Sly Stallone. Jet Li. Jean-Claude Van Damme. Chuck Norris. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bruce Willis. Dolph Lundgren. Jason Statham.
Not only would this list of names fill the action section of any movie collection, but they all share one screen in the sequel to the over-the-top exploitaction summer hit, The Expendables 2, which lands on Blockbuster store shelves this week.
And that’s a good enough reason for a walk down nostalgic lane as we look back at some of our favorite forgotten action flicks these box office powerhouses have given us over the years…
Why we love him: Sly’s had a renaissance in the last few years, with sequels to his Rocky and Rambo franchises that actually told great stories. His drunken Italian drawl is as trademark as his Rocky statue (still standing in Philadelphia), and he’s proven he has some decent range (remember Cop Land, anyone?).
First Film: Although he had a starring role previous to this one, Lords of Flatbush (1974) was his first wide-release starring spot, alongside a very Fonzie-esque Henry Winkler.
Favorite forgotten flick: There’s a few that leap to mind, but we’re gonna stick with Cobra (1986). It’s got a high body count, a cadre of toss-off one-liners, a pre-Flava-Flav Brigitte Nielsen and a bitchin’ gloss gray, custom 1950 Mercury.
Quotable: “You’re the disease… and I’m the cure.”
Why we love him: The only thing filled with more car wrecks and explosions than his film canon is his personal and political life. He’s pure spectacle, whether on or off the screen.
First Film: Like Stallone, there were others before this one. But Conan The Barbarian (1982) is what catapulted the Governator into our national consciousness.
Favorite forgotten flick: Last Action Hero (1993) was a remarkably clever self-parody that lampooned the action flick genre with slick humor, big-budget production and a great supporting cast that included Anthony Quinn, Art Carney and even Sir Ian McKellen.
Quotable: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and Hamlet is taking out the trash.”
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Why we love him: The “Muscles from Brussels” is a far cry from his childhood as a Belgium-bred ballet dancer. He’s anchored a slew of B-action martial arts flicks, a few of which were actually pretty decent. Plus, he had a turn on Friends, playing himself. So, that’s kinda cool.
First Film: After a few bit parts (including a role as a dancer in Breakin’ in 1984)and a medium-grade villain role in No Retreat, No Surrender, Van Damme’s big break came in Bloodsport (1987).
Favorite forgotten flick: Lionheart, hands down. JC plays a French Foreign Legionnaire who goes AWOL to avenge his brother’s murder and take of his brother’s family. Which he accomplishes by – of course – fighting in an underground ring.
Quotable: “Sometimes life is… is… ugly. And stupid. And mean.”
Why we love him: Between The Transporter and Crank franchises, Jason Statham’s steely, square jawed, eye-of-the-hurricane approach to action has lifted multiple would-be B movies to A list box office hits. Plus, he was awesome as Handsome Rob in The Italian Job (2003).
First Film: Despite the fact that we could only understand every fourth word of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), we still loved it.
Favorite forgotten flick: Yes, The One was a Jet Li vehicle, but Statham’s role as cheeky sidekick to Delroy Lindo’s bitter, aging veteran dimension-hopping cop was a show-stealing turn.
Quotable: “In this, you exist. In another you don’t exist. In another, you’re married to the same woman. In another, you’re married to a different woman. In another, you’re married to a man.”
Why we love him: Not since Bruce Lee has there been someone with such a combination of incredible martial arts awesomeness and big screen charisma. Jet Li was a Wushu champion in Beijing before retiring to cinema and eventually migrating to the States to beat up pretty much everyone.
First Film: Already a star overseas, Jet Li’s big break came as a riveting arch-villain in Lethal Weapon 4. Without Li, the franchise would have died a gasping irrelevant death in this installment instead of galloping off into a bright, $285 million box office sunset.
Favorite forgotten flick: We love Romeo Must Die, not just because it also starred the dearly departed Aaliyah, but because it was about a 30-times better take on Romeo and Juliet than that weird version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes.
Quotable: “Here’s the deal, Meatball. You let me go, I let you live.”