If you have any interest in action films at all then Jean Claude Van Damme will be a name you know well. As one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood during the 1980’s and 1990’s, he played the lead role in lots of films made during that period. He has even seen something of a career revival in later years as a new generation discover his high-kicking talents. As a martial artist, he was second to none and he also has some fine acting skills to go alongside that.
Here are ten of his most awesome movies you can watch right now:
10 – JCVD
This is one unusual and interesting film to kick off with. It doesn’t have masses of high-kicking action and no dodgy hair in sight. What it does have is a melancholic tone and Van Damme laying himself bare on screen in a way never seen before. The plot revolves around him heading back to his home town in Belgium and getting caught up in a bank robbery. What makes this film unique is the way the plot twists and we get to see various bits of the life this semi-fictional version of JVCD has led. Particularly good is the 6-minute monologue in the middle Van Damme gives about fame and celebrity.
09 – The Expendables 2
When news of the Expendables original film broke, every action fan of a certain age cried like a baby. They weren’t just getting 1 of their favourite old-time heroes but a whole bundle. The only fly in the ointment was the exclusion of Van Damme. This was thankfully rectified for the sequel and what a role he played!
Playing the bad guy named Vilain, he steals every scene he is in and you can tell he is really enjoying being back in a big film. The end showdown between him and Stallone is worth watching the film for alone – it really kicks some serious butt! If you haven’t seen this already, then it is worth it. Although it is not a Van Damme film as such, the role he plays in it is good enough to get it a mention here.
08 – Sudden Death
In a way this is like Van Damme’s version of ‘Under Siege’ or ‘Die Hard’. Full of some great tension filled moments, it sees our guy taking on a whole load of nasty terrorists who have taken over an ice hockey arena. Van Dammes character, Darren McCord, finds out about the plot and takes it upon himself as the arena’s security guy to intervene.
This is the cue for some brilliant action and plenty of high-kicking knockouts from JCVD. Worthy of a special mention is the fight between McCord and a bad guy who is dressed as a hockey mascot! This is both funny and exciting as they chase each other around like a bad cartoon. It also has a pretty good villain in the form of Powers Boothe – as Joshua Foss, he brings the right amount of aggression to each scene he is in.
07 – Timecop
During the 1990’s, most big-name action stars had their big-budget sci-fi film. Stallone had ‘Demolition Man’ while Arnie had ‘Total Recall’. Our man was not going to be left behind and ‘Timecop’ is his entry into the genre. What a film it is too!
To start with, it has the scene where he (for reasons not clear) does the splits on the kitchen worktops in his pants. There is also the rather glorious mullet haircut his character sports all film to consider too. Where this really shines though is the plot and sizzling action. Based on Van Damme being cop Max Walker from the future who has to go back in time to stop a crazed politicians plans, it is good fun. It also remains one of his highest grossing film to date with around $100 million made worldwide. Although there is not as much martial arts carnage in this one, there are enough fight scenes and shoot outs to satisfy.
06 – Hard Target
It shows quite what a strong portfolio of films that JCVD has built up when this film is not even top 5! It is probably one of his most well-known ones and one that even non Van Damme fans will have seen. Set in New Orleans, it centres around rich people paying to hunt human prey around the streets. Van Damme is the hero of the hour as you would expect but it also features Lance Henriksen as a suitably crazy villain.
As the rather improbably named Chance Boudreaux, Van Damme ha plenty of action where he cracks a few heads. He also sports another quite magnificient mullet that manages to be both greasy and big. The director, John Woo, used this film as his first foray into Hollywood and it certainly set the mark high for him.
05 – AWOL
This film is also known as Lionheart in some regions but whatever you call it, it is brilliant. The plot centres on JCVD going AWOL from the army to help out his late brother’s wife, who is having money trouble. For a man with his rather agricultural skills, the underground fighting circuit seems the natural choice and the film sees him working through that to earn the dough he needs.
The best thing about this film is the now hilarious dialogue which is eminently quotable and the fight scenes. The action is easily some of the best that was around at the time and still kicks butt today. It also had a pretty good villain in the form of Attila! For once, they even let JCVD have a decent haircut which was certainly not the case for a long time in the 1990’s.
04 – Double Impact
Next on our list we have the superb Double Impact. The neat twist in this Sheldon Lettich directed film was that JCVD played two roles as the film centred on twin brothers Chad and Alex Wagner! This gave fans twice the Jean Claude action and twice the action. It is also an interesting film as it has elements of a love story and comedy in to allow Van Damme to flex his acting skills.
The central premise involves the two Wagner twins who are raised separately growing up after their parents are murdered by Triads in Hong Kong. The film sees the brothers re-united in Hong Kong when adults and their quest to tackle the fearsome Triad gang that still rules the city. This film has a bit of everything and is also notable for the appearance of Bolo Yeung as one of the bad guys.
03 – Universal Soldier
With this film, you not only get Van Damme but also that other 80’s hero, Dolph Lundgren. Both are on fine form here with some great action and funny one liners to keep the plot moving along.
A sci-fi movie in essence, Van Damme is solider Luc Deveraux and Lundgren his commanding officer, Andrew Scott. Both are killed in action during the Vietnam war after fighting each other but their bodies are frozen and then re-animated by the military. When they awake they are half-robot killing machines, that the army want to use on the battlefield.
Much carnage then ensues with the two foes eventually heading into a final showdown where Scott is impaled on the forks of a hay harvester! Although not loved by critics, this is one that most Van Damme fans are into. He plays a great part as the sensitive Deveraux whose memories stop him from being a totally robotic killer.
02 – Kickboxer
Easily one of the best and most popular of Van Damme’s work in movies is this film. Arguably still the one that people most know him for, it is superb. The plot is simple but that is sort of what makes it so good. In it Van Damme plays the brother of an American kickboxer who gets killed in the ring by mental Thai fighter Tong Po.
Following this, JCVD enlists the help of a master Thai boxing trainer to learn the skills he needs to fight Tong Po himself and avenge his brother. The film has two amazing sections in it that make it a must see. The training montage is one of the best you will in a martial arts film and then there is the dancing scene in the bar. If you haven’t seen this, then YouTube it! The sight of a drunken JCVD dancing in what can only be described as a strange fashion is not forgotten easily!
01 – Bloodsport
Taking top spot is this absolute classic and all time greatest Van Damme film. This really has it all from a classic storyline based around an underground martial arts tournament called the Kumite to some seriously kick-ass fighting action. It also marked Van Damme’s breakout from bit-part Hollywood extra to major star. The dialogue and emotion that he was able to put into the character of Frank Dux really set aside from many other action stars of the time.
The other thing that really makes this film stand proud is the ensemble cast behind Van Damme. Most are actual martial artists which really makes the fight scenes come alive with some bone crunching exploits. Prime among them is martial art star Bolo Yeung who plays a great role as the main bad guy in the film. It also shows lots of different fighting styles which makes it interesting to watch.
All in all this is an amazing film and one that is still very watchable to this day!
Let’s not pretend – even the best Van Damme films are not respected for their immersive plots and deep dialogue. What you do get though is action and plenty of it! Any of the above will give you plenty of knuckle clenching power and show Van Damme off at his best. Still writing and directing, there may soon be others we could add on there also!