7 best Jean-Claude Van Damme action movies, ranked

If you grew up loving great action movies from the 1980s and 1990s, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a fair number of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. While he never quite managed to become the kind of A-lister that Schwarzenegger and Stallone were, JCVD was a major star through the early 1990s and has continued to make compelling action movies even up until today.

As we look back at his long career, we’ve identified seven of his very best movies that you should definitely check out.

7. The Expendables 2 (2012)

JCVD joined the universe of The Expendables for this sequel and helped make it every bit a worthy successor to the first installment. Here, he plays Jean Vilain (get it?), the leader of a rival group of mercenaries who are tasked with taking on the Expendables.

The movie climaxes with a final showdown between Stallone and JCVD, which seems like exactly what fans were hoping this series would be able to deliver. When the moment finally came, both actors seemed primed and ready.

6. Bloodsport (1988)

BLOODSPORT (1988) | Official Trailer | MGM

The movie that really kickstarted JCVD’s career as an action icon, Bloodsport follows a U.S. soldier who has come to Hong Kong to be accepted into a deeply dangerous martial arts competition. Even as he tries to gain access to the fight, he also has to evade military officers who consider him to be AWOL.

Of course, what makes Bloodsport so worthy of this list is that it offers a full showcase of what JCVD had to offer. If the plotting is a little stale or repetitive, the athletic ability of its leading man more than compensates for it.

5. Sudden Death (1995)

Sudden Death Official Trailer #1 - Jean-Claude Van Damme Movie (1995) HD

A straightforward action movie that feels a bit like a riff on Die Hard, Sudden Death came at the tail end of JCVD’s run as an action A-lister. The movie tells the story of a dad who decides to take his kids to the Stanley Cup Finals, completely unaware that there are terrorists in the building who have kidnapped the vice president and are planning to blow the arena up if the ransom isn’t paid.

Of course, they didn’t know that JCVD would be in the house. Although the premise itself isn’t all that innovative, the movie around it mostly works, thanks in part to its willingness to lean almost entirely into action.

4. Timecop (1994)

Timecop (1994) - Theatrical Trailer HD (Official) - Van Damme | Ron Silver

Director Peter Hyams had a fascinating Hollywood career, and Timecop was one of its crowning achievements. Starring JCVD as a man who has been tasked with traveling through time to prevent people from changing the future, Timecop is a true showcase for everything that JCVD did well as a movie star.

Does it also showcase the limits of his emotional range? Maybe a little bit, but Timecop remains a thrilling action vehicle nonetheless, one that is anchored by its intriguing sci-fi premise.

3. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

Universal Soldier Day Of Reckoning Trailer 2

The original Universal Soldier was not well received when it was first received in the 1990s, but the franchise has had a long life on VOD, and many have flocked to it in part because of the incredible dynamic action filmmaking it contains.

In Day of Reckoning, JCVDfaces off against Dolph Lundgren, but what really sells the movie is the incredible spectacle provided by director John Hyams. Even in 2012, JCVD was still more than capable of being one of the most exciting action stars on film, though, and Day of Reckoning is all the proof you need.

2. JCVD (2008)

JCVD - teaser officiel

The most daring and brilliant thing JCVD ever did was star in JCVD, a movie about a washed-up action star who finds himself at the center of a bank robbery. The brilliance of the movie is the way that JCVD manages to lean into his persona while totally lacking the vanity that once defined his onscreen persona.

The movie is not quite the sort of quiet reckoning that Creed would be for Sylvester Stallone a few years later, but it’s on a similar wavelength, and it’s a reminder that in addition to his skills as an action star, JCVD has a charisma that is hard to deny.

1. Hard Target (1993)

Hard Target Official Trailer #1 - Lance Henriksen Movie (1993) HD

John Woo is one of the best directors of action who has ever lived, and his collaboration with JCVD is among his best work. Telling the story of a bodyguard who discovers a ring of wealthy men who play with the homeless for sport. When he discovers that the father of the woman whom he’s been hired to protect was killed as part of this game, he vows to get vengeance on her behalf.

The premise is certainly a little silly (though it has some surprisingly political undertones), but Woo and JCVD make for a dynamic duo, and Hard Target helped to make both of their careers.