1980s’ action movie anthems: a mixtape

From 48 Hrs and Rocky III to Transformers: The Movie and Commando: we salute the action anthems of the 1980s...

One of the rituals of watching 80s action movies is the end credit song. The hero’s won, he’s saved the girl, they drive off into the sunset and cut to credits. Cue the kind of heart-pounding, rabble-rousing music that makes you want to punch the sky, kick the seat in front of you and yell incoherently.

There was something awesome about the end credit song in an 80s movie. Think of all your favourite movies from that decade — Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, An Officer And A Gentleman — all end with songs that are almost as indelible as the movies they accompany. Nowadays, the form has died away (the last intentional example I can think of was the glorious throwback by Huey Lewis at the end of Pineapple Express).

The end title song was such a convention of 80s movies that it was inevitable they became a cliche. Most of the songs are very bad. There might even be some argument over the ‘quality’ of the choices in this feature. But who cares? The main point of these songs was to be an exclamation point to the awesomeness of the movie, and make you leave the theatre on a high.

This article is a mixtape of the era — the good, the bad and the ugly. You’ll love some, hate others, and probably think of a dozen that should be in here. But that’s what comment sections are for.

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The BusBoys: (The Boys Are) Back In Town (48 Hrs, 1982)

A boisterous, big band finish to Eddie Murphy’s feature film debut, this track is ridiculously difficult to track down. What makes it more infuriating is that someone thought it was good enough to include in both the film’s sequel and Murphy’s Delirious TV special the following year.

Best bit: It’s a pretty short song, which is too bad – the chorus is terrific but just as you get into it the song ends.

Dan Hill: It’s A Long Road (First Blood, 1982)

A tad gentle in comparison to most of the themes on this list, but arguably more memorable most of the themes which succeeded it. Taking the melody from Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score, the song has a strong backbone that prevents the lyrics from sounding too mawkish. A fine, understated curtain closer to John Rambo’s first film.

Best bit: The final chorus is terrific, and, intentionally or not, seems to tease a sequel.

707: Megaforce (Megaforce, 1982)

Coming from that sweet spot in the early eighties where 70s hard rock hadn’t quite lost out to the synthesisers, 707’s theme song to Hal Needham’s action/sci-fi/macho fantasy is delightfully batty. It sounds like an 80s version of what a biker anthem from the future would sound like, which is great! Never heard of the band before, but on this evidence, they should have carved out a career as musical hype men for other 80s hits.

Best bit: ‘Coming on like a MegaForce!’

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Survivor: Eye Of The Tiger (Rocky III, 1982)

The gold standard, which every action and sports-related movie of the decade would follow. One of the unwritten criteria of this feature is if the end title song makes you want to break a sweat, then it works. Eye Of The Tiger is definitely that song.

Best bit: Dendendendendenden! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!

Patti Labelle: Stir It Up (Beverly Hills Cop, 1984)

A decent closer, but not nearly as memorable as Glen Frey’s The Heat Is On, or Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F. Patti Labelle is great, but there is something off about the song that does not quite work apart from the movie.

Best bit: Honestly, the opening – mostly because of how it syncs with the final freeze frame.

Huey Lewis and the News: Back In Time (Back To The Future, 1985)

Not as well known as Power Of Love, but the perfect button to end a terrific movie.

Best bit: The first mention of the song title. Combined with that stabbing guitar, it makes you want to pump your fist and gun it to 88.

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Duran Duran: A View To A Kill (A View To A Kill, 1985)

Before the series’ brief fascination with end credit songs (the undisputed champ of these being KD Lang’s Surrender from Tomorrow Never Dies), Roger Moore’s final hurrah/last gasp ends the way it began — with Simon Le Bon dancing into the fire. A shortened version of the title song runs over the closing credits. In either cut A View To A Kill remains one of the most iconic action themes of the era.

Best bit: “Dance into the fire!”

The Power Station : Someday, Somehow, Someone’s Gotta Pay (Commando, 1985)

I love this song so much. I don’t know if it’s good, I don’t know if it’s bad. But it so perfect for the end of this movie. As I stated previously, the only thing that would make it more awesome is if Robert Palmer had not dropped out of the supergroup earlier that year.

Best bit: This is a bit more contextual but the bit at the end of the movie, where Ah-nuld says “No chance” and the music immediately kicks in. Just perfection.

John Cafferty: Hearts On Fire (Rocky IV, 1985)

To be honest, the whole soundtrack is basically 80s anthem love-in, and Hearts On Fire seems to have every cliche of 80s credit songs you can think of: Title in the chorus? Check. Keyboards? Check. Lyrics that make no sense? CHECK.

Best bit: “Hearts on fire! Strong de-sire! Rages deep with in!”

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Atlantic Starr : Armed And Dangerous (Armed And Dangerous, 1986)

The only reason I know this movie exists is because of this song. I’m a fan of Atlantic Starr (and their inability to hold on to a female vocalist), but regardless of that, this song is great. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times.

Best bit: “Hit it!”

The Coupe De Villes: Big Trouble In Little China (Big Trouble In Little China, 1986)

It’s not every 80s movie that can boast the writer-director and Michael Myers on lead vocals, but then again Big Trouble In Little China is not just another movie. Simultaneously bombastic enough for the decade in which it was made, while managing to encapsulate the unique charms of the movie it accompanies, this title song is an underrated gem. It is worth it just for the music video alone, in which John Carpenter and his mates get to play rock stars while scenes from the film play around them.

Best bit: “You can feel the wind is risin’, baby, now the truth is near…”

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band: Voice Of America’s Sons (Cobra, 1986)

Another spot for Cafferty. This one is such a weird choice to go out on. I always felt Cobra needed something big and ominous to suit the title character (where were Survivor?). I’m surprised they didn’t take the Commando route and use the film’s tagline as the basis for the song. Ah well.

Best bit: Stallone had a real thing for rock songs with prominent rhythm sections, and while it is nowhere near as good as Eye Of The Tiger, this number has a pretty solid one.

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Cheap Trick: Mighty Wings (Top Gun, 1986)

For years I thought Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone top’d and tail’d this one. What a cheap trick. And then I realised it was actually performed by Cheap Trick. This song makes me sad. It’s so, so 80s, and it just makes me feel sad for Cheap Trick — they had such a terrific sound, and to have it so subordinate to the trends of the mid-80s is depressing. Turns out they really wanted us to want them.

Best bit: This movie is all about watching jet planes flying off into the horizon, and this song does a decent job. Would have made more sense to bring back the Loggins number though.

Stephanie Mills: Bit By Bit (Fletch, 1986)

A song so ear-catching it popped up again in 2010’s Cop Out. It’s a fun song, and while it is vaguely reminiscent of Patti Labelle’s contribution to Beverly Hills Cop, this one always had more replay value. Maybe it’s catchier, or more of a dance number, but there’s a bouncy optimism to the tune which makes it stand out. It’s like a day at the beach distilled into a musical number. It also perfectly matches the blissfully confident temperament of the title character.

Best bit: For some reason, the way Mills sings “Toniiiiiiight” always stands out to me.

Stan Bush: The Touch (Transformers: The Movie, 1986)

No list of end title songs, especially for 80s action movies, would be complete without a good dose of Stan Bush. He seemed to make a career out of churning out movie themes – and without going the easy route of repurposing the movie’s title. One of the most memorable parts of the 1986 movie (I don’t even think I’ve seen it), the song saw brief resurgence of popularity following the release of the first live action Transformers in 2007.

Best bit: “You never bend, you never break/You seem to know just what it takes/You’re a fighter!”

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John Parr: Restless Heart (The Running Man, 1987)

Oh boy, can someone get the Power Station on the phone? The Running Man seems like a odd candidate for a power ballad, but hey, it’s the 80s. God knows what John Parr was thinking — the romance between Ah-nuld and Maria Concita Alonzo is so arbitrary I always forget they get together at the end.

Best bit: “Roll the dice! Make a brand new start!”

Stan Bush: Fight To Survive (Bloodsport, 1988)

The aural equivalent to a spinning kick to the face, Fight To Survive is an underrated example of what made the end credit song so great. Full disclosure: I wrote half this feature with this blasting in the background. The lyrics are absolutely insane, and that’s half the reasons why it is great. The other half is Stan Bush’s delivery. Following Transformers: The Movie, he knows his way around a big 80s anthem, and he delivers a great one for JCVD’s debut.

Best bit: “Ku-mi-te! Ku-mi-te! Ku-mi-te!” It makes me want to go to the gym right now.

Prince: Scandalous (Batman, 1989)

With his passing, it felt appropriate to include this, the Purple One’s surprisingly romantic closer to Tim Burton’s ’89 blockbuster. While the decision to end on a romantic ballad seems odd (the movie’s love story is not really the focus of the movie), Scandalous is a terrific, underrated tune that deserves wider exposure. It’s not pulse-pounding like the other tunes on this list (The decade-specific focus was the only thing stopping me from including U2’s Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me from Batman Forever), but it is great on its own terms. It’s a testament to how good the song is that its melody was used in Danny Elfman’s score.

Best bit: “Anything you’ve ever dreamed of/I’m willing to be…” How much better would that date scene have been if Michael Keaton had started singing this to Kim Basinger? Considering how ‘nuts’ he gets later on, it would not be outside the realm of possibility.

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John Joyce: No Holds Barred (No Holds Barred, 1989)

I got put onto this movie by the How Did This Get Made? podcast, and after the surreal awesomeness of the movie, this song felt like a hidden treat. Like the movie it concludes, this song is trying so hard to be as air-punchingly(?) memorable as the other songs on this list, and it just doesn’t quite get there. Once again, like the movie, instead of mediocrity, it comes right around again to become memorable for completely different reasons.

Best bit: The female backing singers are the real troopers here, doing their damndest to sell every silly word of the lyrics. However, by repeating the lyrics, they end up hammering home just how mind-meltingly silly they really are.

Got any favourites? Or songs so bad they are permanently stuck in your brain? Chuck them in the comments below!

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