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8 Jean-Claude Van Damme Movies that Show Off His Range as an Actor


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Ah, Jean-Claude Van Damme — the “Muscles from Brussels.” A successful action star who, like Stallone and Schwarzenegger before him, is more or less an entirely self-made man (though, as Schwarzenegger wisely said on Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, one’s success is never constructed just by them).

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Van Damme’s had an admirable career in Hollywood, but he has, quite naturally, been pigeonholed into the action realm. But, like Jason Statham in Spy, he has found ways to embrace his funny side over the years.

If he wanted, he could just cash checks, but Van Damme likes to explore when he can, and that’s admirable. His critics throughout the ’80s and ’90s may not have been entirely wrong about his wooden nature (for a lead performer in a bunch of studio pictures), but what’s equally true is that they have never given him proper credit.

And Van Damme himself has admitted that, at the beginning of his career, his skills were lacking. In his words (via Digital Spy): “I was a bad actor, man, but the heart was there.” So to say he has no range is to not look closely enough at a career trajectory. Here are the 8 best examples why Jean-Claude Van Damme has more range than he’s given credit for.

9 Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport

Jean-Claude often gets lumped in with other muscle man A-listers who, if critics are to be believed, basically have no talent. But, does that even make sense? How does one stand out from the rest unless they’re bringing something beyond athleticism to the table?

The answer is, they don’t. Just look at Michael Dudikoff from American Ninja, a highly successful film that still led to absolutely nothing of note for the lead performer — and for good reason.

Why Is He So Great in Bloodsport?

With his first leading role (basically his first movie outside background parts and, for a brief period, the suit performer behind the Yautja in Predator), Van Damme proved himself to be a martial arts master. But, more importantly, Bloodsportis a film that shows an inexperienced actor genuinely trying to sell the film’s dialogue-driven, deeper scenes.

And, in Bloodsport, there’s a surprising number of those. Given the acting experience he had at the time, Van Damme is exceptional. His inexperience actually works surprisingly well for the film, as it more or less links up precisely with his character’s trajectory within the narrative.

Stream Bloodsport on Showtime

8 Double Impact (1991)

Double Impact

Double Impact

Release Date
July 31, 1991

Director
Sheldon Lettich

Rating
R

1988 had Bloodsport and the little-seen Black Eagle. 1989 had the dreadful Cyborg and the serviceable Kickboxer. 1990 had Lionheart (which was basically Bloodsport and Kickboxer again) and the prison action-drama Death Warrant.

In other words, Van Damme blew up in a short amount of time — leading two films in a single year absolutely means one is a star. And, clearly, studios had faith in the man, because his seventh film had him leading it in a dual role.

Why Is He So Great in Double Impact?

Is a lot of Double Impactclunky? Absolutely, but one must really give it to Van Damme for helping to craft two distinctive personalities in the same film. One of those personalities hasn’t aged incredibly well, but there was still talent involved in bringing him to life.

Stream Double Impact on The Roku Channel

7 Universal Soldier (1992)

universal soldier

universal soldier

Release Date
July 10, 1992

Rating
R

Schwarzenegger started out as a villain, not a hero. And the same could be said of Dolph Lundgren, who gets his best antagonist role outside Rocky IV with Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier. But Van Damme, he’s almost always been the hero, and Universal Soldier was his biggest heroic venture yet.

Why Is He So Great in Universal Soldier?

Van Damme is the main character in Emmerich’s film, but he doesn’t have to do nearly as much (figurative) heavy lifting. Lundgren carries nearly half of the 100 minutes.

This allows Van Damme to have a little more fun than usual, like a greater display of his silly side. And it works like a charm. Universal Soldier isn’t great, but it’s as solid as it is because of Emmerich, Van Damme, and Lundgren.

Stream Universal Soldier on Hoopla

6 Nowhere to Run (1993)

Like Schwarzenneger, Stallone, Seagal, or Lundgren, Van Damme’s bread and butter is in being a nice guy with a rough past supplanted into a small town that’s currently under threat of corporate dominance. And, frankly, in Nowhere to Run, he did that better than any of them — particularly Seagal in his hollow and bland Fire Down Below.

Why Is He So Great in Nowhere to Run?

Arguably more than any of his other films, Van Damme brings believable heart to his role in Nowhere to Run. He truly sells the good Samaritan character, especially one who has made mistakes and genuinely hopes to reform. Nowhere to Run wouldn’t be the effective (and criminally underseen) time-waster it is without Jean-Claude.

Stream Universal Soldier on Paramount+

5 The Quest (1996)

Like Steven Seagal had done two years prior, Jean-Claude Van Damme made his directorial debut with The Quest. And, also like Seagal and his On Deadly Ground, The Quest didn’t lead to very much for the action star’s directorial prospects.

But unlike On Deadly Ground, The Quest has heart, solid production values, and good action sequences. It may not have done well in the States (its budget wasn’t low, either), but at the end of the day, The Quest was profitable, and that’s for the best, because it’s clear it was a passion project for Van Damme.

Why Is He So Great in The Quest?

Until JCVD, Van Damme’s most ranged work was in The Quest. He’s still playing the archetypal good guy with a heart of gold (he even helps orphans in the first act), but there’s a lot of internal conflict. The audience knows this via Van Damme’s facial expressions, leading one to believe he gave his character in the film a lot of fault. The Quest is not high art, but it shows that Van Damme’s range isn’t exclusive to acting or doing the splits.

Rent The Quest on Prime Video

4 JCVD (2008)

jcvd

jcvd

Release Date
June 4, 2008

Cast
Jean-Claude Van Damme , François Damiens , Zinedine Soualem , Karim Belkhadra , Jean-François Wolff , Anne Paulicevich

Rating
R

After 1994’s Street Fighter and 1995’s Sudden Death, Van Damme’s domestic box office appeal took a nosedive. 1996’s The Quest and Maximum Risk did fine, but then there were a few bombs, culminating in his reprisal of the role of Luc Deveraux in Universal Soldier: The Return.

That sequel came out in 1999, and was Van Damme’s last wide theatrical release until The Expendables 2 in 2012. In between those two films was JCVD, which admittedly isn’t the type of film that would do well in wide release but has still, thankfully, found quite a bit of critical appreciation.

Why Is He So Great in JCVD?

JCVD is something else. Rarely has an actor been so willing to poke fun at their own image, especially in a way that isn’t so much poking fun as flat-out realistic and (effectively) depressing.

Of course, it’s not entirely true to the man’s life, but it’s obvious he’s bringing a mixture of true-to-life emotion and some further developed acting gravitas. In other words, Van Damme’s acting prowess grew during his DTV years and JCVD should have made for a more long term mainstream comeback.

Rent JCVD on Tubi

3 The Expendables 2 (2012)

expendables 2

expendables 2

Release Date
August 8, 2012

Rating
R

Of the four Expendables films (and that’s going to remain the number with Expend4bles‘ horrendous box office failure), The Expendables 2 is by far the best. With the first sequel, everyone both in front of and behind the camera knew what they were doing, were well-versed in their characters, and had the franchise’s more upped-than-usual bombast.

And, more importantly, they knew what audiences wanted from the film. This includes Van Damme, whose contemptible (and humorously named) Vilain is, bar none, the franchise’s best villain — which is saying something, considering Mel Gibson was the only one having fun in The Expendables 3.

Why Is He So Great In The Expendables 2?

With each of his (admittedly few) scenes, Van Damme makes Vilain seem like the opposite of his name. He’s no punchline, he’s an ethically repugnant killer with no remorse. Van Damme casts all of his charm aside and goes for something a little more robotic, as if he’s the T-800 in the original The Terminator, but with a mind all his own.

That may sound like it’s Van Damme turning in a one-note performance, but it isn’t, not by a long shot. He dominates every scene of The Expendables 2 in which he’s featured.

Stream The Expendables 2 on ViX

2 Welcome to the Jungle (2013)

Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Release Date
April 27, 2013

Director
Rob Meltzer

Rating
NR

Make no mistake, Welcome to the Jungle is really rough. It’s a direct-to-video comedy with production values that show as much. But, it also has a weirdly stacked cast, with The Blacklist‘s Megan Boone, Rob Huebel, Kristen Schaal, Dennis Haysbert, and Adam Brody all playing major roles. And, yet, it’s Van Damme’s smaller appearance that steals the show.

Why Is He So Great In Welcome to the Jungle?

When an actor is having fun, it’s infectious. And, whenever he actually is on-screen, Van Damme seems like he’s having fun in Welcome to the Jungle. Even surrounded entirely by actors well-versed in comedy, the action star holds his own, and it’d be great to see him do so in a stronger comedy.

Rent Welcome to the Jungle on Prime Video

1 Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022)

minions 2

minions the rise of gru

Release Date
July 1, 2022

Director
Kyle Balda , Brad Ableson , Jonathan del Val

Rating
PG

The fact that Van Damme was game to play an animated villain loosely based on himself in Minions: The Rise of Gru shows a great level of self-awareness. After all, just look at Seagal to see an action star who has always been adamantly opposed to playing anything other than the hero. Though, Seagal’s options had dried up by the time Machete hit theaters. And, in that, he’s been rightly seen as one-note.

Why Is He So Great In Minions: The Rise of Gru?

But Van Damme’s never been satisfied with playing the exact same character over and over again. He was game for The Rise of Gru, and God bless him for it. An action star must be able to poke fun at their own image; after all, they’re mortal men perpetually shown to be anything but.

Stream Minions: The Rise of Gru on Peacock Premium

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