Debate Club: Best Dolph Lundgren Movies
Tag: opinion

Debate Club: The 5 best Dolph Lundgren movies

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Sep 5, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week's installment, we're saluting Hans Lundgren, who the world knows better by the first name he gave himself as an actor, Dolph. The soon-to-be-61-year-old lived several lives before getting in front of the camera. He has a Master's in chemical engineering, he was a model, and he was a bouncer. But once he got a bit part in the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill, Hollywood became his calling, and he soon embodied the imposing opponent of Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.

Does Lundgren have a lot of range? Not really. He plays a type, and in these five films, he plays that type damn well.

The Punisher (1989)

No, not the Thomas Jane one from 2004. No, not the Ray Stevenson one from 2008, either. And no, not the Netflix show with Jon Bernthal, either.

Yeah, there have been a lot of Punishers, but our man Dolph was the first, in a mostly uninspired 1989 movie from the time when comic book movies were a lot rarer than they are now.

This only slightly feels like the Punisher — he's not wearing the skull T-shirt, which is a pretty big difference — and it was so mired in distribution issues that it took two years for it to finally be released in the United States, to little fanfare. If you've gotta skip a Punisher, this is the one to skip.

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Lundgren was always a strange choice for He-Man. He's not exactly the most self-aware, tongue-in-cheek actor, which makes him an odd choice to play someone named, uh, He-Man. Lundgren looks a little lost and bewildered, though the movie itself isn't necessarily all that terrible, and hoo boy does Frank Langella seem to be having a blast playing Skeletor.

They're perpetually trying to remake this movie — check out the names of some of the filmmakers who were attached at one point: John Woo, Rian Johnson, McG, Phil Lord and Chris Miller — and maybe they'll find something for Lundgren to do in it, but it's probably not worth the bother.

The Expendables (2010)

After decades of straight-to-video hell, Lundgren got a shot at redemption thanks to his old buddy Sylvester Stallone, who recruited him as part of an action movie boasting tons of past-their-prime stars.

The Expendables is a junky, old-school shoot-'em-up that benefits from its nostalgia factor, and Lundgren is decent as a vet who gets booted off the team and turns traitor. (Spoiler Alert: All will be forgiven by the end.)

Our favorite part of Lundgren's performance is when he fights the much-shorter Jet Li: "What do you wear, size 3? Bring it, Happy Feet!"

Universal Soldier (1992)

Before there was Independence Day, or Godzilla, or The Day After Tomorrow, or 2012, or even Stargate, there was Universal Soldier, the first big (well, big-ish) budget movie from Roland Emmerich... and the one that was a big enough hit that it begat Stargate, which begat Independence Day, which begat everything.

This isn't half-bad, actually, with a clever premise of two Vietnam-era soldiers (Jean-Claude Van Damme, the good guy, and Lundgren, the bad guy) being reanimated decades later as "universal soldiers" destined to battle it out once again.

Two fun things about Universal Soldier: (1) The scientist who brings them back is played by Jerry Orbach; and (2) The movies were revived more than 20 years later by director John Hyams, with both Van Damme and Lundgren returning, and those movies are both pretty good!

Rocky IV (1985)

Lundgren shouldn't have gotten the part that changed his life.

"I was too tall," he recalled in 2015, revealing that Stallone didn't want someone who would tower over him by a good seven inches for the part of elite boxer Ivan Drago. "I wanted the role. I knew I could fight, and I knew the guy was supposed to be Russian, so I said, 'This is perfect for me.'"

He was right. While it's possible that not a day of Lundgren's life has gone by since Rocky IV premiered without someone coming up to him and saying, "I must break you," the fact remains that he perfectly embodied Drago — and that his height was part of what made him look indestructible.

Sure, fine, Rocky IV is a pretty so-so Rocky movie — it's very much a product of its time, channeling U.S.-versus-the-Soviets tension — but Lundgren is a terrifically terrifying villain, showing no emotion and delivering blows with utter violence and precision. He's more machine than man — which is why, when Drago finally bleeds, it's such a powerful moment.

 

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.