Ranking the best and most ultimate action movies from the great Dolph Lundgren!
A two times winner of the European Karate championship, Dolph Lundgren’s impressive physical statue together with his charismatic face were perfect prerequisites for the Swedish behemoth to play only the toughest of action heroes.
His role as Soviet boxing berserker Ivan Drago in Rocky IV was a spectacular debut, and the starting point for a long and successful career that brought us many great genre classics. By now, he’s recognized as one of the great action legends, and in this list we present you the ten most kick-ass flicks he made so far in his long and successful career.
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10) Bridge of Dragons (1999)
For many people who have only a passing interest in action movies, many of them appear cheesy and ridiculous. But even as true fans sometimes in our heart we know that a movie is only good because it’s bad. We can still love them wholeheartedly, and Bridge of Dragons is one of those movies for me. In a far away land, the ruthless general Ruechang kills the king, and intends to crown himself by marrying the late king’s daughter Halo. Halo manages to flee, and Ruechang sends his best warrior Warchild to capture her.
Bridge of Dragons made the interesting attempt to cross a medieval fairly tale with a modern action movie. It could be considered a failure with its tons of mindless action, stiff acting, and dialogues that sound like they were literally taken from a children’s night-time reading book. But somehow out of this mess emerges a film that is really entertaining.
The action is all rather generic, but whenever things seem to slow down just a bit, something blows up, stuntmen are jumping from their trampolines, and we’re back on track. Dolph as Warchild gets to do a couple of nice fights and stoically endures any absurdities the script throws at him. Bridge of Dragons is cheesy and charming, and a moronic smile appears on my face whenever I watch it.
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9) Masters of the Universe (1987)
Two years after his explosive debut in Rocky IV, Lundgren got the opportunity to head his first movie Masters of the Universe, the live-action version of the popular 1980s cartoon series. He had almost no acting experience at this point, but considering this he is actually giving a decent performance. His primary asset at that time were his looks, and as He-Man he gets plenty of opportunity to flex his muscles and kick some ass. The story: He-Man and his crew fight against the evil wizard Skeletor, first on their home planet Eternia, and later on Earth where they are transported by accident.
The movie is a colorful affair with great costumes and a couple of nice sets. It was the one of the most expensive movies of the Cannon Studios ever, and a massive bomb at the box office. It’s major problem is that there’s never anything really exciting going on, especially the action, while entertaining enough, is fairly mediocre. One may even wonder where all the budget went, if George Lucas managed to shoot The Empire Strikes Back for less money a few years earlier. Despite all this, Masters of the Universe is a good time waster, and has even become a bit of a cult flick for some people in recent years.
8) The Expendables 2 (2012)
The first Expendables movie saw Lundgren return to the big screen after a long time, and turned out to be a fun medley of old-school action. His role as friendly lunatic Gunner was fairly small, the same goes for the third installment. The second Expendables gave him a lot more room, and albeit still in a supporting role, he gets to take part in some memorable scenes. This time the Expendables are out to get arms dealer Jean Vilain and his five tons of stolen plutonium. The formula is the same as in the first part, ironic humor and old-school action are still a perfect mix. There’s more fun cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in addition to Jean-Claude Van Damme in his first villain role ever, we are treated with one of the rare recent appearances by maestro Chuck Norris himself.
Another great aspect is that Lundgren gets some opportunities to poke fun at himself. Boasting about his chemical engineering degree and a MIT fellowship (both which Lundgren received in his life), Gunner fails miserably in improvising an explosive to blast open the exit of a collapsed cave entrance. And in another conversation he reveals his favorite Swedish meal (”baby seal and whale ass”). Lundgren, just as the rest of the cast, made sure that the whole Expendables series became an awesome throwback to the action movies we love.
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7) The Punisher (1989)
The first adaptation of the Marvel comic book series is a really nice piece of 1980s action fare. It’s certainly on par with the two other Punisher movies that followed in the 2000s. Frank Castle is The Punisher, an ex-cop whose family was murdered by the mafia. Since then, he’s been living underground (literally), and killing dozens of mafia members. The Yakuza take the opportunity to fill the power vacuum created by Castle, and he finds himself in the middle of a bloody turf war.
The Punisher was the first R-rated Marvel movie, and started a tradition that almost all of them (most notably the Blade and Deadpool series) were better than everything else emerging from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Lundgren portrays a grim character with a tragic background that find himself regularly at the center of all sorts of mayhem, such as a throwing grenades at an endless stream of ninjas coming down slides in an arcade hall. The Punisher scores high as a kick-ass action movie with with Lundgren in top form.
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6) The Russian Specialist (2005)
In the 2000s, Lundgren started to direct some of his movies, and The Russian Specialist (aka The Mechanik) is his best work as a director by a good margin. It’s another low-budget actioner, but one that turns out to be a gripping and intense affair. Ex-Spetznaz operative Nikolai lives a secluded life in the US. He is asked to free a millionaire’s daughter from the captivity of Russian mafia boss Sasha, who killed Nikolai’s wife many years ago. Nikolai returns to Russia to carry out his mission and get his revenge.
A personal tragedy intertwined with a human trafficking story sets a dark tone for the movie, and the film lives off its dense and depressive atmosphere to large extent. All characters are fairly fatalistic, and there is rarely an uplifting scene. The action sequences fit right in, they’re brutal and raw, and culminate in a spectacular 40-minute finale with the vibe of a classic Western showdown. Dolph gives a great performance portraying a tormented character who still does what needs to be done to finish the job and get his vengeance. The Russian Specialist is a hard-boiled action thriller and melancholic road trip at the same time, and an absolute highlight of Dolph’s DTV era.
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5) Skin Trade (2014)
Tony Jaa and Dolph Lundgren team up in Skin Trade to crush a human trafficking ring run by the Serbian mafia in Thailand. This topic is not the best premise for a “fun” action movie, and Skin Trade is indeed pervaded by a grim atmosphere throughout with some fairly brutal violence and disturbing scenes. The story moves at a frantic pace with tons of great fight scenes for both Jaa and Lundgren. Lundgren shows that he’s still got it, and delivers another intense portrayal of a tragic character.
Not unexpectedly, though, Jaa steals the show from him in the action scenes. His martial arts prowess is one of the best to ever be seen on screen, and even though in Skin Trade his stunts and fights do not have the insanity of movies like Ong Bak, it’s all still very impressive. Skin Trade is a rare gem of modern action cinema, an uncompromising action thriller that has everything any action fan could ever wish for.
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4) Red Scorpion (1988)
Lundgren’s second movie in a lead role put him yet again in the role of a Soviet character, just like in Rocky IV. Spetznaz operative Nikolai is sent to an African country to assassinate a local rebel leader. Arriving there, he witnesses the atrocities committed by the Soviet military and their Cuban allies. He discovers his conscience, switches sides, and the show is on! Red Scorpion gets a slightly unusual vibe thanks to many moments that have an almost meditative atmosphere for an action movie. There is a particularly kitschy interlude where Nikolai gets rescued from dying in the desert by a tribe of indigenous people, and is imbued afterwards with the mystical powers of the red scorpion.
The film still features plenty of violent escapades with shootouts and explosions filmed against the beautiful backdrop of the Namibian desert. Especially for the showdown the pyrotechnics department went completely nuts, and must have booked a fair amount of over-hours. Lundgren is quite convincing in his role despite not doing much in terms of acting, but his coarse and laconic behavior works well enough for his character. While being a bit slow at times Red Scorpion is a nice package that cemented Dolph’s reputation as rising action star.
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3) Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
Two wise-ass LA cops that also happen to be martial arts masters go after a Yakuza gang. On the side they indulge in a friendly macho competition with testosterone levels amped to the absolute maximum. With Showdown in Little Tokyo, we got the unstoppable combination of Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee as cop buddies. The film may be Lundgren’s most upbeat performance in an action movie, with him and Lee cracking corny jokes all the time. The movie was another upward step in Brandon Lee’s career, which ended tragically with a deadly accident while filming The Crow only a few years later. Lee certainly had the looks, charisma and fighting skills needed to become more popular.
Just like with his other classic Commando, director Mark L. Lester is only interested in campy action and nothing else, and gives both Lee and Lundgren plenty of opportunity to show off their martial arts skills. The action is as good as it can get, including classic moves such as throwing people through a shop window or into bar shelves, there’s always some exciting stuff going on. Showdown in Little Tokyo is practically perfect, a fun old-school romp with plenty of over-the-top action, low-brow humor and a good on-screen chemistry between Lundgren and Lee.
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2) Rocky IV (1985)
Rocky IV is a spectacular sports drama with a jaw-dropping intensity. It’s epic, schmaltzy, and political, but that is what makes it so unique, it’s uncompromising in every respect. A great cinematography and soundtrack do the rest to create the ultimate sports action movie. The Soviet boxer Ivan Drago visits the US to showcase his superior skills, and Rocky and Apollo Creed accept his challenge. Rocky’s fight against Drago becomes extremely personal, and culminates in a fina; confrontation between the two on Russian territory.
Rocky and Drago fight the proxy war between the US and the USSR in the most entertaining way one can imagine. Lundgren’s character Ivan Drago is a robot-like creature, unable to show even the slightest compassion. Dolph was not really an actor in his first role, but his impressive physical statue, threatening posture, and top-notch fighting skills opened up other doors in Hollywood for him. With Rocky IV, Stallone created one of the greatest sports movies, and I think it’s fair to say that Dolph Lundgren contributed a lot to its success and popularity.
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1) Universal Soldier (1992)
Appearances of two action superstars in the same movie were rare until The Expendables. Universal Soldier was one of the first, and put Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren against each other. Just like our number two in this ranking, our top movie also features Lundgren in a villain role. Luc Deveraux gets killed in the Vietnam war while trying to prevent his superior officer Andrew Scott, who also dies in the fight, from committing war crimes. Both of their their bodies are preserved, and a secret government program turns them into supersoldiers. 20 years later, they are activated as a special intervention unit, but the old death feud between Deveraux and Scott quickly re-surfaces.
Roland Emmerich’s campy mix of Robocop and Dead Heat gets away without telling a compelling story or presenting interesting characters, and just goes for complete carnage instead. Van Damme gives a goofy performance that is not without charm, but Lundgren easily kicks the most ass in this movie, as psychopathic cyborg soldier that leaves a trail of death and destruction during his personal war with Deveraux. From the classic necklace made from enemies’ ears, to grenade-throwing contests, Dolph gets to do all the mayhem and delivers the coolest lines. No doubt, Universal Soldier is a true action movie classic, and marks the highlight of Lundgren’s movie career for the Ultimate Action Movie Club.
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