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the 10 most absurdly violent 1980s action films

September 20, 20233 Mins Read

As the fourth Expendables film hacks, shoots and stabs its way into cinemas, audiences may be forgiven for feeling a sense of disappointment. Compared to the casts of the other three pictures, which boasted appearances from icons including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, the ensemble for this one – ridiculously, and unpronounceably, named Expend4bles – is distinctly more B-list, with the likes of 50 Cent, Megan Fox and Dolph Lundgren supporting the starrier duo of Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham. Early reviews, predictably, have not been kind. 

Fans may be mollified by the knowledge that this one, unlike the third in the series, is R-rated (15 certificate in the UK), but even the BBFC’s advice that it contains “occasional gore including severed limbs, decapitations and eviscerations” is unlikely to satisfy the true aficionado of action cinema, who will dismiss this (and the others) as fundamentally tame. 

It is with these blood-hungry viewers in mind that we present a selection of the 10 films that the Expendables series might wish to emulate in their levels of violence, but will never come close to their sheer unhinged brio. Most of these pictures could never be described as “good” in any conventional cinematic sense, but all contain moments that, once seen, are never forgotten. 

1. The Exterminator (1980)

James Glickenhaus’s horror-thriller, revolving around a traumatized Vietnam veteran who returns to New York and takes revenge against a gang who have paralysed his army buddy, might be seen as a more violent version of the vigilante picture Death Wish: itself hardly an exercise in tasteful restraint. Glickenhaus commented of The Exterminator’s unrelenting brutality that “television and film had sanitized violence for a long time. Someone points a gun, it goes bang and on the other side of the street some guy goes ‘Aaaaah’ and falls down. But violence is really pretty unpleasant and I thought I had an obligation to portray it that way.” 

A noble intention, but it would have helped if he could have cast a lead actor who could act – his star Robert Ginty does a decent impression of a homicidal plank of wood – and if the script had attempted anything other than a glorification of the protagonist’s increasingly deranged actions. Still, over four decades after its release, it remains a jaw-dropping exercise in brutal excess.

Most brutal scene: amidst a great deal of grimness, first place has to go to the scene in which a mob boss is fed into a giant industrial mincer, in some detail. 

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