Those of us who grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s were privy to a phenomenon that did not continue through the turn of the millennium; action film stars. Though remnants of it exist in, “retro,” trends and the form of Jason Statham, few actors in modern action movies, if any, fill the void left by our idols-turned-politicians.
And no, this does not mean Shirley Temple or Sonny Bono.
10: Chuck Norris: This list was supposed to be a top 90, but there was only room for nine plus Norris. A former Texas Ranger, devout Christian of alleged Cherokee descent and beard aficionado, Norris is an eighth degree black belt Grand Master in Tae Kwon Do and rumour has it, the inspiration for at least 15 percent of all Chuck Norris jokes.
9: Jackie Chan: This martial arts master, cartoon demon-hunter, breaker of teeth and stunt artist, got his start in the tough, underground world of musical theatre. That’s right, this opera singer turned movie villain turned kung fu superstar, claims to have broken nearly every bone in his body and anecdotally describes the outcome of one incident which has forever left him a reminder, “There’s a permanent hole in my head now, with a plastic plug there to keep my brains in.”
8: Steven Seagal: Seagal’s stoic and overall horrible acting style has always added a little pizazz to his films somehow. The fact that he can be so bad, so often, in so many roles following the same exact storyline and still be so terrifically watchable and popular gives him the distinction of being number eight. Seagal is a seventh degree black belt in Aikido, an environmentalist, animal rights activist and winner of the 1999 PETA humanitarian award. As of 2011, Seagal is in court for allegedly shooting over 100 of a suspect’s roosters and the suspect’s 11-month old puppy, on his A&E reality show, “Steven Seagal: Lawman.”
7: Steve McQueen: Designer and patent holder for a bucket seat, avid motorcycle and car racer and in 1974, highest paid movie star in the world, McQueen set the mould for anti-hero characters and renegade cop characters in “Bullitt,” which can easily be seen as an influence on Gene Hackman in “The French Connection,” as well as Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry,” probably the most well-known fictional law officer of all time. His legendary driving skills and popular use of a Ford Mustang led to the 2008 release of a Special Edition “Mustang Bullitt,” to mark the 40th anniversary of the film. Although his roles pre-dated most of the typical “Action Heroes,” he was indisputably influential on them and he essentially restructured entire sub-genres and types of action stars.
6: Bruce Willis: This Christmas, why bother with, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when you can watch Willis kicking the scheisse out of German terrorist, Hans Gruber? Willis rarely overplays his aggression, often playing more of a nice-guy-pushed-over-the-edge than one who was over the edge, which gives him a personality more relatable and congenial to most viewers. Listen, if you are willing to like a president who you think you could “have a beer with,” then Willis’ friendly, wise-cracking personality seems a rational enough way to win over critics.
5: Bruce Lee: It is unfortunate to have to put two Bruces together and to put Lee at such a mediocre rank, but unfortunately, Lee’s movies border on philosophical and he himself was more of a Taoist philosopher and martial artist than a movie star. Lee personifies most “Chuck Norris Jokes,” more than Chuck Norris does. Lee was able to throw a grain of rice in the air with chopsticks and catch them again with them, he could snatch a dime off a person’s open palm before they could close it and replace it with a penny, he was able to do reps of 50 chin-ups using only one arm and perform countless other uncanny feats. Lee could also be seen as the originator of MMA and the one to introduce Kung Fu to the western world by way of his movies.
Pro tip: Lee’s most popular movies include “Enter the Dragon,” a take-off on Ian Fleming’s “Dr. No,” and his never finished “Game of Death,” but his best movie action-wise is arguably “Fist of Fury.”
4: Clint Eastwood: Yet another character who does not match the true definition of an “Action Hero,” however, Eastwood, like McQueen, proved highly influential to the category. A non-smoker, Eastwood immortalised the anti-hero cowboy image that he portrayed onscreen; a scruffy, ruggedly handsome and masculine character, cigar clenched between his teeth, eyes squinting into the sun (in reality, not for dramatic effect, but rather due to his smoke allergies), a green poncho draped over his shoulders (again, not an aesthetic choice, Sergio Leone wanted him to look less thin, so Eastwood opted for the poncho), voice gruff, a sandpapered grumble. Eastwood personified the cowboy image and became perhaps the foremost onscreen representation of masculinity and was never afraid to rub some dirt into his shining armour.
3: Jean-Claude Van Damme: “Muscles from Brussels” has been ridiculed for his use of cocaine, for being a ballet dancer and for his short stature (some even allege that he is below 5’5), but he is probably the best example of an ’80s action hero. Van Damme, much like Seagal, performs the same plot line repeatedly with minor alterations. He invariably has a scene in which the audience is forced to see his derrière but generally in the end, it pays off because you get to see him kick the big-boobed Asian man (Bolo Yeung) in the face and ultimately that is what ’80s movies are all about.
2: Sylvester “Sly” Stallone: What was made in New York City, is shaped like a refrigerator and runs up the Philadelphia Museum’s steps? Sylvester Stallone. His first role was in a soft-core pornographic film, all of his subsequent movie roles were as anonymous thugs due to his paralyzed lower lip and speech difficulties, his cross to bear since birth due after a forceps permanently mauled his lip in the birth canal. Destitute, Stallone sold the script for, “Paradise Alley,” for $100. He had to sell his dog to a drunk and sell his wife’s jewelry to a pawn shop in order to afford rent and food. Stallone refused to get a job because he was afraid he would, “lose his hunger,” and would settle for what he had; he made a fraction of what he was initially offered for the “Rocky” script because he insisted that he was Rocky and would not let anyone else play the part. Stallone wrote the film from start to finish in twenty four hours and upon successful sale of his script the first thing he did was find his dog and purchase him back from the new owner for $15,000 plus a part in it. Stallone’s story is quite possibly the single most inspirational of anyone in Hollywood, his determination and drive are incredible, he achieved exemplary fitness for a 20-something year old at the age of 65, and continues roles after breaking his neck while filming a scene with Steve Austin in “The Expendables” and he personifies the immortal spirit and iron will of which man is capable.
1: Arnold Schwarzenegger: The youngest ever Mr. Universe and probably the most prolific source of memorable one-liners, Arnold “Arnie” Schwarzenegger, is probably the most renowned action hero and bodybuilder of all time. His role in The Terminator has ingrained a cultural impression that is irreversible and timeless. Although many of his movies are now virtually unheard of, they were prodigiously popular in the 80s and 90s and those of us growing up around that time thought he would act forever and that the extent of his political career would be the repeated social conflict of his father’s past as a voluntary member of the Nazi party at the onset of WWII.