"Dillon! You son of a bitch!" [arm clasp, grunt]
In the mid-'80s, a new breed of action movies provided escapism on an unparalleled level, offering a world where heavily-armed good always conquered evil — generally in the form of Communists, rogue cyborgs, domestic terrorists, criminal masterminds, or diabolical ninja warriors. And, as is often the case, this hypermasculinity covered a layer of repressed homoeroticism. So, in honor of Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables, a film that features almost all of the iconic '80s/early '90s action heroes, we present a retrospective of the most homoerotic action-movie moments — where sweat-kissed muscle-men fight to the death, where intense stare-downs are thick with stifled sexual tension, and where a gun is almost always more than just a gun.
1) Commando (1985)
If action-movie fight sequences are often sexual metaphors, none is more explicit than the fight between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vernon Wells in Commando. After getting shot, Schwarzenegger pulls out a knife and starts to goad Wells: "Let the girl go. This is between you and me. Don't deprive yourself of some pleasure." Bonus points for when Arnold finally impales Wells with a metal pipe that then spits out a geyser of hot, white steam.
2) Top Gun (1986)
The obvious choice from Tom Cruise's Air Force epic would be the classic volleyball scene, but there's just as much pent-up sexual tension in this scene's playful touching and locker-room boasting as in a bunch of oiled-up dudes smacking a rubber ball around on a beach. Plus, Val "Ice Man" Kilmer manages to seal the deal with that libidinous jaw snap right in Maverick's face.
3) Lethal Weapon (1987)
Climactic fight scenes always have to be awesome, and this one certainly hits the mark as Mel Gibson and Gary Busey go toe-to-toe. At first it all seems pretty standard, but then for whatever reason a hydrant explodes. The next thing you know, the two are mud wrestling and Gibson's running around shirtless and swinging a big baton. The fight finally ends when Gibson gets Busey in a triangle hold, leaving Busey gasping for breath and providing some great crotch-to-face imagery.
4) Predator (1987)
This handshake more or less epitomizes homoerotic imagery in action movies. As Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers clasp hands, you get that classic closeup of their chiseled arms complete with bulging muscles and throbbing veins. Then the two old army buddies lock eyes, their rippling triceps crashing against each other; there's a smirk, a quick remark, and Weathers' heavy breathing before he finally capitulates to the Governator.
5) Over the Top (1987)
Over the Top is basically a ninety-three-minute version of the handshake from Predator. Stallone plays a trucker trying to win back his estranged son, and he decides to do so in the most manly way possible: arm wrestling. In other words, a bunch of big, sweaty guys glaring at each other and holding hands. But this ain't no romantic walk on the beach: in the final fight, Stallone and his opponent are so fiercely engaged in battle that the ref literally needs to put a "strap on" to keep the two together. What follows are two solid minutes of moaning, groaning, and two big thick arms duking it out for the championship.
6) Rambo III (1988)
First Blood (a.k.a. Rambo), was, by action-movie standards, a fairly smart film; at a basic level it dealt with very real issues that many Vietnam vets faced after returning home. The rest of the Rambo films? Not so much. Instead, Stallone offered ridiculous plots and plenty of violence. In this clip from Rambo III, our hero finds himself fighting a gigantic Ruskie in the Middle East. At first, it's nothing to call home about, but give it about a minute and a half — there's a little bit of nipple twisting, some serious dry-humping, and one hell of a climax.
7) Cyborg (1989)
Honestly, we could include any number of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies on this list, but Cyborg sets itself apart with its Mad Max/S&M-dungeon-inspired aesthetic. The final battle has everything you'd ever want: a shirtless Van Damme taking on a barrage of similarly shirtless foes in the rain, plenty of awkward grunting, and some subtle, yet effective phallic symbols (big knives, big staffs, etc.)
8) Navy Seals (1990)
Top Gun had volleyball, Navy Seals had golf. Of course you could just say that this scene is nothing more than boys being boys, or, "You can't confuse simple male bonding with homoerotic desires." And to that we say, "True, but seriously, did you watch this scene?" Who plays golf shirtless?
9) Hard To Kill (1990)
This one might be a stretch, but pay close attention not just to what Steven Seagal is saying, but how he's saying it. "How's the action, boys? …Mind if I join?" Such a flirt!
10) Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)
With the '80s gone and just a little over a year and a half left in Bush Sr.'s presidency, closeted homoeroticism in action movies was falling by the wayside. It was the '90s now — what was the point of hiding it? This short scene from Showdown In Little Tokyo pretty much sums it all up. Dolph Lundgren walks around in his underwear, sticking any weapon he can find in the band of his skivvies. And then Brandon Lee just says it: "Kenner, just in case we get killed, I wanted to tell you, you have the biggest dick I've ever seen on a man." A nonchalant thank you, a quick closeup of Lundgren's chest and crotch, some fighting, and the Reagan years are pretty much over.