Not all action movies get to be as good as Die Hard. Actually, not even all Die Hard movies get to be as good as Die Hard. And while most action movies are solid fun that provide audiences with a simple sense of escapism, some of them are just plain bad.
They do try, though! There’s punching and shooting, violence and nudity, cops and robbers, vigilantes, mercenaries, terrorists and street punks. If the movie is feeling especially crazy, it may throw in a few ninjas, or even some sort of killer robot. But due to the lack of talent involved, budgetary restraints, or both, the result merely reminds us of other, better movies.
In this special, synthesizer-scored, mullet-wearing edition, Screen Rant proudly presents our list of the 12 Worst Action Movies Ever Made.
12. The Raiders of Atlantis (1983)
After U.S. scientists fail to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine off the coast of Florida, its radioactive leakage causes the re-emergence of the lost continent of Atlantis. Does that make any sense? No? Well, several scientists end up on a small island accompanied by two veteran soldiers (played by Christopher Connelly and Tony King). Unfortunately, the island has been overrun by a band of Atlanteans that, for some reason, all look like extras from a Mad Max movie. Will our heroes survive?
The Raiders of Atlantis (AKA The Atlantis Interceptors, AKA Atlantis Inferno) is an Italian sci-fi action film by Ruggero Deodato, a film director best known for his notorious 1980 horror movie Cannibal Holocaust, which pioneered the found footage style of filmmaking. Released in 1983, The Raiders of Atlantis was just one of many B-movies from the era that tried and failed to replicate the success of films like George Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.
11. Bulletproof (1988)
America’s sweetheart Gary Busey stars in Bulletproof as Frank McBain, a cop and a military veteran known for his ability to survive gunfights unharmed. When a group of suspiciously ethnic mercenaries led by villainous Colonel Kartiff (veteran actor Henry Silva) steals an American super-tank prototype, McBain is asked by his former army superiors to defeat Kartiff’s troops and demonstrate the awesomeness of the US of A. Among the kidnapped soldiers is Capt. Devon Shepard (Darlanne Fluegel) — McBain’s old flame who proves that while he may in fact be bulletproof, he’s not love proof.
Whatever happened to Gary Busey? He used to be a respectable actor, acting opposite Dustin Hoffman in the 1978 crime drama Straight Time. Flash forward 25 years, and he’s appearing in “movies” like Quigley in which he plays a greedy businessman reincarnated as a fluffy dog. Directed by Steve Carver, Bulletproof is an exploitation action film so blatantly jingoistic, that it almost becomes endearing. Almost.
10. Lady Terminator (1989)
Bad movies are often attempts to imitate more famous ones, but rarely do they get as blatant as Lady Terminator. This low-budget Indonesian action flick steals entire scenes from James Cameron’s Terminator, re-filming them with new actors and significantly worsened special effects. The sheer gall of it elevates Lady Terminator (AKA Nasty Hunter; AKA The Revenge of the South Seas Queen; AKA Snake Terminator: The Snake Wench Dies Twice) from run-of-the-mill bad movies.
It’s when Lady Terminator diverges from its source that it becomes a bit more interesting, if equally crude. It begins in the olden days with a sexually rapacious South Sea goddess who kills her lovers. When one of them bests her, she places a curse upon his descendants. A century later, a spirit of the goddess takes possession of an anthropology student named Tania (Barbara Anne Constable) and proceeds to use magic and AK-47’s to avenge herself. It takes explosions, a magical shooting star dagger and some overtly-Freudian symbolism to finally defeat her.
9. Superfights (1995)
Jack Cody (Brandon Gaines) may be a lowly clerk in a sports store, but he has a dream: to participate in Superfights, a sporting event that combines martial arts with all the theatrics of the professional wrestling world. After he saves Sally (Feihong Yu) from would-be thieves with his martial arts skills, Jack becomes famous and draws attention of Robert Sawyer (Keith Vitali), the owner of the Superfights. After Sawyer offers him an opportunity to participate in the event, it seems like all of Jack’s dreams have come true. But soon enough he learns that Superfights is a mere front for a criminal organization — with Sawyer at the head of it all!
Siu-Hung Leung is best known for his work as a martial arts choreographer in Hong Kong movies. A Hong Kong-American co-production, Superfights is one of the rare times that Leung actually directed his own martial arts movie. Despite all the ludicrous acting and the intensely cheesy story, the fight scenes in Superfights are actually pretty passable thanks to the cast of (professional martial artists.
8. Deadly Prey (1986)
Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) trains his mercenaries in a peculiar way: he orders random civilians kidnapped and released unarmed into the wilderness, after which Hogan’s troops are ordered to hunt them down. But mercenaries get more than they bargained for when they kidnap Mike Danton (Ted Prior). A military veteran and a one-man army, Danton truly is… Deadly Prey.
As is often the case with bad movies, Deadly Prey is a brainchild of a single mind — that of David A. Prior, who elected to cast his brother in the lead role. Prior wrote, directed and/or produced a whole bunch of B-movies such as Aerobicide, Lock ‘n’ Load and Zombie Wars. A rip-off of Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood, Deadly Prey was a massive failure upon its release. It was only recently that the film found a new audience amongst the fans of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, leading to a sequel, Deadliest Prey, which was released almost 30 years after the first film.
7. R.O.T.O.R. (1989)
R.O.T.O.R. is an action film about an android police officer (Carroll Brandon) designed by Cpt. Dr. J. Barrett Coldyron (Richard Gesswein), head scientist of the Dallas Police Department robotics lab and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Manliest Scientist Name Ever. When his Robotic Officer of the Tactical Operations Research is accidentally activated, it follows its prime directive, “to judge and execute,” to the letter, relentlessly hunting a minor traffic offender Sonya (Margaret Trigg) with an intent to kill her. It is up to Dr. Coldyron to stop his own creation with the help of Dr. Corrine Steele (Jayne Smith).
Borrowing heavily from vastly superior films like Terminator and RoboCop, R.O.T.O.R. struggles to be an action comedy. Like many films on this list, the film’s only laughs are unintentionally hilarities, as the intended comedy falls flat on its face. R.O.T.O.R. is the first and only feature-length film of Cullen Blaine, and those who’ve seen the film shouldn’t have too hard of a time understanding why. A TV veteran working mostly in animation, Blaine wrote, produced and directed R.O.T.O.R.
6. Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)
In this action-packed extravaganza, Dona Speir (Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for March 1984) and Hope Marie Carlton (Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for July 1985) star as Donna and Taryn, DEA agents who accidentally intercept an illegal delivery of diamonds. Drug lord Seth Romero (Rodrigo Obregón) isn’t pleased, and he sends out his goons to kill the girls and get his diamonds back. Further complicating the matter is an giant killer snake, made toxic by cancer-infested rats, that randomly pops up throughout the film. Luckily, the girls are helped by hunky mainland agents Rowdy (Ron Moss) and Jade (Harold Diamond).
Filmmaker Andy Sidaris made a career out of filming cheap action films with plenty of explosions, nudity and bad acting. With its laughable synthesizer soundtrack, awful hair stylings, and neon-colored palette, Hard Ticket to Hawaii is not just a great example of Sidaris’ brand of film, but also a proof that 1980s should be left dead and buried.
5. Ninja Terminator (1985)
Explaining the plot of Ninja Terminator is an exercise in futility. The movie centers around a war of rival ninja clans. Black Ninjas led by Ninja Master Harry (Richard Harrison), steal the Red Ninjas’ gold-plated plastic statuette. The Red Ninjas then declare war by sending a toy robot to Ninja Master Harry. While Harry kills crabs and slices watermelons, we follow his friend Jaguar (Jack Lam) as he tracks down a woman who might know the location of the Red Ninjas’ statuette. Also, there’s a cameo by Garfield.
Hong Kong film maker Godfrey Ho is a legend among the connoisseurs of bad cinema. At the height of the 1980s ninja craze, Ho created dozens of martial arts films by splicing material from existing low-budget movies. He then combined these with newly-filmed scenes featuring Caucasian ninjas in brightly-colored costumes wielding all kinds of weaponry — from Magnum revolvers to slingshots — a method reminiscent of the first few seasons of the Power Rangers. Being somewhat comprehensible, Ninja Terminator is a great introduction to Godfrey Ho’s opus of awfulness.
4. Miami Connection (1988)
In a premise that only a child could think of, Miami Connection pits a rock ‘n’ roll band of taekwondo warriors against a gang of biker ninjas who smuggle cocaine to Florida. Stakes rise as one member of the band Dragon Sound falls in love with the sister of a drug-dealing criminal. Soon enough, there’s blood in the streets and lousy music in the air.
Martial artist Y.K. Kim starred — and produced, and co-wrote — Miami Connection after being contacted in 1985 by the film’s director, Richard Park. Kim nearly went bankrupt while producing this film, at one point even mortgaging his martial arts school. Miami Connection saw a very limited release in 1988 and was soon forgotten. In 2009, an employee at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema bought a copy of the film on the internet. Soon enough, the misfire was re-released, and since attained a cult status among the fans of 1980s action schlock.
3. Gymkata (1985)
Gymkata is a new kind of martial art, blending the skill of gymnastics and the kill of karate. Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) is an Olympic gymnast approached by the U.S. government to participate in “The Game,” a strange competition held in the tiny country of Parmistan. All foreign visitors are forced to participate in an endurance race while being hunted by ninjas, with the winner being awarded his life and a single wish. Cabot’s mission is to win and use his wish so that American government can build a military installation in Parmistan. Naturally.
Gymkata features the first and final leading role for real-life Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas. The film goes to absurd lengths to invent ways for Thomas to demonstrate his gymnastics skills, culminating in a scene where he fights an angry mob in a village square using a pommel horse that just happens to be there. Gymkata was directed by Robert Clouse, a veteran director best known for the legendary 1973 martial arts film, Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee. Gymkata viewers are left wondering just what happened to the director in those twelve years that resulted in this absurd fall from grace.
2. Eliminators (1986)
What do you get when you combine a cyborg, a ninja, some rednecks, and a tribe of Neanderthals? Why, Eliminators, of course! Patrick Reynolds plays Mandroid, a half-human, half-machine created by the mad scientist Abbott Reeves (Roy Dotrice) as a part of an extremely vague plan to conquer the world using time travel. But Mandroid escapes, vowing to stop Reeves once and for all with a help of an army scientist (Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Denise Crosby), a mercenary (Andrew Prine), a ninja (Conan Lee), and a robot named Spot.
Eliminators was written by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, the team behind such B-movie delights as Zone Troopers (about aliens crash-landing in Nazi-occupied Europe) and Trancers (Terminator meets Blade Runner). Eliminators is a great example of a movie not allowing its low budget to get in the way of it having fun with crazy ideas. And even though the resulting movie is a complete embarrassment, Eliminators is nevertheless fun to watch.
1. Samurai Cop (1991)
Throughout the 1980s raged an epidemic of terrible movies about renegade cops who play by their own rules. One of them is Joe (Matt Hannon), a martial arts expert and all-around loose cannon. But when a criminal organization led by Yamashita (Robert Z’Dar) threatens to take over the city, the only one who can stop it is Joe, along with his sidekick/partner Frank (Mark Frazer). What ensues is a perfect storm of bad acting, clumsy dialogue and shoddy production value.
Samurai Cop could be best described as a cheap foreign knock-off of the American action movies…if it wasn’t filmed in Los Angeles. It was written, directed and produced by filmmaker Amir Shervan. An Iranian ex-pat in California, Shervan made several equally ridiculous action films such as Hollywood Cop and Killing American Style. All of them were commercial failures, but were re-discovered in recent years by bad cinema aficionados. Samurai Cop even got a sequel in 2015 – Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance.
So, what are your favorite bad action movies? Share them with us and other readers in the comments below!