

Nearly a soft reboot, "The Road Warrior" reintroduces audiences to the desolate landscape of a near-future Earth that has been devastated by untold nuclear wars. Little remains of civilization, and the landscape is barren and dust-covered, with survivors fighting for scarce resources. Here again, we find Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) — a former law enforcer who roams Australia in a souped-up muscle car, warding off dangerous marauders and fighting for the last drops of gasoline he can find. In this lawless wasteland, Max stumbles across a remote community of surviving settlers being terrorized by a despotic warlord known as Humungus (Kjell Nilsson), and renders aid, joining in their fight to protect what little they have left.

Following the revolutionary 1979 classic, "The Road Warrior" is an impeccable post-apocalyptic action movie with non-stop excitement and bone-crushing action. A captivating thrill ride, it was for decades the finest film in its sub-genre, until the release of the long-awaited follow-up, "Mad Max: Fury Road," which was somehow even better.

6. Midnight Run

When you think of the best on-screen action-comedy duos of the '80s you might think Mel Gibson and Danny Glover or Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, but the best pairing might just be Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin — the stars of "Midnight Run." Largely overlooked today — perhaps because it never received any sequels — the 1988 road comedy stands head and shoulders atop the action-comedy genre. It also proved that De Niro could do more than thrillers and brooding dramas — showing his comic chops in a light-hearted action movie. 

De Niro plays Jack Walsh — who works for a bail bondsman as a pick-up man — tasked with tracking down and bringing in crooks who skip bail. His latest target is Jonathan Mardukis (Grodin) — a low-level gangster who's embezzled millions from a mob kingpin. But Walsh isn't the only one after him, with FBI agent Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) looking to collar Mardukis — hoping he'll flip on his old boss for a federal case. But for Walsh, there's a six-figure payout if he can get his boy back to the bondsman, and he finds himself handcuffed to Mardukis while on the run from a fellow bounty hunter, the FBI, and the mob.

While it might not feature the kind of explosive action that the '80s are known for, "Midnight Run" has some of the best chase scenes on this list. These include cars, trucks, helicopters, and trains, and it doesn't stop until Walsh gets his money.

5. Die Hard

In 1988, "Predator" director John McTiernan had one more instant classic up his sleeve and delivered "Die Hard" — a seminal blockbuster that would redefine the modern action hero. While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone had made overly-muscled and unstoppable heroes en vogue, the film cast TV actor Bruce Willis in the role of John McClane — who was not your prototypical action hero. Instead, McClane was an otherwise ordinary man facing real-life problems who is anything but invincible. But with his back against the wall, this guy next door is forced to become a gun-toting action hero and stop a terrorist plot.

On Christmas day, New York cop McClane arrives at his wife's office building in the hopes of repairing their failing marriage. However, he gets unwittingly trapped in the building when a group of maniacal villains — led by a scenery-chewing Alan Rickman — take over the premises, using a phony hostage crisis as the cover for a daring heist. As the building is sealed off, McClane takes it upon himself to stop the terrorists, crawling through air ducts, popping off henchmen with stolen machine guns, and running over broken glass to save the day.

With a very different kind of hero than audiences were used to, McClane is hurt and hobbled by hard falls and gunshots, but leads the way in a career-altering performance. Centered on a lone hero in a confined space against an army of enemies, "Die Hard" also established a new formula that became a staple of cinema.

4. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Long held as the gold standard in the "Star Wars" franchise, the 1980 sequel "Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back" took everything great about the first film in the saga and doubled down. It also broke plenty of new ground, setting the stage for everything that would come after. Picking up not long after the conclusion of the first film, it begins with an energetic action sequence on the snow planet Hoth, and a tense battle between the Rebel Alliance and Imperial forces — upping the stakes with Darth Vader hunting down the young Luke Skywalker.

From there, the excitement never lets up, with a nail-biting asteroid chase sequence, and the long-awaited first meeting between Skywalker and Darth Vader aboard the cloud city of Bespin. But the film also helped to explore the larger universe, introducing new enemies and allies. This includes fan-favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett and heroes like Lando Calrissian and Jedi Master Yoda — with the latter training Luke and introducing him to the ways of the force for the first time. But it's the climactic showdown that turned heads and left audience's mouths on the floor with revelations so jaw-dropping they still have never been topped.

Featuring some of the greatest moments in the franchise, on top of stirring character drama and gripping suspense, "The Empire Strikes Back" remains the highest-rated "Star Wars" film to this day.

3. The Terminator

Fresh off his star turn in "Conan the Barbarian," newly minted action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger turned from fantasy to sci-fi for the 1984 classic, "The Terminator." Not just one of the best action movies of the '80s, but one of the best of all time, it saw young filmmaker James Cameron flex his directorial muscles and prove himself a slick storyteller with an eye for character, drama, and fast-paced action.

Instead of a hero this time, Schwarzenegger played the T-800 Terminator — a killing machine from a future where humanity is locked in an endless war with Skynet, a vast artificial intelligence. Sent back in time to kill the mother of John Connor — mankind's greatest leader in the future — he is followed to 1984 by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), Connor's best friend, who must protect mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) at all costs. With a pulse-pounding synth score and featuring some of the decade's most inventive action sequences, "The Terminator" used Stan Winston's VFX wizardry to bring the T-800 endoskeleton to life — becoming another in a long line of classic '80s villains.

On its surface, "The Terminator" isn't much different than any number of forgettable clunkers of the era. But the combination of James Cameron's impeccable direction and Schwarzenegger's towering screen presence turned it from a run-of-the-mill sci-fi action movie into a groundbreaking thriller. It wowed audiences with frightening chase sequences and bullet-pumping rampages, putting Cameron on the map, making Schwarzenegger a household name, and changing the genre forever.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Off the bloom of the first two "Star Wars" films, filmmaker George Lucas and star Harrison Ford reunited — joined by director Steven Spielberg — for an all-new adventure that would introduce the world to one of the greatest heroes of all time. An homage to the fanciful movie serials of the '30s and '40s, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was a pulp-inspired adventure that used Ford's indomitable charm to good use — crafting a smug, smarmy, but likable hero that was a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The film's hero — Indiana Jones — is unlike many modern movie heroes in that he's not the strongest or toughest adventurer. Going against tradition, Jones is full of foibles — he's not always right, and he makes mistakes. However, he always manages to come out on top — even when it's by sheer luck — and that's part of what makes him and the film so endearing.

An academic turned adventurer with a fierce sense of right and wrong, Indy is out to thwart a Nazi plot to find the Ark of the Covenant and use its power to take over the world. Thanks to Spielberg's flare, the story was elevated to a first-class triumph, with rip-roaring action, hair-raising chase scenes, and fiery shoot-outs. From its iconic opening — where Jones is threatened by a giant boulder — to its dramatic climax, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is a nonstop roller coaster ride. 

1. Aliens

Fresh off his success on "The Terminator," James Cameron was tapped to take over from Ridley Scott on the sequel to "Alien." Released in 1986, "Aliens" took what had been a creepy, slow-paced, and atmospheric horror slasher, and turned it into a fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall action movie. It still had its own brand of spine-tingling terror, but where there was once a single monster menacing a small crew of unprepared blue-collar workers, there were now hundreds of Xenomorphs up against a battalion of seasoned space marines, armed to the teeth. 

Picking up where the last film left off, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is rescued from stasis after nearly 60 years adrift in space. Picked up by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, she's shocked to learn that LV-426 is now home to a human colony. Corporate stooge Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) — with Ripley as an advisor — leads a team of commandos back to the moon and finds the colony decimated by the Xenomorphs. But while Ripley warns Burke not to stick around, it may be too late, and no amount of military firepower can save them from a horde of alien creatures that threaten to make them their next meal.

A more explosive and action-packed installment, James Cameron's stellar skill — mixing strong characters, a tight story, and big budget effects — delivered the most nail-biting, adrenaline-pumping action ever put to screen. A modern masterpiece, "Aliens" isn't just the best sci-fi movie of the decade, it's the best action movie too, and it isn't particularly close.