As someone who grew up on G.I. Joe and The A-Team, few things are as satisfying to me as a fun, team-based action flick. These are sometimes referred to as “Men on a Mission” movies. You know, the ones where the gang of misfits, portrayed by an eclectic bunch of actors, has to get together and use each man’s strengths to win the day.
After enjoying The Losers and patiently awaiting The Expendables, I am currently happily counting down the minutes until The A-Team is fed into my eyes on Friday. While I wait, I decided to reminisce on some enjoyable bullet-riddled cinematic mission films of yesteryear. (Before I get into some of my favorites, I must admit that I saw a lot of the classics toward the latter half of the 80s and early 90s, so my knowledge of some of the character actors at the time was…skewed.)
The “War is Ugly” Mission
Most mission films are military or war-related, and usually involve blowing something/someone up—fine by me! The first time I saw Dirty Dozen? Kojak, Dominic from “Airwolf” and Death Wish were killing Nazis. What’s better than that? Then we have Lee Marvin leading another crew starring Luke Skywalker in The Big Red One. (Did anyone else get weirded out the first time they saw Mark Hamill as not-Luke Skywalker?). And Saving Private Ryan, while having one of the best ensemble casts, will always be burned into my brain as “the slow death of Adam Goldberg.” If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about.
The “Dirty Western” Mission (Even the art is always brown.)
“Ring, ring, it’s 7am!” Thoughts of The Clash, Westworld, General Stockwell from “The A-Team,” Death Wish (again) and a skinny little James Coburn rocked my 80s brain while catching up with the classic Magnificent Seven. Young Guns was one of the first movies I remember taping on VHS from a free HBO weekend at 10:00 on a Saturday night (SLP, so I could fit three movies on a tape… foolish child). That film had everyone, including Emilio Estevez who would later return to the action genre in Mission: Impossible only to get (Spoiler Alert!) skewered in the eye five minutes in. Of everything on this list, however, The Long Riders was probably the last one I saw. What an amazing concept. The real-life James-Younger Gang story centered on four sets of brothers and, lo & behold, the movie secured four sets of actual brothers to play them: the Carradine clan (Robert, Keith and David), James and Stacy Keach, Dennis & Randy Quaid, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest. That’s some inspired casting.
The “Oh Crap, We’re Being Hunted” Mission
As much as I’m a fan of the “team bonding” mission movies, I have a sincere appreciation of the “pick them off one by one” oeuvre as well. When I first saw Southern Comfort, my mind was blown. I didn’t even hear about this movie until I was in my early 20s, so when I saw it, my first reaction was, “Hey, it’s Dexter from ‘Silver Spoons,’ Remo Williams, and Andy from Red Dawn!” I also happen to love swamp movies, so my reaction to watching a team of National Guardsmen get killed with nasty traps by irritated Cajuns was one of sheer delight. And mission classics Predator and Aliens essentially defined the action genre for me (along with Die Hard and Robocop). Those poor VHS tapes got watched so many times that Predator was actually all red for the most part, the tape was so worn out. And Aliens? Please. “Game over, man. Game over.”
Of course this is a pale list in comparison to all of the “Men on a Mission” movies in the world, so if you’ve got a favorite, feel free to let us know!