5. Commando (1985) vs. Cobra (1986)
It wouldn’t be right to start off this countdown with anything else other than the true classics. The mid 80s was a time when both Arnie and Sly were at the top of their game, and these two entries prove why.
I personally don’t think there is any action fan out there who hasn’t seen Commando, the very title itself is synonymous with the word ‘action.’ Heavily censored upon its release back in 1985, it brought about in full swing the whole one man army vs. an entire fleet situation, and boy was it a hoot! With a by-the-numbers cheesy script peppered with the most witty one-liners that only Arnie can deliver, Commando is an ultra violent action romp, but one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Arnie plays retired black ops colonel John Matrix (best name ever!), who is asked to kill the current president of Val Verde by South American dictator Arius. With his daughter kidnapped and being used as leverage, as well as his entire unit being wiped out by one of their own gone rogue, Matrix reluctantly accepts. He plays along at first but then buys himself enough time to hatch a plan to wipe out Arius’ troops and get his daughter back in one piece.
This one has it all, the perfect balance between violence and tongue in cheek humour with enough colourful characters to boot. Arnie himself has never looked better, and was obviously having an awesome time while making this. His one-liners here are spoken in true style that would be completely and utterly useless had they been spoken from any other set of lips. There’s also a montage of him suiting up for battle that no doubt gives fans goosebumps upon each viewing. Once the finale arrives, the film hits top gear and it is an absolute blast (literally). Arnie lays waste to hoards of soldiers and I swear he uses just about nearly every weapon imaginable to achieve this.
Commando is true 80s action. It gets away with being so outrageous because it was done at a time where excess was acceptable, and that’s what makes it such a cult classic.
Then there’s Sly. Talk to any fan and they’ll tell you that aside from his Rocky and Rambo characters, his other most definitive character is Lieutenant Marion “Cobra” Cobretti. If they don’t, well, they ought to! Cobra was released the year after Commando and tells the story of a no nonsense cop who uses brutal force against criminals.
Say what you want about Cobra, but I firmly believe that it is a truly underrated classic that was very unfairly and harshly judged by critics at the time. Sly wrote the screenplay for this one and tailored the character of Cobra perfectly. He is suave, rugged and gets the job done, all while spitting out some absolutely classic one-liners. The rockin’ 80s soundtrack is here too, with Robert Tepper’s classic Angel Of The City playing over the obligatory montage sequence that populated nearly every movie made in this era. The one man army finale made it in here as well, but the movie surprisingly plays more like an action thriller than one might come to expect. The stunts were awesome (especially for the time), the violence was excessive, and the characters were cheesy, just the way they should be.
The winner: Commando, but only by a bit. What gave Arnie’s film the the edge was its self-awareness and perfect balance of violence and humour. Cobra on the other hand had a darker tone than what was needed. It should have been played a little lighter without taking itself too seriously, but is nonetheless still one of the greatest action movies of the 80s. A very tough call indeed.