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Jean-Claude Van Damme's Greatest Movie Fight Scenes Ranked

Of all the action heroes to grace the big screen in the '80s and '90s, Jean-Claude Van Damme has always embraced the more endearingly over-the-top aspects of the genre with his fan-favorite line of action thrillers. Known for his flying kicks and propensity to do the splits, Van Damme has starred in memorable fight sequences throughout his career, underscoring the Belgian actor's nickname as the Muscles from Brussels. Starring in popular action movies for over 30 years, Van Damme remains one of the most recognizable icons in the industry, with everything on his resume from sci-fi thrillers to globe-spanning martial arts flicks.

From underground fighting rings to explosive set pieces against fiendish assassins, there is something for every action enthusiast in Van Damme's impressive body of work. Here are the best fight scenes featuring Van Damme, from his professional breakthrough in the '80s to his recent career taking on more nuanced roles against his action star public persona.

15. Hard Target turns Van Damme into a bare-knuckled snake charmer

1993's "Hard Target" marked acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo's Hollywood debut, teaming up with Van Damme for a rough-and-tumble adventure down on the bayou. Van Damme plays drifter and former Force Recon Marine Chance Boudreaux, who stumbles upon a shadowy enterprise that has the wealthy hunt homeless veterans for sport, headed by the villainous Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). Determined to eliminate any loose ends, Fouchon leads his men to pursue Chance and Natasha Binder (Yancey Butler), the daughter of a murdered veteran, into the swamplands outside of New Orleans.

In one of Van Damme's most memorably bizarre uses of his martial arts prowess, he manages to catch a rattlesnake lowering itself behind an unaware Natasha, with the woman mistaking Chance's actions as coming in for a kiss. Using his lightning-fast reflexes to snatch the rattlesnake and knock it senseless with a well-placed blow to the head, Chance — and by extension, Van Damme — asserts his dominance over the wilderness. While many of Van Damme's best fights pit him against fellow martial artists and well-armed goons, his scuffle with the rattlesnake captures the over-the-top sensibilities of "Hard Target" and sets up the movie's explosive showdown.

14. Double Team pits Van Damme against bizarrely armed goons

Of all of Van Damme's big screen team-ups, perhaps the most unlikely of them all was with former NBA superstar Dennis Rodman in the 1997 action movie "Double Team." Directed by Tsui Hark, the film stars Van Damme as counter-terrorism operative Jack Quinn, who recruits arms dealer Yaz (Rodman) to help him take down terrorist Stavros (Mickey Rourke). After Stavros targets Quinn's family, the action shifts to Rome, with the streets of the Italian capital becoming a war zone as Quinn and Yaz charge into Stavros' trap.

After a chaotic gunfight in the streets, with intelligence operatives battling Stavros' men, Quinn enters a hotel where Stavros was keeping Quinn's pregnant wife Kathryn (Natacha Lindinger). Van Damme proves how quick he is on his feet, facing a gunman concealing a machine gun in a large suitcase and a martial artist wielding a switchblade between his toes. "Double Team" is one of the most bonkers showcases for Van Damme's action movie sensibilities, and this Roman hotel scuffle exemplifies the film's status as something of a guilty pleasure.

13. Double Impact pits Van Damme against a familiar foe

As the title would suggest, the 1991 movie "Double Impact" has Van Damme pull double duty as twin brothers Alex and Chad Wagner, who were separated when their parents were murdered by the Triads. The twins' mother was personally killed by Triad hitman Moon, played by Van Damme's old "Bloodsport" co-star Bolo Yeung, and Chad avenges his mother decades later. With Chad being the less violent of the two Wagner brothers, he quickly finds himself alone and punching above his weight against the lethal Moon.

Moon immediately establishes his physical dominance by throwing a fuel canister at Chad, with his opponent unable to effectively mount a defense against the man who murdered his mother. This changes when Chad is able to leapfrog over Moon as the hitman attempts to charge him, catching the killer off-guard while he goes on the offensive. There's onscreen magic whenever Van Damme and Yeung share a fight scene together, and their showdown in "Double Impact" is one of the most memorable moments in the film.

12. Sudden Death gives Van Damme his strangest opponent of all

Not every action hero can say that they starred in a blockbuster made in cooperation with an NHL team but, of course, not every action hero is Jean-Claude Van Damme. After Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin made a development deal with Universal Pictures, he produced the 1995 action movie "Sudden Death," starring Van Damme as disgraced fire marshal Darren McCord. When a Stanley Cup game in the Pittsburgh Civic Arena is targeted by terrorists pursuing the Vice President, it's up to McCord to save the day while attending the game.

Of all the fights that McCord finds himself in, it's the very first that's the strangest and most memorable of them all as he faces a terrorist disguised as the Penguins' mascot Iceburgh. Taking place in one of the stadium's kitchens, the fight has McCord and his opponent use everything from a deep fryer to a dishwasher as they try to kill each other. While the sight of Van Damme squaring off against the beloved ice hockey mascot is sure to raise more than a few eyebrows, the fight sequence itself is surprisingly effective.

11. Street Fighter offers a deliciously ridiculous finale

"Street Fighter" is admittedly one of the more ludicrous video game adaptations, bringing the iconic fighting game franchise of the same name to the big screen, written and directed by Steven E. de Souza and released in 1994. Van Damme stars as Allied Nations commander Colonel William Guile, who sets out to topple the fearsome dictator M. Bison (Raul Julia) before the tyrant can unleash his genetically engineered super-soldiers. As turgidly paced and tonally uneven as "Street Fighter" is, Guile's showdown with Bison in the finale is a highlight from a film that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

For the entire movie, Guile develops a grudge against Bison after the despot kidnaps and experiments on Guile's best friend Charlie, with the feud coming to a head in the climax. Guile dominates Bison with his superior martial arts skills until Bison activates his tech-equipped suit to turn the tide of battle, forcing Guile to rethink his strategy. With Van Damme and Julia unabashedly chewing the scenery, this final bout revels in the camp that makes "Street Fighter" watchable. 

10. Kickboxer mixes campy dancing with a bar brawl

One Van Damme fight that lives on with particularly entertaining notoriety is the bar brawl sequence from the 1989 martial arts movie "Kickboxer." The film has Van Damme portray amateur kickboxer Kurt Sloane, who rigorously trains himself to avenge his brother Eric (Dennis Alexio) after he is viciously maimed by Thai champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi). Honing his body and mind under the tutelage of his mentor Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), Kurt has his first major test when Xian arranges a group of surly bar patrons to attack his student while he's intoxicated.

As tonally grim as "Kickboxer" can be at times, the resulting bar fight provides much-needed levity while giving Van Damme a showcase for his fighting skills. Drunkenly dancing and showing off just how limber his body is, including a moment to do the splits completely unsolicited, Kurt takes out the disgruntled patrons with relative ease. 26 years later, late night talk show host Conan O'Brien would have Van Damme recreate the fight sequence in the midst of an interview, cementing its prominence in the actor's career.

9. Double Team's explosive climax steals the whole show

While "Double Team" certainly doesn't stand much of a chance of being considered arthouse cinema, it is also an absurdly entertaining film as long as the audience doesn't think too hard about what they're watching. This is clear in the 1997 movie's finale, with Stavros luring Quinn and Yaz into a Roman amphitheater where he keeps a ravenous tiger and loads of landmines planted in the arena's center. While Yaz is preoccupied with the various gunmen lurking around the amphitheater, Quinn fights Stavros himself, with Quinn's infant son dangerously close to the explosive showdown.

In addition to fighting a surprisingly jacked Stavros, Quinn has to contend with the tiger menacing his son and be careful not to accidentally trigger a landmine as he takes on his nemesis. These prominent challenges make what could have been a run of the mill battle into a genuinely memorable action set piece, complete with a laughably placed product placement for Coca-Cola. As gleefully over-the-top as the rest of the movie, the ending of "Double Team" blows up the stakes with fittingly explosive aplomb.

8. In Hell shifts to darker graphic violence for Van Damme

One of the darker entries in Van Damme's filmography is the 2003 action movie "In Hell." Van Damme plays convict Kyle LeBlanc, who's sentenced to life in a Russian prison after killing his wife's murderer. Kyle learns that the warden pits the rival gangs in bouts against each other in the prison yard, often battling to the death as their jailers bet on the outcome. After being regularly harassed and threatened by his fellow inmates, Kyle decides to enter the fights for himself, beginning with his primary tormentor Andrei (Raicho Vasilev).

Van Damme's fights throughout "In Hell" are perhaps his most graphically violent and grim in comparison to the rest of his career, marking a sharp tonal shift to his performance. The opening series of brawls that Kyle engages in quickly sets the tone for the movie, as Kyle sends his aggressors a clear message with traumatically bloody stakes. While Van Damme movies have always included their fair share of violence, "In Hell" goes one step further to contain the goriest fight sequences in his extensive catalog.

7. Nowhere to Run sees Van Damme get down and dirty

Van Damme plays slightly against type as an antihero and escaped convict in the 1993 movie "Nowhere to Run," portraying Sam Gillen, a robber who escapes from a prison bus and lives out in the wilderness. After befriending a single mother named Clydie (Rosanna Arquette) and her children, Sam faces off against a murderous real estate developer, Franklin Hale (Joss Ackland), and his righthand man Dunston (Ted Levine). As Hale and Dunston attempt to seize Clydie's land at gunpoint, Sam arrives in the nick of time to stop this hostile takeover, leading to a drag-out fight with Dunston.

Sam and Dunston's brawl is a dirty, raw skirmish, with the two combatants tumbling off the roof before knocking each other around the farm. That Van Damme's opponent isn't an equally chiseled tough guy makes the fight sequence all the more visceral, with no room for macho posturing in between body blows. As rough around the edges as the overall film is, the climax to "Nowhere to Run" proves Van Damme can deliver a fight that doesn't entirely consist of impossibly graceful martial arts moves.

6. Lionheart showcases a more brutal side for Van Damme

There's just something about Van Damme movies that revolved around underground fighting tournaments, and this distinction carries over to the 1990 film "Lionheart." Van Damme plays Lyon Gaultier, a French legionnaire who deserts his unit after his brother is murdered in Los Angeles, with his family in desperate need of financial assistance for unpaid medical bills. To help his late brother's family recover, Lyon enters the illicit world of underground fight clubs, culminating in a showdown with the undefeated bruiser Attila (Abdel Qissi).

Like the Mountain in "Game of Thrones," Attila is a hulking brawler who takes the opening wave of blows, tiring his opponent before brutally moving in for the kill with particularly sadistic attacks. Lyon painfully discovers this strategy firsthand, with Attila cruelly beating him down repeatedly until the former legionnaire turns the tables on his large enemy. Among Van Damme's more brutal fights, the battle in "Lionheart" gives the actor the opportunity to go the distance and get his hands dirty rather than just effortlessly kick around his opponent.

5. The Expendables 2 is a villainous change of pace

In a rare antagonistic turn, Van Damme menaces his fellow action heroes in the 2012 blockbuster "The Expendables 2," portraying the aptly named Jean Vilain as a rival mercenary leading his own private army. After he ambushes the Expendables and ruthlessly murders their youngest recruit Billy (Liam Hemsworth), the seasoned soldiers of fortune fight Vilain's forces across Europe. As a climactic gunfight erupts in a Bulgarian airport, Expendables leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) corners Vilain, leading to a hand-to-hand brawl between the combat veterans.

Van Damme clearly relishes the opportunity to portray an outright villain, coolly posturing and channeling plenty of menace whenever he faces down the Expendables. As Vilain's duel with Barney escalates, Van Damme more than proves he still has the moves, knocking around his co-star until Barney turns the tables on his sneering opponent. For an excellent showcase at just how effective Van Damme can be as a villain, "The Expendables 2" picks up whenever he is onscreen squaring off with the mercenary team.

4. Timecop provides its own twist on a home invasion fight

Van Damme's most successful foray into the science fiction genre is the 1994 film "Timecop," based on the Dark Horse Comics story of the same name and set in a world where time travel has been made possible. To prevent crimes being committed across the timeline, the government forms the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC), with Van Damme playing TEC operative Max Walker. After learning that Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver) is illegally using funds to finance his presidential campaign, Walker is hunted by McComb's men, with even his own home no longer safe.

In one of the film's earliest fights, Walker's home is raided by assassins while he is sleeping on the couch in the middle of his apartment, with the goons armed with a taser and set of knives. Walker awakens just in time to dispatch each of his would-be killers, ending with Van Damme performing the splits as his final enemy accidentally electrocutes himself. With protagonists in lone wolf action movies proving their worth by defending themselves from a home invasion, "Timecop" is one of the movies that predated the trend.

3. Universal Soldier gives Van Damme his most high-octane co-star

Van Damme's most frequent co-star was fellow action hero Dolph Lundgren, with the two actors first collaborating in the 1992 sci-fi action movie "Universal Soldier." Van Damme and Lundgren star respectively as U.S. Army soldiers Luc Deveraux and Andrew Scott, two men who kill each other in the Vietnam War but are resurrected and augmented through genetic experimentation decades later. As the revived combat veterans acclimate to their new lease on life, they begin to recall their past lives and reignite their deadly feud.

It's clear from the outset that Van Damme and Lundgren have an engaging onscreen rapport, which the two actors would revisit across multiple projects. Their climactic skirmish in "Universal Soldier" has the two old enemies juiced on genetic muscle enhancers, leading to a super-powered showdown with Luc's family caught in the middle. Spawning an entire action movie franchise, "Universal Soldier" has Van Damme and Lundgren clash onscreen while the two actors were in their prime.

2. Kickboxer climaxes in a bloody underground bout

Van Damme followed up his success in "Bloodsport" with the 1989 martial arts movie "Kickboxer," which takes place in the underground fight clubs of Thailand as Van Damme's character Kurt seeks revenge for the brutal beating of his brother Eric. Facing off against the villainous Tong Po, the man who broke Eric's back, both Kurt and his opponent have their hands tied up in roped gauntlets and stuck with nasty shards of broken glass. Believing Eric to be held captive by local crooks, Kurt is convinced he has to torturously go the distance to ensure his brother's survival as he enters the ring.

At a severe disadvantage, Kurt endures the beating of his life, saved by the bell at the end of each round on multiple occasions as he lets the fight draw out. Once Eric reveals that he has escaped from captivity and arrived at the fight to support his brother, a re-energized Kurt quickly puts the hurt on Tong Po. Featuring one of the more brutal fights Van Damme has appeared in, "Kickboxer" puts the martial arts hero through the wringer before giving him the chance to triumphantly turn the tables and do what he does best.

1. Bloodsport gives Van Damme his big break

Van Damme's breakthrough performance as American soldier and martial artist Frank Dux in the 1988 film "Bloodsport" remains a high point in his career, with some genuinely engaging fights. Deserting from the U.S. Army to participate in a secret martial arts tournament known as the Kumite, in the back alleys of Hong Kong, Frank takes on waves of opponents from around the world. Facing Frank at the end of this high-stakes tournament is past champion Chong-Li (Bolo Yeung), leading to a brutal brawl after Chong-Li savagely beats Frank's friend Jackson (Donald Gibb).

There's a lot going on in the climactic bout of "Bloodsport" that makes it particularly memorable, from Frank being forced to rely on his other senses after being temporarily blinded to some tight choreography. Van Damme's role in the film catapulted him into cinemas worldwide as the latest bona fide action hero and it's easy to see why here. Much of Van Damme's career and fight sequences would be judged against the bar set by "Bloodsport," and it remains the gold standard in his filmography.