When it comes to action movies, the '80s was a very big decade for the genre. While there had certainly been action movies before this era, the '80s introduced so many influential aspects of the genre. The stunts got bigger, the heroes became one-man armies, and the buddy-cop formula took off.
With so many years having passed, there are a number of great movies that might not have gotten their due that deserve a second look. At the same time, there are also those so-called classics that might not be as good as we remember. Here are the most underrated and overrated action movies of the '80s.
10 Underrated: Big Trouble in Little China
John Carpenter is mostly known for his amazing work in the horror genre, with films like Halloween and The Thing. However, he is also a great action director and Big Trouble in Little China is one of his most enjoyable films.
The film stars Kurt Russell as a truck driver who finds himself in the midst of an ancient and mystical gang war. The movie was a bomb when it was released and though it has achieved cult status, many have yet to discover its wild sense of humor and dismantling of genre conventions.
9 Overrated: Aliens
Let's start by making it totally clear that Aliens is a great movie. James Cameron's inventive follow-up to Alien turns the tense horror movie into a big bold action movie. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley, the sole survivor of the original film, who is in total-badass mode this time around.
The movie is a fun and thrilling ride. But the fact that many see it as superior to the original film is crazy. Cameron made a thoroughly satisfying action movie, but it still falls short of the ground-breaking achievement of Alien.
8 Underrated: Midnight Run
Midnight Run is an action-comedy starring Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter who must take a convict (Charles Grodin) across the country as the FBI, the mafia and rival bounty hunters are hot on their trail. The movie was directed by Martin Brest with an energetic and fun feel that puts a smile on your face.
De Niro is at his funniest as the beleaguered tough guy while Grodin is the perfect foil with great dry wit. Together they are the perfect dysfunctional pair, making this movie an overlooked gem that remains one of the best of the decade.
7 Overrated: Beverly Hills Cop
As Eddie Murphy’s career was on the rise, Beverly Hills Cop came along and made him a superstar. Murphy stars as Axel Foley, a Detroit cop who travels to rich Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his friend.
The movie was the perfect vehicle for Murphy, who infused a pretty standard cop movie with a sense of fun and a lot of humor. While the movie is certainly hilarious, it is lacking as an action movie. The sequences are not special and the real draw of the movie is simply watching Murphy do his thing.
6 Underrated: A Better Tomorrow
John Woo is maybe the most important filmmaker in '80s action movies. Though Hollywood can sometimes be criticized for the lackluster action movies of the '80s, the Hong Kong action scene was outstanding. And Woo was the best in the business.
A Better Tomorrow is one of Woo's most insane and entertaining films from the period, but it often gets forgotten in favor of The Killer and Hard Boiled. However, anyone who enjoys the recent John Wick movies should seek out this gem.
5 Overrated: Commando
The '80s was the decade in which Arnold Schwarzenegger became a superstar. He had a number of huge hits in the '80s, including Predator and Terminator, but while those films hold up extremely well, Commando is not one of his best.
Despite audiences loving Schwarzenegger as the one-man army in the film, it's one of his duller efforts. While people remember the wild action and the cheesy one-liners, after 90 minutes you need more than that to keep you entertained. Schwarzenegger's performance and the action itself are far better in his later films.
4 Underrated: Runaway Train
Unlike many of the other films on this list, Runaway Train does not feature big shootouts and elaborate fight sequences. Instead, it is a simple story of two convicts (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts) who find themselves onboard a speeding train that cannot be stopped.
The film is a non-stop and gripping thrill ride with some pulse-pounding sequences and excellent performances. Despite Voight and Roberts both being nominated for the film, it has slipped into obscurity. The small cast and single setting don't stop the film from being any less engrossing.
3 Overrated: Scarface
Scarface is a classic gangster-action movie and the main character of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) has become a cinematic icon. The movie follows Tony's transformation from a Cuban immigrant into a powerful and unhinged drug lord.
Pacino gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance that makes the movie captivating, but aside from that performance, the movie isn't too compelling. The same story has been told better in other films and the theatrical elements to the acting and action make it a little hard to take seriously.
2 Underrated: Police Story
Jackie Chan is one of the greatest action stars in film history. He can make any movie thrilling through his unbelievable stunt sequences. Whether it is the fast-paced fight scenes or the Buster Keaton-style comedy routines, Chan's films are a delight.
Though you could search through Chan's entire filmography and find plenty of underrated and worthwhile films, Police Story remains one of his best, which is overshadowed by Chan's American film work of the '90s. If only for the amazing mall sequence, this is one worth seeking out.
1 Overrated: Top Gun
Top Gun is the kind of movie that could only have come out in the '80s. The action-adventure stars Tom Cruise as Maverick, a hotshot Navy pilot who competes to be the best of the best in the Top Gun program. The movie is filled with a classic '80s soundtrack and plenty of cheesy moments to make it a fun time.
Despite its reputation as a icon of the decade, Top Gun is not much of an action movie. Tony Scott’s direction is slick, but the repetitive practice dogfights start to feel the same taking away a lot of the excitement of the movie. Perhaps the sequel will take the action to another level.