The '80s action movie. There's never really been a movie genre like it since. A ridiculous escalation from the more restrained action movies of the '70s, action movies of the '80s tended to favor musclebound stars, ridiculous stunts, and body counts that matched the populations of small countries. This was the genre that gave rise to stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris, who competed for box office supremacy in big budget explosion-fests. The decade gave rise to the action movie hero, who would overcome impossible odds to save the day and return for the sequel. But with so many action heroes appearing in the '80s, the inevitable debates began: just who is the best '80s action hero?
It's a question for the ages, and it continues to spark furious debate to this day. Fans will argue until they're blue in the face over who would win in a fight between Robocop and Snake Plissken, but there's never been a definitive answer. Until now. CBR has looked back through the years and crunched the numbers, determining the exact body counts caused by the stars of these '80s films. Armed with this knowledge, we've compiled the 20 deadliest '80s action movie characters, ranked.
20 SNAKE PLISSKEN
John Carpenter's 1981 action classic Escape From New York introduced the world to Snake Plissken, the cynical eyepatch-clad, cigarette smoking hero of action movies dreams. Kurt Russel's performance as Plissken cemented the misanthropic butt-kicker as an action movie legend, and Plissken continues to pop up in comics and toys to this day. But despite this pedigree, Snake's body count is on the lower side.
In Escape From New York, Snake spends a majority of the movie skulking in shadows, working to save the President from the blood-thirsty inhabitants of the prison colony of New York City. As a result of Snake's preference for sneaking, our hero ultimately doesn't punch too many baddies tickets, only taking out nine people over the course of the film. Sure, that's more kills than most of us have, but for an '80s action movie hero, that's surprisingly low.
19 JOHN MCCLANE
"Come out to the coast, have a few laughs..." Yes, New York City police detective John McClane wasn't expecting much when he flew out to California to attend the Christmas party of the wife he recently separated from, but this grizzled cop got more than he bargained for when Hans Gruber and his band of thugs storm the building. Utimately, McClane drops plenty of German baddies and spouts plenty of one liners, but John Rambo this guy ain't.
In 1988's Die Hard, McClane must fight his way through Nakatomi Plaza to save the day, but as he's just one man against a large group of thugs, McClane is forced to fight smart. Through ambushes, traps, shoot outs, and one very memorable Alan Rickman death, McClane manages to take out 11 bad guys. McClane's body count would certainly grow as he entered the '90s, but the initial outing of this '80s action movie hero had a kill count on the lower side.
18 NICO TOSCANI
Before Steven Seagal was known as "that sad chubby dude with the ponytail that used to star in big movies," Seagal was a bonafide action star, getting his big break with 1988's Above The Law. Action movie fans thrilled as Seagal, as Chicago PD detective Nico Toscani, battled a drug kingpin who is, well, above the law, leading to plenty of stand-offs and shoot outs along the way. But despite Segal's penchant for movies with body counts in the high double digits, Above The Law was a little more restrained.
As Nico wages war against his former Vietnam War commander-turned-drug kingpin, the detective/kung-fu expert/former CIA agent/terrible actor shoots, stabs, and even throws baddies off a building onto electrified train tracks. Despite the gnarly means of dispatch, Seagal ultimately only kills 11, putting this action movie hero on the lower end of our list.
17 MAX ROCKATANSKY
Max Rockatansky, or "Mad Max" if you're so inclined, has survived the worst the post-apocalypse has to offer, fighting off raiders, marauders, and a particularly irate hockey mask-clad leather daddy. But despite Max's experiences with the worst this bombed out husk of a world has to offer, his '80s movie outings didn't see him rack up a very high body count.
Before the '80s gave way to the '90s, Mad Max had starred in three movies filled to bursting with muscle cars, explosions, and plenty questionable fashion decisions. Despite Max's penchant for finding himself in life-or-death situations, the Road Warrior didn't tend to take down too many baddies. Ultimately, Max exterminated six in Mad Max, eight in The Road Warrior, and only four in Beyond Thunderdome, putting this '80s action hero at a ho-hum 18.
"Dead or alive, you're coming with me!" Turns out, Robocop wasn't messing around when he uttered that iconic line, as this half-man, half-robot, all-cop won't hesitate to put bad guys down with authority. After all, the violence in Robocop is notorious, and our titular hero drops plenty of baddies over the course of the beloved sci-fi action epic. But you might be shocked at just how meager Robocop's body count is in his initial movie outing.
In 1987's Robocop, Murphy spends his time shooting, stabbing, punching, and generally murdering any scumbag who crosses his path. But despite the amount of grievous bodily harm doled out by Robocop, he ultimately only racks up a body count of 22. Of course, Robocop's kill count would only grow in the two critically reviled sequels, but Alex Murphy's lone '80s outing features the lowest kill count of all.
15 JJ MCQUADE
Chuck Norris managed to carve out his very own action movie niche in the '80s, starring in flicks that saw a blue-collar Texan tasked with waging a one man war against an army of baddies. The first of these Norris-branded films was 1983's Lone Wolf McQuade, which saw the bearded martial artist rack up an impressive list of casualties.
Norris, starring as former Texas Ranger turned "lone wolf" JJ McQuade, finds himself embroiled in a battle with the drug kingpin that killed his former partner, leading to lots of shoot outs and the occasional kung-fu fight. When all is said and done, McQuade has taken out 26 baddies, with kills ranging from sniper shots to death-via-RPG. McQuade's no-frills approach to henchmen murder won the movie plenty of '80s action fans, but this bodycount is far from the highest on our list.
14 MATT HUNTER
Oh no! Evil communist Cuban guerrillas have landed in Florida and intend to invade the United States! Who could possible stop these insidious marauding Stalin-lovers? This calls for a denim-clad Chuck Norris! Yes, Invasion USA might be one of the dumbest action movies of the '80s, but this Norris cheese-classic won itself plenty of fans thanks to its high budget action scenes and wealth of explosions. It also didn't hurt that Norris racks up quite the body count over the course of the flick.
Norris, as former CIA agent Matt Hunter, is forced to take up arms when the invading guerrillas blow up his home and murder his best friend. Cue Hunter taking out baddies via machine gun, throwing knife, and just straight up running dudes over with a truck. By the end, Hunter confronts the guerrillas leader, and promptly blows him to smithereens with a bazooka, putting the body of the hero of this '80s trash action classic at a respectable 27.
Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer is proof positive that sometimes, even the biggest of men need to utilize brains over brawn. Well, kinda; after all, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch spends a good chunk of Predator mowing down insurgents with a machine gun the size of a small child. But by the end of the film, Dutch is forced to ditch his armaments and utilize his wits to take down the Predator. But before Arnie and the alien hunter square off, the Austrian Oak manages to rack up a sizable body count.
When Dutch and his team of US Special Forces descend upon a camp of jungle insurgents to rescue a hostage, things get murder-y real fast. Over this memorable shoot out, Dutch uses a truck filled with C4 to blow up a hut of baddies, mows down plenty of insurgents, and even throws a knife into one particularly unlucky bad guy. When all is said and done, Dutch walks away with 33 kills, eventually adding the Predator to his list, ending this '80s action classic with an impressive body count of 34.
12 LT. NIKOLAI RACHENKO
Before he was dying his hair red and pretending to ride a seahorse, Dolph Lundgren was a bonafide '80s action movie star, playing both hero and villain in several high profile movies. For action movie fans that came of age during the era, there was one movie that best exemplified the musclebound Swede's buttkicking ways: Red Scorpion.
This 1988 flick saw Lundgren portray Nikolai Rachenko, a Soviet Spetznaz operative who abandons his post and joins forces with African tribesmen to fight back against their Russian oppressors. Lundgren wastes no time in putting the Ruskies down, using everything from machine guns to knives to eliminate his enemies, ultimately putting the hero of this '80s action classic at a cool 38 kills.
If you threw every '80s action movie trope in a blender, you'd end up with Cobra. This gloriously silly 1986 flick saw Sylvester Stallone don his best aviators and spend 87 minutes rattling off awful one liners and generally shooting anything that moves, leading to a surprisingly high body count.
LAPD officer Lt. Marion Cobretti, aka "Cobra," wages a one man war against a sect of Darwinist thugs, who seek to improve the world by weeding out the weak. Unfortunately, these idealogical violent extremists weren't ready for Cobra, who spends the run time of the movie shooting, exploding, and even immolating any baddie he gets in his sight. Cobra may be dumb, but Stallone's high body count (an impressive 39!) and the non-stop action of the movie have helped to make Cobra a bonafide '80s cult classic.
10 RIGGS & MURTAUGH
Back when Mel Gibson was only crazy in the movies, the Aussie actor portrayed Martin Riggs, an unhinged, take-no-prisoners cop saddled with a long grizzled partner, Roger Murtaugh (memorably played by Danny Glover.) Across four Lethal Weapons movies, this mismatched pair fought all manner of baddies, and managed to rack up quite the casualty list along the way.
Of the two '80s released Lethal Weapon films, Riggs and Murtaugh netted an impressive 41 kills, with the magnificently maned Riggs doing most of the heavy lifting. In Lethal Weapon, Riggs would nab 17 bad guys, with Murtaugh putting down only four. By Lethal Weapon 2, Murtaugh clearly acquired a taste for gun fights, netting seven kills, with Riggs pitching in 13. These LAPD cops may have had their differences, but combined, these '80s action movies heroes walked away with an impressive body count.
9 MAJOR SCOTT MCCOY
Tell us if you've heard this one before: this movie stars Chuck Norris as a lone wolf former Special Forces operative, who is called back to action to fight a band of thugs. Sure, the plot of 1986's The Delta Force doesn't win any points for originality, but the Norris portrayed Major Scott McCoy doesn't let this hold him back, managing to score an impressive body count.
As McCoy wages war against a group of Lebanese bandits, the bearded action movie star shoots, strangles, and explodes all manner of baddies. By the end of the film, Norris walks away with an impressive 43 kills, securing this '80s action movie hero a spot squarely in the middle of our list.
8 INDIANA JONES
Our list is filled with machine-gun toting cops, musclebound army men, and some of the biggest, most imposing names in '80s action movie cinema. And then there's Indiana Jones. Indy might not be the most intimidating looking fella on our list, but this archeologist managed to rack up quite the list of casualties across three '80s flicks.
Despite his day job as a college professor, Indy seems to have quite the knack for killing. finding some pretty inventive ways to dispatch baddies. These range from jamming a rock in the side gun of a tank, causing the tank to explode, to wrapping his whip around the neck of a Thuggee intruder and using a ceiling fan to hang the guy! Ultimately, the archeologist dispatches 9 in Raiders Of The Lost Arc, 21 in Temple Of Doom, and 13 in Last Crusade, putting Indy at a final tally of 45.
7 JOE ARMSTRONG
Action movie fans in the '80s were ninja crazy. Everywhere you looked, straight-to-VHS ninja movies were popping up, and there was no series more popular than American Ninja. As over the top as they were dumb, American Ninja saw, well, the American ninja Joe Armstrong take on legions of shinobi for the good ol' US of A. But this '80s action movie staple didn't just rely on its goofy premise to achieve popularity; no, this was a film series with quite the body count.
Across two '80s films, Armstrong chopped, kicked, sliced, stabbed and blew up a smorgasbord of evil ninjas, all in pursuit of ninja justice. Despite relying almost exclusively on his fists and the tools of the ninja trade, Armstrong manages to rack up an impressive body count, ultimately taking out 52 baddies, nabbing this cheese-tastic series a high spot on our list.
6 CONAN THE BARBARIAN
Conan The Barbarian turned Arnold Schwarzenegger from a hard-to-understand bodybuilder into a hard-to-understand movie megastar, launching the Austrain Oak into the action movie stratosphere. While Arnie would go on to star in movies with higher body counts, Conan, along with its 1984 sequel Conan The Destroyer, certainly didn't skimp out on the kills.
As Arnie sought vengeance for the death of his parents at the hands of an evil snake cult in Conan The Barbarian, the wandering warrior managed to dispatch 27, with kills ranging from impalement in spike traps to good, old fashioned stabbing. By Conan The Destroyer, the titular barbarian had apparently calmed down, only taking out 25. Across Arnie's two Conan flicks, he managed to rack up a body count of 52, netting this '8s action hero an impressive spot on our list.
5 AH JONG
While most of the biggest action films of the '80s would come from the West, one of the decades most acclaimed shoot-em-ups would originate in China, arriving in 1989 to show Americans how action movies are done. John Woo's The Killer not only featured action scenes as brutal as they were beautiful, but it featured a unique anti-hero protagonist with an impressive body count.
The film tells the story of hitman Ah Jong, who unwittingly blinds a singer in a hit gone wrong and vows to complete one last job to pay for the surgery to allow the singer to regain her sight. With Detective Li hot on his heels, Jong shoots his way through the underbelly of Hong Kong, ultimately chalking up a dizzying 69 kills. Ah Jong wasn't like other clean cut '80s action movie heroes, but his ballet of bullets and bodies nets this hitman a place among some of the biggest names in '80s cinema.
4 JOHN MATRIX
You'd be hard pressed to find another movie like Commando. This aggressively '80s action flick has it all: bad guys in chain mail shirts, Arnold Schwarzenegger casually lifting trees, terrible one liners, and lots and lots of kills. Arnie, starring as the groan-inducingly named John Matrix, is a one man death machine in this cult classic film, racking up the mother of all body counts.
When Matrix's daughter Jenny is abducted by his former US Special Forces teammate turned thug Captain Bennet, Matrix sets out to take down Bennet and absolutely murder the hell out of anyone who crosses his path. What follows is 90 minutes of explosions, gun battles, stabbings, knife throws, and one memorable steam pipe impaling. All in all, Arnie racks up a ridiculous 87 kills, netting John Matrix a high spot on our list.
3 PAUL KERSEY
Don't let that mustache fool you; back in the '80s, Charles Bronson was an honest-to-goodness action star, blowing away punks in the popular Death Wish franchise. Starting with the relatively restrained Death Wish in 1974, the Charles Bronson-portrayed Paul Kersey would slowly graduate from "father turned vigilante over tragic crime" to "one man death machine" by the '80s, racking up an impressive body count along the way.
Starting with the somewhat subdued 10 kills of 1982's Death Wish 2, Kersey would kick things into overdrive in Death Wish 3, snuffing out a whopping 52 baddies over the course of the film. Clearly not satisfied, Kersey would have one final '80s outing with the utterly ridiclous Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which saw the aging star take a further 38 lives. For those of you keeping track at home, this makes this pudgy, mustachioed father one of the most dangerous action heroes of the '80s, racking up a crazy 100 kills!
2 COLONEL JAMES BRADDOCK
The Chuck Norris-starring Missing In Action franchise is pure '80s action movie cheese, with terrible acting, ridiculous action, and laughable violence. But the series had plenty of fans in the Regan Decade, ultimately netting a prequel and a sequel before the public got Braddock'd out. But before the franchise ran its course, Norris managed to chalk up quite a few takedowns.
As Colonel James Braddock, Norris came out swinging in 1984's Missing In Action, snubbing out a whopping 59 baddies. By 1985's Missing In Action 2: The Beginning, Braddock would reign it in a bit, only taking out 24, before ramping things back up for 1988's Braddock: Missing In Action III, racking up 53 kills. Ultimately, Braddock would end the '80s with a body count of 136, nabbing Norris the second spot on our list.
1 JOHN RAMBO
You'd be hard pressed to find a more bizarre franchise evolution than that of the Rambo series. Starting with 1982's First Blood, an understated examination on how the horrors of the Vietnam War lingered with young men when they came home, the series would ramp way, WAY up in Rambo: First Blood Part II, which turned Rambo into a one man killing machine. That's not an overstatement, either; Rambo's '80s body count alone would make the armies of some small countries blush.
Starting with a single, solitary kill in First Blood, the franchise would shift into overdrive for the sequel, which saw the titular hero take out 75 Vietnamese soldiers. But this is nothing compared to 1988's Rambo III, where Rambo would shoot, explode, and generally murder anything and anyone, racking up a bonkers 115 kills! That's right; from Rambo's three '80s films alone, the action hero nabbed a body count of 191, securing Rambo the top spot on our list.