The Best Movie You Never Saw: Extreme Prejudice

We take a look back at the obscure (but awesome) Walter Hill action flick Extreme Prejudice starring Nick Nolte in a rare action role.

Last Updated on April 9, 2024

THE STORY: A covert army unit goes to war with Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a well-connected drug dealer, who also happens to be the childhood best friend of an honest Texas Ranger (Nick Nolte) who’s caught in the middle of what’s turning into a bloody drug war.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, María Conchita Alonso, and Rip Torn. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Directed by Walter Hill.

THE HISTORY: Let me take a moment here to pay tribute to an actor who never gets his due anymore: the late Powers Boothe. While never a household name, he was well-known as a character actor in a career that spanned four decades. He appeared in a lot of great movies, including Southern Comfort, The Emerald Forest, Sin City, heck – even The Avengers! But, one of the best roles he ever had was in Walter Hill’s almost completely obscure eighties action flick, Extreme Prejudice.

Extreme Prejudice is the last of the Mohicans. I don’t think we’ll ever see a film made like that again. It’s Walter Hill’s homage to Sam Peckinpah, and it’s just a gathering of some really amazing actors, heavyweights. Just to make a piece like that, something that just had this feeling of something long gone by… we’ll never see it again. But it was just a blast creating Buck Atwater, and then you had all these guys who are really nice, who are just one tick off-course in the world, so their causes are no longer clear. It was amazingly great working with all those actors. But it ended up being the only film I did with Walter Hill, and, to be honest, I thought I’d end up making a slew of movies with him. I loved working with him, and we got along great. Who knows? Maybe we’ll still get to work together again. – William Forsythe – Random Roles – AV Club

Sadly unknown to many filmgoers, it was a flop upon release in 1987, even though it reteamed Hill with one of the stars of his 1982 blockbuster, 48 HRS, Nick Nolte. It’s been called Hill’s homage to his mentor Sam Peckinpah, and sure enough, it does feel like a kinda-sorta remake of The Wild Bunch. Nolte stars in a rare, straightforward good guy part as a Gary Cooper-ish Texas Ranger who’s determined to stop the flow of drugs over the border but finds himself in a tight spot when the drugs lead him to a former friend, Boothe’s Cash Bailey, who’s become a drug baron on the other side of the border. What’s worse is that the two share the same love interest – played by María Conchita Alonso – and if that wasn’t bad enough, a crew of soldiers, called the “Zombie Squad” because they’ve all faked their deaths to do off-the-books work, is also after Bailey.

walter hill's extreme prejudice

It’s a heavy-duty, blood-soaked actioner but also a complicated, morally ambiguous one, something that wasn’t an easy sell in 1987 when the studio Carolco (responsible for many action classics of the era) tried to sell it as another Rambo, which it definitely was not. It was cut down at the eleventh hour (and the footage has never seen the light of day), but all to no avail. It only eked out $11 million at the box office and remains obscure to this day. For the longest time, there was only a horrible pan and scan DVD in circulation – a nasty fate for such a cool movie.

That was another one that got cut. That was Walter Hill. Andy Robinson and I play CIA agents, we’re trying to do this whole covert op, and my character was the go-between between the military side of the story, the police side of the story, and the government side of the story. But when they put it all together, Walter said to me, “It looks like it’s starring Michael Ironside, with Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, and Rip Torn supporting him, so we’re gonna cut the whole Andy Robinson side of the film out.” [Laughs.]… They cut something like 45 minutes out of it! – Michael Ironside – Random Roles – AV Club

WHY IT’S GREAT: Walter Hill’s a guy who never gets his due. While he’s had a couple of stinkers, he doesn’t get enough credit for his top-flight filmography, which includes The Warriors, The Driver, 48 Hrs, Streets of Fire (a Best Movie You Never Saw fave), and time directing Deadwood as well as his contributions to Alien (he co-wrote, produced and made Ripley a woman). Too many of his movies are unacknowledged gems, like Johnny Handsome, Southern Comfort, The Long Riders, and this week’s entry, Extreme Prejudice.

This actually should have been a hit, as Nolte was on a career-high at the time, and eighties-era audiences loved gory R-rated, extreme action. Maybe it was the political subtext or the fact that the hero and the villain had such a complicated relationship, or the admittedly jagged construction (you really miss that excised footage) that kept it from getting major critical recognition. Nearly forty years later, it’s a real, lost classic.

extreme prejudice 1987

There’s tons to love about the movie – with Nolte the closest he ever came to an old-school Hollywood hero in this rare action lead. But, the show is stolen by the supporting cast. Boothe is especially slick as the white-suited baddie, Cash, who’s got a death wish and half hopes his old buddy will come along and put him out of his misery – making the case the being the king in hell ain’t so hot. The “Zombie Squad” guys are also really cool, with Michael Ironside as their ice-cold leader (seemingly doing a dry run for Richter in Total Recall – which would come three years later). William Forsythe and Clancy Brown are my favorites of the gang, with Forsythe initially comes off as a maniac, only to gradually reveal a more heroic side, with Brown being the second in command who knows his C.O. is up to no good. It all comes together in a major, grand guignol shootout that must have set a squib record back then (only for Hill to be outdone by Paul Verhoeven a few years later). It’s a damn cool movie.

SEE IT: Up until a few years ago, this was a really difficult movie to find. In the DVD era, it was put out by Artisan Home Video is a shockingly poor transfer, which was basically just a rip of the old pan and scan VHS. Luckily, Lionsgate has since done well by the film, reissuing it in an extras-packed Blu-ray, which you can buy here.

PARTING SHOT: Extreme Prejudice really is the kind of movie that just doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, guys like Taylor Sheridan, Peter Berg, and David Ayer are giving it a go, but none of them have the latitude Hill did to totally go balls to the wall. It’s an imperfect film, but it’s a damn slick one.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.