While there have been a few good ones since the turn of the century, when it comes to action movies, they really don’t make them like they used to. Sure, the explosions may be bigger and better than ever, but the typical modern day protagonist just can’t hold a candle to the over the top heroes that helped to punctuate some of the genre’s earlier offerings.
There were many things that made the action heroes of old so iconic, but the most memorable thing about them was perhaps their tendency to drop cheesy catchphrases and obnoxious one-liners at every given opportunity. These carefully crafted creations typically served as the perfect punchlines for their kills and are ultimately what made their exciting exploits so damn enjoyable to watch.
10 “You’ve Just Been Erased” – John Krugger, Eraser (1996)
Many of the characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger have been capable killers, but his role in The Eraser is a little different. Rather than taking out his targets for real, Krugger’s job is to stage their deaths so that they can escape into the witness protection program unharmed. It’s a job that he’s very good at, although he eventually finds himself having to widen his repertoire due to some corrupt colleagues.
After learning that some of his fellow agents have been compromised and are bumping off witnesses for the mob, Krugger sets out to bring them to justice. With little faith in the legal system though, he first fakes his own death and then arranges for the corrupt agents’ limo to stop on some train tracks. As the train draws near, he makes a short phone call to let them know that their time is up.
9 “Welcome To Earth” – Steven Hiller, Independence Day (1996)
The iconic scene depicting the destruction of the White House is undoubtedly the standout moment in Independence Day, but that’s not to say that there’s nothing else worth seeing. Will Smith’s character is responsible for some great lines throughout the movie, although shows himself to be rather lacking in the manners department on several occasions.
After crash landing in the desert, Hiller approaches an alien spacecraft and sets about welcoming earth’s extraterrestrial visitors. While most people would opt for a fruit basket or a greeting card, however, he instead decides to punch one of the aliens before offering a firm, but friendly welcome message. If there’s such a thing as intergalactic Trip Advisor, it seems safe to assume that earth received a one-star rating that day.
8 “I’ll Take My Coat Back Now, A**hole” – Snake Plissken, Escape From L.A. (1996)
Although Escape From L.A. is nowhere near as good as its 1981 predecessor, Snake Plissken remains every bit as badass as he was during his debut outing. The man who served as the inspiration for Metal Gear‘s Solid Snake takes no prisoners during his time in the city of angels and continues his rebellious streak right up to the very final frame.
For all of its flaws, the movie still features plenty of memorable moments, one of which comes just as the enigmatic antihero is preparing to flee the city. Having lost his government-issue leather coat during a scuffle with Cuervo’s men earlier on in the movie, he spots it on the corpse of a criminal near the chopper. Unperturbed by the surrounding gunfire and the imminent risk of death, he stops to reclaim the coat before making his escape.
7 “Get Off My Plane” – President Marshall, Air Force One (1997)
When compared with some of Harrison Ford’s other big roles, President Marshall is fairly forgettable. Despite this, however, his brilliant one-liner in the 1997 action thriller Air Force One remains an incredibly memorable one to many. It’s certainly one that Egor Korshunov won’t be forgetting in too much of a hurry either.
The idea of a butt-kicking president is hardly a new one, but the charisma and strength that Ford brings to the role helps to set President Marshall apart from some of his more generic counterparts. He racks up an impressive body count throughout the movie and shows himself to be more than worthy of his position as commander in chief.
6 “Always Bet On Black” – John Cutter, Passenger 57 (1992)
Some of the best one-liners are delivered right before the trigger is pulled, thus ensuring that there can be no witty comeback to ruin the hero’s sick burn. As Wesley Snipes demonstrates in the 1992 flick Passenger 57, however, quickly hanging up the phone can be equally effective in this regard.
Cutter’s roulette advice manages to be both incredibly cringe-worthy and unbelievably badass all at the same time and makes for one of the movie’s more memorable moments. It may also have been this demonstration of Snipes’ gambling knowledge that helped the veteran actor to land his role as the pit boss in The Player some years later.
5 “Hasta La Vista, Baby” – The T-800, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
The T-800 remains one of the most intimidating antagonists to have ever graced the silver screen, but he arguably makes just as good a hero in the later Terminator titles. His interactions with John throughout Terminator 2: Judgement Day help to provide a little more depth to the character while also arming him with some new terminology to cement his badass status.
It turns out that the T-800 is a quick learner and the audience doesn’t have to wait too long to enjoy one of his newly acquired phrases. After freezing the T-1000 with liquid nitrogen, Arnie utters the now-infamous line before letting off a single round and shattering his foe into a million metallic pieces. It’s a classic movie moment and just might be the very best of the terminator’s many magnificent one-liners.
4 “I Am The Law” – Joseph Dredd, Judge Dredd (1995)
The actions of Judge Joseph Dredd may seem extreme to some, but, he really is a law unto himself. This is a fact that he’s quick to remind criminals of when he shows up to break up a block war in Mega-City One at the beginning of Judge Dredd. Armed only with this information and his trusty Lawgiver, he shows neither fear nor mercy in bringing those responsible to justice.
What makes the line so powerful is that the character truly believes it and this, in turn, makes him incredibly dangerous. Even after being framed and found guilty of murder, he continues to act as he sees fit in order to clear his name and expose Rico’s criminal activities. In his mind, he cannot break the law because he is the law, although the Council Judges would perhaps disagree with that assessment.
3 “Consider That A Divorce” – Douglas Quaid, Total Recall (1990)
There aren’t too many movies in which Arnie’s characters are married, although if Total Recall is anything to go by, that’s might just be for the best. The relationship that Douglas Quaid has with his wife Lori is incredibly toxic with her repeated attempts to murder him really just the tip of the iceberg. As this marital maleficence continues to build throughout the movie, Douglas eventually snaps.
Unarmed, and with a gun pointed at her head, Lori plays the marriage card in the hopes of buying herself some time to rearm. Douglas sees right through it, though, and decides that the relationship has finally run its course. Rather than serving her with divorce papers, however, he instead pumps a couple of rounds straight into her cranium. Whether or not that’s legally binding in the year 2084 is never stated, but it’s no doubt cheaper than hiring a divorce lawyer.
2 “Dodge This…” – Trinity, The Matrix (1999)
When The Matrix first hit movie theaters back in the late nineties, audiences were in awe of the movie’s incredible bullet-time effects, and for good reason. Even today, the frozen moments that they’re able to create look amazing and help to provide the movie’s agents with an aura of unstoppability that makes them all the more menacing as antagonists.
While their ability to move at superhuman speeds can allow them to dodge bullets at a distance, however, it’s not quite as useful in close-quarters situations. Agent Jones finds this out the hard way when Trinity is able to get the drop on in him during his epic battle with Neo. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that he at least he got to hear her brilliant one-liner before biting the bullet.
1 “But You Go In Pieces, A**hole” – Jack Caine, Dark Angel (1990)
Dark Angel (or I Come in Peace, as it’s since been renamed) doesn’t have too much going for it in the storytelling department. Its plot is generic, its characters are one-dimensional and its twists are about as predictable as they come. What it lacks in narrative prowess, though, it more than makes up for with its scintillating action scenes and wonderful wordplay.
The best of this comes right at the movie’s climax when the extraterrestrial drug dealer, Talec, is firmly on the ropes. He tries cracking out the old “I come in peace” chestnut for what seems like the thousandth time, but our hero, Caine, is having none of it. Rather than lowering his weapon, he instead delivers the perfect retort before promptly blowing the alien to kingdom come with the help of some nearby fuel drums.