The 80’s were a strange time for entertainment. Recycled directing and story concepts are an accepted commonplace but never has it been as tediously frequent as in action movies. It felt as though some mysterious unnamed aficionado provided the unbreakable template from which all would-be successful action movies were to adhere to. From the fire of this sarcastically cutting edge choreography had derived some of the most ridiculous cinematic clichés ever conceived. This obnoxiously visualized style also trickled into the 90’s and still rears its confusing head from time to time nowadays, although usually as a parody. The following is a list of our top 10 favorite 80’s action movie clichés worthy of mockery.
1. The countertop slide
Whenever a scene involves a bar or a restaurant with inebriated ruffians, it is but a coin toss away to decide if a fist fight is going to ensue or a gunfight. If it happens to be the former, then anything within reach is fair game for a weapon: chairs, tables, bottles and even pool sticks. The room becomes a playground for the rioting frenzy of drunken degenerates with a stoic bartender that often acts like the owner has asshole mob insurance to replace what once was useable furniture. When just about everything that isn’t weighed down has been exhausted, then debuts the creative environmental bashing approach, people being tossed through the doors, through the windows, and even through the damn jukebox. However the champion of arbitrary attacks goes to the countertop slide. A finishing move of a sort, it involves hoisting the victim onto the countertop, running them from one end of the counter to the other like they’re a guided missile on a damn slip n slide, ensuring to knock over all the stacked glasses, dishes, or placements that the counter is decorated with, and completing the ride with the victim launching over the dead end of the counter. It is the sort of thing that gets you fined for collateral damage, restricted from the place of business, and did virtually no physical damage to the opponent. Good job, Tex.
2. Bullet Trail
Antagonists and their long ranged weaponry, taken right out of the pages of the inept criminal’s handbook, is the kind of flailing marksmanship that would make a blind man giggle. It’s no wonder that the miscreants are usually the first ones to reload their guns. After having sprayed enough bullets to melt the shell casings into a large statue of a jester, into an impenetrable cover that the protagonist is safeguarded behind, you can’t help but think that the hero isn’t such a badass as he is just lacking any formidable challenge. It becomes too apparent that none of the main characters are ever in danger of being hit when they are seen outrunning the enigma that is the bullet trail. A stream of bullets filed in a line that follows the ground path of the person sprinting from the shooter at such a slow speed that the person could trip, tie their shoes, and still make it to safety in time for a Snickers break. What directors mistakenly considered to be action scene gold is so absurd in practice that it takes the fun out of the box.
3. Block and Wind Up Counter
You remember the last fight you ever saw where one guy blocks with his left arm, holds the block in place, leans back with his right arm, and clocks his opponent to the ground? Yeah, me neither. That’s because it never happened. There are a lot of things that occur in movies that aren’t in point to realism, understandably so. When it comes to fight choreography, it should sort of, I don’t know, not suck. Downgrading the surrealism isn’t how to accomplish that feat. In classic to modern Asian cinema, you have people running along walls, flip kicking, and architecting an orchestra of fancy maneuvers that are not applicable to most real fights. Yet at least it is fun to watch. For the block and wind up counter, It is difficult to take a punch seriously when it is held back long enough to power up to level 10 and thrown with about as much surprise as the ship sinking in the movie Titanic. More importantly, it just isn’t entertaining to watch. It’s actually kind of pathetic.
4. Ramp in the Middle of the Road
Car chases make for adrenaline pumping filler in action films. They also are plagued by the phenomenon that is the ramp in the middle of the road. Some directors put a little bit of effort into setting up a believable stage where a stray vehicle might find itself propelled over the edge of a bridge or sprung from an inclining curb. Others just decided that explanation is for the weak and that a car should just jump for no fucking reason. Welcome the random ramps that are strategically placed along the path of the racing vehicles and do not seem the least bit context sensitive to any construction being done in the area. Jumping cars aren’t thrilling when they have no purpose, especially when the hop isn’t even supported by a ramp. The vehicles look like mechanical crickets.
5. Bomb with fluctuating Clock Time
It all begins innocently simple enough, an explosive device is set into place and the immediate vicinity either has to be evacuated or the bomb itself dismantled before the bomb’s fastened clock descends to zero. A task typically set to improbable odds early on as the timer starts off to detonate in an interval that would make Carl Lewis nervous. It is in the loom of the remaining moments that things get a bit wonky, with only 3 seconds left and our heroes not yet in the clear, doom is imminent, at least until the camera pans back to the clock to now show they have 5 seconds left, now 2, no wait, it is 8. What the hell? Talk about setting up the rules and then breaking them at the pivotal moment. Countdowns can be classic tension builders unless the tension is the responsibility of an editor recruited from the School of Pokemon Snap. I want my money back you lying bastards!
6. Grenades that Hurl People in to the Air
When a lineup of baddies aren’t dancing to the beat of being riddled with bullets, it appears they’re busy doing skyward trampoline jumps from the explosions caused by nearby tossed or fired grenades. Grenades that hurl people in to the air are not characteristic of how I understand most of these usually destructive devices to work. For an arsenal that tends to utilize Hollywood physics, strategically placed grenades take all nearby persons and relocates them to other platforms. It doesn’t seem like a very effective method of attack, more of an inconvenience at worst, loads of fun at best. My advice to 80’s action movie powerhouses is to stick to the knife, it never seems to miss its target and you can’t candy coat the visual of a blade embedded into someone’s chest.
7. Cop Who is “Tired of this Shit” and has One More Case Before Retirement
What once was a plot device designed to invoke the audience’s deeper empathies during the death of a supporting character, got played out so much that the mere mention of the typecast made the outcome predictable. I’m talking about none other than the cop who is “tired of this shit” and has one more case before retirement. For him to advertise this is to draw a bullseye on his forehead. It wasn’t a matter of when he is going to die, it is how. Be on the lookout for getting a sandwich in public, sitting near windows, or kissing his family goodbye before making an arbitrary walk to his car that can only be the stuff that explosions are made of.
8. Recycled Stock for Explosions
The only thing more intense than an explosion is more explosions, or perhaps the recycled stock for explosions. I’m talking about the same explosion, shown blowing up in the glory of its inferno, then playing the scene again, and again, and maybe a few more times for good measure. Maybe you’ll be privileged enough to see the combustion at different angles, but most likely it’s the same unaffected camera scene on loop at varying speeds. Add a few pawns on the board that scramble to flee the chaos and it starts to look like escape purgatory. By the time the flames finally subside you will become so well acquainted with the explosion that you’ll feel like you should be buying it dinner.
9. Guard Blind Spot Knockouts
Funny thing about guards, the bad news is if their attention is alerted then they level up to endure multiple punches or even engage a long winded battle. The good news is while they’re distracted or on patrol their spinal columns are made of glass, making the obvious goal to sneak attack with a strike to the back of the head for an instant guard blind spot knockout. This effect can be accomplished via gun hilt, club, fist, martial arts chop, kick, vase, choke-out, or even a Vulcan pinch. Oh, one more thing. It takes a moment for guards to fortify their tough skin so abrupt alerts can still result in an instant knockout attack so long as the strike isn't immediately blocked or dodged. It’s like science, except not.
10. Interrogation Montage
The list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the staple of 80’s movies filler, the montage. More specifically, an interrogation montage. A group of cops or investigators need a lead but they have absolutely nothing to go off of. “Let’s hit the streets and ask around.” So sets the stage for a song and search combination that leads to a whole lot of nothing but a group of shrugs, finger pointing, and negative head nods that will last until the song has had its fill and eventually fade to silence to get to the damn point.