Why the 1990s Was the Most Interesting Decade for Action Cinema

Many movie fans look back on the 1980s fondly as the halcyon days of the action movie. It was in this decade that Rambo was born, Schwarzenegger shot to superstardom, and Bruce Willis proved to be very hard to kill. However, another way of looking at the decade is that action movies in the 1980s merely laid the foundations for better movies that arrived in the 1990s.

Yes, the 1980s had Rambo, Die Hard, Predator, Commando, The Running Man, Aliens, and The Terminator. All triple A movies, many of which helped to shape and define the action genre. That said, as we moved into the 1990s, the genre was refined and improved upon and the list of classic movies that emerged is long.

Action movie characters became more flawed and funnier, while the movies themselves never compromised that vulnerability against explosive set pieces. Whereas 80s action characters were often depicted as invincible, 90s protagonists were allowed to be more human. Of course, Bruce Willis playing John McClane as a sometimes lucky but versatile action star in Die Hard helped pave the way.

McClane was an everyman. Even as he was mowing down bad guys and besting international terrorists, he came off like just another guy. Someone who watches sports on the weekend, checks out loteria en linea USA, and eats fast food. McClane was an action trailblazer and into the 1990s his template defined the genre.

What followed were a string of thinking man’s action stars. Keanu Reeves (Point Break and Speed) looked the part but was also able to provide pathos. Nicolas Cage married crazy with vulnerability in The Rock and Face/Off, while going full action hero in Con Air. Neither movie stars provided the classic view of the action hero that we had become used to.

Even Schwarzenegger and Stallone, the two kings of the muscle-bound invincible action star, changed in the 1990s. For the former, The Last Action Hero, True Lies, and Total Recall mixed vulnerability with comedy. Stallone followed a similar path with Demolition Man. Sure, both Schwarzenegger and Stallone still kicked plenty of ass, but at least now they did it in more interesting ways.

It’s worth noting that the seeds sewn by John McClane and extended through the 1990s re-shaped action cinema forever. In fact, it set an evolution that continued into the new century, sometimes to the detriment of the genre. In the new millennium, anybody could be an action hero and any actor could become an action star. Just ask Matt Damon, who rode the action genre to huge success with Jason Bourne.

So, the 1990s was a dazzling decade for the action movie. The genre changed forever and arguably got worse as we reached the year 2000. But over that glorious 10 years, at least we got some of the best action movies ever made. A proper list would be too long, but here are some of the action classics brought to us in the 1990s:

  • Total Recall
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  • The Rock
  • Cliffhanger
  • Con Air
  • The Last Action Hero
  • Speed
  • Face/Off
  • Hard Target
  • True Lies
  • Broken Arrow
  • Demolition Man
  • Point Break
  • Die Hard with a Vengeance

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