God Damme! The Top 5 Jean-Claude Van Damme Movies Of All Time

Jean-Claude Van Damme's 5 Best Movies

In 1992 Jean-Claude Van Damme was sitting in a splits kick astride the world. The former body building champion and genuine full-contact karate knockout artist (19-1, with 18 KO’s) was riding a string of high-kicking lo-fi gems to his first big-budget affair: the unexpected Roland Emmerich sci-fi hit, Universal Soldier. The film’s $102-million worldwide  haul caught the attention of major studios, and faster than a jumping wheel kick, a three-picture deal worth a reported $36 million was steadied in front of the Belgium-born ballerino like a pre-cut breakboard.

A shower of cheap pine splinters and expensive champagne should have followed for the action star who was in command of more fighting ability than all of the muscled lunks lumbering through 90's shoot-em-ups combined. But Van Damme turned out to be his own worst enemy. In an admitted haze of drugs, alcohol and manic self-regard, the 'muscles from Brussels' turned his cocaine-tinged nose up at the best offer he would ever see, striking a precision death blow to his promising career instead.

In 2004, on the UK TV show, Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors, he recalled: "After the movie Timecop, I received a huge offer for a three-picture deal and it was $12 million per picture. That's $36 million. I was wasted. I said, 'I want 20 million like Jim Carrey' and they hung up on me. I was not myself."

JCVD may never really have recovered from that error in judgment that cost him a long, lucrative career on the big screen, but there is some consolation. His first foray into major box office success, Universal Soldier, has become a venerable franchise (with and without him) anyway. The fourth Van Damme helmed installation of the zombie-commando series, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, hits the Video on Demand market Thursday, with a small theatrical run set for November 30. In honor of this undead quadrilogy and its still-kicking lead, it's high time to pay a little homage to four essential classics that set up Van Damme for a fall in the first place - and one newish film that will have you cursing the demons that stole from us more of the man's best.

1. Kickboxer (1989): Half-baked JCVD fans who never really connected with the actor’s work on the emotional level it deserves will tell you that Bloodsport (1987) — the movie that unearthed the oiled majesty of Van Damme in the first place — is his greatest film, bar none. These people are heretics. Bloodsport is no doubt is a worthy martial arts tournament film, but its premise of fighting — possibly to the death — as sport, violates the warrior-code and undermines the righteous excitement of the inexorable flashback training montage where a punch drunk hero dream-trips his way to a final showdown comeback.

Kickboxer has been dismissed as The Karate Kid in Thailand, and maybe it is, but like Daniel-son and Miyagi, there's a worthy mentor-pupil relationship at heart of this irony-free, persistently charming cheese fest. It's the kind of low-budget movie-making that doesn't  exist anymore, complete with an original synthy score. The track that plays over the opening credits, "Streets of Siam," is a genuine jam and accompanies one of the most memorably tone-deaf on-screen jock performances of all time from real-life kickboxing superstar, Dennis "The Terminator" Alexio. Oh, and Van Damme drunkenly disco dances his way into a gratuitous barroom brawl. It's B-movie perfection.

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