In honor of Friday's release of Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables, featuring a raft of action heroes, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of the most notable science fiction films in which the cast members have appeared.
Since The Expendables is more about the joy of the action and the bluster of the machismo on display, I have given no regard to perceived quality (or lack thereof) in ranking these films. Instead, I'm thinking more about the fun and excitement of seeing men kicking ass and blowing s*** up. And I've tried to include a film for each of the cast members, though the choices do get hard. We begin, however, with a double dose for Sir Stallone (since he directed and co-wrote, in addition to playing the starring role).
1. Demolition Man
This is not, I'm afraid, a good movie, despite all the explosions and wisecracks and wacky production design and the presence of the adorable and eternally cute Sandra Bullock. The action sequences are poorly staged and there's far too much attention paid to Wesley Snipes as Simon Phoenix, who gets old fast. (Yes, you want him to die -- quickly, so he'll stop hogging the story.) Stallone, however, manages the trick of representing the viewer in the movie, without resorting to staring at the camera. He gives a bravura performance as an exasperated man out of time who just wants to bust the bad guy. And when it all comes together in a few scenes, it's magic.
2. Judge Dredd
The movie is dragged down by a weird combination of the all-too-wacky Rob Schneider and the all-too-solemn Max von Sydow and Armand Assante. Yet once again, Stallone powers through the odd tonal changes and delivers his own kind of stolid tough guy heroics. It's not enough the save the flick, but it does make for some mighty entertaining moments. And I can't stop giggling whenever I hear him bellow: "I am the law!"
3. The One
This one covers both Jet Li and Jason Statham, who first teamed up nine years ago for James Wong's goofy multi-universe pic, whose highlight is undoubtedly the spectacle of good Jet Li battling multiple versions of bad Jet Li. Poor Jet often seems to be saying to himself, 'What the hell did I sign up for? I don't understand any of this,' a sentiment shared by much of the audience, as I recall. Statham, an up-and-coming actor at the time, makes a mark with his distinctive, low-key confidence.
4. Universal Soldier
I've never fully appreciated what some call the genius of Dolph Lundgren, so I've probably missed out on some classics. (Is his performance as He-Man in Masters of the Universe a misunderstood classic?) Roland Emmerich's rollicking 1992 action flick features Dolph as a monstrous military weapon, brought back from the dead. First he's a comrade of Jean-Claude Van Damme, then he reverts to his evil, evil ways.
5. Iron Man 2
Mickey Rourke whips some new life into the franchise, though I wish he had more of an opportunity to strut his stuff. Still, he played a convincing Eastern European villain with a grudge, and the 'whip vs. race car' sequence is pretty terrific, as Ivan Vanko stands toe to toe with Tony Stark.
6. Death Race
One more for Statham, this time in a starring role in Paul W.S. Anderson's "re-imagining" of Paul Bartel's much more bracing, if dated, original. I found much of the film to be a grating bore, all whiz-bang action with no bite or wit, but Statham has such a strong presence that he rises above the garbage that surrounds him.
7. Death Race 2000
Since I've included the inferior remake, it seems only right to include its inspiration, and give credit to a pre-Rocky Stallone, playing a brutal competitor in a game of death. Sly juices things up as one of the less-principled drivers in the cross-country race, doing whatever it takes to take down David Carradine and claim the champion's prize.
Dipping below the headliners allows me to showcase Terry Crews, who memorably played the stupid yet opportunistic President Camacho in Mike Judge's hilarious, under-appreciated flick.
9. The Fifth Element
Now we get to the cameo players, and Bruce Willis' finest moment as a blonde-haired taxi driver. Luc Besson's film is still a visual delight, and it has enough crazy energy to fuel any five movies you can name. Thus its inclusion here, winning out over other worthy candidates such as Twelve Monkeys and Armageddon.
10. The Running Man
Tempting as it is to dip into the Terminator pool, or bask in the perverted glory of Total Recall, the sci-fi movie on Arnold Schwarzenegger's resume that most reflects the spirit of The Expendables is, in my estimation, this adaptation of Stephen King. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser and scripted by Steven E. de Souza, the film has a gleefully wicked, berserk spirit that sticks in your brain long after it's over.
Now it's your turn. What are your favorites?