The 1980s was a great decade for movies, especially action movies starring celebrities we know and love today, from Tom Cruise to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sylvester Stallone. If you're gearing up for a marathon of 80s classic action films by yourself or with friends and family, an online forum has recently given excellent movie suggestions to get you started.
Here are 25 of the best 80s classic action movies they provided.
1. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
In this John Carpenter classic, truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) digs underneath San Francisco to Chinatown to rescue his friend's fiancee from an ancient Chinese prince and crime lord Lo Pan, who kidnapped her because she has the green eyes needed to release him from a centuries-old curse.
Although Big Trouble in Little China was a commercial failure, it garnered positive reviews. It became a cult classic when it was released on home video.
2. Aliens (1986)
In James Cameron's sequel to 1979's Alien, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) attempts to re-establish contact with a terraforming colony on the moon after surviving a Nostromo attack decades earlier. But during her mission, she fights the Alien Queen and her offspring.
According to some critics, Aliens has some action scenes that may be too intense, so keep that in mind before viewing.
3. Platoon (1986)
In Platoon, a U.S. Army volunteer (Charlie Sheen) serving in Vietnam gets caught in a battle of wills between his Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leader (Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger) over the morality of the platoon and the war they've been sent to fight.
Oliver Stone wrote and directed Platoon from the lens of his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in the Vietnam War to counter the vision of war depicted in John Wayne's The Green Berets, which was released 18 years prior. It was born from the screenplay he wrote in 1968 called Break, which was never produced but was used as a basis for the film.
4. The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Or Buckaroo Banzai, for short. The titular Jack of all trades (Peter Weller) — neurosurgeon, physicist, test pilot, and rock star — assembles his crime-fighting team, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, to stop evil alien invaders called the Red Lectroids from taking over Earth.
This is a great film to remind people that nerds can save the world from every kind of disaster.
5. Bloodsport (1988)
Jean-Claude Van Damme, a well-seasoned martial artist in real life, plays Frank Dux, who goes AWOL from the U.S. Army to compete in an illegal, underground martial arts tournament in Hong Kong called the Kumite, a fight to the death with the deadliest martial artists in the world.
Bloodsport established Van Damme as a bona fide action star based on the strength of his martial arts skills.
6. They Live (1988)
Based on the 1963 short story Eight O'Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson, They Live follows an unnamed drifter, credited as Nada, who discovers through a unique pair of sunglasses that aliens are living in Los Angeles disguised as the ruling class. They influence people's everyday decisions via subliminal messages sent to them through mass media without realizing it.
They Live is regarded as one of Carpenter's best films. It serves as social commentary on the economic policies of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, from whom the term “Reaganomics” was born. If you think about it, some of the effects of Reaganomics affect us today via inflation, making this movie a timeless classic.
7. Tron (1982)
In Tron, Jeff Bridges stars as a computer programmer and video game developer at ENCOM named Kevin Flynn, who gets trapped inside ENCOM's mainframe by the Master Control Program (MCP). He works with the programs inside the mainframe to stop the rogue MCP and get back to the real world.
Tron was released during the heyday of video games after director Steven Lisberger was inspired by Pong in 1976. The movie gained such a cult following that its world was featured in Kingdom Hearts 2 and spawned the 2010 sequel, Tron: Legacy.
8. Road House (1989)
Patrick Swayze plays James Dalton, a bouncer with a mysterious past who gets uprooted from his job in New York City to repair the reputation of a roadside bar named the Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri, busting troublemakers and firing employees for poor behavior, theft, and drug-dealing, turning it into a hotspot in the process. However, when he gets romantically involved with Dr. Clay, he not only has to protect the bar from bad actors, but he also has to protect the small town from a corrupt business magnate.
Swayze's signature roundhouse kicks in Road House inspired Peter Griffin to go around town kicking everyone and everything to solve his problems in the Family Guy episode “Brian's Got a Brand New Bag.”
9. Cobra (1986)
Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in this action thriller as Lt. Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, who takes a model named Ingrid into protective custody after witnessing a series of murders carried out by New Order, an extremist group of killers who target people they deem to be the weakest members of society. Despite his job, Cobra falls in love with Ingrid, and they find themselves fighting for survival against the secret society.
Cobra didn't live up to the success of some of Stallone's other films, like Rambo. However, it's still an excellent film to watch for Stallone aficionados.
10. Streets of Fire (1984)
Ex-soldier Tom Cody (Michael Paré) is hired to rescue rock star and ex-girlfriend Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a biker gang that kidnapped her during her concert. He works with Ellen's manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) and another fellow former soldier McCoy (Amy Madigan) to navigate a dangerous city where the biker gang resides to get her back.
Streets of Fire is labeled a neo-noir film that mixes action with musical genres and contains elements of the 1950s threaded with 1980s themes.
11. The Punisher (1989)
Based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, former undercover police officer and U.S. Marine Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) transforms into the Punisher after his wife and two daughters get killed in an explosion set off by the Mafia, the criminal organization he sought to drive out of the city. Though presumed dead, Castle takes his brand of vigilante justice to the underworld to seek vengeance against the criminals who killed his family.
The poster and video cover for this adaptation of The Punisher didn't bear the skull icon, but the 2004 film did.
12. Cyborg (1989)
Van Damme plays a mercenary in a post-apocalyptic future tasked with protecting the titular cyborg Pearl Prophet as he transports her to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, as she holds the cure for a deadly disease ravaging humanity, while fighting a group of marauders sent by a warlord to make sure she never reaches her destination in time.
13. The Terminator (1984)
In Arnold Schwarzenegger's most famous film, a cyborg assassin disguised as a human travels from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, whose unborn son will save humanity from extinction by a hostile artificial intelligence known as Skynet in a post-apocalyptic future. Meanwhile, Kyle Reese is sent back in time from the same timeline as the Terminator to keep him from killing her.
The Terminator is credited with launching James Cameron's filmmaking career and cementing Schwarzenegger's status as the leading man, especially with the iconic line “I'll be back.”
14. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Rebellious cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) travels from Detroit to Beverly Hills to solve the murder of his childhood best friend. While coping with the culture shock of visiting a new town, he believes an art dealer may be linked to the murder. Still, the lieutenant of the Beverly Hills Police Department hinders his search for evidence out of distrust.
Beverly Hills Cop is credited with putting Murphy on the map as a world-class comedian.
15. Highlander (1986)
An immortal Scottish swordsman from the 16th century (Christopher Lambert) leaves a sliver of his sword after killing a man in a New York City parking lot in 1985, leading a forensic scientist and her partner on an investigation into the swordsman, who goes by Russell Nash, that will land them in the middle of a centuries-old war between him and an immortal barbarian who's dead set on claiming a fabled “Prize.”
Highlander's “There can only be one” tagline has been cemented into the pop culture lexicon.
16. Commando (1985)
Retired Special Forces soldier John Matrix goes on a mission to rescue his young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano), who gets kidnapped by a former Latin American dictator who wants Matrix to reinstall him back to power. Instead, he works to fight the rogue leader and take his daughter back home.
Next to The Terminator, critics deemed Commando to be the ultimate 80s Schwarzenegger movie.
17. Top Gun (1986)
Maverick (Tom Cruise), a fighter pilot with a cocky attitude, is sent to the titular flight school to hone his flying skills and compete against other pilots to be the best of the best — while romancing his beautiful flight instructor.
Top Gun is universally acclaimed for its aerial visual effects and rockin' soundtrack, especially Kenny Loggins' “Danger Zone” and Berlin's “Take My Breath Away.”
18. Scarface (1983)
Scarface is a rags-to-riches (and back-to-rags) story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who arrives in Miami from Cuba with no money in his pocket during the Mariel boatlift and becomes the most powerful drug lord in Florida, killing anyone who stands in his way.
This iconic 80s gangster film is based on the 1929 novel of the same name and a loose remake of the 1932 film.
19. Red Dawn (1984)
In an alternate timeline in the 1980s, a group of teenage guerillas called the Wolverines from a small Colorado town fight back against the Soviet army, who have taken control of the state as communism takes hold of the United States.
Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen co-starred in Red Dawn, giving audiences a view of what a third World War would look like.
20. RoboCop (1987)
After getting murdered by a gang of criminals in a crime-ridden, post-apocalyptic Detroit, police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) gets a second chance at life as a cyborg RoboCop, created by megacorporation Omni Consumer Products, who lured the human cop into the fatal confrontation with a crime lord so they could use his body to test the prototype cyborg to privatize the city's police force. When RoboCop learns of the company's evil plans, he turns against them.
The ultraviolence in RoboCop was directly influenced by The Terminator and Aliens, as well as Frankenstein, Repo Man and Miami Vice in terms of narrative, to offer sharp satire about American culture at the time of its release.
21. The Killer (1989)
In this Hong Kong action thriller, an assassin accidentally blinds a young nightclub singer when his gun fires too close to her eyes during a shootout with gangsters. He performs one last hit before retirement to make things right and get the money needed for her surgery.
22. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
In Indiana Jones' hit debut, the whip-wielding archaeologist races against Nazi forces to recover the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, which is said to still contain the Ten Commandments and make an army invincible. Jones teams up with his old flame Marion to escape every booby trap they fall into and ensure the Ark doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
Raiders of the Lost Ark resulted from a story idea by Star Wars creator George Lucas, which Steven Spielberg helped adapt to the big screen.
23. Rocky 4 (1985)
Rocky Balboa's plans for early retirement from the boxing ring are interrupted by the death of Apollo Creed in an exhibition match against Russian newcomer Ivan Drago. To avenge his friend, Rocky flies to Russia and trains to fight Drago on Christmas Day, and they fight in the most intense match of his life.
24. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
The warrior barbarian Conan seeks revenge against snake cult leader Thulsa Doom for killing his parents and enslaving him by working the Wheel of Pain as a child.
Conan the Barbarian is responsible for catapulting Arnold Schwarzenegger to global superstardom as the most muscular actor in the film industry.
25. The Untouchables (1987)
During the Prohibition era in the 1930s, Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) forms the Untouchables team to bring down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and his illegal liquor empire.
De Niro gave a passionate portrayal of America's most notorious gangster, especially in the scene where he shouts, “I want him dead!”