5. Sudden Death (1995)
Like so many other movies of this era, the plot is based on Die Hard, this time in a hockey arena. A criminal mastermind, played by Powers Booth, takes the entire arena hostage and demands money. He didn’t count on retired fire fighter Darren McCord (van Damme) to start working against him, by taking out his goons one by one.
This film showcases van Damme’s skills in martial arts, when he fights a number of henchmen in locker rooms, kitchens and other places in the arena.
Peter Hyams also directed van Damme’s previous film, Timecop, and seems to know just what to do with the Belgian martial artist. You may be wondering why an ex fire fighter with an irish name speaks with a thick accent and knows martial arts. Alas, this goes unexplained. Not that it matters when the little Belgian wears huge hockey gear and still manages to kick a bad guy in the head.
Powers Boothe, who’s made an art of playing diabolical bad guys, makes a memorable appearance as the intelligent bad guy, who uses his brain to counter van Damme’s brawn. And you’re left with a big question; where the hell do you get a bitchin’ lighter like that?
4. Time Cop (1994)
This is probably Jean-Claude van Damme’s most popular film. He stars as time traveling cop Walker. Like so many of these movies from this era, the film co-stars competent actors like Ron Silver and Bruce McGill.
Walker faces off with the corrupt senator McComb (Silver), who tries to use time travel to be president. Walker must try to stay one step ahead of the devious politician, which is easier said than done; once again the bad guy uses his brain to combat van Damme’s brawn.
One might expect to see Walker travel to a lot of “exotic times”. But except for two short sequences, one in the old west and one in 1920’s, Walker “stays” in 1994 and 2004. Instead of focusing on “exotic times”, the movie explores what happens when you manipulate time; in one instance Walker comes back to realize his enemy is one short step away from the presidency, his best friend hardly knows him and the porn loving tech guy has become a square. This makes this film one of the smarter films of the genre.
But that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t action packed. Hyams knows just how to direct van Damme, as we get to see both a lot of action, including one sequence in which van Damme does a split between two kitchen counters, and a more emotional side to the Belgian’s character.
3. Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
Dolph Lundgren teams up with Brandon Lee. This is a buddycop movie for the martial arts genre. Together they take on the Japanese Yakuza, led by Yoshida, played by character actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.
Lundgren and Lee have two very different fighting styles; Lundgren uses his strength to pummel his opponents, while Lee has a more agile style. The two styles complement each other in the action sequences, of which there are many. In one sequence Lundgren lifts a car. In another he fights the bad guy with a sword, all the while Lee flips and kicks his opponents until they’ve had enough.
This film is also noteworthy because of one very memorable quote in which Lee’s character complements Lundgren’s character’s penis size.
2. Hard Target (1993)
John Woo spent a number of years in Hollywood and made a couple of memorable movies, including Mission: Imossible II and Face/Off. But before he did those movies, he did this one.
Van Damme plays Chance, a borderline homeless man, who helps Nat Binder (Yancy Butler) look for her father. It turns out that her father died while playing the prey in a hunt that is orchestrated by the sadistic Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). Chance gets his hands full when he becomes the title’s hard target.
Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo, two of Hollywood premier bad guy actors, team up to form a vicious duo. They know that they’re facing a formidable opponent. So what do they do? They call all their favorite “clients” and offer them the chance to hunt a hard target; when you can’t beat them, call your friends. Woo’s flamboyant action style goes well together with van Damme’s skills as a martial artist. Van Damme rides a motorcycle like a circus performer, uses two guns akimbo and kicks ass, per usual.
1. Predator (1987)
John McTiernan would go on to direct Die Hard the following year. But first he made this horror action hybrid. Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, the leader of a gang of mercenaries. While on a mission in South America, they find themselves hunted by an invisible alien.
This film is full of the kind of machismo that made Schwarzenegger’s movies so beloved. The mercenaries are big, muscular and say things like “I ain’t got time to bleed”. They also carry ridiculous weapons, like an actual mini gun (because a two hundred pound helicopter gun is just what you need on a trek through the jungle).
The horror aspect of this action classic works very well, thanks to McTiernan’s competent direction. We don’t even get to see the alien hunter until the end. But it’s well worth the wait. The simplistic script is surprisingly quotable with lines like “If it bleeds, we can kill it”, “You’re one ugly motherfucker” and even “Get to the chopper”.
If you’re just going to watch one movie on this list, this is the one to see.
Author Bio: Andreas Ziegler is a Swedish film critic who now also writes articles in English. Check out his twitter account: @liteomfilm . He now tweets exclusively in English.