4. First Blood (1982)
Before John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) became pop culture's symbol for macho militarism (even name-dropped by President Reagan), he was the troubled antihero of this excellent action drama, based on the angry anti-war novel by David Morrell. Rambo is a grenade walking around with its pin loose, a highly trained killing machine sent back to real life and unable to find a purpose. His buddies are dead, society rejects him, and now this damn small-town sheriff (Brian Dennehy) insists on treating him like a dirtbag.
The entire conflict hinges on two stubborn veterans of different wars rubbing each other the wrong way and refusing to back down. Incident by incident, their feud escalates from a semi-polite talk, to an arrest, a jailbreak, a helicopter crash, a massive manhunt, a bunch of dead dogs. Stallone gives a scorching, internal performance, the opposite of blabbermouth Rocky Balboa, until, cornered and faced with the man who trained him (Richard Crenna), he dumps out everything he's been holding in all these years. The monologue about the horrors of war is a counterintuitive release for one of the decade's defining action films, and one of Stallone's finest moments as an actor. While it includes a few questionable Vietnam War talking points (like the claim that protesters spit on him when he returned home), First Blood is a powerful plea to take better care -- psychologically and economically -- of our veterans.