Top List Thursday – 10 Best Jean Claude Van Damme movies

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I loved The Expendables 2. I swear that during that manly movie’s 103 min running time, my face spontaneously grew a beard a viking would be proud of.

Besides for the raw testosterone that was injected straight into my optical nerve, my other chemical high came from watching Jean Claude Van Damme absolutely own his role as the villainous Jean Vilain (Yes, Vilain), and this got me thinking about what my favourite JCVD movies are.

So sit back, relax and get ready for mullets, split kicks, Belgian butts and a whole lot of cheese as I list my 10 favourite Van Damme movies.

 

10. DOUBLE IMPACT

This is it. The Genesis Cheese Pit of Jean Claude Van Damme co-starring in movies with Jean Claude Van Damme. Because clearly nobody else can match up. The storyline is a vintage Van Damme revenge tale, but had the added bonus of seeing the Muscles from Brussels play two entirely different characters on screen at the same time.

And by “entirely different” I actually just mean that the one gels his hair and the other doesn’t, because despite the fact that these are supposed to be twins who were separated on opposite sides of the Earth since birth, they both have exactly the same accent and have somehow developed exactly the same physique.

But you know what? I don’t care, because it was cheesy fun at it’s very best. Just look at this tagline: “One packs a punch. One packs a Piece. Together they deliver.” Cheese. They deliver cheese.

9. THE REPLICANT

Besides for two others, this is probably the most un-Van Damme movie on this list. Well, except for the part where he plays two identical characters of course. This time, instead of twins, he plays Edward Garotte, a serial killer with a penchant for immolating his victims, and also the genetic clone created by scientists to help cops track Garotte down.

Legendary Hong Kong action movie director Ringo Lam played it off much more serious and dark than previous Van Damme efforts, and was probably the first film to show that if he actually tried, Van Damme was not a half bad actor. With his face, not his butt cheeks I mean. Those things deserve Oscars.

8. DEATH WARRANT

Trivia time! Did you know that Death Warrant, the 1990 action thriller starring Belgian superstar Jean Claude Van Damme as a cop sent undercover into a maximum security prison to investigate inmate killings, was actually written by none other than David S. Goyer, the comic book and screenwriter who helped Christopher Nolan pen his Dark Knight trilogy?

That alone already makes this movie worth a watch, but added as gravy you get not only Benson, but also one of Van Damme’s most iconic villains in the nigh unstoppable and vicious Sandman, who will not die – no matter how many times he’s shot – until he gets to witness first hand Van Damme’s signature jumping, spinning split-kick. Into his face. Now that’s a real fan!

7. TIMECOP

Van Damme showing off his ability to spread his legs really wide. Time travel mechanics that throw science out the window. And the ugliest “future” cars you’ve ever seen. Timecop has it all. And if you’ve ever switched over to e-TV on Sunday night after 8pm at any point in the last 5 years, then chances are you’ve seen it all too. Numerous times.

But there’s a reason that they keep broadcasting this movie over and over, it’s because it’s one of the best examples of that 90’s style of concept driven action thrillers. I’d like to say that it’s a guilty pleasure, but the fact is that it was incredibly popular and still ranks as Van Damme’s highest grossing film in the US.

6. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER

Before there was ever even a hint of a whiff of an Expendables, this was the closest we would come. Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, in their prime, facing off in a movie? With Tommy “Tiny” Lister, better known as the wrestler Zeus back then, also thrown into the mix? And they were all actually techno-zombies brought back from the grave to be used as super-soldiers? I think my 13 year old self  must have thought he had died and gone to action movie heaven. And then blew it up in a gratuitous explosion.

Oh and more trivia! This film was actually directed by none other than future master of cinematic disaster, Roland Emmerich, and the box office success of Universal Soldier is what gave Emmerich just enough Hollywood clout to get Stargate and Independence Day made. So say thank you!

5. IN HELL

Just like The Replicant, this is another slightly un-Van Damme movie, so it’s no surprise that it’s once again directed by Ringo Lam. This time we find Van Damme as an American (Ha! He must be from that one San Francisco susburb: Little Belgium) working in Russia, who takes the law into his own hands when his wife’s killer gets off on a technicality. Violently killing the killer, he ends up sentenced to a vicious Russian prison for life with no parole, where the warden forces prisoners to fight each other for his own twisted enjoyment.

While all of that sounds very Van Damme-ish, the film is actually far more drama-centric as Van Damme’s character tries to find inner peace and self-forgiveness in this violent world. Well, in between bouts of learning how to kick people in the brain, of course.

4. HARD TARGET

Famous Hong Kong director John Woo’s very first major US movie (produced by Sam Raimi, no less) will always be remembered for three things: Van Damme’s mullet, which is so epic that even Billy Ray Cyrus went “Dayyyum!”; so many slow-mo shots that I’m convinced that if it was run at normal speed, the full movie would only be 45 mins long; and the greatest Arnold Vosloo character to ever grace the screen.

Hearing Vosloo’s Pik Van Cleef utter the immortal line of “Randal, Randal, Randal. I know you didn’t mean to… hurt… my feelings” in his heavy South African drawl, is a memory I will never forget.

3. BLOODSPORT

For the first few years of Jean Claude Van Damme’s career, none of my friends and I actually ever called him Jean Claude Van Damme. To us, he was Frank Dux, the character he played in Bloodsport, the movie which turned him into a megastar. A (very liberal) dramatization of the real life story of Frank Dux, a Canadian ninjitsu practitioner who enters the Japanese Kumite, an underground single elimination fighting tournament with contestants from all around the world, it also resulted in many a young boy limping home with groin injuries after trying to replicate Van Damme’s signature splits. Oh and the quicklime in the eyes. That trick never gets old! Ha.

It also introduced a whole new generation of moviegoers to fear the name of Bolo Yeung, whose bouncing pecs still haunt me to this day.

2. KICKBOXER

This is it. The very pinnacle of Van Damme-ness. It has everything you could ever want from a 90’s martial arts movies and more. The obligatory revenge tale, as Van Damme’s Kurt Sloan tries to avenge his brother’s paralyzing loss (literally) in a kickboxing tournament. The wizened Asian martial arts master who has to take the bullheaded Westerner under his wing and teach him to not only fight but also find peace through the use of mysterious training techniques. The most iconic, vicious bad guy in the form of Tong Po, a brutal kickboxer who shaves his eyebrows and tells what part of his body he’s about to use to rupture your spleen.

And Jean Claude Van Damme dancing.

It simply did not get any better than this when it came to classic Van Damme action movies.

1. JCVD

Wait, didn’t I just announce Kickboxer as the best Van Damme action movie ever? So then what is JCVD doing here? Well, quite simply this is not an action movie (Technicality for the win!). What it is though, is one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing in 2008, and which even had some calling for an Oscar nomination for the Muscles from Brussels.

Part faux documentary, part character study it tells of Jean Claude Van Damme as Jean Claude Van Damme. Yes, he plays himself in the film but this time there are no cheesy clones or twin brothers. He actually plays his real life self, complete with bad divorce settlements, alimony debt, substance abuse problems, and an agent who keeps booking him for crappy B grade films just so that he can get paid. While in his hometown in Belgium, he stops at a Post Office to cash one of these cheques, only to walk into a small-time robbery. But when the robbers realize who he is, it turns into a hostage situation as they think they can get a big ransom for the well known actor.

What transpires is one incredibly directed, immaculately acted heartbreaking story as a global star that’s seen his best days behind him lays his soul bare for all to see. If you don’t walk out of this one with amazing respect for the man, and very possibly, a tear in your eye, then I’d be very much inclined to believe that you sir/madam, are a robot.

After decades of just appealing to our baser love of flashy violence, the man went and made an intelligent film that touches our hearts. Damn you Van Damme, why’d you have to be so amazing?

Last Updated: August 23, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

  • Bloodsport should have been second! And I’m glad you remembered In Hell and Hard Target. Then again, there aren’t that many good Van Damme films to choose from…

    • While Bloodsport was amazing, Kickboxer has Tong Po. Also, Van Damme kicks down a tree.

      • In Bloodsport he rips a bolted-down piece of metal out of wood by pulling out of a split. He also swaps a coin and kills the bottom brick. BOTTOM brick. Best demo of the fabled Dim Mak in movies…

        And did I hear you right? Did you just say some French dude with make-up is superior to the mighty Bolo Yeung, who fought with Bruce Lee and was in his FORTIES when he did Bloodsport?

        Pah!

        • Ha! Look, in a straight up real-life fight, my money will always be on Bolo. But whereas Bolo was cool, Tong Po scared me as a kid!

          Bolo is a better fighter, Tong Po is a better villain. If that makes any sense.

          Either way though, they’re both great and there’s so little between the two movies that we’re pretty arguing about what’s better, ice cream or chocolate. The answer is that they both leave you grinning like an idiot.

          • Brick don’t punch back! I’ll concede, though, Tong Po was mean.

  • Erwin Kempff

    Also don’t forget that he made the jiggy with Kylie Minogue (allegedly)

    • Andre116

      That in my opinion is the only good thing he has ever done. Tapping that sweet ass. In the process though he has now spoiled Kylie for me.

  • Darryn_Bonthuys

    TONG PO!
    TONG PO!
    TONG PO!
    TONG PO!
    TONG PO!
    TONG PO!
    TONG PO!

    • I’d fight Tong Po any day before facing Chong Li…

  • Wtf101

    Dude, seriously, why do you not have Cyborg on this list? Maybe even as an honorable mention… Post apocalyptic setting, Van Damme NOT shagging a woman who bares her uhm heart to him and ass kickery all the way? Plus that damn cool poster showing us why he is called the Muscles from Brussles?

    • I was never that big a fan of Cyborg, hey. Probably one of least favourite of his movies. Although, I will concede that his character in their probably has the best name in any JCVD movie: Gibson Rickenbacker.

      • Wtf101

        Yeah look, I will admit it to be one of the movies maybe best if left behind in childhood, and remebered for how much I enjoyed it at that time. But after Bloodsport, this was propably the movie that cemented JCVD’s cool factor for me, allowing me to enjoy his movies well into my high school years…

  • Noelle Adams

    Bloodsport and Kickboxer FTW!

    Been years since I saw the former but the latter is in my DVD collection and for me it’s the ultimate “Westerner trains with a Mystic Master to get Revenge in Tournament” movie. So yeah, I’d put Kickboxer ahead of Bloodsport too.
    Must say I also liked JCVD’s The Quest (which he also directed).

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