How is it that 80s/90s action stars are still super memorable?

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#1 Posted by Sombre (512 posts) -

Hey gang,

So, last night, I rewatched "Terminator". I share Jeff's opinion over Dan's, in that it's a dark, gritty sci-fi action horror, that shits all over Terminator 2. But I digress.

When I was watching, I was thinking how absolutely fantastic Arnold is as the Terminator. He's moody, he looks good, and it's a really deep dive into a role. Then I thought about some of Arnold's other roles, stuff like Predator/Conan. That lead me to think about some of the all time action greats, like Arnold/Stallone/Van Damme/Seagal/Snipes/Lungdren/Chan

It lead me to a conclusion: Howcome modern action stars just don't seem to pack that same punch/memorability that the classic stars have. I watch a LOT of films, and I can't think of anyone modern that even comes CLOSE to the guys from the "golden era". The only ones that stand out are MAYBE Statham and Li. Maybe it's todays "Cut on every hit" editing that's ruined modern action cinema, but...I dunno. I can't think of many action stars from the 00's/10's that compare to the older guys. Am I wrong? Is there anyone I should be looking out for?

(I'm not counting SEA cinema, because I know that's in a renaissance era with Malysia/Korean/Japanese/Hong Kong cinema being absolutely remarkable)

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#2 Edited by Seikenfreak (1544 posts) -

I'd probably chalk it up to the types of movies we've been getting the last 10+ years. Lots of CG and super heroes. Now that they can do such amazing stuff with computers, action movies have moved into a lot of larger than life stories or subjects.. like Godzilla, Rampage, or San Andreas where there isn't much a human being can do in that setting. They can't stand out. Modern action stars all also look like models so.. their figures and features are less distinct. They looked like brutish cave men, killing machines back then.

Statham was great in the original Transporter but then he's pretty much playing the same thing in every movie since. The Rock has taken every role and most would say he's gorgeous and has charisma but that's in his persona and not really his acting/roles. Vin Diesel is whatever. Bruce Willis has lost his way. Honestly having trouble of thinking of anyone else. Tom Cruise is still as great as he ever was but not sure he applies here. Keanu is having a bit of a resurgence.

Obviously the asian action movie scene has some very talented martial artists and they can really flex their skills in those smaller budgets. But I'd say they don't really have the on-screen personality yet, likely due to them not doing english roles.

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#3 Posted by nutter (2397 posts) -

I second CG, non-actor bombast, and super heroes. Also, shitty quick-cuts.

The Rock could do a throwback action flick and be amazing in it. I’m not thinking of a ton of others that are big in the west, frankly...Dave Bautista, probably. Henry Cavil needs to land a role with more of an edge...not sure how he’d handle less-CG action sequences, either.

Also, gotta add Indonesia to that list with films like The Raid series, Headshot, and The Night Comes for Us.

Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim are amazing, and a lot of the supporting folks in those films could lead their own action films, too. Julie Estelle is amazing.

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#4 Edited by cikame (2952 posts) -

Just thinking out loud here, haven't put too much thought into this, but part of it could be that action movie heroes are more cerebral these days, simply killing all the bad guys might seem too simple a premise for modern writers and directors, maybe that's why John Wick has become so popular because after a decade of action films trying to elevate the genre making a simple revenge film stood out.
I keep thinking back to Die Hard 4, which i love, and how the new era of smart bad guys saw McClane as a dinosaur, it works for the plot of that movie but modern younger heroes don't get to rely on the old method of being a gun toting sheriff and killing the bad guys... unless you're John Wick.
It might also just be because those stories have already been told, unless one of those old films is being rebooted it's probably difficult to convince a movie studio to fund your action movie that sounds "a little too similar to Under Siege".
I enjoy the Marvel movies and The Fast & The Furious plenty as modern over the top action film series, but you're right 90's action has a special place in my heart.

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#5 Posted by Gundato (367 posts) -

To add on:

Ahnold, JCVD, and even Stallone mostly stayed action movie stars. They branched out a bit (mostly Stallone) but at the end of the day, if you watched one of their movies you were going to see someone die in a comically over the top fight scene.

Similarly, comedians mostly stayed in comedies. Redford stayed in insanely good dramas. And so forth

The late 90s is when everyone started branching out. Everyone wanted to show off their range and versatility so everyone started doing a little bit of everything. We had seen it previously (Liam Neeson was mother fucking Darkman) but not to any wide degree.

And that has continued. The Rock is pretty magical and even he tried his hand at a fair amount of comedy and even drama (I hear his show on HBO is good?). Adrian Brody was somehow supposed to be a badass in Predators (still an awesome movie).

Of the modern action movie scene, I think Statham is the closest to an 80s star. With few exceptions he is almost always the same character. And Ahnold, with few exceptions, was always John Matrix. Sometimes he was angrier and sometimes he was happier, but he was still the happy go lucky guy who seemed a bit too in to his ultraviolence. Statham leans more comedy, but Shaw is still basically The Transporter.

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#6 Posted by nutter (2397 posts) -

@gundato: Agreed except for Predators. I haven’t had the pleasure(?) of seeing last year’s The Predator, but I found Predators to be the worst Predator film.

On a particularly punchy day, I might make the bold claim that the dumb-as-fuck Predator 2 is the best Predator bad, but so good...

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#7 Edited by Rahf (544 posts) -

There is so much more stuff today. The movies of our youth were happenings. They were events you talked about in hindsight, and actively discussed. To me it feels like when one film starts its theatrical run, two more debut on Netflix, while HBO and AMC premiere three more shows, or seasons of shows between themselves.

Stranger Things season 3 was released in the beginning of July. We're now in mid-August and talk about that show has completely vanished. That's not even 6 weeks for people to completely drop a TV show until it stirs again.

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#8 Posted by Brackstone (960 posts) -

I think there are two things going on, and one of them is the general downfall of big stars driving films. Used to be a big actor would guarantee a movie did well, that doesn't work any more, even the biggest names have flops. It's all about franchises now, which means there's less room to develop a personal brand since the actor isn't the focus. Since it's about franchises, that means less director control, usually lower ratings and so on. Action movies are just a different beast now. Something like Verhoeven's Total Recall just wouldn't happen any more, it's too weird and studios wouldn't take the risk.

The Rock comes close to an 80s action star, but has a couple problems, one of which being he just isn't as weird or as experimental as they were, which is partly a product of the times. Sure Arnold isn't an oscar calibre actor, but he's a pretty damn good actor that was self aware in a good way. He played all his roles from the Terminator to Total Recall to Predator to Twins to Conan very well and all those characters are fairly different while still being recognizably Arnold. The Rock is always the Rock, he has very little range, and he's honestly closer to a John Wayne type, it's just that big cgi action movies are his meat and potatoes instead of westerns (which were basically the action movies of the time). His movies all blend together at some point, as do his roles. Rock led action movies are like Nicholas Sparks romance movies or those low effort horror movies starring Joey King that seem to come out every few months. They just blend into the background. We are all aware of the Rock but don't really remember any of his movies or characters. His career is very strange.

I'd probably say Statham qualifies best. He's similarly limited with the Rock, and also pumps out a bunch of low effort quick generic action movies like The Meg (San Andreas for the Rock). But he's got a weirder side and a bit more versatility, he's done everything from Snatch to Crank to Spy, so compared to the Rock you've got a bit more unpredictability there. He's comparable to Van Damme. I don't think anyone's every going to compare to Arnold.

I do think Keanu deserves to be up there with the greats (even though I don't like the John Wick movies), but he's building of a successful career started in the 90s so that feels like a different conversation even if a significant portion of his action career is happening right now. Credit where credit's due, he's remained relevant longer than any action movie star I can think of without the huge gaps or slumps other people have had. I'm tempted to say something similar about Nicholas Cage although his movies aren't as actiony any more. Charlize Theron's probably the closest thing we have to a female action star these days, even if her action movies are low in number and a small part of her overall filmography, but she's got more on the horizon. Fury Road alone is big enough for her to qualify, if you ask me. Having a clear cut classic under your belt should at least get you in the conversation.

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#9 Posted by Seikenfreak (1544 posts) -

Yea I think I agree with what everyone has said here. Some putting thoughts down better then I could. I do find it interesting to think about. Was going through some of my movies looking for patterns or other actors. I miss Harrison Ford.

Denzel has had a couple good action-y movies during his time, most recently Equalizer 2 which I haven't yet watched, but as people pointed out, he is very accomplished and well rounded. Russell Crowe had some stuff that'd probably fall more under the Thriller genre but he's come down in popularity. Clive Owen did like.. Smokin Aces I think? That great BMW promotional/short thing. Not sure he's doing anything these days. Gerard Butler actually fits the mold a bit.. a romance movie in there or two but not sure where he disappeared to either. His stuff wasn't great so that answers that. Tom Hardy has a look to him, I like some of his stuff, but he hasn't been put into other Mad Max equivalent roles. I forgot about John Cena and that's self-explanatory. I like Mark Wahlberg but he's also done a wide range of stuff.

Pretty much anyone I think of now that I like in an action movie also does everything else or is gone.

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#10 Posted by mochibunny2005 (9 posts) -

Also that was a different time in terms of the idea of celebrities, I think. I’m 13 so I don’t actually know who most of the 80s and 90s people are, I’m always getting lost when they talk about old movies on the podcasts lol... I’ve seen a few and they’re ok but I don’t know why they need to be classics, really. A few stand out as having made movies more thoughtful or made it ok for sci fi and comics to be “cool”, but a lot of them are just about watching a sweaty man punch and shoot bad people and the last big fight is always in a factory or somewhere on fire.

I feel like I remember movies more for what they do different now, so aside from Marvel stuff, the ones that stand out are like Breaking Bad, or Arrival, and Inception... and I can’t name a single actor in any of those, although I do recognize Mr Breakingbad when I see him... but I don’t really follow him as a personality. He’s just that breaking bad guy lol.

Speaking of personalities, maybe celebrities pre-2000 filled the role that’s now taken by streamers and youtube channels.

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#11 Posted by redwing42 (555 posts) -

I'm not sure what it says that the current James Bond hasn't been mentioned yet. I guess Daniel Craig just hasn't been in enough movies, but I would put him on par with a B-tier 80's action hero (anyone below Stallone and Arnold).

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#12 Posted by Gundato (367 posts) -

@redwing42: I dunno. Craig is good as Bourne/Bond but I wouldn't really call him an action star. And, to my knowledge, just about everything else he does is radically different than Bourne/Bond.

It would be like calling 90s (?) Nic Cage an action star just because of Con Air and The Rock. Yeah, he was awesome in those, but it was a comparatively small percentage of his overall roles.

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#13 Posted by csl316 (15037 posts) -

Probably because nowadays, you have a ton of action performers. Back then, guys like Arnold or Stallone were way more unique. They wrote the book on larger than life action stars.

Now with some acting ability and scientifically-engineered training and diet regimes, it's way easier to find a guy that looks and acts like a superhero. The precedent is there, the rules of looking bad ass on screen are set, and you just need someone that can manage the work.

I find this in music, too. You had guitarists doing things that not everyone could replicate. But now anyone can find a Youtube tutorial, find some cheap recording gear, and present something that was way harder to achieve 30 years ago.

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#14 Posted by mkeskimaki (1 posts) -

Good points all around, but I think this is valid as well:

I'd say that action movies have changed as well, and there's more to 80's style movies as well.

One of my main pet-peeves to post 80's action (and other genres) is the dilution and even absence of the 'Villain' character. This came with the same dilution and absence of side 'Characters' as well, which I find almost as bad for the genre. Nowadays it seems that in most cases the side roles are given to actors only to deliver exposition and die at the most convenient time to

It was easy to bond, empathize and admire the hero of the day when there was a "well" written foil against them. Be it a grand, smart, psychotic or even comedic antagonist to oppose the often idealistic nature of the main protagonist, we want to see them brought down. In some cases the villain even seems to be the other protagonist, though he must fail if not only for not getting the top billing. The more you are taken in by the Bennets, the Grubers, the Dragos or even the occasional forced stereotype Tong Po. In the end the context and the delivery matters, even if the writing and direction fails (looking at you Kickboxer).

In the end, action movies changed as the world changed. I'm not sure if you can make another 'Commando' or 'Die Hard' almost forty years later, at least in the same context. The world's come much more complex or endlessly ambiguous, or at least in films and television it is portrayed as such by the makers who were kids watching the movies and styles we are talking about. Also as someone who grew up on Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies I might the wrong person the discuss the merits of something so dear to my heart.

In the end, my main gripe is the non-existent writing all around modern action movies. No villain, no setting, no goal, no people anywhere around the plot. 10 years ago I would have complained about the subpar-action and lazy photography, but mainly newer action has that in the bag. The next step is the writing and plot.

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#15 Posted by BladeOfCreation (1436 posts) -

@seikenfreak: You mention Gerard Butler as disappearing, which is pretty funny because the third movie in his action series in in theaters right now (it was released just a week after you posted that). That's a pretty scathing indictment of the quality of his work haha.

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#16 Posted by Seikenfreak (1544 posts) -

@bladeofcreation: Seems so because I honestly have no idea what movie or action series you're referring to lol Gamer or whatever it was called? That's the newest thing I can think of him doing. I heard it was bad.

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#17 Posted by BladeOfCreation (1436 posts) -

@seikenfreak: He plays a Secret Service agent. Morgan Freeman is president. I haven't seen any of them because none of them look great.

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#18 Posted by Shiftygism (1129 posts) -

@seikenfreak: He plays a Secret Service agent. Morgan Freeman is president. I haven't seen any of them because none of them look great.

The first was the best Die Hard movie since 1995.

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#19 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (7691 posts) -

I think we are just experiencing is the old action stars DON'T GO AWAY. It not that action stars of the 80s and 90s were great ist just they refuse to go away! We could be having more modern action starts if Arnold, Willis, Neelson, Weathers, Washington, Snipes and nearly the entire MCU would stop taking the roles.

And, it is funny because think about it, it not just typical action movies

- Kung fu movies? Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Yun Fat Chow, Jackie Chan, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung still take the roles.
- Black heros? Carl Weathers, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Laurence Fishburne, and Samuel L Jackson still take the roles!
- British/UK/EU heros? ....all old fuckers!

Action heros are now all dad-bods; Boomers vs mostly nameless faceless millennial thugs, right? Even the MCU has more than it share of old guys with Tom Holland the youngest guy and sort of the one the is supposed to be scrawny. When you think about most of the actors in the MCI were already mid-30s when it started, if not mid-40s. I was trying to think who was the next youngest after Tom Holland and I thought, "Hey probably Black Panther (Chadwick Aaron Boseman)...NOPE that fucker is 41!

Now think about young muscular stars....what roles are they getting? Zac Efron was getting teenager roles until he was fucking 27! Jack Gleeson who played Joffrey Baratheon in game of Thrones right now is 27, so even when he was playing a 14 year old the show is was 20! Hunger Games actors on the male side, but they to were made to play roles of teens in their mid-20s.

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#20 Posted by TheRealTurk (597 posts) -

1. CGI - The action movies of the 80s were done using old-school practical effects. A key component of a lot of these movies is that the heroes are supposed to be fairly blue-collar so the surroundings are supposed to be kind of gritty. Today, you've got a bunch of crappy CGI that looks too glossy and removes the sense of realism you get from the action.

2. Jump Cuts - A.K.A. Fuck Those Jason Bourne Movies Forever. It's hard to appreciate any action when the camera is so schizophrenic you can't tell what's going on. Thankfully, this one seems to be getting pulled back a little bit with movies like John Wick or Atomic Blonde - movies directed by former stunt performers that really work on letting people have a clear shot of the action going on.

Of course, the down side of this is that all the good stunt work makes bad action stunt sequences painfully obvious. Take it from me - don't watch the Last Jedi within a few days of seeing John Wick 2 or you will definitely notice how painfully awful the choreography is in a lot of scenes.

3. Zeitgeist - Like it or not, the world is different than it was 30 years ago. Back then, dumb action movies could just be dumb action movies and that was fine. Today, we have to tedious need to ascribe meaning to everything. You can't make a dumb action movie anymore because your dumb action movie must mean something. If someone tried to make Die Hard today it would just spawn a thousand think pieces entitled something like "Die Hard is a Regressive Depiction of America's Capitalist Police State" or some shit like that.

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#21 Posted by wardcleaver (348 posts) -

"Die Hard is a Regressive Depiction of America's Capitalist Police State" .

Wait a second? How do you get ahold of my senior thesis from college?

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#22 Posted by inevpatoria (7487 posts) -

All I have to say is I watched Bloodsport for the first time in decades last night and when Van Damme is drawn-and-quartered to a pair of trees to be forced into doing the splits and then he rebels against the instructor by doing the splits so hard he pulls the fucking trees down, I was like, "Damn, they just don't make them like they used to."

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#23 Edited by Stephen_Von_Cloud (1696 posts) -

@mkeskimaki said:

Good points all around, but I think this is valid as well:

I'd say that action movies have changed as well, and there's more to 80's style movies as well.

One of my main pet-peeves to post 80's action (and other genres) is the dilution and even absence of the 'Villain' character. This came with the same dilution and absence of side 'Characters' as well, which I find almost as bad for the genre. Nowadays it seems that in most cases the side roles are given to actors only to deliver exposition and die at the most convenient time to

This is very true.

Like others say, they take away star focus.

In some ways I think it isn't actually less time devoted to characters. Many old great action movies actually don't spend much time at all doing that either. Many for example have extremely rushed and nonsensical romances that come across as rape-y (Commando or Running Man come to mind). But they do well with what they spend time on and they certainly did it very differently.

I would say John Wick is one modern action movie that gets at character/motivation stuff like old action movies did. It's quick and direct and isn't about seeing over time how a child in a divorce is affected or something completely out of place (I will get to that later).

I think just speaking to the action in itself in these movies, CG has made it so, even with presented with cool things on paper, it all feels usually poorly staged and fake. There is zero sense of space and location that can add a lot to a good action movie. Certainly this is something that pretty much all the classics nailed over modern ones.

One weird thing with action movies today I would say is that they love doing these angles of an Everyman or something very ordinarily relatable as a focus.

I heard someone say a bit ago that Americans only like action movies now where you think you can be the hero and, while it may not be true, it is what many people making movies seem to think. No one ever thought they were Arnold (and that's cool cause I'm not as cool as Arnold).

The ordinary focus thing I think for me is a big one. I would say Michael Bay's Transformers was probably an earlier better example, but I recently saw the Godzilla King of the Monsters movie and boy, that is a terrible example of it. In a movie about Ancient Gods awakening to destroy the world you get all this divorced Dad drama that is just brutally boring and insignificant. At a point later in the film when monsters are destroying all of Boston a whole group of Special Forces is running around trying to rescue a lone little girl and that's the real focus of the film. It's entirely stupid and so fucking boring.

To me, it reeks of some bad writing mixed with focus groups. The divorce stuff in all these movies kind of reminds me of how older games writers suddenly had to make every movie about having a kid. Maybe that's the next phase for the games writers down the road lol.

I think there is a focus group appeal to all this shit that makes things push that way more than anything though. And with like 3 companies making movies probably won't get better in any big budget movies. You don't get star focused stuff or more pure vision of directors with some budget in genres like Action or Horror hardly ever anymore.

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#24 Posted by WMoyer83 (1051 posts) -

I think there is some stuff today that will stand the test of time:

Mad Max: Fury Road, John Wick Trilogy, the Raid, Baby Driver, Edge Of Tomorrow, Sicario, etc.

I just think it’s different because the handful of “action guys” who make a majority of action films just make the same tired stuff, guys like the Rock, Jason Statham, Liam Neeson.

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#25 Posted by fauxical (81 posts) -

I seriously had no idea they were making a new Rambo movie until a trailer appeared before a movie a few months ago. I am glad Stallone is still doing fine and I absolutely thought he was incredible in Creed.