The behind-the-scenes story of the action heroes who ruled 1980s and ’90s Hollywood and the beloved films that made them stars, including Die Hard, First Blood, The Terminator, and more.
“This book takes you so close to the action that you can smell the sweat, cigar smoke, and bad cologne that brought these movies to life.”—Paul Scheer A NEWSWEEK BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
The Last Action Heroes opens in May 1990 in Cannes, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone waltzing together, cheered on by a crowd of famous faces. After years of bitter combat—Stallone once threw a bowl of flowers at Schwarzenegger’s head, and the body count in Schwarzenegger’s Commando was increased so the film would “have a bigger dick than Rambo”—the world’s biggest action stars have at last made peace.
In this wildly entertaining account of the golden age of the action movie, Nick de Semlyen charts Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s carnage-packed journey from enmity to friendship against the backdrop of Reagan’s America and the Cold War. He also reveals fascinating untold stories of the colorful characters who ascended in their wake: high-kickers Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, glowering tough guys Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal, and quipping troublemakers Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Willis. But as time rolled on, the era of the invincible action hero who used muscle, martial arts, or the perfect weapon to save the day began to fade. When Jurassic Park trounced Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero in 1993, the glory days of these macho men—and the vision of masculinity they celebrated—were officially over.
Drawing on candid interviews with the action stars themselves, plus their collaborators, friends, and foes, The Last Action Heroes is a no-holds-barred account of a period in Hollywood history when there were no limits to the heights of fame these men achieved, or to the mayhem they wrought, on-screen and off.
About the Author
Nick de Semlyen is the editor of Empire, the world’s biggest movie magazine, and the author of Wild and Crazy Guys. As a film journalist, he has also written for Rolling Stone, Stuff, and Time Out. He lives in London.
“Entertaining . . . This is a book that makes you ache for the days when the movie screen belonged not to men who dress in superhero capes but to those who lift weights.”—Washington Examiner
“An all-you-can-eat feast . . . [a] deft, hilarious, overlapping weave of anecdotes and detail.”—AirMail
“This book takes you so close to the action that you can smell the sweat, cigar smoke, and bad cologne that brought these movies to life. Along the way, Nick de Semlyen reveals tales of stunts gone wrong, conversations between Stallone and Reagan, the origin of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s buns, and all of the stories from the sets that people were too afraid to tell—until now.”—Paul Scheer
“In his riveting chronicle of the ass-kicking, neck-snapping, biceps-rippling action heroes of the ’80s and ’90s, Nick de Semlyen not only paints the story of the movies and stars of the Reagan era but also shines a light on what they meant—and still mean—to us. . . . A juicy, fun-as-hell read.”—Chris Nashawaty, author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story
“Nick de Semlyen’s love letter to the action cinema of the ’80s and ’90s reads like those films play: fast-paced, wryly funny, and unapologetically entertaining. His research is meticulous and his analysis is impeccable, but he also keenly understands why these movies hit like they did: because they were fun. And, unfailingly, so is The Last Action Heroes.”—Jason Bailey, author of Fun City Cinema: New York City and the Movies That Made It
“In his revelatory history of the Golden Age of action cinema, Nick de Semlyen vividly renders the story of the larger-than-life legends who defined and shaped an era. Equally insightful and entertaining, this book is an absolute blast to read, as thrilling as the genre itself.”—Priscilla Page
“The action stars of the ’80s and ’90s weren’t out to make history at the outset of their careers, but that’s what they did all the same. Nick de Semlyen chronicles the rise and fall (and sometimes rise-again) of the world’s most popular action heroes in this juicy, highly entertaining, and informative book.”—Leonard Maltin
“Engaging . . . A joyful romp featuring larger-than-life characters, iconic movies, and plenty of behind-the-scenes info.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A testosterone-fueled ode to action movies of the 1980s and ’90s . . . Fans of Reagan-era blockbusters will eat up tales from the sets of Conan the Barbarian, Rocky IV, and Predator. Additionally, de Semlyen’s astute analysis takes this up a notch. . . . This packs a punch.”—Publishers Weekly
“This book can be enjoyed on several levels. Schwarzenegger’s father had been a Nazi! Bruce Willis was a former security guard! Quentin Tarantino’s first screen credit was a Dolph Lundgren fitness video!—will find plenty of satisfaction. Those looking for high-level film criticism mixed with social commentary are also in for a treat.”—Booklist