’80s Action Stars Then and Now
You know these guys — chances are, you grew up watching them kick ass in some of the greatest action films of the ’80s. These actors are legends in their own right who have spent years entertaining us as they killed aliens, fought terrorists, and even beat up on their fellow man. Today we take a look back at some of your favorite ’80s action stars to see how far they’ve come since then.
Then: The former bodybuilder had a string of action hits in the ’80s, including the ‘Conan’ films, ‘Terminator,’ ‘Red Sonja,’ ‘Commando,’ and ‘Predator.’ In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he moved into more comedic fare, like ‘Twins’ and ‘Kindergarten Cop.’
Now: Schwarzenegger became the governor of California in 2003 and retired from acting to focus on his political career. When he left office in 2011, he returned to the big screen, and has starred in the ‘Expendables’ films and ‘The Last Stand.’ He can be seen next alongside fellow ’80s action star Sylvester Stallone in ‘The Escape Plan.’
Then: Prior to becoming a household name, Sylvester Stallone began his career by acting in a softcore porn film called ‘The Party at Kitty and Stud’s,’ as well as an off-Broadway erotic stage play called ‘Score.’ In the ’70s he hit the big time, playing the iconic role of Rocky Balboa in ‘Rocky,’ and followed that up with three sequels. In the ’80s he appeared in the films ‘First Blood’ (kicking off the Rambo franchise), ‘Cobra,’ and ‘Over the Top.’
Now: Stallone headlines the ‘Expendables’ series of films alongside several of his fellow former ’80s action stars, and has also recently appeared in the film ‘Bullet to the Head.’ He can be seen next in ‘Escape Plan’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Then: The Australian actor is the star of action classics like the ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ films, and ‘Tequila Sunrise.’
Now: Gibson diversified his career throughout the ’90s and ’00s, appearing in films as varied as ‘Braveheart,’ ‘Signs,’ and ‘What Women Want.’ He also shifted to working behind the camera, directing the films ‘Apocalypto’ and ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ Gibson can be seen next in ‘Machete Kills,’ ‘The Expendables 3,’ and he has a cameo in the upcoming ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’
Then: Bruce Willis played John McClane in ‘Die Hard,’ launching one of America’s favorite action franchises.
Now: Willis continues to have an incredibly successful career, recently reprising the role of Frank Moses in ‘Red 2,’ appearing in ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ (the fifth ’Die Hard’ film), ‘Looper,’ and ‘The Expendables 2.’ Willis will not appear in ‘The Expendables 3,’ due to a salary dispute highly publicized on Sylvester Stallone’s Twitter account, but he will reprise his role in ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.’
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Then: The Belgian martial artist became a superstar in the ’80s with roles in ‘Bloodsport’ (his breakout), ‘Cyborg,’ and ‘Kickboxer.’ He continued to reign throughout the early ’90s in ‘Lionheart,’ ‘Universal Soldier,’ and ‘Timecop.’
Now: Van Damme appeared as the villainous Jean Vilain (get it?) in ‘The Expendables 2,’ and reprised the role of Luc Deveraux in ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning,’ marking his third time working with Scott Adkins, and his fourth film with Dolph Lundgren.
Then: American martial artist Chuck Norris proved his worth as a bankable actor in the ’80s with his role in ‘Lone Wolf McQuade.’ He also appeared in the films ‘The Octagon,’ ‘Delta Force,’ and both ‘Missing in Action’ films — the latter of which were made to cash-in on the ‘Rambo’ series. In the ’90s, he top-lined the series ‘Walker, Texas Ranger.’
Now: Norris created his own martial arts program, known as Chun Kuk Do, and appeared in ‘The Expendables 2.’ He also stars in and produced the film ‘The Novice.’
Then: Harrison Ford got the action ball rolling in the late ’70s, appearing as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.’ He reprised the role in both sequels in the ’80s, and starred in the ‘Indiana Jones’ series of films. Ford also appeared in ‘Blade Runner,’ making him the sci-fi friendly action star we desperately needed at the time.
Now: Ford has four new films out this year: the already-released ’42′ and ‘Paranoia,’ and the upcoming films ‘Ender’s Game,’ and ‘Anchorman: The Legend Continues.’ He also recently joined the cast of ‘The Expendables 3.’
Then: Kurt Russell, who had been acting all through the ’60s and ’70s, carved out a niche for himself in the action genre in the ’80s with parts in the John Carpenter films ‘Escape from New York,’ ‘The Thing,’ and ‘Big Trouble in Little China.’ In 1996, he reprised the role of Snake Plissken for Carpenter’s ‘Escape from L.A.’
Now: Russell doesn’t act as often as he used to, but he has appeared in films like ‘Miracle’ and ‘Death Proof,’ and can be seen next in ‘The Art of the Steal.’
Then: Though his big screen debut was in the 1985 film ‘A View to a Kill,’ it was his role as Ivan Drago in ‘Rocky IV’ (released that same year) that put Dolph Lundgren on the map. He went on to star in ’80s action films like ‘Masters of the Universe’ and ‘The Punisher.’
Now: Lundgren has over 40 film credits to his name, almost all of them in the action genre. He has appeared in four films with Jean-Claude Van Damme, including the recent films ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’ and ‘The Expendables 2.’ He has eight films out this year, including titles such as ‘Battle of the Damned’ and ‘A Certain Justice.’ He will also appear in ‘The Expendables 3.’
Then: Steven Seagal only had a starring role in the ’80s action flick ‘Above the Law,’ which might make you think he doesn’t belong on this list — but the former Aikido instructor was the martial arts coordinator for several action films in the ’80s, including ‘Never Say Never Again’ and ‘A View to a Kill.’
Now: Seagal was huge in the ’90s, with roles in ‘On Deadly Ground,’ ‘Out for Justice,’ and the ‘Under Siege’ films. He is currently a reserve deputy chief in the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana Sheriff’s office, and had his own reality series about his law enforcement work called ‘Steven Seagal: Lawman,’ which ran on A&E from 2008 to 2010. He’s recently appeared in the films ‘Machete’ and ‘Maximum Conviction.’