On this day in 1967, a little film production company named Cannon was incorporated that eventually became one of the greatest sources for ridiculous 80’s action movies and helped launch the careers of both Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme and produced some of Sly Stallone’s B classics. The studio was eventually absorbed by MGM but their cultural impact, especially with action fans, will always be felt. Here’s our pick for the ten best films from the Cannon catalog.
Kicking things off with Van Damme’s follow up to Bloodsport, Kickboxer follows Kurt Sloane (Van Damme) as he journeys to Thailand with his brother Eric, who is competing in a brutal fighting tournament. Eric faces off against the undefeated champion, Tong Po, and is paralyzed from Tong Po’s brutal assault. Kurt vows to get revenge and, after training with master Xian Chow and ultimately faces Tong Po in a brutal kickboxing match. Kickboxer is a fun movie by itself but it pales into comparison to Bloodsport (which we’ll get to later in the list) and basically goes through the same exact plot beats. Kickboxer does have one thing over Bloodsport however and that is Van Damme busting a move and then busting some skulls.
9. Missing in Action
Cannon would ultimately get Stallone inducted into their flock but they missed out on Stallone’s defining action role, John Rambo. To remedy this, Cannon decided to create their own Vietnam POW turned one man army with Colonel James Braddock, played by Chuck Norris. Braddock gets a similiar mission to Rambo in First Blood Part II in that he’s sent into Vietnam to uncover evidence of any American POWs and, upon finding said evidence, is betrayed by an asshole bureaucrat. Braddock then takes it upon himself to blow up a large chunk of Vietnam and rescue the hostages. As Rambo knock offs go, you can do a whole lot worse than the Missing in Action series.
8. Enter the Ninja
One subject that Cannon loved to explore in their films was white, American military men becoming ninjas. Enter the Ninja has become overshadowed by it cousin the American Ninja series but it’s just as wonderfully ridiculous. Franco Nero (rocking a sweet stache) plays Cole, an army veteran who trains with a secret ninja clan and becomes a master of ninjitsu. Cole goes to the Phillipines to visit an old army buddy and gets involved in a plot by an evil CEO, who wants to steal Cole’s friend’s land because there’s a massive oil deposit under it. The highlight of the movie is easily the end where Cole uses all of his ninja skills to take down the evil Charles Venarius and his goons. Venarius himself as one of the most hilarious and greatest death scenes ever on film.
7. The Delta Force
Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, a team no terrorist can even hope to survive. When a group of Lebanese terrorists hijack a plane and force it to fly to Beirut, The Delta Force is called in to take them down and rescue the hostages. The movie takes a little while to get going but once it does, it doesn’t stop until Chuck Norris uses a dirtbike loaded with missiles to blow up every single terorrist. That’s just one instance of Chuck’s bad assness in The Delta Force. To cap it off, The Delta Force also has one of the most catchy action movie theme songs ever, courtesy of Alan Silvestri.
6. Over the Top
What can we say about Over the Top that we haven’t already said on the site or on the podcast? It’s a movie that is beloved for it’s cheesiness and is the greatest (and only) movie about competitive arm wrestling. There are so many classic scenes from Lincoln Hawk(s) (Stallone) driving his semi truck into his father in law’s mansion to “rescue” his son, the end tournament that features “The Office” style confessionals with such arm wrestling luminaries as Harry Bosco, Big Bill Larson, Mad Dog Madison and Bob “Bull Hurley, Lincoln revealing his in truck gym and it also has a textbook example of an 80’s soundtrack. If you haven’t seen Over the Top yet and you love awesomely bad movies as much as we do, go watch it immediately.
5. American Ninja
An action star whose career began and ended with Cannon was Michael Dudikoff, whose greatest achievement is easily the first American Ninja movie. Dudikoff stars as Joe, an amnesiac army grunt who was raised by a Japanese survivor of WWII, who was also a master of ninjitsu. Joe eventually uncovers an illegal arms ring while stationed at a base in the Phillipines and must use his ninja skills to put an end to it. Some of the more brilliantly ridiculous aspects of the movie include the main villain’s “ninja training camp”, led by the evil Black Star Ninja, Steve James as Col. Curtis Jackson (whose middle name would probably be Action if Carl Weathers hadn’t already claimed it) and the final ninja battle where the evil Black Star Ninja unveils a previously unknown ninja weapon, lasers.
Now we get to the real gems of the Cannon catalog. Bloodsport basically cemented Jean Claude Van Damme as the next great action hero and inspired tons of imitators, including Mortal Kombat and the aforementioned Kickboxer. Van Damme stars as Frank Dux, an American who journeys to Hong Kong to compete in the Kumite, a deadly fighting tournament that occurs every five years, courtesy of the Society of the Black Dragon. Dux is there to honor his recently deceased sensei and befriends fellow American Ray Jackson. Ray is savagely beaten by the reigning Kumite champion, Chong Li and Frank vows to beat Chong Li in the tournament. Bloodsport uses every weapon in Van Damme’s arsenal, from ridiculous kicks to splits to his ability to charmingly evade arrest. It’s easily one of the best Van Damme movies ever.
Although it’s become a mess of sequels, cartoons and a TV series, the original Highlander is still a beloved 80’s action cult classic. Connor Macleod, born in the highlands of Scotland in the 1500’s, finds out that he’s one of the “Immortals”, a group of men who will never age and can only be killed by decapitation. The Immortals will eventually gather for The Gathering in order to battle for The Prize. Every time an Immortal kills another Immortal they experience The Quickening and become more powerful as they absorb their foes powers. Connor and his mortal enemy, The Kurgan, battle in the streets of 1980’s New York City, backed by almost the entire Queen album “Some Kind of Magic”. Christopher Lambert is amazingly bad in the movie but somehow still likeable and Clancy Brown as The Kurgan is a classic action villain and it’s modern day sword fights were probably a refreshing break from the shoot em up extravaganzas that were occuring around the same time (they’re still pretty good today). Cap it off with Sean Connery as a Spanish Egyptian and you have a ridiculous 80’s classic.
Cobra seems to be a very polarizing film in Stallone’s career. Some people think it’s Stallone’s worst movie but here, we love it. Stallone stars as Marion Cobretti who is part of the LAPD’s “zombie squad”, who deal with the worst of the worst crimes. Cobra is tasked with solving a series of grisly murders that he ultimately finds out are being committed by “The Night Slasher” and his cult. Everything about Cobra is bad ass, from his special Cobra pistols to his ever present aviator sunglasses and toothpick to his ending arguments by ripping the front of your shirt off. Obviously the Rocky and Rambo movies are the top tier when it comes to Stallone but Cobra definitely deserves a place in the second tier.
1. Invasion USA
What is there to say about Invasion USA except that it and Commando basically inspired everything you currently enjoy on Everything Action. I bought it sight unseen from Circuit City just based on the absolutely amazing poster art and it did not fail to be one of the most ridiculous action movies I’ve ever seen. Chuck Norris stars as Matt Hunter, a former CIA agent who is living in the Everglades with his pet armadillo when his arch nemesis, Russian terrorist Mikhail Rostov, leads a group of mercenaries in an invasion of American soil. Fortunately the invasion seems confined to Florida and Hunter is always there in the nick of time to drop a witty one liner and then blow the terrorist to kingdom come. The movie really needs to be seen to be believed but here’s seven minutes of some of the best scenes, which will hopefully make you want to get the whole movie immediately.