Costume Design

Ode to The Action Movie Tank Top

The Action Movie Tank Top became a staple of both Action and Sci-Fi movies in the 1980s and 90s.

Movies like Rambo and Predator popularized heroes with very developed muscles. And of course, directors and costumers wanted to show those hard earned muscles off.

The 1980s…

The 1990s…

But The Action Movie Tank Top accomplished more than just showing off gym time. Clothing functions not only as style, culture and expression of our personality, but also as protection from our environment. So there is natural vulnerability when you take away a character’s clothing. The Action Movie Tank Top helps the lead character be more vulnerable to the audience, as well as helping them look more bad ass. Let’s look at some The Action Movie Tank Top all-stars.

Die Hard

John McClane is a classic down-on-his-luck every man. A NYC cop, he starts the movie as a fish out of water in LA. Not only is he out of his element at that fancy Nakatomi work party, he’s trying to reconcile with his estranged wife. And things only get worse for John McClane from there.

Die Hard, 1988

Not only is John McClean in a tank top, but he’s also barefoot.

I can’t tell you how much this stresses me out, both for the character and the actor. Which means that it’s doing its job in getting me to worry about John McClane. Good Job, Die Hard.

Terminator 2

The Action Movie Tank Top isn’t just for men!

Sarah Conner spends most of the movie in one of two Action Movie Tank Tops. Similar to John McClane, it helps to add to the vulnerability of the character.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991
Linda Hamilton is so hard core…

Terminator 2 borrowed one trick from Die Hard, and that’s Sarah Conner being barefoot when she runs into the Terminator in the hospital. In this sequence after she has torn through the hospital and its guards, she sees the Terminator and slips and falls. It’s a moment of striking vulnerability and terror for Sarah Conner.

Sarah Conner is having a real bad day.

Ah!!! Be careful Sarah!

No post about The Action Tank Top would be complete without a mention of the KING OF THE ACTION MOVIE TANK TOP:

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Hugh Jackman has appeared as Wolverine in 9 movies. Here are some tank top highlights:

I imagine the number of tank tops Hugh Jackman must have gone through shooting these movies…I hope they bought in bulk!

That’s it for The Action Movie Tank Top. Look for a future post, where we’ll examine its modern post-2000s cousin, The Feelings Tank Top.