Tracking down cinema’s action heroes

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Oliver Harper tells us about his upcoming documentary, as he attempts to track down what happened to cinema’s action heroes.

There was a time when the most expensive films in the world were R-rated, violent action films. Today, with studios seemingly only interested in throwing money behind four-quadrant movies (films that appeal to all four major demographic ‘quadrants’ of the movie-going audience: both male and female, and both over- and under-25), it’s mind-blowing that almost 20 years ago high-octane action films like Rambo III, Total Recall, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day were where studios wanted to gamble with their money.

The 80s and early 90s, however, were a different time. It was the time of the action star. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis were the biggest stars in the world, and their films (for the most part) were box office gold. Just putting their name on a movie poster was almost a guarantee of a hit, but it was a time where good guys were good, bad guys were bad, and guns never, ever ran out of ammo.  Unfortunately, it was a time that couldn’t last forever, and as the actors’ star quality began to wane, so did the studios’ appetite for such expensive action films.

Today, there’s a nostalgia for these types of film, with studios like Millennium Films creating franchises that throw back to this R-rated time, such as Olympus Has Fallen, The Mechanic, and The Expendables films. Major studios are also looking to cash in on the nostalgia, with new Predator, Terminator, and Rambo films all green-lit in the past 24 months. But where did America (and the world’s) desire for these action movies come from? Was it trying to reclaim a sense of victory after the Vietnam War? A craving for the male-driven action films? Did people just want clearly defined heroes after the mucky anti-heroes of the 70s?

From YouTube to the Silver Screen

These are all questions that action fan and popular YouTuber Oliver Harper is looking to answer with his first feature length film as he attempts to find out what led to the rise, fall, and current revival of the last action heroes. With over 900,000 YouTube channel visits a month, Oliver has already tapped into the growing nostalgia for 80s action films. He’s produced hundreds of retrospectives, reviews and commentaries on the subject, and has over 100,000 subscribers as result. But despite producing over 170 videos, he has decided to set himself a new challenge and a definite step-up for his audience. His new project, In Search Of The Last Action Heroes, aims to not only look at the reasons behind the glut of high-octane action films coming out of Hollywood in the 80s, but also what led to their eventual demise.

“For over a decade, the likes of Rambo, Aliens, Commando, Lethal Weapon, and Predator captured imaginations and box office gold,” notes Oliver. “The likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, and Mel Gibson became household names. But by 1993, the action genre started to fade away, replaced by CGI dinosaurs and eventually superhero films.”

Action heroes changed, too. No longer were their muscles bulging and carrying enough firepower to take over a small (fictional) South American country, but they were lither, leaner and, thanks to films coming out of Hong Kong, more prone to doing roundhouse kicks than packing Uzis. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis were out; the likes of Keanu Reeves, Nicolas Cage, and Jackie Chan were in.

Guns, Guns, Guns!

With a successful Kickstarter campaign that saw Oliver’s fanbase raise over £45,000, he’s all set to delve into the world of 80s action movies, and already has some key players attached, including uberproducer Mario Kassar (who financed the Rambo and Terminator films), director Peter MacDonald (Rambo III), screenwriter Steven E. De Souza (Die Hard, Commando), and a host of action stars, like Michael Biehn (The Terminator), Bill Duke (Predator), Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien), and a few bigger names, pending their schedules.

“There are many reasons why I’m so excited about this project. On a personal level, it’s an opportunity to see if I can make the transition from YouTuber to filmmaker. I’ve produced hundreds of hours of content about the action genre, but In Search Of The Last Action Heroes is not only going to dig deeper than I’ve ever gone before, we’re also going to speak to the people who were a part of the boom. In Search Of The Last Action Heroes will take a wide lens to the action landscape, detailing how the genre rose to prominence and why it couldn’t sustain that success.”

It won’t be just the massive action films and stars that Oliver will be looking at. The 80s was also the boom of the VHS market, which saw studios like Cannon flood the market with cheaper but beloved action franchises such as the American Ninja and Kickboxer series. As such, Oliver will also be looking to talk to action stars that were able to forge their own successes during this period, such as Phillip Rhee of the Best Of The Best franchise and the many people behind Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris’ numerous projects. The project has already raised over $45,000 via Kickstarter, but people can still contribute via its Indiegogo page to secure bonuses like Blu-Rays, posters, and other cool merchandise.

For updates on In Search Of The Last Action Heroes, follow its Indiegogo page or on Twitter at @LastActionDoc, or on Facebook. The film is due for release in 2019.

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