Walter Hill: Godfather of Action

Walter Hill has been one of my absolute favourite directors for as long as I can remember. Just revisiting any one of his smart, brooding and nail-biting classics immediately reaffirms why his work stands the test of time and brings rare intelligence and creativity to the action genre. From cult classics to mainstream successes, his films offer a fascinating insight into a nostalgic era of cinema while continually testing and pushing audiences.

With the release of Bullet to the Head, starring Sylvester Stallone, many audiences and critics spotted an action veteran like Hill propelling a hard-hitting, 80’s style buddy movie into a new age. One thing’s for sure; those who enjoyed it the most were (I would wager) the exact, key demographic of genre aficionados for such a movie and would have lapped up the hard-nosed action, oozing machismo and dark, unsettling tone. In my mind, this is how action should be and doesn’t revert to palatable PG-13 mass-entertainment. In a Walter Hill film, the characters are tough, the dialogue is brisk and the violence hits hard. This is why Bullet to the Head worked so well and I give big props to the team who made it happen…

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Whether you’re a long time fan or going back through the vaults to discover his best known work, here are some gems you need to find…

10 Walter Hill films to add to your collection:

10. Johnny Handsome (1989)

Johnny Handsome (Mickey Rourke) is a small time crook with a deformed face. When thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he befriends a doctor (Forest Whitaker) who believes Handsome would change his ways if he had a normal appearance. Handsome undergoes plastic surgery and reappears unrecognisable. When given parole, it seems he plans to live a straight life… until the past catches up and shows he has only one aim: revenge.

9. Extreme Predjudice (1987)

Based on a story by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Magnum Force) this film stars Nick Nolte as Texas ranger Jack Benteen and follows his bloody crusade to bring down childhood friend and drug baron Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), rescue his lover, avenge the death of the local sheriff and save his town from a secret militia.

8. Streets of Fire (1987)

The Bombers motorcycle gang, headed by the vicious Raven Shaddock, kidnap diva Ellen Aim. Her hope for rescue lies with unlikely heroes: soldier of fortune Tom Cody (Michael Paré) and his sidekick, the two-fisted beer-guzzling McCoy. Joined by Ellen’s manager, Billy Fish, the trio plunge headfirst into a world of rain-splattered streets, hot cars and deadly assassins.

7. 48 Hours (1982)

Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy make one of the best teams ever in this classic 80s thriller. Nolte is a roughedged cop after two vicious cop-killers. He can’t do it without the help of smooth and dapper Murphy, who is serving time for a half-million dollar robbery. This unlikely partnership trades laughs as often as punches as both pursue their separate goals: Nolte wants the villains; Murphy wants his money.

6. Red Heat (1988)

Captain Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger) nicknamed “Iron Jaw” is a ruthless cop who heads Moscow’s homicide division. He is sent to Chicago to pick up a Russian drug-dealer, arrested on a traffic violation. In Chicago, Danko is partnered with Detective Art Ridzik (James Belushi), a wisecracking cop known for cutting corners. Together the odd couple are are led into a dangerous world of international drug trafficking.

5. The Driver (1978)

Ryan O’Neal plays the driver – an ice-cool getaway ace for hire by whoever can afford his crash course skills. Bruce Dern is the detective – a man obsessed with arresting the speed demon at any cost. The Driver lures his foe into a deadly game of cross and double cross by leaving tantalising evidence at every heist, until the vengeance-crazed Detective can stand no more!

4. The Long Riders (1980)

Jesse James and his gang of outlaws ride again in this epic western that pulsates with hard action and electrifying drama. Four sets of actor brothers – Dennis and Randy Quaid, Stacy and James Keach, Christopher and Nicholas Guest and Keith, Robert and David Carradine – each depict real-life siblings in portrayals of the Old West’s legendary bandits.

3. Trespass (1992)

In the rubble of a blaze, Vince (Bill Paxton) and Don (William Sadler), two Arkansas firemen, discover a map leading to a fortune in stolen gold hidden in an abandoned East St. Louis tenement. What they don’t know is the building is headquarters to a vicious mob, led by the notorious King James (Ice T) and Savon (Ice Cube). When the firefighters witness a mob execution, the trespassers become the gang’s next target!

2. Southern Comfort (1981)

A routine training exercise in the Louisiana bayou becomes an all too real war of attrition when a unit of brash National Guardsmen unwittingly upset a group of local Cajun hunters. Lost in unknown territory and armed with little more than blank ammo, the weekend soldiers face a terrifying battle for survival against an unforgiving enemy hidden deep in the heart of the swampland. This atmospheric thriller stars Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe.

1. The Warriors (1979)

A battle of gigantic proportions is looming in the neon underground of New York City. The armies of the night number 100,000; they outnumber the police 5 to 1; and tonight they’re after the Warriors – a street gang unfairly blamed for a rival gang leader’s death. This contemporary action-adventure story takes place at night, underground, in the sub-culture of gang warfare that rages from the Bronx to Coney Island Bay, as the Warriors desperately try to get back home. Members of the Warriors fight for their lives, seek to survive in the urban jungle and learn the meaning of loyalty.

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