Top-10 80’s Action Movie Characters

The 1980’s was a great decade and especially for the action movie genre. The gun-play was endless as were the cheesy lines and it all resulted in some excellent film moments. The decade also created a slew of iconic characters, known for being over-the-top and all people could ask for in a hero. Here is my list of the ten best.


 10. Snake Plissken – Kurt Russell (Escape from New York)

Okay so “Escape from L.A.” was not very good at all but Russell was still awesome in the role of Snake Plissken. But in the 80’s he was at his best as the eye-patch wearing anti-hero in “Escape from New York.” Tasked with rescuing the president after he is stranded on a wasteland of Manhattan, Plissken’s charm never wavers. Russell as Snake Plissken was charming, confident to the point of arrogant, with just the right amount of narcissism, and resulted in all you could as for from a protagonist.

He was the first one to wear Under Armor, he made the feathered hair work and his quick wit makes him a memorable character to me. While the film may have come out early in the decade the lore of the character has resulted in a string of comic-books that provide endless amounts of adventures for the one-eyed rebel.

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“Escape from New York” (1981) © Avco Embassy Pictures Corp.

9. Dutch – Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator)

1987’s Predator is still one of the great sci-fi action flicks and when you are dropping a small group of rugged commando’s in the jungle who better to lead them than Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch. Arnold shined in the roll as the cigar smoking, assault rifle wielding hero and delivered a few memorable one-liners along the way.

Arnold gave the character of Dutch a text-book kick ass mentality, and created a persona fitting for the team leader and despite the flashes of fear as the group clashes with the alien hunter he is relentless. Resulting in a classic game of cat-and-mouse in the dark jungles at a primal level that is my mind still goes down as one of the best all-time third-acts.

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“Predator” (1987) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

8. Ellen Ripley – Sigourney Weaver (The Alien Franchise)

Sigourney Weaver shined in the role of Ellen Ripley in the Alien Franchise and after she successfully established the character as a strong leader that wouldn’t back down in the 1979 film “Alien”. She would continue as the character, turning her into a full-fledged action hero in the 1986 sequel.

“Aliens” was an impressive sci-fi action flick and Weaver as Ripley was equally as impressive behind the firepower. She embodied the hero role and went toe-to-toe with the deadly alien, showing her fear but at the same time her bravery that in my opinion would go on to solidify her as a great character from the decade and she did it with style in some bad ass Reebok Alien Stompers.

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“Alien” (1979) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

7. RoboCop – Peter Weller (RoboCop)

Easily one of the iconic characters of the 80’s Robocop was a massive financial success, that spawned a film-franchise, a reboot, endless amounts of toys, comics, a TV show, and even a cartoon series. The first Robocop film was one of the darkest, purely violent films I remember seeing at an age I certainly shouldn’t have been seeing it. Despite the violence, and the fact that at times this was a horror movie to me as a kid. Robocop was a classic film hero.

With such a dark tone to the first two films, the heroics of Robocop saving a dystopian Detroit on the verge of ruins. Crime was taking over, and Robocop wasn’t having it. He was quick with his pistol, mercilessly took down waves of disgusting criminals and still had time to deliver some classic lines like… and how could we forget…

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“RoboCop” (1987) © Orion Pictures Corporation

6. Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti – Sylvester Stallone (Cobra)

This character may not be one of the most well-known on the list, but any fan of action movies in the 880’s would have to appreciate Sylvester Stallone as the tough as balls detective for the Zombie Squad Marion Cobra Cobretti. Sure, the character was as stereotypical as could be, with the tight jeans, boots and aviator glasses who chewed on a matchstick, but Stallone thrived in the role and made it a memorable one.

He takes down an army of psychos on his own in a film filled with endless gun-play and Stallone never looked less than 100%. The character was cocky, skilled and relentless in his job and Marion Cobretti makes the film “Cobra” one of the all-time great 80s’ action flicks. Plus, he never short of a few memorable lines as well as he fought off an axe wielding cult lead by the serial-killer the Nightstalker… I mean, need I say more…

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“Cobra” (1986) © Warner Bros.

5. Axel Foley – Eddie Murphy (The Beverly Hills Cop Franchise)

Certainly, not the most intimidating character on the list, but Eddie Murphy as detective Axel Foley is iconic. He was hilarious, wildly unpredictable, and Murphy captured it all with ease. He was able to perfectly blend comedy and action and it made the character one of the more memorable from the decade.

Like no other character on the list Axel Foley was just a normal guy. He wasn’t loaded with muscles and didn’t give off the empowering presence of your traditional protagonist, and that was what made him so great. He was smart, and no matter the trouble ahead his personality always shined. He never backed down from a gun-fight, was skilled in his work and all the while he gave off the impression off dicking off, he was really solving the case.

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“Beverly Hills Cop” (1984) © Paramount Pictures

4. Indiana Jones – Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones Franchise)

He may be the oldest on the list but the character of Indiana Jones is still one of the greatest. Harrison Ford was excellent in the role and delivered all we could as for in the classic character. His adventures were wildly enjoyable and with his charisma and normal-guy personality. He was amusing when needed, and despite the outrageous perils he faced he never lost his charm.

Indiana Jones will always be remembered for his satchel, hat, and bull-whip but to me he will also be remembered for his never-give-up personality. Unlike many heroes, things didn’t always look easy for Indiana Jones, the dangers he faced at times looked impossible to get out of, yet he always managed to do so and to me the character will always be one of the greats.

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“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1980) © Lucasfilm Ltd.

3. John McClane – Bruce Willis (The Die Hard Franchise)

The king of being in the wrong place at the wrong time John McClane is one of my all-time favorite characters and watching him take down Hans Gruber and his henchmen without shoes will never get old. McClane to me is the most charismatic of the characters on this list, he exuded the stereotypical action heroes and his delivery of classic one liners will go down in action movie history.

McClane was smooth, charming and never backed down from anyone. Whether he was jumping off a building with a firehose tied around his waist or ejecting himself from an exploding plane, McClane found himself in many life or death scenarios that never fail to entertain. Regardless of his joyful gun-play, and rugged determination to me it was his personality that make him the memorable character he was. Despite the dangers he faces and no matter how many men he it outnumbered by McClane can always lighten the mood with his charm.

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“Die Hard” (1988) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

2. John Rambo – Sylvester Stallone (The Rambo Franchise)

This list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from Sylvester Stallone and he comes in with a great character in the war torn veteran John Rambo. From his performance in “First Blood” through “Rambo 3” Stallone was always the very capable but reluctant hero. Rambo was the deepest of the characters on the list, he was mentally scarred from his time in war and no matter how much he tried to seek solitude violence would always find him.

Also like no other on the list Rambo was a true one man army and with his trademark knife and bow, explosions were plentiful as was the gunfights. Rambo could take punishment like no other and when all seemed doomed for him he would always find a way to come out alive and successful in whatever mission was forced upon him. Stallone shined in the role and with his performance as the character he created a hero to stand shoulder to shoulder with his other famous role of boxer Rocky Balboa.

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“Rambo: First Blood Part II” (1985) © Anabasis Investments

1. Martin Riggs – Mel Gibson (The Lethal Weapon Franchise)

It was tough to narrow it down to a solid number one but in the end, it had to be that of detective Martin Riggs. He was a normal guy, but as close to an overblown film hero as John McClane. The Lethal Weapon films are classic films and a large part of that is due to the performance of Gibson in this role. The chemistry between he and Glover carried the films, along but none were complete without Riggs completely raging out.

He wasn’t perfect, had tons of flaws, and was a definite wildcard, but when the odds were against him Riggs never backed down, or showed intimidation. He could make light of any situation, he always had a joke to tell, but did so without any true catchphrases, which made him a common, grounded character people could relate to. And he is my favorite character from the decade in action movies.

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“Lethal Weapon” (1987) © Warner Bros.

That’s my list guys hope you enjoyed it. Who are some of your favorite characters from the 80’s? Let me know in the comments below I’d love to hear from you guys.


3 thoughts on “Top-10 80’s Action Movie Characters

  1. 80’s developed great movies and franchises! No wonder Studios in general today are trying “re-makes” from these classics. But sometimes the remake despite all the CGI, huge budget and so on… does not have the same “attractiveness” of the original. Robocop, Conan, Total Recall, etc.. even the remake of Karate Kid (I know is not on the list here:) ) it had only the name due to brand recognition to attract the audience, but was not the same as the one directed in 1984 by John Avildsen with small budget and unknown actors.

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