Action flicks about heists, capers, police detectives, and traditional human team-ups have become a thing of the past. Mainstream films in the genre today are more often about robots, A.I., and massive superhero battles in big cities. Occasionally we still get a great action movie that stays grounded and realistic, but if you genuinely want to get a taste of the original style of the genre, you'll need to look back to the 1980s when the genre was in its prime.
There were tons of fantastic action films and franchises born in the 1980s, such as The Terminator, Robocop, Die Hard, and Indiana Jones. There is an equal amount of action flicks people have forgotten about or never saw in the first place; we focus on those in this list.
10 The Untouchables (1987)
The Untouchables is a classic gangster film. Based on a book of the same name, The Untouchables boasts an astonishing cast of talent in Robert de Niro, Andy Garcia, Sean Connery, and Kevin Costner. Despite being nominated for multiple Academy Awards (Connery even won for Best Supporting Actor), The Untouchables has largely been forgotten.
The film's story is your standard agent attempting to take down a slippery mob boss. The Untouchables excels at taking a basic plotline and expanding it into an intense and compelling story driven by excellent performances from the entire cast.
9 Bloodsport (1988)
Since the rise of Rocky, we've seen our fair share of boring films about rising boxers and fighters. The vast majority of these Rocky rip-offs are tediously cliched. Bloodsport does fall into a similar trap, with plenty of familiar tropes to go around. Critics were not fans of the film. That said, it had a better reception with audiences.
Many consider Bloodsport to be some of Jean-Claude Van Damme's finest work. His character Frank Dux transition to the hyper-violent world of Hong Kong martial arts competition. Bloodsport is full of all the bone-crunching and blood spurts you could want while maintaining a dark sense of humor throughout.
8 Commando (1985)
The 1980s were Arnold Schwarzenegger's prime. After rising to fame and becoming an acclaimed action superstar in films like Conan the Barbarian and Terminator, Schwarzenegger continued his winning streak with movies like Commando. It's easy for this action flick to get overlooked in favor of Schwarzenegger's more notable roles.
The plot might not be the strongest or best-written out there, but where this movie excels is in its non-stop action and pitch-perfect one-liners. Commando takes everything you loved about the '80s and cranks it up to ten. Admittedly, It's a little cartoonish at times, yet it's sure to put a smile on your face.
7 Kickboxer (1989)
Jean-Claude van Damme starred in yet another martial arts action movie at the tail end of the '80s with Kickboxer. It's not dissimilar to Bloodsport with Van Damme's character Kurt Sloane entering a Thai championship this time around. His motives are also different in Kickboxer as Sloane aims to avenge his fallen brother.
You'll likely understand precisely what kind of film you're getting into if you watch even one trailer. That's not a bad thing! Sometimes a mindless popcorn action flick is what you need, and Kickboxer provides that in spades. And hey, it was popular enough to spawn four sequels so that must mean something, right?
6 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max, as a franchise, can hardly be considered underrated. The series frequently comes up in any conversation about action films from the last few decades. However, in general, people like to rave about the original Mad Max and the more recent Mad Max: Fury Road. Mad Max 2 gets paid dust compared to its siblings.
Director George Miller somehow manages to improve upon the already excellent Mad Max. The sequel offers bigger stunts, more daring action sequences, and an intriguing story, yet it doesn't fall into the common potholes many sequels have in the past. It's an exhilarating and well-made action feature that action fans shouldn't miss.
5 Vigilante (1983)
Like the title of this movie suggests, Vigilante is all about vigilantes. Robert Forster plays the lead role of Eddie Marino. It follows a somewhat predictable plot of a father enraged by the death of his son and the lack of justice brought to his killers. He decides to take matters into his own hands.
It's a typical B-movie, and although critics weren't fond of it, many filmgoers were endeared by the film's cheesiness. The best way to describe Vigilante is to say its fun. While that might seem too simple an explanation, it's the most accurate summation of the film. What's the point of watching an action flick anyway if it doesn't make you feel entertained?
4 Cobra (1986)
Cobra is another critically panned film on this list. That said, unlike some of the other entries, Cobra is now considered a cult classic. Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nelson, and Reni Santoni lead the cast of this Beverly Hills Cop re-work. Yes, you read that right.
If you weren't aware, Stallone worked on the screenplay for Eddie Murphy's Beverly Hills Cop. He used many of his ideas from pre-production to devise a new film which eventually became Cobra. Stallone plays a badass cop with the apt nickname, Cobra, and makes it his mission to search and destroy a cult of serial killer wannabes.
3 Police Story (1985)
Police Story stands out on this list both because of Jackie Chan's involvement, he wrote and directed the film and the fact it is critically acclaimed. Police Story helped establish Chan as one of the best in the genre. It was this film that launched Chan's Hollywood career outside of Hong Kong.
Chan plays an honest cop who wants to track down a drug lord. He then has to protect the woman who will testify against him. Critics praised Chan's performance and the excellent fight choreography. It might surprise you how well Police Story stands up all these years after its initial release.
2 A Better Tomorrow (1986)
A Better Tomorrow is another action film from the '80s that initially released in Hong Kong. It was hugely influential to the Hong Kong film industry and in Hollywood. John Woo directed the film, and it starred Leslie Cheung, Chow Yun-fat, and Ti Lung. It's ultra-violent, and adrenaline-pounding fight sequences have made it an action classic.
But despite its sterling reputation, it largely goes undiscussed in modern film conversations. Critics praised A Better Tomorrow for being operatic in scale and for redefining the genre tropes we had come to know at the time it debuted in cinemas.
1 Number One With a Bullet (1987)
Robert Carradine, Billy Dee Williams, and Valerie Bertinelli lead the cast of this old-school police detective film from 1987. Carradine and Williams play partners on the police force tasked with tracking down a drug lord. The two detectives are starkly different in both mannerisms and approach.
When their trail leads to a respected member of the community, the two men must decide how to proceed and whether the evidence is right or mistaken. Not only is Number One with a Bullet an excellent action film, but it offers elements of mystery and suspense too.