This week, you'll see a familiar rugged face on The CW's Arrow. Dolph Lundgren, one of the premiere action stars of the 1980s and 1990s (he played Ivan "I must break you" Drago in Rocky IV), starts an arc as a Russian villain who will do battle with Oliver Queen.
As a kid of the '80s and '90s, anytime I see one of these muscle-bound heroes today, I get giddy with nostalgia and look for my old kickboxing gear in my basement and practice my best war cry. But sadly, it doesn't happen often enough. Here are instances when it did happen, thank the television gods!
(Note: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger aren't on the list since their TV credits were unimpressive. Although Schwarzenegger did appear on a 2015 episode of Two and a Half Men.)
The Swedish muscle machine followed in Arnold Schwarzenegger's footsteps as a European import who either killed the bad guys or was the bad guy, starring in films such as The Punisher, Red Scorpion and Rocky IV, which legitimized "I must break you" as a playground taunt. But the beefy guy also dabbled in television, making guest appearances on Chuck and Workaholics. However, his true crowning achievement was playing John Eriksson in the barely remembered 2013 series SAF3, a syndicated drama about the Sea, Air and Fire divisions of the Malibu (of course) Fire Department. Yes, it was a cheap knockoff of Baywatch. In 2013. Of Baywatch.
Seagal's totally chill form of martial arts — which looked like a combo of slapping and "wax on, wax off" — was his signature style in dozens of three-word action films in which Seagal battled Jamaicans, oil companies and mobsters. But by the late 1990s, Seagal's films could only be found at your local Blockbuster or drug stores' bargain bins. Seagal, however, has the coolest television credit of anyone on this list with the 2009 A&E docuseries Steven Seagal: Lawman, which followed the Ponytailed One as he acted as a reserve deputy sheriff in Louisiana and later Arizona. Yes, if you missed this glorious piece of COPS-like entertainment, you missed Seagal pulling people over for outstanding warrants and then getting recognized by the mind-blown perps. Seagal also starred in and created True Justice, an action series that debuted in Spain — which should tell you everything you need to know — before finally coming to the States via Reelz Channel in 2012.
Before battling the IRS in real life, Snipes beat up everyone in films such as New Jack City, Murder at 1600 and Passenger 57 and he's best known (or should be best known) for playing the half-vampire half-badass supernatural superhero Blade in the Blade trilogy. And though he has the usual pre-stardom television credits that include characters like "Young Soldier," Snipes never had a regular TV gig until 2015's The Player, in which he played a member of a secret organization that gambled on crime, and for some reason often fought with things in his hand, like a jacket or cell phone. It was canceled after nine episodes, but the dream for Snipes in primetime lives on!
Jean-Claude Van Damme
The Muscles from Brussels did the splits that made the hits, with movies such as Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Double Impact and Universal Soldier. As one of the more self-aware action heroes of the era, JCVD made a memorable cameo on a 1996 episode of Friends as the target of Rachel and Monica's hormones. He also starred in his own British reality show, Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors. But he really went meta with his new Amazon series Jean-Claude Van Johnson, in which he plays an action star who is secretly a super spy. It's totally corny and fun, just like all the movies he made when tried to be serious.
The most successful of the punchy actors of the '80s and '90s to turn to television has to be Norris, the only one of them to have a starring role on a major TV series for a considerable amount of time. Sure he starred opposite Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon and was the centerpiece of the Delta Force films, but that's nothing! He famously became the titular hero of Walker, Texas Ranger for eight years, where he rearranged the faces of yahoos on ranches. Of course, you also saw plenty of Norris on late-night TV pitching the Total Gym on infomercials.
See Dolph Lundgren on Arrow this Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW.