Now with that out of the way, I present my opinion of 5 action films from the 90's that resemble action films from the 80's.
Directed By: Andrew Davis
Written By: J.F. Lawton
Starring: Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Erika Eleniak
Steven Seagal stars as Casey Ryback, a no-nonsense cook aboard the USS Missouri during its final mission. As he is no-nonsense, Casey has no friends aboard the ship, which suits him just fine. As luck would have it, Casey also is a master martial artist which comes in handy when terrorists take control of the ship, led by the always entertaining Tommy Lee Jones. Casey escapes the clutches of the bad guys, teams up with an unwitting partner (Erika Eleniak) and tries to save the day.
Under Siege takes the formula started by 80's king: Die Hard. You have one guy taking on a bunch of terrorists in a remote location and occasionally helped by a partner. The difference with Casey Ryback and John McClane from Die Hard is that Casey is a hand-to-hand/weapons specialist. Obviously, knowing that Casey is amazing in all ways considered amazing, that removes most of the tension that this film tries to create.
The main character is very different compared to John McClane, but the non-stop action and decent use of humor give this the feel of an 80's action film. Under Siege does feel more slick than most 80's fare, but the humor, numerous random henchmen and a sense of fun make this a worthy consideration.
4. Cliffhanger (1993)
Directed By: Renny Harlin
Written By: John Long, Michael France, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, John Lithgow
Possibly the biggest budgeted film on this list.
Sylvester Stallone stars as Gabe Walker, a rescue ranger who, after losing the life of a fellow mountain climber, attempts to return to his former life. The woman in Gabe's life, Jessie, (Janine Turner) along with his former best friend and mountain climber, Hal, (Michael Rooker) want nothing to do with him.
Meanwhile, bad guy Eric Qualen (John Lithgow sporting some kind of European accent?) and his team of bad guys attempt to hijack $100 million dollars from a United States Treasury plane. The plan does not go according to plan and the suitcases filled with the money fall into the mountains below. Eric sends out a phony distress call, which is picked up by Gabe, Hal and Jessie for support in locating the briefcases.
Cliffhanger, in the simplest words, is a pure summer film.You had Sylvester Stallone, who at the time, was one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. You have a heist film and you have a film just filled to the brim with action and stunts. Sylvester Stallone, for a good portion of the film is by himself when battling John Lithgow and his gang of baddies, providing a bit of a Die Hard-feel. Beyond that, the action is big and in your face while the feel of the film is meant to just be fun. And in my opinion, Cliffhanger succeeds in a major way.
3. Universal Soldier (1992)
Directed By: Roland Emmerich
Written By: Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, Dean Devlin
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Jerry Orbach
Sci/Fi and action meet in a film written and directed by the team that gave us such classics as Independence Day, the 1998 Godzilla remake and Stargate. This early film from Roland Emmerich finds military soldiers Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) at odds with each other during the Vietnam War. As their differences get in their way, both men are killed in action.
Flash forward to 1992 and a secret organization has reanimated the dead soldiers plus a host more and are now called UniSols. Both, Devereaux and Scott begin to regain their memory of what happened and continue onward with their lives within the UniSol program. Scott begins to return to his insane personality and Devereaux must stop him with the help of a plucky news reporter (Ally Walker).
Before Roland Emmerich found multiple ways to destroy the world, he began with this classic and a much lower budget. As both stars have now appeared in The Expendables 2, you can imagine that acting isn't their strong suit. Jean-Claude Van Damme is fine as the hero, but Dolph Lundgren is highly enjoyable as the crazy Scott. Beyond that, you get some moderate action scenes and good hand to hand combat. Again, the hero is teamed up with a civilian who finds herself in the midst of the action. A solid, if unspectacular film.
2. The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Directed By: Tony Scott
Written By: Shane Black
Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Noble Willingham, Halle Berry
What type of list would this be without ol' Bruno making an appearance? With this film we get what was at the time, the most expensive screenplay sold. Was it worth it? Well, it fits on this list so that answer of course is no. Instead what we get is one of the stupidest, yet fun, films of the last 30 years.
Directed by the late Tony Scott, we meet Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) who is assigned to protect stripper, Cory (Halle Berry). Cory's boyfriend Jimmy (Damon Wayans) does not get along with Joe. Before long, Cory is murdered and Joe and Jimmy team up to solve the murder with predictable humor and action-packed results.
As this is written by Shane Black, a film like this fits perfectly into his mold. You get one-dimensional characters, big action and lame one-liners. This is a love or hate movie, but those who are able to know that this movie is stupid yet able to turn their brain off will have a fun time. I mean, just look at the poster. There is a paragraph-long tagline and a huge explosion behind the main characters. That's really all you need to know about The Last Boy Scout.
1. Sudden Death
Directed By: Peter Hyams
Written By: Gene Quintano
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe, Dorian Harewood, Raymond J. Barry
Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to the list in what I consider the perfect 80's movie made in the 90's.
JCVD stars as Darren McCord, a former firefighter turned fire marshal for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. He is divorced and having trouble communicating with his ex-wife or 2 children. He gets tickets to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and takes his kids with him. As so happens, the Vice President of the United States (Raymond J. Barry) is also attending the game. And on top of that, former government agent Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe) and his goons have planted bombs throughout the arena and taken the Vice President and all in the executives in the luxury suite hostage. With time ticking away and his daughter being kidnapped, Darren has to think and react fast to save the day.
Yes, that is all you need to know about this film. JCVD has fun with the role, making one-liners and homemade weapons during the film while Powers Boothe has a ball chewing up the scenery as the flamboyant bad guy. What really makes this film feel like an 80's movie is that everyone really tries and believes in this film without forcing any of the film upon the audience. The script, dumb as it is, has a basic setup with your basic characters, but executes all the beats needed for this type of film perfectly. This is a fun film, that doesn't need to wink at you and tell you to have fun. It just is.
One final thing that makes this movie stand out: This was filmed during the 1994-1995 NHL lockout. As all the NHL players were not allowed to play hockey, these players were available and add and authenticity of the hockey action seen throughout the film. As a fan of hockey, this added an extra layer of love I have towards this film. This is a highly recommended film for anyone who enjoys fun action films. A perfect representation of an 80's film made in the 90's.
Thank you for reading. I understand my opinion may not match other people's opinions about this topic. This is an opinion piece and if you have any suggestions, feel free to post them.