While Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport is considered an eighties classic now, it sat on the shelf for over a year and was almost dumped.
While Bloodsport, the 1988 martial arts tournament movie, is widely considered by fans to be Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best film, it almost never saw the light of day. Indeed, according to Nick De Semlyen’s book, “Last Action Heroes” (buy it here), the film was deemed unreleasable by Cannon Pictures head Menachem Golan. The film sat on the shelf for fourteen months and was considered so bad that Golan intended to release the movie direct-to-video.
According to the book, Van Damme, who had returned to his old job as a limo driver when the movie wrapped, convinced the studio to allow him to re-edit the film with Towering Inferno editor Carl Press. The two reworked the fight scenes and trimmed down some of the drama, resulting in a faster-paced cut that the studio allowed them to release.
However, in 1988, the studio was on the verge of going under, thanks to their attempt to hit the big time with a trio of would-be blockbusters in 1987. The films Over the Top, Masters of the Universe and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace all tanked at the box office, and in 1988, the studio could barely afford to promote Bloodsport. Thus, JCVD and the film rolled out in Asia and Europe before hitting North America, and by then, the film’s international success meant that the film was already profitable. It only grossed $11.7 million domestically, but overseas, it made over $50 million, all on a budget of only $2.3 million. On VHS, it became one of the biggest-selling titles in the Warner Bros library.
It’s incredible that Menachem Golan didn’t think the film was worth releasing, given how bad some of the product Cannon put out in their heyday was. Most studios would have never released Superman IV in the shape it was in theatres. Of all the films Cannon produced, Bloodsport is arguably the one with the most staying power. It is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the best American Martial Arts movies ever made.
Of course, after Bloodsport was a hit, JCVD was immediately put into two more Cannon films, Cyborg and Death Warrant. But the time the latter film came out, Golan had left the company. If JCVD had been stuck in a long term contract with Cannon, many believe his career would have never taken off. Take for example what happened to Michael Dudikoff. He should have been cast in bigger movies post American Ninja and Avenging Force, rather than smaller films. In many ways, their spendthrift ways doomed him to a career dominated by DTV movies.
Do you think Bloodsport is JCVD’s best movie? Let us know in the comments.