The 1980s were an era of unparalleled cinematic machismo. Movie stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the box office, and filmmakers were eager to exalt their macho personae for fun and profit. Muscles, guns, violence and hero worship were commonplace, Commando and Rambo: First Blood Part II saw to that, and audiences around the world appreciated this genre of cinema unapologetically, unironically, for many, many years.
But there were some filmmakers who saw through the shallow (albeit enjoyable) façade of so-called “bada$$ cinema.” Paul Verhoeven viewed American violence and capitalism through a distinctly European lens, and used films like RoboCop to subvert traditional action movie expectations. John Carpenter made the traditonal, handsome, musclebound American hunk into the comic relief sidekick for Chinese action heroes in Big Trouble in Little China. John McTiernan cast a TV actor best known for comedic roles in Die Hard, and that movie upended every action movie trope in the book, and invented a bunch of new ones that we still use today.