No two cinematic solar cycles are ever the same. Though hundreds of movies are released every year, some years are better than others. This is particularly the case when you look at specific genres. One year will see the release of a host of great horror films, for instance, while other years don’t have any worth mentioning. Thirty years ago, 1987 experienced one fantastic 365 days of awesome action movies.
By 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger was in full-swing as an action movie star. Nothing proves this more than him having TWO great action films in one year — The Running Man and Predator. While The Running Man failed to catch on, The Predator was a smash hit that spawned sequels, comics, video games, and more. Director John McTiernan takes a very simple story and fills it with colorful characters and pulse-pounding action. Legendary creature and effects creator Stan Winston, with a tip from James Cameron (mandibles!) worked his magic on the now-iconic Predator creature.
The 80s were all about excess and by 1987 the more blood packs you could erupt in a film, the better. Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop features the director’s over-the-top violence mixed with satire and social commentary. RoboCop made multinational corporations and excess itself the enemy and a working class cop the hero who rises to help the people. And it’s all deliciously quotable!
“Who loves you and who do you love?!”
Schwarzenegger’s second action movie of 1987 was The Running Man. This prophetic film saw the collapse of society to sensationalist television and economic meltdown. Schwarzenegger plays, Ben Richards, a man forced to play on a deadly game show called Running Man. Like a video game, Schwarzenegger has to defeat several levels, including mini-bosees and a main boss. The scratchy, exuberant voice of Richard Dawson, host of Family Feud when the film was made, plays the perfect game show host/villain.
The films that seem to become timeless are the ones that are the most quotable. Special effects evolve rapidly and age quickly, but a great character delivering an iconic line lives on for ages. When quotes become part of pop culture, generation after generation will rediscover the film. There’s no shortage of quotable lines in 1987, and Lethal Weapon has a few of them packed into a fine wine of a buddy cop movie.
Beverly Hills Cop II
Believe it or not, kids, but there was a time when Eddie Murphy was a supremely edgy comic with the number one action movie and a feature-length hit comedy special in the same year. Murphy was the 80s version of Kevin Hart, if you will. Beverly Hills Cop II was the biggest action movie of 1987. Murphy’s return to play Detroit-based cop Axel Foley is spot-on in a solid sequel.
“So much violence …”
In 1920s and 30s Chicago, infamous gangster Al Capone ruled the streets. Like any great villain an even bigger hero, Eliot Ness, in this case, was there to put an end to the criminal’s activities. A star-studded cast with Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert DeNiro as Capone, put out great performances in this underrated action movie of 1987.
Masters of the Universe
“I must possess all, or I possess nothing!”
The 80s were a decade of pop culture classic cartoons and the race to get those animated characters to film was in full swing. Transformers and GI Joe scored hits with animated movies. But Producer Edward R. Pressman took Mattel’s homoerotic He-Man and went live action. The result is a film that’s so bad it’s good. The worst part is the plot device which brings He-Man and the gang out of Eternia, the world in the cartoon, and drops them on present day Earth. The best parts were a young Courtney Cox, Dolph Lungren’s cheesetastic performance, and Frank Langella as skin-deprived villain Skeletor.
The Princess Bride
“You’re trying to kidnap what I’ve rightfully stolen!”
A classic action comedy that’s only improved with age. Cary Elwes is perfect as Westley, the farmhand turned hero in the name of love. The object of Westley’s affections is Buttercup played by Robin Wright. Quotable as quotable can be, The Princess Bride exists in that stream of films that works for kids and adults alike. It’s reminiscent of a Bugs Bunny cartoon in that watching it as a kid and then again as an adult reveals jokes you never knew were there.
Honorable Mention: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation
“This is really beginning to get on my tits!”
Right here is purely a guilty pleasure pick. Michael Dudikoff’s American Ninja is one of my favorite 80s action b-movies and American Ninja 2 is more of what I love. The acting is shaky by the entire cast, the plot doesn’t entirely make sense, and the villain is ridiculous. But that’s sort of the reason to love it. It’s a live-action cartoon with above-average action.
What action movies from 1987 would you add to the list?
Author’s Note: 1987 was also a good year for horror movies. But that’s an article for another time. 😉