For those of us out there that consider ourselves action movie fans, there is one decade that stands above all others: the eighties. I think it’s fairly safe to assume, as well, that it’s unlikely to ever be surpassed in terms of the stars it held up.
You know the list of names by now. Just cast an eye at The Expendables poster and then add the likes of Dudikoff, Seagal, Van Damme, Norris, Swayze and Steve James (may they both rest in peace), yet there are still more.
In retrospect, that decade also seems slightly innocent in the way it viewed the world. AIDS awareness was only just starting, homosexuality was still very much misunderstood and taboo, and as the Reagan era tried to swing Hollywood to the right, it very much failed to see what it was doing to our favourite action heroes.
Machismo and fashion entwined to give us some truly horrendous visual combinations, while men set about oiling themselves up and frolicking about in, for want of a better term, gay abandon.
But, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I should state that, not only do I adore the eighties, I am an action movie junkie of the highest order. The films below were either born in the eighties, or have maintained the very spirit of that overindulgent, macho posturing, that might just make you question your very own sexuality. I chose them for their extreme, forehead slapping moments of disbelief, where you might just find yourself asking if you actually saw what was on-screen.
If you want to witness one man perform press-ups, while another man sits on his crotch eating an ice-cream, then step right up.
In putting this article together it did make me wonder if those sweaty action movies from the eighties are responsible for the fact that so many men nowadays, including myself, are that much more comfortable showing affection towards other men, and if Reagan’s time in power inadvertently led to the likes of the term ‘bromance’. I’m sure he’d be thrilled.
Top Gun (1986) It’s playing with the boys.
Alright, let’s get the most obvious film out of the way first, as there’s no way this article could exist without Maverick and co.
Quentin Tarantino famously delivered a monologue in the movie Sleep With Me (of all things), in which he argued that Top Gun was a story of one man’s struggle with homosexuality, but regardless, there’s still that volleyball scene.
Do you see a woman in that picture? No, I thought not. Behold as scantily clad men watch other scantily clad men diving in the sand, dripping with sweat, while one spectator can be seen to lotion himself up. Apart from poor old Goose (Anthony Edwards), who remains covered up throughout the duration and whose reputation is then given a swift kicking when he pleads with Maverick (Tom Cruise) to have “One more game? For me?” having just consoled his buddy with a nice cuddle.
The cuddle might be okay, but the moustache is not.
The scene in its entirety beggars belief, set to the soundtrack of Kenny Loggins belting out Playing With The Boys, but to end it with Goose whining for his friend to stay and remain in the company of sweaty men, instead of going off to see some “smelly girl”, actually makes him seem trapped somewhere between a dejected housewife and a teenage boy.
Still, if poor Goose seems hard done by, at least he didn’t have to deliver the immortal line, “You can be my wingman anytime,” which Val Kilmer (as Iceman) says with such pursed lips and a wide smile that, when Maverick replies, “Bullshit! You can be mine,” his hand firmly gripping a shoulder, the scene seems certain to lead into a kiss.
Just go and watch it again and tell me that it isn’t missing a passionate meeting of lips.
American Ninja (1985) It’s all about the red shorts.
Male bonding is an important theme in this list, so what better way to meet a future best friend than to have an extended fight with him? The partnership formed between Michael Dudikoff (as Joe Armstrong) and Steve James (playing Curtis Jackson) would not only last them through several American Ninja movies, but also into the likes of Avenging Force.
During their first encounter, Jackson confronts Armstrong, calling him out as being a wannabe hero. “Don’t push it,” Armstrong warns, then politely proceeds to kick his ass (he is an American Ninja, after all), but not without taking the time to throw a bucket of water over Jackson.
One assumes this was to bring him round to consciousness, only Jackson wasn’t out cold.
Livid, Jackson rises to his feet exclaiming, “We don’t stop till one of us goes down!”, which is a little forward, if you ask me.
To put an end to all the innuendo-ridden fight talk, Dudikoff then chokes him with his large hose. Oh, dear.
What really sticks in the mind, though, is what happens after the fight:
It starts as a handshake, a sign that they can now be friends, only Steve James doesn’t let go for an uncomfortably long time. That’s not a handshake, it’s a proposal. Also worthy of note are James’ incredibly short shorts (red being the preferred colour), as well as his ability to shred and then shed almost any top he’s wearing, before inflating his muscles and beckoning men towards him.
American Ninja 2, but you get the idea.
Rocky 3 (1982) Frolicking in the surf.
This kiss in From Here To Eternity has been voted as one of the all-time greats time and again, yet, for some unknown reason, people often seem to overlook a similarly surf-bound and romantic scene, perhaps because Rocky is an underestimated franchise.
Either way, there is one thing that really, really needs to be addressed: who decided to put grown men in crop tops? (Poor Carl Weathers, above, as Apollo Creed)
At what point in the eighties did men, who were proud of their bodies, think to themselves, “Well, the short shorts are okay. I am athletic, after all, and I have good legs. Hell, even the moustache looks manly, as only a man could grow such finely groomed facial hair. Wait! I have fantastic abs. Why on earth aren’t these bad boys on show? Hmm… if only I could find some kind of t-shirt which would draw attention to my perfect stomach… Aha! There’s my girlfriend’s top, that’ll do. No one will ever question how it looks, because they’ll know I could snap them in two like a twig. Away I go!”
And look what other fashion item is recurring. Oh yes, indeed. It’s the red shorts, and the tiny kind too.
Still, we should have all been acclimatised to the power of red shorts, thanks to Steve James, which means there is another reason for mentioning the final moment from Rocky III‘s all-important training montage. That would be the slow motion hug in the surf then.
I understand that it’s a cause for celebration, and god knows I have an undying love for the Rocky films, but sometimes even the people you love need to be told ‘No’.
Did you forget where you were? Naughty, Rocky.
Predator (1987) “Get to the chopper!” (sorry)
Now, if you’re a fan of Predator, I suggest you look away now. It’s not too late for you. I, on the other hand, had to sit and watch it with a close friend of mine, while having one my al-time favourite films defiled before my very eyes.
It was over ten years ago now since I actively defended Predator against all kinds of homoerotic slander, but here, for the record, are some of its least defensible points.
Well, the opening scene between Dillon (Carl Weathers again!) and Dutch (Arnie) doesn’t help matters, as the biceps rip and Arnie proves that he’s definitely the alpha male out of the two of them, but let’s try not to read too much in the following quote.
“What’s the matter? The CIA got you pushing too many pencils?”
Indeed. No one pushes Arnie’s pencil except himself, that’s for damn sure.
Dillon doesn’t help himself by spending the majority of the film acting like a jilted girlfriend who’s being neglected by Dutch, while he runs around having fun with all his close male friends.
Jealousy runs rampant as Dillon is scorned by the men he seeks approval from, with Mac (Bill Duke) making his disdain clear from the outset. Mac needs to tread carefully, though, as some might say he’s become a little dependent on spending all his time with uber-beefcake, Blain (Jesse Ventura, who is an utter legend and, amongst other things, a published author of some fantastic sounding books).
Still, all differences are put aside when the boys team up, take their tops off and get very, very sweaty in the jungle. Poor Anna can but carry twigs.
As a final note, if Giger’s design for the Alien was designed to conjure fears of a phallus, with people running in fear from it, then does that mean that Dutch and the gang are confronting the Predator because… ah, you get the idea…!
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) ‘Stand on your own!’ In the naughty corner.
I think, of all the extreme macho posturing in this list, this one scene from No Retreat, No Surrender has to be, by far, the most ridiculously camp and unjustifiable scene ever to grace an action movie.
While researching and writing this article, I’ve come to appreciate how certain clothing disasters can make things seem to be more homoerotic than they should, but sitting on another man’s thrusting lap, while eating an ice cream is just not cricket.
Now, take a good look at the above image. That’s the look of someone about to get more pleasure from jumping his friend than anyone should when simply ‘having a laugh’. There’s mischief in those eyes, believe me, I know.
Luckily for R.J. Madison (played by J.W. Fails. I’ll avoid making the obvious name pun), his friend Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) will find the comedy hi-jinks hilarious and respond by rolling around on the floor with him while dealing out a damn good tickle. Ah, young love.
I should warn you that the following images might offend those of a weaker disposition, or, if you were planning on enjoying an ice cream in the sunshine, you might want to look away…
Take it inside, boys.
Fashion aside, special attention should be given to the brick-sized Walkman, as well as the small child in the background, who appears to be hypnotically entranced by the display.
Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991) Say what now, Brandon?
It’s all about one infamous line, to be honest, but allow me to set the scene in a film that will forever hold a special place in my heart and which still manages to be pure, guilty fun, making the most of the awesome pairing of Dolph Lundgren and the much missed Brandon Lee.
Dolph has just shared a hot tub with the lovely Tia Carrere (playing Sgt. Chris Kenner and Minako Okeya, respectively). He’s then joined in bed by her and, before you can shout, “I have the power!”, Tia has jumped the gun, so to speak, (or to be really puerile, the Lund-gun).
What follows is one of the worst, most comical love scenes ever filmed, as Tia rolls her eyes and head about, while our Dolph goes through a range of facial expressions that vary from the uninterested to the unconscious.
Seconds later and it’s all over.
Then it’s time for a nice shot of Dolph’s bum, as he prepares for a big showdown by putting on a teeny tiny pair of shorts and meeting up with Brandon Lee (Johnny Murata).
Now, if you’ve ever seen the film, then you know exactly what line is coming up and, therefore, how massively odd and inappropriate it is. The dialogue is as follows:
Murata: Where’s Minako?Kenner: She’s in my room.M: I knew that was gonna happen.K: She was frightened.M: I saw you strip down for that hot tub. I’d be frightened too. We’re in trouble here, champ. There’s more bad guys than we have bullets.K: Take this. (Hands him a shotgun bandoleer)M: What about you?K: Don’t worry about me. (Said as he daintily steps across the floor and arms up)M: Kenner, just in case we get killed, I’ve been wanting to tell you… you have the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man.K: Thanks!
It’s still a mystery to me as to how and why that line ever made it into the script, let alone get filmed, but there it is – one man complimenting the size of another man’s love gun.
Perhaps Dolph was single at the time and asked if the line be put in as a quick way of gaining attention. Maybe Brandon Lee was genuinely awestruck and insisted on spreading some kind of appreciation for Dolph Jr. I’ll find out one day. In the meantime, I’d suggest that, although the film would have been less memorable and amusing without the line, it would also have avoided being on this list too.
Tango And Cash (1989) “Don’t flatter yourself…, peewee!”
Ahhh… Raymond Tango and Gabriel Cash. Cash and Tango. Tango and Cash. What a classic and massively underappreciated gem it is, too. If you haven’t seen it in ages, or if you’ve never seen it all, then I can now share the Tango And Cash drinking game I came up with in a pinch, which is guaranteed to have you inebriated in the first twenty minutes.
It’s simple. All you need to do is drink every time anyone says either ‘Tango’ or ‘Cash’ and drink every time someone fires a gun. Trust me.
Now, back to the article at hand.
If anything, Tango And Cash deserves credit for managing to avoid the muscle-bound shower cliché, by referencing the situation in which the two characters find themselves with its dialogue.
Sylvester Stallone (as Tango) and Kurt Russell (as Cash) set about insulting the size of each other’s manhoods, after Stallone seems slightly concerned when Russell bends over to pick up the soap, which, if anything, emasculates the two of them, therefore avoiding the usual problem with most of the scenes above.
The irony of it seems to be that, when they move on to have a serious conversation while still in the shower, the innocence of the scene then makes it border on the homoerotic.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s Kurt Russell’s lovely long hair and piercing blue eyes. Or maybe I’ve just been writing this list for too long. Either way, there was no need for this:
Yet, despite making Kurt Russell cross dress, it still doesn’t compare to how demeaned he was in the awful Death Proof.
Navy Seals (1990) “Rain grenade?”
No, Michael, that’s not where we put the golf club, even if it is Charlie ‘The Machine’ Sheen.
Golf carts, pink shorts and The Boys Are Back In Town do not equal macho. Presumably, being filmed at the end of the eighties meant there was still a fashion splash over, but that’s still no excuse. When I hit 1990, I started my first proper relationship and, despite the denim jacket, you can bet damn sure I avoided pink shorts like the plague.
Still, at least it’s nice to see some of James Cameron’s boys having fun.
One thing you should know about me at this point is that I think Michael Biehn is one of the greatest things ever to grace the face of the earth. My hero worship knows no bounds, so you can trust me when I say that, should I ever meet the person who put him in pink shorts, they will suffer. I don’t care how good his legs are.
Tears of Rage is right. Just tell me who did this to you Michael and I’ll make it all better.
The Transporter (2002) Go greased Statham, oh greased Statham!
Now, our lord Statham, or King Statham, or The Statham, whichever you prefer, is most definitely the most loyal follower of the eighties action movie values, so it’s no surprise that Stallone took note of that fact and chose him to join the cast of The Expendables.
I’ve actually written before about the requisite homoerotica contained in the Transporter movies, (specifically the expectation of number three, which you can find here) and, no doubt, a lot of you will have seen the original Transporter already. In which case, I think it’s safe just to leave you with my notes, as they were scribbled down, which I believe say it all:
Repeated cock punch before big oil fight, squelching, slippery limbs, man landing on Statham’s bum, then sliding towards crotch, Statham shuts leg, slides away.
The Fast And The Furious (2001) Shiny boys with shiny toys.
The Fast And The Furious could well be a film accused of overcompensation. The filmmakers clearly thought that filling a lot of the film with scantily clad women, two girls kissing, and the combined beauty of Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster would be enough to distract from all the pretty boys trying to talk tough while wandering around shirtless.
They were wrong.
The finest example of this can be found in one of the deleted scenes on the DVD, which could be seen as a bit of an exception to the list, but it was still written and filmed and is hardly misrepresentative of the film as a whole.
The Fast And The Furious, for me, has always felt like a poor man’s Point Break (also worthy of note for the man-crush theme), so it’s the only film on this list that I don’t love in any way, getting more from the sequels than the original, which is unusual.
The scene in question sees four of the male leads, sat around on a scrapped car, all half naked and shiny, surrounded by car parts, sharing a tender moment as they recall the first time they drove a car.
As they share stories with one another, the edit intercuts fetishistic shots of immaculate car parts, coming across as a crude visual metaphor for how comparable the young racers are to their machines.
It’s a terrible moment, which is why it, no doubt, ended up on the cutting room floor, but it still suffers from the same pseudo-psychological dialogue that hampered the rest of the film, making the whole thing feel desperately shallow.
Using car metaphors isn’t a way to heighten machismo, but rather lead to cringe inducing linesthat certainly made for the worst attempt at seduction when used in fellow car fetish movie, Gone In 60 Seconds, between Angelina Jolie and Nic Cage.
A mention must go to most of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s back catalogue, for the excessive showing of his well polished behind. In fact, both his film A.W.O.L. (aka Lionheart) and fellow action star Patrick Swayze’s film, Roadhouse (more mullets than you can imagine), have a similar line in dubious tough guy talk.
A.W.O.L. has someone say to Van Damme, “You’re kinda pretty. I don’t know whether to fight you, or fuck you!”, while Swayze gets accosted with, “I used to fuck guys like you in prison.” They don’t write them like they used to.
The Humungus from Mad Max 2 can also have his own mention here, as I’m not sure it’s safe for him to be in a paragraph with anyone else. I mean just what in the hell is he, apart from terrifying?
Stay back, you freaky metal bondage Jason Vorhees.
Last, but not least, I’ll give credit to the more contemporary 300 and Never Back Down, for proving that, despite decades passing, some cinematic trends will never end, but if that means keeping the spirit of the eighties action movie alive, then I’ll always be there to support it.
P.S. I am wearing red shorts as I write this.