UAMC Discussion: When Does the UAMC Era Begin and End?

Before we dive into the ultimate action movies of the 1980s and 1990s, let’s start with what we do know. In the beginning, there were movies and they were OK. They started silent and in black and white. Over time they became musicals and comedies and romance films to entice people to their local cinemas for popcorn and cheese curds. However, for whatever godly reason that spurned it together, action movies began to appear. Sporadically at first over the decades, but by the 1980s they sprang up with full gun-blazing, chest-punching force – taking over pop culture with one explosive hit after another.

Ultimate Action Movie History

Then, almost as soon as they came, they dried up as time crept on into the early 2000s and into the present decade. Like the dinosaurs, or wearing hats as formal wear, action movies had their golden day in the sun and now we’re left picking up the pieces and wishing we’d bought more to keep with us until they inevitably rise again.

Until then, let’s examine this ultimate action movie age to see if we can trace its roots of when (and why) they sprang up, how long they enjoyed their heyday, and when they finally met their demise.

The Early Roots

As far as UAMC researchers can tell, the first signs of ultimate action movies came from genre films like the Western and itself from the Samurai classics. Here’s a great article on how Yojimbo and then A Fistful of Dollars influenced the modern action movie. From there action began become more of a stable of the cinematic experience. By the 1960s and 1970s came along, some signs of life caught action movie fire with some early breakouts with Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963), Clint Eastwood turning his cowboy into a cop in Dirty Harry (1971), Bruce Lee introducing the world to Chuck Norris and the concept of an American martial artists in Enter the Dragon (1973) and Charles Bronson flirting with the bloodletting prospects of vigilante justice in the original Death Wish (1974).

Early action movie roots can also be traced directly through some of the early directors who were laying the groundwork for future action franchises like Sam Peckinpah and John Carpenter. Which you can read about The Wild Bunch director’s influence here and Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 action roots here.

Here are some other ultimate action movie era precursors to remember and honor as well.

  • Our Man Flint (1966)
  • Where Eagles Dare (1968)
  • Bullitt (1968)
  • The French Connection (1971)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • Drunken Master (1978)
  • Mad Max (1979)
  • The Warriors (1979)

The Beginning of the Ultimate Action Era

By the time the 1980s rolled around, the world was ready for an ultimate action movie explosion as the movie industry took off with the rise of video cassettes, rentals and the birth of the modern blockbuster. The Ultimate Action Movie Club era can be said to roughly begin around 1982 with Sylvester Stallone’s first performance as Rambo in First Blood. The way was paved for the rise of the action movie greats like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and the great Jean Claude Van Damme to fill marquees and Blockbuster store shelves.

A shortlist of some of ultimate action movie classics from the beginning of the UAMC era.

  • The Octagon (1980)
  • The Exterminator (1980)
  • Escape from New York (1981)
  • An Eye for an Eye (1981)
  • Enter the Ninja (1981)
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  • Death Wish II (1982)
  • Forced Vengeance (1982)
  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Red Dawn (1984)

The Golden Action Years

Between approximately 1986 and 1992 could be considered the greatest action movie period in history. This was coincidentally also the golden years of Cannon Films, which produced a countless number of UAMC classics in the era while launching the careers of the aforementioned Van Damme and reviving Bronson’s Death Wish franchise. I’d argue that the UAMC’s most prolific year was 1987 with Predator, Over the Top, RoboCop, Hard Ticket to Hawaii and Death Wish IV gracing the world with their ultimateness. However, any year in this era was ripe with action movie classics by all of the greats.

  • Aliens (1986)
  • Cobra (1986)
  • The Delta Force (1986)
  • The Running Man (1987)
  • Die Hard (1988)
  • Bloodsport (1988)
  • Tango & Cash (1989)
  • Hard to Kill (1990)
  • Death Warrant (1990)
  • Point Break (1991)
  • The Last Boy Scout (1991)
  • Under Siege (1992)
  • Hard Boiled (1992)

The End of the Ultimate Action Era

Unfortunately, as the 90s wore on, action movies began to suffer. The budgets were getting higher and higher, as were the stakes and sadly audience and critical annoyance. We could say that the unofficial end of the UAMC era comes between 1997 to 1999 most notably with Arnold’s campily awful performance as Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin. Bruce Willis sadly had to give away screen time to Ben Affleck in Michael Bay’s Armageddon and as action movies began to shift either to self-aware versions of themselves like The Last Action Hero or cross-genre thrillers like the original Blade with Wesley Snipes.

Not to say there weren’t still plenty of ultimate action movie hits in the late 90s and into the early 2000s, to name a few below.

  • Face/Off (1997)
  • The Fifth Element (1997)
  • Rush Hour (1998)
  • Soldier (1998)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • The Boondock Saints (1999)
  • The Order (2001)

The Modern Action Movie Landscape

As UAMC has discussed in reviews of some modern action movies like Brawl in Cell Block 99 and the Amazon series Jean Claude Van Johnson, the action movie landscaped has changed drastically. There are still several franchises recently rebooted or still going strong like Death Wish, The Equalizer, Rambo and Die Hard, but the feeling is different and the reception not quite the same.

That being said, there are still some up-and-coming actioners to root for like:

  • The Bourne Identity (2002)
  • Ong Bak (2003)
  • Kill Bill (2003/2004)
  • Crank (2006)
  • The Raid (2011)
  • Jack Reacher (2012)
  • John Wick (2014)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  • Upgrade (2018)

The genre will hopefully never die, as long as action movie fans exist, the movies will come. It’s important to keep the classics alive though, if only to keep their memory fresh in the minds of whatever comes next.


What do you consider to be the ultimate action movie era? Let us know your favorite action movie year and its best classics in the comments or on our Facebook page!

7 COMMENTS

  1. I think the sort of R-rated action movies we used to love will still be made but probably only available to download via Netflix or some other sites. There are also series like The Punisher starring Jon Bernthal and Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is a very gritty action show based on a Marvel character.

    But nothing will ever beat the likes of Sly, Arnie, Mel, Bruce, JCVD, etc. Special mention also should go to Nick Nolte who starred in 48 HRS, Another 48 HRS and Extreme Prejudice.

  2. How did “Double Impact” not make the early 90’s list? “Bloodsport” got JCVD to first base, but DI totally knocked the ball out of the park, followed immediately by “Universal Soldier,” another ultimate action classic, but this time with Dolph Lundgren in addition to JCVD.

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