10 Underrated 1980s Action Movies You Proabably Haven’t Seen

The decade that brought us the first installments of franchises “Die Hard”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Police Story”, “First Blood/Rambo”, and “Beverly Hills Cop”. That alone shows what a decade it was for the genre. Paul Verhoeven gave us “RoboCop”, John Carpenter has blessed us with “Escape from New York” and “Big Trouble in Little China” and we got lots of other actions, sometimes with depth (Runaway Train), sometimes without depth (Road House). We won’t even get the best action film of 2022 without “Top Gun” obviously.

All in all, it was a decade that had so much to offer. Not surprisingly, some of the films ended up getting less recognition or popularity. Here are ten of the fine action films of 1980s that might please the fans of the genre, especially of those made in that decade.


10. Best Seller (1987)

Best Seller (1987)

Former police officer Dennis Meechum who became an acclaimed author after writing about his own experiences suffers from a writer’s block. The circumstances leads him to make a delicate pact with a killer: he is to use his life story for a bestseller. The killer’s former employer – a powerful business boss – tries to prevent the publication by any means necessary. As you can expect, both actors are terrific in their roles and the film is an intense, suspenseful ride that has the elements of action, crime, drama, thriller and comedy. It has shootouts, chases and other type of action scenes but this is probably the most character-driven movie in the list.

Two things are very special here: James Woods delivering one of his most compelling performances and Larry Cohen’s witty screenplay. It also stands out because it has one of the oddest friendships on its center. One might agree with Larry Cohen that the only problem with the film was its ending, which was predictable. Cohen tried his best to change it but the director John Flynn didn’t listen. Still, it’s one of the most entertaining films of its time which unfortunately flopped at the box office.


9. Extreme Prejudice (1987)

Extreme Prejudice

No matter what decade we talk about, there’s always a place for Walter Hill. The 80s was another inconsistent decade for him. “48 Hrs” was a huge hit but “Red Heat” didn’t get the attention it deserve. “Southern Comfort” has a notable cult following but “Johnny Handsome” is still underrated. “Extreme Prejudice” is one of the most Walter Hiil-ish films, with great action, the certain B-movie soul, terrific lead performance and homage to Sam Peckinpah, whom Hill worked with on “The Getaway”.

The film follows Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) who has to watch helplessly as his hometown continues to deteriorate. Growing poverty is forcing farmers to smuggle drugs to keep themselves afloat. The murder rate is also increasing dramatically. Benteen is determined to put an end to the hustle and bustle, but because Bailey (Powers Boothe), the main man of the drug ring, was once his best friend, he’s torn between law-abiding and sentimental feelings. Hill knows how to direct action, so as you can expect, the shootouts are amazing but outside of that, it’s a constantly entertaining film as well.


8. Shakedown (1988)

Sometimes you see a poster and every element makes it clear what decade it is from. “Shakedown”. We can talk about the plot but honestly, there’s not much of a plot here. Sure, there is a storyline but all of it are just excuses to deliver some truly awesomely crafted action sequences. It is one of those films that probably aged better because now its charm/nostalgia is more evident.

Another reason why the film works well, other than the cool action sequences, is the great pairing of Peter Waller and Sam Elliott. Both of these actors are still alive and keep delivering great work but the 80s was the time when they both rose to stardom and watching them as buddies is a great joy.

The film also benefits of the use of real NYC locations. There are many memorable moments, especially the jet sequence that will make lots of fans of the era’s action happy. Sam Elliott made another action film that year called “Road House” which is still popular enough that it gets a reboot but “Shakedown” isn’t anything lesser than that. It’s just your mindless fun entertainment.


7. Knightriders (1981)

Knightriders (1981)

Billy, the self-proclaimed king and head of a troupe of showmen who stage knightly tournaments on motorcycles at medieval markets, dreams of the idyll of knightly ideals and values of the Middle Ages. However, rivalries for love, power and reputation in the group, the lure of lucrative gigs and dissenting beliefs of individual group members threaten Billie’s idealized beliefs. In addition, the group, despite its success with the public, has to assert itself against resistance from outside, such as corrupt police officers or profit-hungry organizers, which they try to compensate for with dangerous and daring performances on their motorcycles.

There was an appreciation for “change of pace” for great horror filmmaker George Romero, but not enough. What he has accomplished here is incredible. Truly ambitious film, with a great ensemble, excellent plot, some first-rate action, terrific score, and so much more. Definitely his most underrated film and just a grand entertainment. The costumes and bikes are very cool but it’s also one of the most moving films he had ever made.


6. Blue Thunder (1983)

Blue Thunder (1983)

So far, we had big city cops, neo-western type shootouts, bikers, jets, and now it’s turn for helicopters. To increase security in Los Angeles, the police have purchased a new surveillance helicopter called “Blue Thunder”, also known as “The Flying Eye”. The two police officers Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) and Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern) have been chosen to test the aircraft, which is equipped with the latest technology and powerful weapons. As you can expect, they’ll use it to prevent criminals. Just like some other films on the list, the plot is just an excuse to get amusing character moments and cool action sequences.

In a way “Blue Thunder” is less underrated than the rest because it was actually well-received by critics and did a good job at the box office. They even made a short-lived ABC series out of it. However, it seems to be not getting much traction these days which a shame cause for its time, it has some of the best-crafted action sequences. By today’s perspective of course, some of it might feel dated but at least it’s not full of today’s ugly CGI. Instead it offers, tense and suspenseful plotline, excellent stunts and an amazing final chase.