Fantastic Four: Why the 1960s Is the Perfect Setting for the Marvel Movie

February 18, 2024
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Ben Grimm is mad. The ace pilot would do almost anything for his college pal Dr. Reed Richards, the super-genius who has designed an experimental rocket. But Ben worries about cosmic rays surrounding the planet and threatens to drop out of the project. “Ben, we’ve got to take that chance,” interjects friend Sue Storm. “Unless […]

The post Fantastic Four: Why the 1960s Is the Perfect Setting for the Marvel Movie appeared first on Den of Geek.

The 1980s was a seminal period in the development of what we now define as the action movie. This was the decade that cemented the statuses of both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the muscle-bound box office behemoths eating the competition for breakfast. Having emerged off the back of critically acclaimed efforts like Rocky and The Terminator, the years that followed saw the pair hone their greased-up on-screen personas to fine effect.

It wasn’t all about the muscles though. The 1980s also ushered in the era of the everyman action star with Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop opting for brains over brawn and reaping the benefits in multiplexes far and wide as a result. While Hollywood basked in the glory of a new generation of leading men, in the Far East, Jackie Chan was taking action movie physicality to a whole new level with films like Police Story while John Woo laid the groundwork for John Wick with A Better Tomorrow and The Killer.

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But even as the genre took off with the emergence of VHS, there are still plenty of action movies somehow went under the radar. Each of the entries on this list remain ripe for reappraisal despite taking different, less heralded paths than some of the decade’s major crowd pleasers.

Southern Comfort (1981)

Walter Hill embarked on a formidable run of movies during the 1980s, starting with this low-key action thriller about a squad of Louisiana Army National Guard who, after antagonizing the local Cajun population during a weekend of maneuvers in the Bayou, find themselves facing a battle to survive as the militia closes in.

Filmed in and around the swamps of Caddo Lake, with long-time Hill collaborator Ry Cooder providing the suitably eerie soundtrack and the winning duo of Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe front and center as two of the more likable guardsmen, Southern Comfort earned rave reviews from critics, with many seeing it as an allegory for the Vietnam War in its depiction of ill-equipped U.S. forces being picked off by an often unseen local force.

Despite this, the movie failed to find much of an audience. Some suggested this was due to its similarities to Deliverance. Others wondered whether it was too soon to comment on Vietnam. Whatever the case, the movie found something of a second life on TV and VHS and is worthy of a watch.

Blue Thunder (1983)

Ahead of its time in its depiction of a grittier urban Los Angeles and the way it served as a warning about the dangers of police and military overreach, Blue Thunder may have been a hit upon release, but it’s largely been forgotten in the years since, despite some impressive aerial stunt flying and a reliably watchable performance from Roy Schneider.

The Jaws icon stars as Murphy, a Metropolitan Police Department air support division pilot and Vietnam vet battling PTSD. Together with rookie pilot Richard Lymangood, played by a fresh faced Daniel Stern, he’s enlisted to fly Blue Thunder, a new state-art-helicopter equipped with advanced information systems and powerful weaponry. It’s there that he comes face-to-face with Malcolm McDowell, in top form as Colonel Cochrane, an old adversary of Murphy’s from the war. In time, Murphy uncovers a sinister plot involving Blue Thunder and the silencing of political resistance.

Directed by the ever-reliable John Badham with a script co-written by Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon, Blue Thunder might push the limits of plausibility but it remains a fun ride.

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)

Chuck Norris might have become something of a punchline to younger generations on the internet but back in the 1980s the martial arts actor was pumping out solid action movies that have largely been forgotten. Lone Wolf McQuade represents a particular high point for Norris and arguably played a role in helping the high kicking star enjoy such impressive longevity.

Written with Clint Eastwood in mind, this story of a loner Texas Ranger going up against David Carradine’s drug lord and gun runner Rawley Wilkes saw Norris play against type. Director Steve Carver pushed Norris to grow his beard out and present a more disheveled, less pristine, persona. That, along with the film’s El Paso setting, allowed Carver to lean into the stylings of Sergio Leone to create a kung fu western. Norris and Carradine added an extra level of authenticity to the fight scenes, culminating in a final showdown that both actors refused to use stuntmen for. A solid hit, the film opened new doors for the actor and, in time, would prove the inspiration for Walker, Texas Ranger.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Screenwriter W. D. Richter enlisted the talents of novelist Earl Mac Rauch to create a screenplay based around one of Rauch’s characters, Buckaroo Banzai, and it shows. A vividly imagined and densely plotted action comedy, full of hilarious quirks and colorful characters, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a bit of everything: science fiction, action, comedy, romance, and musical thrown in for good measure.

Peter Weller stars as Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, a polymath, physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock star who, with the help of his bandmates and entourage, sets out to save the world from inter-dimensional aliens. Weller oozes charisma but is ably supported by a cast of characters that includes the likes of Ellen Barkin and a young Jeff Goldblum. John Lithgow also puts in a demented turn as the film’s big villain Lord John Whorfin. 

There’s undoubtedly a lot going on, which might explain why it ended up making back less than half its production budget, but stick with it and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension makes for a memorable watch that holds up to repeat viewings and features the coolest end credits ever put to film.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

To Live and Die in L.A. was probably William Friedkin’s last truly great film, unless you happen to be a fan of Killer Joe’s demented fried chicken shenanigans, of course. It’s not a surprise the movie gets overlooked though, given the caliber of Friedkin’s work before it, but To Live and Die in L.A. holds its own among this best, thanks to star turns from Willem Dafoe and William Petersen and a car chase to rival The French Connection.

Based on a novel penned by ex-Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, who also co-wrote the screenplay, Petersen plays Richard Chance, a Secret Service agent not afraid to break the rules in his pursuit of Dafoe’s malevolent counterfeiter criminal Eric Masters, who murdered his partner. Gritty, cool and entirely unpredictable, To Live and Die in L.A. might have divided critics upon release but its standing has only grown over time.

Silverado (1985)

Despite earning good reviews, Silverado was only a moderate hit back in 1985, though some of that might be down to the fact it was released at the same time as Back to the Future, which dominated the box office that summer. These days, you mention the words Western ensemble and most turn to Tombstone, but Silverado remains an enjoyable Western revival. Much of the credit goes to writer and director Lawrence Kasdan, who previously worked the same magic as the scribe behind The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

However, he’s ably helped by a brilliant cast that includes Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, and a young Kevin Costner as a quartet of misfit heroes going up against the corrupt Sheriff Cobb, played by the always watchable Brian Dennehy and a gang of ruthless gunslingers and crooks that again includes a young Jeff Goldblum. It may not be as slick or cool as Tombstone but Silverado has heart and a real sense of adventure. It sticks to the tried-and-tested Western formula, but there are still enough unexpected twists and turns along the way to make it a thoroughly enjoyable watch, with Glover and Kline as particular standouts.

Runaway Train (1985)

Back in the 1980s, Cannon Films had garnered a reputation for producing B-movies and action flicks of varying quality – but Runaway Train broke that mold. Based on a story by Akira Kurosawa, who had tried to make it into a film in the 1960s only to run into financial difficulties, the plot focuses on two escaped convicts who wind up stuck on a runaway train traveling at dangerously high speed through snowy Alaska with only a female assistant locomotive driver for company.

Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, who would go on to helm Tango & Cash, much of Runaway Train’s success could be attributed to the charismatic performances of the film’s two convict leads, Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, who both earned Oscar nominations. Both deliver suitably manic turns that help steer the movie through the occasional quiet moment, aided by a script that explores the human condition in a way rarely seen in an action movie. Credit should also go to Rebecca DeMornay as the hapless rail worker who winds up stuck with them onboard the out of control train and John P. Ryan as the sadistic prison warden Ranken who is in pursuit. 

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

With a title like Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, you would probably expect this adaptation of Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s The Destroyer series of novels to be the first of many big screen outings. But despite a great central performance by Fred Ward as Williams, it ended up missing the mark with critics and audiences and plans for a follow-up were scrapped. That’s a shame because, despite some flaws, it’s an enjoyable actioner pitched somewhere between James Bond and The Karate Kid.

Ward begins the film as a character named Sam Makin, a Vietnam vet and Brooklyn cop recruited as an assassin for a secret government organization called CURE led by Wilford Brimley’s Harold W. Smith. Having faked his death, Makin assumes the identity of Williams and is put through a bizarre training regime under the tutelage of a martial arts master who helps him learn hand to hand combat and skills like the ability to walk on water or even wet cement. It’s an enjoyable journey, but leaves less room for the main plot about bringing down a shady weapons procurement program. There are plenty of great action set pieces though, including a fight on the Statue of Liberty and an encounter with a trio of super smart Dobermans. It’s just a shame they had American actor Joel Grey play elderly Korean martial arts master Sinanju Chian in a prime example of “yellowface.” 

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Having already been left dismayed by the critical and commercial reaction to arguably his best film, 1982’s The Thing, the failure of Big Trouble in Little China four years later proved to be the final straw for John Carpenter, who turned his back on big-budget moviemaking in favor of more independent productions. Hollywood was a considerably worse place for it. Though it may have struggled to find an audience upon release, Big Trouble in Little China has emerged as something of a cult classic in the years since and it’s not difficult to see why.

Originally envisioned as a Western with elements of mystical orientalism, the script underwent significant rewrites to move the setting to modern day San Francisco. The result is an eclectic blend of kung fu movie and Western with a little Indiana Jones adventure thrown in for good measure. Kurt Russell reunited with Carpenter to play truck driver Jack Burton who comes to the aid of his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) after his fiancée disappears into the mysterious underworld of the city’s Chinatown district. They soon find themselves going up against ancient Chinese warriors and a mystical sorcerer trapped by an ancient curse. Colorful, chaotic, and lots of fun, it remains a unique slice of action cinema.

Iron Eagle (1986)

Despite arriving a few months earlier, Iron Eagle ended up being overshadowed by the undeniably superior Top Gun at the box office. Even so, it remains an enjoyably silly companion piece for anyone who feels the need for speed. A young Jason Gedrick places Doug Masters, a cocky hotshot civilian pilot eager to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force.

Things take an unexpected turn, however, when his dad is shot down and captured in enemy territory. Found guilty of trespassing, he’s sentenced to be hung in three days. With the U.S. government unwilling to intervene, Masters hatches his own plan to save pops and enlists the help of Colonel Charles “Chappy” Sinclair, a Vietnam veteran pilot played by Lou Gossett Jr. channeling some of the performance that bagged him an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman.

Make no mistake: Iron Eagle is big and dumb but it’s also lots of fun. The aerial combat sequences are well put together while Gossett Jr. and Gedrick give us all the feels as an unlikely de facto father-son duo.

The Wraith (1986)

Imagine a mix of The Crow and a full throttle Fast and Furious movie and you are somewhere close to replicating the strange magic of The Wraith. Filmed just prior to his breakout turn in Platoon, Charlie Sheen spent a matter of days on set and, despite taking top billing, racked up just 30 minutes of screentime with stunt doubles and safety helmets helping pick up the slack. He’s ably supported by a stellar cast of rising stars though, including Sherilyn Fenn as love interest Keri, Randy Quaid as the clueless local sheriff, and Nick Cassavetes as the movie’s big bad Packard Walsh.  

Sheen (well, mostly Sheen) is Jake Kesey, a mysterious loner who arrives in town on a revenge mission. It turns out he’s the reincarnated spirit of Jamie Hankins, a local teen who was murdered by Walsh and his car-loving cronies for reasons that are not entirely clear. He’s back as ‘The Wraith’ a mysterious faceless racer enlisted to pick off each of Walsh’s gang via a series of street races and some vehicular-based murder. Boasting an impressive soundtrack and some great driving work, the movie’s comic book feel gives it a charm that will help you to overlook some of its other shortcomings.

F/X (1986)

Paul Hogan might have been the Australian actor who dominated headlines and the box office back in the 1980s with Crocodile Dundee and its subsequent sequels, but the decade also belonged to another antipodean actor in Bryan Brown. Having earned his stripes with a series of TV and supporting roles in movies, F/X represented Brown’s first big-screen Hollywood vehicle where he took the lead.

Brown plays Rollie Tyler, a special effects expert enlisted by the U.S. Department of Justice to stage the murder of a mobster who is due to enter the Witness Protection Program. Things soon go awry, however, when the mobster ends up being seemingly murdered for real, with the finger of blame pointed firmly at Tyler, who also becomes a target for those behind the murder plot. Forced to go on the run with only his array of special effects tricks to help him, some inventive action set pieces ensue with the cherry on top coming in the form of Brian Dennehy as NYPD detective Leo McCarthy, who smells something fishy about the case.

Only a moderate hit, some wondered if the title of F/X left potential viewers confused. Regardless, despite being largely forgotten, it spawned a sequel and a TV series.

Rolling Vengeance (1987)

One of the best things to come out of Canada in the 1980s, Rolling Vengeance is B-movie exploitation cinema at its very best and a much underappreciated action movie to boot. Don Michael Paul stars as Joey Rosso, a man driven to the brink by a family of beer-swilling rednecks led by Ned Beatty’s Tiny Doyle, who are responsible for the murder of his family.

With the police powerless to stop the influential Tiny Doyle and his family’s continued rampages, Rosso decides to construct a giant, eight-ton truck fitted with a giant retractable drill and metal cutter. It’s chaos from there with Rosso and his truck taking on the role of one-man wrecking ball to eye-catching effect.

Though it might be a simplistic revenge story, the presence of a giant monster truck adds an interesting flavor to proceedings with the resulting movie proving an easy and thoroughly enjoyable watch. 

Action Jackson (1988)

The late, great Carl Weathers was largely known for his fine work as a support player in iconic action movies like Predator and Rocky, but Action Jackson proved he was more than capable of taking the lead in proceedings. Directed by Craig R. Baxley, who made his name as a stunt coordinator, Action Jackson certainly packs a punch, with plenty of big explosions, impressive stunts and guns. Lots of guns. 

Weathers plays the titular hero, a Detroit police detective on the case of Craig T. Nelson’s Peter Dellaplane, a psychotic auto magnate trained in deadly martial arts. Produced by Joel Silver, who was behind both Die Hard and Predator, the film is packed full of familiar faces from both films, while Prince protege Vanity plays Dellaplane’s junkie mistress turned Jackson love interest.

Featuring the sight of Weathers driving a car up a flight of stairs, testicles in a jar, the immortal line “how do you like your ribs?” and Nelson delivering high kicks that defy the laws of physics, Action Jackson is totally bonkers but a total blast from start to finish. It should have spawned a franchise, but legal wrangles over the rights to the character put an end to that, which is a real shame.

Shakedown (1988)

Eight years on from shocking action movie fans with The Exterminator, a movie that traded in dialogue and acting, for brutal, all out violence, filmmaker James Glickenhaus delivered a significantly more measured effort in the form of Shakedown and the dream pairing of Peter Weller and Sam Elliott. 

Weller stars as Roland Dalton, a disillusioned public defender handling his last case before he quits. That case centers on Michael Jones, a crack dealer accused of killing a police officer. Jones claims it was self-defense and the cop was corrupt. Dalton decides to investigate, enlisting the help of Richie Marks (Elliott), a renegade narcotics detective. 

What starts off as a seemingly gritty legal drama exploring the dark side of New York City soon descends into gloriously silly fun with the two leads engaging in motorcycle shootouts and airport showdowns. Boasting spectacular stunts and some genuine laughs, Shakedown recouped its budget upon release but is rarely talked about anymore. It’s high time that changed.

Red Heat (1988)

Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t known for playing things understated but in Red Heat, he delivers his most measured performance since the original Conan the Barbarian movie. A buddy cop action movie from the ever-fertile mind of Walter Hill, the Austrian Oak plays Soviet policeman Ivan Danko, a fish out of water in Chicago on the tail of the Georgian drug kingpin responsible for the death of his partner. Against his better instincts he ended up partnered up with Jim Belushi’s streetwise detective Art Ridzik, who is also chasing Rostavili. 

Written with Schwarzenegger in mind, Hill’s direction imbues proceedings with a gritty realism while the movie’s overt violence is effectively punctuated by moments of humor largely involving Belushi. Despite this, the movie was not Schwarzenegger’s biggest that year, with audiences instead opting to check out a different kind of pairing in Twins. Red Heat did find an audience on VHS though and remains one of the few underappreciated gems in Schwarzenegger’s back catalog.

Blind Fury (1989)

This loose U.S. remake of Zatoichi, the Japanese film series about a blind swordsman in Japan’s Edo period, saw Rutger Hauer add another string to his bow as a surprisingly competent comedic actor. He plays Nick Parker, a Vietnam veteran who, after being blinded by a mortar during combat, is rescued by the inhabitants of a local village who nurse him back to health and end up training him up as a master swordsman at one with his remaining senses.

Once back in the U.S., Parker visits the home of old friend Frank Deveraux (Terry O’Quinn) only to discover he is being held hostage by a major crime syndicate. In a further twist, during the visit, Deveraux’s wife ends up being killed, leaving Parker in charge of their young son and determined to reunite him with his father, whatever the cost. Hauer went through months of training for the role and plays a convincing blind man and, crucially, handles the comedic action set pieces that focus on his sightless status with some aplomb. A fun misadventure of a movie.

Renegades (1989)

Kiefer Sutherland journeyed into buddy cop territory for this crime actioner about an undercover cop teaming up with a Native American (Lou Diamond Philips) to catch the criminal gang who, during a violent diamond heist, ended up stealing an ancient ceremonial spear. 

Often forgotten in favor of the vastly superior Thunderheart, Renegades remains an accomplished action movie, full of great car chases, fights, and some impressive gunplay. Sutherland and Philips might not be the most obvious of partnerships on screen but their pairing somehow works and even provides a few moments of levity in a movie that is surprisingly gory. It’s unlikely to win any prizes for originality but the story moves along at a nice pace while the presence of a pre-Prison Break Robert Knepper as the movie’s main bad guy definitely adds to the fun of it all.

Best of the Best (1989)

The 1980s was packed full of boxing and karate movies, so it’s perhaps understandable that something like Best of the Best slipped through the cracks. The film’s reputation has not been helped either by the slew of straight-to-video sequels that followed in the years after its release. But, as a standalone exercise in action cinema, Best of the Best lives up to the title as a movie to rival martial arts favorites like The Karate Kid and Bloodsport in terms of delivering earnest action entertainment.

Proceedings center on a misfit team of American martial artists sent to compete at a Tae Kwon Do tournament in Korea. It might play on all the familiar tropes of the sports movie, but what elevates Best of the Best are a couple of key performances. James Earl Jones is as great as ever as Coach Frank Couzo, the man responsible for getting the team into fighting shape, while Phillip Rhee’s Tommy Lee drives the plot as a fight out to avenge the death of his brother. The biggest draw, however, is Eric Roberts as Alexander Grady, a widowed father who was once seen as a rising star in the martial arts world before a shoulder injury wrecked his hopes of making it big. It might be formulaic, but Best of the Best still packs a punch.

Tango & Cash (1989)

The decade came to a close with what should have been the dream pairing of two action titans of the era in Tango & Cash. In one corner there was Sylvester Stallone, playing against type as Raymond Tango, a slick, intelligent Los Angeles detective, and Kurt Russell as Gabriel Cash playing…well, the kind of role he usually plays. Rivals on the streets, the pair find themselves thrown together after being framed for murder by Jack Palance’s Yves Perret. Throw in Teri Hatcher as Tango’s steel drum playing sister and potential Cash love interest and you have all the ingredients of a first-rate action movie.

Yet it’s clear not all was well behind the scenes. Original director Andrei Konchalovsky clashed with producer Jon Peters over the constant changes to the script and eventually departed with a combination of Albert Magnoli, Peter MacDonald, and Stuart Baird completing the production. A familiar tale of too many cooks in the kitchen, the film feels like a mish-mash of wild ideas. Konchalovsky had been keen to ground the movie in a more realistic setting while Magnoli, who worked on the Prince movie Purple Rain, wanted it more colorful and comic book like.

The end result is somewhere in between, and though Tango & Cash was a moderate hit, it failed to have the lasting impact many would have expected and no sequel followed. Despite this, regular TV re-runs and the advent of home media have seen the film become an enjoyable irony-free buddy cop flick that brought together several of the best elements of ’80s action cinema and delivered plenty of memorable set pieces.

The post The Most Underrated Action Movies of the 1980s appeared first on Den of Geek.

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