Jean-Claude Van Damme is a cinema legend. The man known for his physical feats of excellence has amassed a body of work playing both hero and villain, and while doing it, he has inspired every child raised in the 1990s to beat the hell out of a sibling using the Dim Mak. We love Jean-Claude. He is as passionate about his work as an actor as he is his physical fitness—at times to the point of stress and physical detriment. So, buckle in Goliath readers, it’s time for some Van Dammage!
11. Cyborg (1989)
Cyborg was one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s early films, and it’s a little tough to watch these days. His martial arts skills are unparalleled, but the science fiction in the film leaves much to be desired. Still, Jean-Claude gets crucified, and his manner of escape is a little more violent than other victims of the slow execution, so there’s that. Overall, the film was quite a feat being made in the late 1980s on the budget that it was offered. And Van Damme’s character is named Gibson Rickenbacker…it doesn’t get better than that. The film runs a short 86 minutes, so it’s totally doable if you’re throwing together a good food/bad movie night. And in the realm of Jean-Claude’s greatest hits, it has to be mentioned, because it served as his superstar arrival. Kickboxer was released the same year, both coming the year after Bloodsport.
10. Welcome to the Jungle (2013)
Jumping into the 21st century, we have enjoyed the career resurgence of Jean-Claude. He has continued to work as the years have passed, but the offerings have been a little less than watchable. Welcome to the Jungle isn’t a perfect film, but the premise is enjoyable, especially if you’ve ever worked for a large corporation. It skewers the dog eat dog world of corporate America by sending a group of employees to a team-building retreat with a hardcore militant. Of course, that character is played by none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. The retreat becomes a high-stakes comedy of errors. The best thing about this flick? It’s available on Netflix. It also stars Adam Brody and Kristen Schaal, two pros we’d love to see more from. And it was nice to Jean-Claude to flex his sense of humor in addition to his athletic prowess.
9. The Quest (1996)
The Quest marked the beginning of the end of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s first career act. We’d suggest he’s now enjoying a pretty stellar second act, and by act three, the sky is the limit. Nobody would be surprised to see Jean-Claude in the Oscar mix when he’s in his late 60s or 70s, playing a role that some fanboy wrote for him that has nothing to do with martial arts. Anyway, back to The Quest. Yes, Jean-Claude must fight many foes, both internal and external, to complete his quest. One of the great things about this flick is the inclusion of a former James Bond (Roger Moore) in the cast. It also relies on the tournament-style fighting that is the best way to end any film starring Van Damme. More mention of that in #1.
8. Timecop (1994)
What do you get when you combine Jean-Claude Van Damme and the girl from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What else? Timecop. This is a fascinating selection from the Van Damme library because it has its Van Damme following, as well as a loyal SciFi crowd, who totally appreciate this “glimpse” of the future and the future of law enforcement. Of course, the existence of time travel would necessitate an executive body capable of enforcing time travel rules and regulations: enter Jean-Claude Van Damme. As mentioned, this film also stars the incomparable Mia Sara, who plays Jean-Claude’s wife, who is victimized, but might(?) be saved through manipulation of space-time and complete-time understanding! It’s all a bit much to wrap your mind around. Fun Fact: this film was so well received, it spawned a TV series that lasted for all of nine episodes.
7. Universal Soldier (1992)
Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren star together in Universal Soldier, a complex and thrilling masterpiece that was first called RoboCop. Seriously, it borrowed a few ideas and retooled them to fit the ass-kicking skills of Jean-Claude and Dolph. Two soldiers who fought together in Vietnam, and were killed. Then, the government, being the evil empire that it is, and they always are, decided to use the remains of these two badasses to turn them into obey-every-command cyborgs. Honestly, what else would they do? Send their remains home to their families and friends to be buried with honor? Not a chance. So, the film is a kind of Robocoppy and kind of Source Code‘ish, but it is one of the better-made movies in Jean-Claude’s library, and it holds up decently, considering its early-1990s VFX, stunts, and production.
6. Double Impact (1991)
What is better than one Jean-Claude Van Damme? That’s right. Two. In Double Impact, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays twin brothers, Alex and Chad Wagner. One is a by the book, straight laces, hard-edged guy, and the other is a risk-taking, slicked-back, pistol-packin’ bad boy. Together, they are perfection. Yin and Yang. Night and day. Day and night. And one has a hot girlfriend, and he becomes obsessed that his twin—who he was separated from when their parents died, of course—is obsessed with his girl. Get all of that? What does this mean? Van Damme vs. Van Damme? No spoilers here, but it is definitely worth watching for classic Van Damme action choreography, fight coverage and editing. Nothing like seeing the same kick three times in rapid succession. Whack—wha-wha-whack!
5. Hard Target (1993)
Does everyone know why people jumped on the mullet bandwagon in the early 1990s? This freakin’ movie right here! Jean-Claude Van Damme was so much business up front, and such a hard party in the back, every dude (and some chicks, we can’t lie) wanted a piece of that action. Van Damme starred opposite the beautiful, athletic and edgy Yancy Butler in Hard Target. That’s that. If you’re not sold, it gets so much better. The film was directed by the legendary John Woo. But wait! That’s not all. If you’re reading this on your phone, you probably need to sit down for what comes next. Also co-starring in the film: Lance Henriksen! But WAIT! That’s. Not. All! Take a moment to wipe the tears from your eyes, and take a deep breath. It also co-stars…Wilfred Brimley! Send dia-bee-tiss to the hell from where it came.
4. JCVD (2008)
JCVD was ambitious. And we must give credit where credit was due. While it fails on some levels, this is the film that got people talking about Jean-Claude Van Damme again. Mabrouk El Mechri wrote the screenplay for the concept/scenario of the film, which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself, working through life scenarios, taking a few things from his real life as basis for fiction. The film is worth watching for several moments of Jean-Claude recounting his memories as the world’s biggest action star, when in the world of JCVD, he is completely washed-up, can’t find a role and struggling through depression. The film takes place in his native Belgium, and then something unexpected happens when he’s at a local post office. There is a six minute window during one portion of the film—its most experimental—that makes you nod and say to yourself, “JCVD is the man!”
3. Kickboxer (1989)
Now, we are into three films presenting us with Jean-Claude Van Damme at his most memorable. Kickboxer was something special. Suffering through (or enjoying) the unintentional comedy that occurs in the first 15 minutes is necessary to set up the story. Yes, they have rebooted this film, and Van Damme is playing the mentor character in the release set for 2016; however, in the original, he plays Kurt Sloane, the brother of kickboxing champion Eric Sloane. The brothers travel to Bangkok, where Eric gets his hiney handed to him on a canvas mat by one of the greatest movie villains of all time, Tong Po. Jean-Claude endures some epic martial arts training and spiritual guidance by a Muy Thai master in order to fight the sweetest revenge fight in cinematic history. Kickboxer is one of Jean-Claude’s two signature films. It’s a must-see.
2. The Expendables 2 (2012)
In terms of acting work, Jean-Claude Van Damme was at his best in The Expendables 2. He played one of the coldest villains this genre has enjoyed. His character, Vilain (what else would he be named?), was magnetic. One of those guys you love to hate. In fact, you might even feel a little guilty, because you’ll want to cheer for him if you’re a long time fan. The story line is Sylvester Stallone simple, and after using Eric Roberts as a stereotypical sleaze villain in the first film, Sly opted to go for a little more badassery in the second. Jean-Claude has been the best thing about all of the movies thus far. And does he get to kick a little butt? He certainly does. He even gets his signature kick into the mix as the film reaches its climax.
1. Bloodsport (1988)
When you think Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, Bloodsport is his greatest. Is it the best made film? No. Not even close. But in terms of legacy…? Bloodsport is it. If you were going to watch just one Jean-Claude Van Damme film, this should be it. Van Damme plays the lead character, Frank Dux, in this sensationalized adaptation of Frank Dux’s real life story. Dux was one of the finest full contact sport fighters in the world, and the film uses the Kumite as the setting for the tournament-style action. Consequently, Frank Dux and Van Damme became good friends, and Frank eventually penned a script called The Kumite that was a more realistic telling of his rise to prominence in full contact fighting (imagine MMA with fewer rules), but after a production company went kaput, Van Damme took his film and turned it into The Quest. Lawsuits. Broken friendships and drama ensued, all from Bloodsport.