Jean Claude Van Damme may not be the A-list star he used to be in Hollywood, but he’s still starring in some cool direct to DVD action and martial arts films even to this day.
Many may not realize that Van Damme is actually martial arts film royalty. He’s one of the first in Hollywood to step up and bring martial arts into the mainstream (since Bruce Lee with Enter the Dragon in 1973). He’s a bit of a pioneer.
To this day he has die-hard fans and has motivated many to step into the martial arts and action film world – he was actually one of Scott Adkins’ prime influences!
He had the physique, impressive kicks, and impeccable timing as he started making films in the 80’s when physical action was at its most popular in film.
But what films are his very best? I decided to do the research, the watching and the talking with fans to figure out which of Jean Claude Van Damme’s films are his all-time best and most action-packed. The results are below in (no particular order)!
This is the essential JCVD Classic you need to see to truly understand Van Damme’s style and impact on Action movies.
Made in 1988, Van Damme plays Frank Dux, a character based off a real world (often referred to as a fake) martial artist who was an undefeated Kumite champion. We follow Dux as he is on the run from the military but is entering the secret underground martial arts tournament in honor of his deceased master.
The film plays very smoothly, has a lot of terrific martial arts elements and that crazy repetitive kicking and performance that Van Damme is known for. If you haven’t watched any of JCVD’s films, start with this one as it’s the quintessential classic that experienced huge success at the box office, shooting him to stardom.
Still on his high after Bloodsport, Van Damme steps into the role of Kurt Sloane, a kickboxer who is out to get revenge for hisbrother who was paralysed by a ruthless Muay Thai Champion.
This 1989 classic is another of the absolute best films on this list and shouldn’t be overlooked. The story, training sequence and lead up to the final fight is very entertaining and Jean Claude is in tip-top shape as usual, performing is high flying kicks and acrobatic martial arts movements.
It may not accurately resemble the art of Muay Thai but hey, it was the 80’s and it’s a lot of fun. You’ll enjoy this one.
This film is much newer than the previous two, being released in 2008 and made in Belgium of all places – not Hollywood!
Van Damme shoots this film on his homeland (again, Belgium) and creates something completely unexpected and off the tangent for not just him, but ANY action star to grace the screen. JCVD plays himself, caught in a hostage situation with the high expectation that he is going to break out and kick some ass Van Damme style. Instead, we meet the real man, the death fearing human who isn’t a superhero who is just as petrified of being shot as the next guy on the street.
This dramatic film showcases a little bit of martial arts action but does it while conveying a message that action stars and martial artists are onlyu human just like the rest of us. JCVD is an incredibly insightful film for action films and martial arts film junkies everywhere.
It’s not as packed with action as you’d like but its a valuable watch. In the public eye this film helped redeem Jean Claude Van Damme whose career and image was slipping quite rapidly at the time of release.
Flashback to 1992 and you have the first and the best Universal Soldier movie, at the height of Van Damme’s career! Well, you can fight over this and the final film with Scott Adkins.
Van Damme plays Deveraux, a deceased Vietnam soldier who has been revived and reprogrammed as part of a deadly group of Universal Soldiers – a group of soldiers that make use of dead men for military purposes in an almost cyborg-like way.
These Universal Soldiers aren’t 100% stable though. Some go awol, they have superhuman strength and they go a bit insane, being influenced by their final living moments before being programmed. This is when two soldiers become a little more self-aware – Deveraux (JCVD) and Andrew Scott (played by Dolph Lundgren). Deveraux becomes the protective soldier who tries to put a stop to Scott as he goes nuts trying to kill anyone in his path.
Universal Soldier is a really a very entertaining action / science fiction movie and a must-see for Van Damme fans.
One year after Universal Soldier, we get the 1993 classic Hard Target. This film combined the martial arts skills of Van Damme with respected Hong Kong director John Woo.
Van Damme plays Chance, a drifter who is hired by a woman who is in New Orleans looking for her missing father. But when they discover that the woman’s father was killed, the two end up being hunted by the men responsible – all while the Police are in protest and law enforcement is poor in the city.
The Mussels from Brussels steps up as a protector in this role. While not as good as the films mentioned above, Hard Target is a fun film for JCVD fans looking to see his best work.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Léon Gaultier in this 1990 action film.
Léon is serving abroad in East Africa as a French Foreign Legion soldier. But after his brother is cruelly murdered, Gaultier drops everything and feels to the United States to help his sister-in-law, now a widow, who is now struggling to care for her children. When the job search seems a bit too tough, Léon makes use of his combative martial arts skills to become a bare-knuckle fighter.
Check out this film for more fun JCVD action. Another one primarily for theVan Damme fans.
This film was released in 1991 and asks the question that has plagued dman through the ages…
“If one Van Damme is good, is two Van Dammes even better?” – YEAH KINDA! Well… maybe?
It’s a fun film in which Van Damme plays two roles as Chad Wagner and Alex Wagner who are out to avenge their father’s death. Both brothers are a bit different though and we get a nice chemistry between both JCVDs. There’s bickering, a bit of comedy and of course some JCVD martial arts action.
This is another one to watch for a bit of fun.
This is one of the Van Damme’s most popular films, released in 1994.
JCVD plays Max Walker, a.. ahem, TIME COP serving the Time Enforcement Commission who take out criminals after they’ve committed their crimes by using time travel (so, is Minority Report a bit of a rip off of Time Cop, only without time travel?). Naturally, people start messing with the past and Max must step up to stop this from happening.
With his wife being deceased (murdered) for the past 10 years, Max finds him questioning whether or not he should mess with the past to save her.
This film is Van Damme’s most financially successful film, followed closely by Universal Soldier.
Another 90’s action film, Sudden Death was released in 1995 with Van Damme in the lead. Despite losing millions in the box -office, fans still consider this one of his best films.
Van Damme plays Darren Francis Thomas McCord (long name!), a former firefighter who discovers a group of terrorists operating in a stadium during the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. With him and his family in danger, Darren decides to fight back and foil the plans of the bad guys.
A fun action film starring our man Jean Claude!
This film isn’t a “Van Damme” movie per se, but a fun film jam-packed with action stars including Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham, Bruce Willis, and even Scott Adkins.
Released in 2012, Expendables 2 sees Van Damme playing the Villain as he fights off the advances of the star-studded ‘Expendables’ a mercenary group who are after him and his sidekick (Scott Adkins) for killing one of their young comrades.
This film has a lot going for it, Van Damme has a nice fight with Stallone but even better – a quick fight between Scott Adkins and Jason Statham (that could have been better honestly – but is still entertaining).
Overall this is a fantastic and fun film packed with one-liners, explosions and cool martial arts fights. It’s also a bit different since Van Damme is the villain. So check it out!
Honorable Mention – No Retreat, No Surrender
Again, this isn’t a Van Damme lead film, but this film caught the attention of many as Van Damme played an imposing villain in this martial arts classic.
It’s a story about a boy who is bullied and learns martial arts to defend himself, kind of like the Karate Kid only his teacher is the spirit of Bruce Lee! But he must fight for his town when the Van Damme gang comes along, ready to beat everyone up.
It’s fun and somewhat cheesy film, and an opportunity to see a very young Van Damme in action!
What do you think?
They say if you want people to talk to you on the internet, say something wrong. So let’s put it to the test!
Did I leave a film out that was absolute blasphemy? Maybe you disagree (or even completely agree) with my list. Either way, justify your time spent on this website by contributing to the conversation in the comments below! I love feedback, banter and having a good ol’ chat with people like you 🙂
Thanks for reading and have a good day!