The 1980s and 90s were a time of legendary action films… and to be fair, action films that were legendary awful. For every masterpiece about being chased by terrifying aliens and liquid metal Terminators, there were dozens upon dozens of flicks containing heroes that mumble their lines, punching helicopters in the face, and casually walk away as an entire neighborhood explodes in the background. We’re here to celebrate all of the good and the bad with this list of 10 action stars now and then!
With a net worth of $370 million, the Hong Kong-born actor was listed as the second highest paid actor in the world in 2016, and deservedly so. Unlike most actors, Chan performs all of his own stunts. Some of his most popular films are Drunken Master II, which was named one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest movies of all-time, and the Police Story franchise. His latest offering, SNAFU, is expected to be released in 2021 or 2022.
Weaver is regarded by movie critics to be one of the most important female antagonists in the history of cinema. An accomplished theatrical performer, she made a name for herself as the fearless Lieutenant Ripley in the Alien franchise. She’s also appeared in the iconic Ghostbusters movies as well as Avatar, the highest-grossing movie in history.
Bruce Willis has appeared in more than 70 movies, including the popular Die Hard franchise and such critically acclaimed films as Twelve Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, and Pulp Fiction. In total, the five Die Hard movies grossed $1.4 billion worldwide, making Willis one of the most bankable stars around. He also has two Golden Globes, two Emmys, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The actor has eight (!) movies coming out in the near future, including the scheduled February 2022 release of the action-heist film A Day To Die.
The Fifth Element, Resident Evil, Hell Boy: Jovovich has an impressive action film resume. Full confession though: when I first saw her character Alice execute a perfectly timed jump kick to the face of a charging zombie dog in the trailer to Resident Evil, my thought was, “Are you kidding me? There’s no way anybody could do that.” But upon further introspection, if you’re debating the realism of fending off a zombie dog attack, you’re probably taking the movie way too seriously. It happens to be the highest grossing movie franchise based on a video game, so she’s obviously doing something right. Her most current movie is 2020’s Monster Hunter, another film based on a video game.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
When it comes to action stars, few have the legitimate fighting background that Van Damme has. A black belt in karate and serviceable kickboxer in his youth, the Muscles from Brussels also took up ballet for 5 years and won the Mr. Belgium bodybuilding title. He got his start in movies working as a stuntman before starring in several low budget action films that did well at the box office. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s most successful movie was Time Cop, which I saw on a flight to England back in the days when everybody had to watch the same in-flight movie. There was much laughter and plenty of “You’ve got to be kidding me” from the passengers.
What made Hamilton so impressive was her complete devotion to getting into shape for Terminator 2: Judgement Day. As Sarah Connor, she transformed from the slender damsel who needed to be rescued in the first film to the battle-hardened, ass-kicking action heroine who could hold her own against the evil T-1000. On the set of the sequel, she suffered from permanent ear damage after Arnold Schwarzegger fired a shotgun in an elevator after she had taken out her ear plugs. But things like that don’t scare her! In fact, she repraised her role as Sarah in 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate.
Lundgren makes it onto this list solely on the strength of his performance as the menacing Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Sure, he would subsequently appear as He Man in the 1987 box office bomb Masters of the Universe and the completely forgettable 1991 Marvel film The Punisher, but he’s never found success as a first-rate action star. But with his brains, who cares? His IQ has been measured at 160 and he even received a Fulbright scholarship to MIT. The smartest guy on this list by far.
Stallone is another actor who is more than just a bunch of muscles. He wrote Rocky himself, and it remains one of the greatest films of all time, even being inducted into the National Film Registry and having its props donated to the Smithsonian Museum. He also starred in the wildly popular Rambo franchise, which arguably made the entire action film genre what it is. Think about it: if not for First Blood, you might not be reading this list! How terrifying is that thought?!
Yes, Seagal is on this list. But for all the wrong reasons. Look at any “worst actors of all-time” list and he’s bound to rank very high on it. But to his credit, he has somehow managed to parlay his mediocre martial arts “skills” and terrible acting into a 30-year career, although most of his films are of the direct-to-video variety. He also looks like he’s ready to give birth to triplets at any moment now.
Ah-nold is simply put the undisputed king of action heroes. Conan The Barbarian, the first two Terminator movies, Commando, Running Man, Predator, Total Recall, True Lies… The list goes on and on. Let’s also not forget that he was twice elected governor of California, and while he didn’t do the greatest job, the same could be said of seasoned politicians who’ve been governor of America’s most populated state. But perhaps Schwarzenegger’s crowning achievement was having a love child with his housemaid and managing to keep it a secret from even then-wife Maria Shriver for 14 years.