Jean-Claude Van Damme was, without a doubt, the biggest piece missing from The Expendables. You can’t have 90’s action movies without him. The word on the street was that JCVD himself turned down a role in the film over some sort of concerns over character. You may be snickering at this, but coming off the critically well received flick JCVD the Muscles of Brussels was riding high on his acting talents.
Regardless of what kept him out of the first film, Van Damme landed the meaty role of Vilain who is so obviously the villain of the film and early word from reviews is that he kicks all sorts of ass in the role. Now that all is right with the world and JCVD is standing alongside the likes of similarly muscled, speech impaired stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Lundgren, it’s time to look back and relive the career of JCVD via splits and awesome movies.
The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, very recently held a marathon entitled Van Dammage which included three classic JCVD films and a screening of The Expendables 2. I couldn’t have programmed the night better myself and I am all erect over Van Damme movies – he was probably my favorite action star growing up. What can I say? Flash kicks won me over as a young man.
This list of films compiled below are not necessarily JCVD’s best films or roles, but they are all great in some way and essential to your viewing if you want to fully understand the career of Van Damme. So what are we waiting for? Let’s kick some ass!
Without a doubt this is the role that put Van Damme on his route to 90s action super-stardom, no matter what Rob Hunter says about Breakin’. While the Muscles from Brussels appeared and kicked ass previously in No Retreat, No Surrender and Cyborg, Bloodsport stands to this day as a damn fine action film. Based on what Frank Dux says is a true story, the film follows Frank Dux (JCVD) as he enters the Kumite, a vicious fighting tournament. Many of you have already seen this one but may have overlooked the somewhat similar film Kickboxer, which again involves vengeance and a fighting tournament.
As you’ll soon see, 1990-1995 was just pure Van Damme bliss starting with Lionheart, which once again sees Van Damme engaged in a fighting tournament and seeking retribution. He stars as Léon Gaultier, a deserter from the French Foreign Legion (screenwriters must always explain Van Damme’s thick accent, generally by making him French) who arrives in America and finds his sister-in-law in destitute conditions. To pay the bills and make things right with his family, he engages in illegal underground street fighting, eventually fighting his way into the rich world of illegal ass-kickery, where stuffy millionaires bet on muscled dudes kicking the shit out of each other.
Death Warrant (1990)
Van Damme stars as Louis Burke, a French Canadian cop who goes undercover in a prison to investigate some shady dealings and death. What he finds is an absurdist prison out of your wettest, darkest nightmares, a place where Freddy Krueger would feel at home, but with more man-ladies and brothel cells. Van Damme of course kicks tons of ass, and his final battle with The Sandman is one for the ages.
Double Impact (1991)
If you thought Van Damme was awesome, you just full on came in your pants when you found out he’d be co-starring with himself in Double Impact! The film follows two identical twin brothers who were separated after the death of their parents. One became a street tough badass while the other wears pastels. The brothers join forces to track down the man responsible for their parents death. If you ever wanted to see JCVD get his dick honked in silk underwear, this is the movie for you. No judgement.
Universal Soldier (1992)
As a thirteen year old, I thought this was the greatest movie of all time. When I think of Van Damme, I think of Universal Soldier. It’s his Terminator, in more ways that one. Namely, in two ways – it’s an awesome film and he plays a mostly mindless ass-kicking machine. The film has a surprisingly dark premise in that soldiers killed in battle are basically frozen and then brought back to life as virtually unkillable special forces operatives. I don’t need to tell you anything else, but Van Damme is naked, there’s a dick joke, and later he fights Dolph Lundgren.
Hard Target (1993)
This one explains Van Damme’s accent by placing him in the French Quarter of New Orleans where he plays Chance Boudreaux, a man hired to help find a woman’s missing father. What they come across is a version of The Most Dangerous Game where rich assholes (are there any other kind?) play big money to hunt and kill men. From director John Woo, Hard Target features the most aggressive Van Damme mullet in history, plenty of slow-motion, Lance Henrikson, and the weaponized use of a rattlesnake.
Time Cop (1994)
A film that some enjoy ironically, I remember really digging Time Cop when I first saw it. At this point in his career, Jean-Claude is well known for athleticism and it’s fully on display here with an awesome array of high kicks and a jumping split to avoid being electrocuted. The film features what were at the time pretty excellent special effects, a couple of turns, and a generally smart take on time travel.
Sudden Death (1995)
Sudden Death, co-starring Powers Boothe and with a cameo from hockey superstar Luc Robitaille, marks the end of Van Damme’s greatest era, a five year span of fantastic ass kicking and high flying kicks. In this flick, Van Damme is a (Canadian born) fire marshal at a hockey stadium. As luck would have it, he’s at work with his kid when terrorists capture the Vice-President and hold the entire stadium hostage with blocks of C4 explosives planted around the building. It’s up to JCVD to kick people in the face and kill the Pittsburgh Penguin’s mascot.
Wake of Death (2004)
Unlike most, I had never given up on Van Damme during The Dark Ages (1995-2004), going as far in my fandom as to see The Quest and Universal Soldier 2: The Return in theaters, something that most people couldn’t bring themselves to do. As my dad said exiting the latter film, “I want 90 minutes of my life back.” Wake of Death is important not because it’s great, because it isn’t really, but because it marks a turn-around point in Van Damme’s career. He’s definitely straight-to-DVD at this point, but Wake of Death packs in action and character that begins the revitalization of his career. It’s a decent flick and worth watching.
Critically acclaimed but not widely seen, JCVD scored big points as the Muscles from Brussels lampoons himself as a struggling, down on his luck version of himself (not too far removed from reality) who gets caught up in a bank robbery. After this movie came out, people began talking about JCVD seriously again. While he still has a few direct to home video releases in the queue, with his big screen appearance in The Expendables 2 and the respect he earned from this film, Jean-Claude Van Damme seems within striking distance of revitalizing his career along the same path as Schwarzenegger and Stallone.
Extra Credit: What’s your favorite JCVD-led film?