Jean Claude Van Damme could beat your ass. Like, he could obviously beat you up in a fight, but also, if you entered an Ass Notoriety Contest with him, his ass could beat your ass.
It’s not the most common thing, an action star being famed for how frequently the camera lingers on his clenched buttocks, but ass is marbled through his career like fat through a steak. An appearance on Conan immediately becomes a conversation about asses. His famous cameo in Friends mentions his ability to crack a walnut with his buttocks (btw, the world record for doing this stands at 43 nuts in one minute, held by Japan’s Tomoharu Shoji). When a statue of him was unveiled in his native Brussels, people tried to stick their finger in its butthole.
This week saw the release of Welcome to Sudden Death, a reboot of the 1995 Van Damme firefighter-turned-security-guard hockey/assassination film. The follow-up is Van Damme devoid, instead starring the awesome Michael Jai White (Spawn, Black Dynamite), who has formerly starred opposite the Muscles From Brussels in 1999’s Universal Soldier: The Return. Hockey is replaced with basketball (a sport that doesn’t use the term “sudden death” but whatevs), a firefighting past is replaced with one in the military, and unlike Van Damme, White doesn’t seem like he’s constantly tensing all of the muscles in his bottom.
But you think Van Damme, you think ass. Dude’s constantly getting it out or clenching the fuck out of it, tensed buttocks stretching the fabric of his unusually high-waisted slacks. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of his rear end’s moments in the sun. This is by no means a complete list — the guy has 75 credits on IMDb — but there’s plenty of Belgian butt in here for everyone.
Sudden Death (1995)
Sudden Death is great, and one of many 1990s Die Hard-a-likes. Can former firefighter Darren McCord both subdue a crew of terrorists and make the final of the Stanley Cup go into overtime? Or will the villainous Powers Boothe’s plan — pay him the specific but cartoonish sum of one billion, seven hundred million dollars or “everyone in this box and in this arena will die, by explosion, fire and panic” — come to fruition? Despite being excellent — at one point Van Damme is in real danger of being killed with a meat tenderizer wielded by a one-eyed giant penguin — it’s one of JCVD’s less glute-centric films.
Hard Target (1995)
The mullet gets a bad rap. It’s a totally fine hairstyle, it just sometimes finds itself on the wrong heads. And who suits “business in the front, party in the back” more than Jean-Claude Van Damme? He’s in the business of kicking people in front of him in the head, and out back, well, he’s constantly flexing the muscles in his bottom — what a party! While there’s no nudity in Hard Target, Van Damme does constantly seem like he’s clenching.
Death Warrant (1990)
If you’re doing a prison movie, you show the camera your bottom. It’s one of Hollywood’s golden rules. There’s another scene in Death Warrant where Van Damme has a minute-long conversation with the late, great Robert Guillaume (of Benson and voicing Rafiki in The Lion King fame), where Guillame is seated and a very sweaty Van Damme is stooped over the table, and it’s pretty much photographed up Van Damme’s denimed a-hole. They might as well have filmed it using an endoscope.
Universal Soldier (1992)
Unusually for any franchise, the later Universal Soldier films are the best-renowned — 2009’s Regeneration and 2012’s Day of Reckoning are almost universally agreed to be considerably better than the four that came before them. However, they don’t feature a naked Jean-Claude Van Damme bending over to talk through his legs to a woman with her head right next to his ass. While nary a buttock is shown in the scene, the air is full of bottom — actress Ally Walker’s face is mere inches from Belgium’s most famous dumper for way more of the scene than anyone should reasonably expect.
Nowhere to Run (1993)
Van Damme is known, of course, as The Muscles from Brussels, a fortuitous bit of rhyming — that is where he’s from, and his physicality is his selling point. If he was born elsewhere in Belgium he’d have had a way shitter nickname. The Rear End from Ostend? The Arse from Aalst? Rubbish. Anyway, in Nowhere To Run (which features a 10-year-old, vastly pre-Succession Keiran Culkin), he flashes his dirtbox while clambering out of a pond.
Maximum Risk (1995)
Van Damme occupies a strange place in the pantheon of big-screen musclemen. He’s much more overtly sexual than Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Seagal, with a lot of his films featuring soft-focus sex scenes and what seems like at least an acknowledgement of, or bid for, the female gaze. Plus really tongue-y kissing. He laps away at his co-stars’ mouths like a kitten going to town on a saucer of milk. It’s pretty gross!
While Schwarzenegger specialized in emotionless killing machines, Stallone in traumatized bruisers and Seagal in, like, former CIA agents just trying to do their bit for the environment while wearing jackets with sick dragons on, the young Van Damme was always at his most convincing as an athlete. You can’t really buy him as a normal guy — he fights like someone who has trained for years to be really good at it. (A quick aside: Anyone with even a slight interest in Steven Seagal is strongly encouraged to read Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal by Vern, the greatest book that will ever be written about the man.)
Maximum Risk — in which Van Damme plays a cop who discovers he has a dead twin brother embroiled in trouble with the mafia and FBI — saw him moving to change this and incorporate more realistic grappling into his fighting, perhaps at the behest of awesome Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam (Hong Kong directors seem to really like working with Van Damme — Lam, John Woo, Tsui Hark and Corey Yuen all made their Hollywood debuts with him). There are still balletic kicks, but there are grunt-laden, head-bashing, gut-punching fights, too.
One fight takes place in a sauna, and while everyone else in the sauna is wearing a normal-sized towel, Van Damme is for some reason wearing a really little one. It’s pretty much a miniskirt. It’s like that bit in Starsky and Hutch. Throughout the fight, it really seems like it’s going to come loose and his ass and junk’ll just be flying everywhere. Then halfway through the scene, the massive guy he’s fighting throws him through a table and he’s suddenly wearing a bigger one. The magic of Hollywood!
Black Eagle (1988)
Van Damme has a large, very noticeable lump on his forehead. There are various theories about it — Van Damme himself told Playboy it was a cyst, and fans have theorized it might be a lump of bone formed by years of impacts. But neither of those theories hold water, because it can’t be something that happened to him — it has to have been something he was born with. This is proved in Double Impact, where he plays identical twins separated at birth who both have the same large, very noticeable lump on their foreheads, and in Maximum Risk, where he plays identical twins separated at birth who both have the same large, very noticeable lump on their foreheads, and in Replicant, where he plays a serial killer and the serial killer’s friendly clone, both of whom have the same large, very noticeable lump on their foreheads.
Could it be… a mystical third buttock? In several Eastern religions, the third eye opens your consciousness and allows you to make the journey toward enlightenment. It makes sense that JCVD would have the ass equivalent of that — a buttcheek on his head that allows him to access his inner ass, his interior posterior. Or it’s the stump of a horn, and he’s part unicorn.
Anyway, in Black Eagle there’s a bit where he does the splits between two oil drums while practicing knife-throwing, and the dude’s cheeks are strainin’.
Van Damme didn’t let the almost total lack of women in Legionnaire stop him from taking his pants off — a “Hey, here’s my butt” scene where half the cast shower together was reportedly added at his request. The 1990s, the peak decade of his career, was coming to an end, and he might have just been giving it his all to try and sustain things. However, Legionnaire went straight to video in the States. As described by Slate: “Jean-Claude has made gratuitous nudity an important part of his career. Whether he’s playing a serial killer, a time-traveling cop, an off-duty firefighter, a day laborer or a member of the French Foreign Legion, he always manages to wind up in situations that require him to bare his muscular bottom.”
The man born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg has had his share of ups and downs. He’s been through several divorces, battled cocaine addiction and bipolar disorder, and reportedly had a brief period of homelessness. Despite some hefty paydays, he’s not made the wisest of financial decisions — he once rejected a three-film deal worth $12 million per film, demanding $20 million and leading instead to the offer being rescinded.
The 2000s saw Van Damme become something of a punchline. He was no longer a draw at the box-office or even a presence there, appearing mainly in low-budget, straight-to-DVD films, shot quickly and often carelessly. The boyish good looks of his early years had given way to a cragginess, the expertly-choreographed fights to sloppier efforts.
In the 2008 film J.C.V.D., the ass on display is Jean-Claude Van Damme himself, a damaged man displaying painful awareness of his fall from grace, speaking straight to the camera about the mistakes he’s made. It’s a bold decision and a striking performance, with Van Damme baring not his ass but his soul. His ass-soul. (Similarly self-aware but in a funnier, less “oh, fucking hell” way, is Amazon Prime’s 2016 series Jean-Claude Van Johnson, in which Van Damme is revealed to be a secret agent. It’s fun!)
Lionheart, aka AWOL, features an ass-out scene that Van Damme specifically requested. Director Sheldon Lettich later told Birth Movies Death: “He asked me if he might casually drop his towel and show off his butt for a brief moment. My reply was, “Sure, if you’re willing, why not? We can always use a different take later if we decide it’s not a good idea.” So we did one take where he casually lets the towel drop away, and then we later decided to go ahead and put that shot in the movie. […] Showing off his butt, clothed or unclothed, almost became a signature trademark of his after that.”
Timecop features arguably the greatest splits of Van Damme’s career, which means it features the greatest splits ever filmed. In futuristic 2004, the titular temporal policeman is attacked in his apartment at night, clad only in his underpants. After a not-amazing knife fight (he’s much more of a legs-based athlete), Van Damme finds himself prone on the floor in a pool of spilled water, about to get stun-gunned to smithereens. Not today, he thinks, and launches himself into an airborne split from one kitchen counter to another, ending up in an incredibly unlikely, extraordinarily buttocky pose.
There’s a controversial trope in comic books, where artists drawing female characters insist on putting them in skeletally implausible poses to show off both their backsides and chests — as MEL contributor Rob Bricken has pointed out in the past, in the animal kingdom, it’s known as “presenting.” It’s very silly, incredibly sexist and requires some really talented people to wilfully forget what the human body is actually capable of. Except Jean-Claude Van Damme’s body — the pose they’re going for is pretty much exactly what he manages, between the dishwasher and the sink, in Timecop.
Bloodsport is Donald Trump’s favorite film, but don’t hold that against it. Much like a stopped clock being right twice a day, even the biggest of assholes will sometimes get something right. With Trump, it’s Bloodsport and the video for Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain.”
Bloodsport was a star-making vehicle for Van Damme, one he got by approaching producer Menahem Golam and demonstrating his nearly-kick-you-in-the-face trick. He had been in L.A. for six years, scraping by as a bouncer and extra, but the peak of his career thus far was playing a Russian baddie in the unamazing No Retreat, No Surrender. As relayed in that same Playboy interview, he begged the producer to take a punt on him, imploring: “I came to this country with $40 and I have nothing and I hope one day I can be somebody. […] I’m inexpensive and I’m very good. You can make so much money with me, you can make me a star.”
Did he show his ass in it? You bet he did, in a post-sex putting-his-underpants-on scene where he seems to pull ‘em up, pull ‘em down and pull ‘em up again. Bloodsport also established Van Damme’s attitude toward doing the splits, namely that there’s no good time not to do them (he’d done them on the ropes of a boxing ring in No Retreat, No Surrender, but this was the film that established them as His Thing). Preparing for a fight? Do the splits overlooking all of Hong Kong. Thinking about how a fight went? Do the splits between two chairs in a hotel room. Mid-fight? Do the splits and punch your opponent in the perineum while screaming.
According to impressive research by film writer Mark Hofmeyer, films in which Van Damme does his trademark splits fare better with reviewers than those in which he doesn’t. Movies with three or more splits averaged a 52.6 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, while those with none averaged just 38.6 percent.
Van Damme can dance. In fact, if you type his name slightly drunk (or following a blow to the head), it’s easy enough to end up with Jean-Claude Can Dance. The C’s right there next to the V, the N next to the M. (The C in “Dance” is caused, perhaps, by a drop of blood falling from your kicked-in forehead.)
In fact, in his younger days, Van Damme spent five years doing ballet training, later stating that if you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive anything. His dancing skills have never been better displayed than in Kickboxer, in a widely-imitated, completely incredible dance. As Eric Sloane, a hot-headed young American in Thailand out to avenge his brother’s vicious beating, Van Damme begs a muay thai trainer for help. The trainer, eager to see what he’s dealing with, gives him a bunch of booze and suggests he dance. After some genuinely great drunk acting, he segues into a dance — a really wide dance — that he seamlessly integrates a split into.
It’s this split — ass to the floor, ass up in the air again, ass back to the floor — that finally spurs the increasingly pissed-off bargoers around him to attack. It’s an asstastic performance, and one you can’t imagine any other movie star doing, a peculiar mix of completely non-ironic playfulness, faux-naivete and genuine athleticism. And in the big fight at the end, he’s wearing a weird G-stringy loincloth thing that conceals his thunder and nothing else. It’s a very strange garment.
Double Impact (1991)
Not to be confused with 1997’s Double Team, which sees Van Damme paired with Dennis Rodman, Double Impact stars Van Damme opposite… Van Damme. He plays estranged brothers who team up to do some walloping. A 1991 piece in the Washington Post describes Van Damme’s performance in Double Impact: “His lower regions are swathed in very tight black jeans. Thousands die.”
Double Impact was inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers and Jeremy Irons’ performance in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, but more than that, two Van Dammes mean four Van Damme buttocks, and it’s Ass City, this film. There’s a Cinemax-esque sex scene with Alonna Shore, and the climactic fight with Bolo Yeung is preceded by a scene where Van Damme, right after punching a guy dead in silhouette, drops into shot and his keister is, bam, right in your face. Considering he’s not trying to hide behind anything, it’s a really noticeably low squat, you know?
But, dear God, the most “Hey, everyone, look at my ass!” scene in Van Damme’s career, and cinema in general, comes near the beginning, where Chad (the, like, gentler of the brothers?) demonstrates the splits to an enthusiastic yoga class.
“Because of my big legs — and karate — I can do the splits, no problem!” he boasts, sliding his lycra-ed ass to the floor to admiring gasps from the women around him. “Pow! Pow!” say his buttcheeks. It’s ridiculous, and hard not to make fun of, but it’s also undeniably impressive, just like the man himself.
Well done, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Well done, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ass.