The Number One Movie in America: Invasion USA
By Sean Collier
March 18, 2019
At the risk of courting controversy: The legends of Chuck Norris may have been slightly exaggerated.
It’s certainly true that the action star’s resurgence as an early-2000s internet meme eclipsed the relevance of his actual career. For proof of this, consider that Norris’ most successful film is “The Expendables 2,” the 2012 assemblage of aging icons that threw back to the star’s heyday; its domestic take was nearly four times greater than that of any other Norris film.
The biggest true Chuck Norris vehicle, “Missing in Action,” managed a lifetime gross of just $22.8 million; adjust that to current numbers and it’d be somewhere near $56 million. We’d be hard-pressed to call such a haul a hit at the modern box office.
Yet the future Texas Ranger managed to notch a surprising four number-one debuts during the 1980s: “Lone Wolf McQuade,” “Missing in Action,” “Code of Silence” and “Invasion U.S.A.” That last film, a box-office topper for one week in September 1985, would be his final number one (though 1986’s “Delta Force” would be a similarly-sized hit). “Invasion U.S.A.” is, perhaps, the quintessential Chuck Norris experience. He says little. He barely reacts to anything. But he shoots, explodes and otherwise obliterates hundreds of bad guys.
“Invasion U.S.A.,” a domestic-warfare flick that borrows liberally from the previous year’s “Red Dawn,” sees a fleet of international (but mostly Central American) mercenaries attack the American mainland via a nighttime landing on the beaches of Miami. Led by the appropriately comical Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch), the alarmingly well-financed invaders execute a plan based around sowing chaos among the populace. They attack Christmas bargain-hunters in a shopping mall. They dress as police officers and attack dance halls. In the film’s most memorable sequence, they fire rocket launchers at homes in a suburban cul-de-sac.
They blow up a carnival — off-screen. This movie has so much mayhem that the flaming Ferris Wheel was evidently cut for time.
Fortunately, Rostov has a sworn enemy, a black-ops fixer (I guess; we never really get a clear picture of the guy) with a penchant for wearing denim vests without an undershirt. Matt Hunter (Norris) could’ve killed Rostov during a prior mission, but showed mercy. Now, Rostov is worried about conquering the United States with Hunter alive, so he bombs our hero’s cozy swamp home.
The attack claims the life of Hunter’s only friend, destroys his home and — worst of all — briefly imperils the health and safety of his pet armadillo.
So yes, “Invasion U.S.A.” is every bit as ridiculous as you’d imagine. It’s so over-the-top, in fact, that you’ll quickly grow weary of its relentless rhythm; virtually everything that isn’t an extended action set piece is cut. The film is one action sequence after another, all the way through to an unnecessarily drawn-out showdown.
For those who don’t know Norris as anything other than a meme, he carries a certain soft-spoken intimidation that’s easily watchable. I can’t extend that kindness to the film as a whole, however; there are some sufficiently large explosions and acceptable preposterous setups, but unless you’re at a mid-80s drive-in theater with a case of beer, I’m not sure “Invasion U.S.A.” is worth tracking down.
There are undoubtedly fans of the film, though; apocryphal claims will tell you that it was one of MGM’s best-selling DVDs in the pre-Blu-Ray era. Norris devotees and “Invasion U.S.A.” superfans can put this unlikely feather in their cap: This is the film that knocked “Back to the Future” out of the number one spot.
Now, it’s not the only film to have done that; “Back to the Future” briefly left the top spot after a three-week reign, courtesy of “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.” Robert Zemeckis’ film then re-claimed the box office crown for a further eight weeks.
Until Chuck Norris came along.
Maybe those memes were right all along.
“Invasion U.S.A.” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1982. Please listen and subscribe!
Next time: Chuck Norris isn’t involved, but Walker and Texas Ranger are.