The 80s were the heyday of the action movie.
Whilst cinema had certainly seen plenty of action through the seventies, the early onset of special effects played into the action movie genre. Bigger budgets and better technology meant more explosions, better futuristic settings and realistic car chases. In the eighties, directors either went big or went home.
Some eighties action movies were so popular that they spawned a sequel, a video game, a pencil case range, and even their own duvet covers. Some films may have been intended as serious action movies, but they ended up as much more.
Here are some of the eighties action movies that spawned a franchise.
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard was the quintessential eighties action movie, a unique blend of Hollywood megastar, menacing baddie and witty one-liners. Bruce Willis was a relative unknown before he donned his white vest, loaded up with ammunition and took on the terrorist group led by Alan Rickman. The film cost $28m to make but pulled in more than $83m, according to Box Office Mojo. That could only mean one thing: the start of a franchise. There have been five films now, with Willis/John McClane taking on everyone from Russian terrorists to cyber hackers. As for video games, owners of the NES, C64, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC, GameCube, Xbox and TruboGrafx-16 have all been able to help McClane through a total of six different titles.
The obsession with robots continued in 1987, with the release of the 18-rated RoboCop. The cast are still not massive names; few can recall Peter Weller as the law enforcer RoboCop, ridding Detroit city of crime. You can remember the image of the cop because he’s been everywhere since. There’s been films (four), TV series (four), comic books and even theme park rides. RoboCop was perfect for video gaming, being the good guy fighting crime, with 1988’s RoboCop the first of many. You can still find RoboCop in video games today: the online slots hosted by Coral feature RoboCop, with the same branding as the original films. There’s an Android game of the same name which has been around for a few years too, and 2023 sees the release of RoboCop: Rogue City on PC and consoles.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name was not synonymous with movies in the mid-eighties unless you count his appearances in Conan the Barbarian. In 1984, he played an emotionless cyborg, a role that really suited his acting style. Directed by James Cameron, it was a huge success, and a sequel was commissioned. Terminator 2 became a box office smash, and soon there was a video game and a great soundtrack featuring Guns and Roses. Today, there have been six films, a TV series and numerous video games, including Terminator: Resistance, from the same developers that are bringing you the new RoboCop game. The Terminator was even spoofed on The Simpsons, a sure-fire indicator of a franchise hitting the big time.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark differs from the others for many reasons. When it dropped, Harrison Ford was already a star, having hit the screen as the lovable rogue Han Solo in Star Wars. It came much earlier in the eighties, and the film’s title does not correspond with the now-familiar franchise. This is also the first Indiana Jones film, the first of five, all starring the seemingly evergreen Ford. The forty years since its release has seen a series (Young Indiana Jones), books, comic books, video games and theme park attractions. It’s also widely credited with helping launch an entirely different franchise, Tomb Raider, with Lara Croft often thought of as the female Indiana Jones.