Along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the Belgian actor, stuntman and martial artist is known as Jean-Claude Van Damme is a part of the trinity of uber-masculine, hard to understand actors who dominated the action movie scene of the 1980s. Unlike his equally incomprehensible counterparts, however, Van Damme never really learned to adapt his screen presence to the more nuanced films of today and, unfortunately, has largely fallen out of pop culture’s scope. As a man who helped define an entire era of cinema, JCVD has more than earned his spot in the Hollywood pantheon, but in the money-making and cutthroat movie industry, your worth to a studio is only reflected in how much you’re worth period.
Jean-Claude Van Damme Net Worth 2019: $30 Million
Despite not being a prominent figure in movies for quite some time, Van Damme still boasts an impressive fortune based mostly on his stature as one of the biggest movie stars of yesteryear. Though not the least successful of his muscular, oiled-up brethren, he still has more money than Dolph Lundgren, he still ranks lower than most of his fellow 80s’ actors.
Born Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg on October 18, 1960, in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium, the man who would later adopt the moniker Van Damme was always an eclectic mind. At age ten, he began to show the proclivity for martial arts that would go on to define his entire life. He took courses in Shotokan Karate, Kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai and even studied ballet for five years in part to help him increase his flexibility. He would later claim that ballet was the most difficult athletic enterprise he ever undertook, saying “If you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive a workout in any other sport.”
By age fifteen, Van Damme was competing in karate tournaments around Europe. His talent for combat sports was evident and he amassed an impressive record of 44-4. In this same period, he took up bodybuilding and was named Mr. Belgium in competition.
Though he got his first film role, an uncredited extra in a Belgian-French drama, in 1979, it wasn’t until 1982 when Van Damme retired from competitive martial arts to fully pursue an acting career. His impressive physique and chiseled looks earned him some early bit roles, but his star didn’t truly begin to rise until he met and became friends with action movie legend and the man who counted to infinity twice, Chuck Norris. Norris was impressed by Van Damme’s martial arts background and hired him as a bar bouncer and sparring partner. He even got Van Damme his first job behind the camera as a stunt coordinator on Norris’s 1984 film Missing in Action.
His connection to Norris continuously brought Van Damme close to breaking into mainstream popularity, but it took him some time to break the glass ceiling. He was originally slated to be the classic monster movie icon the Predator in the movie of the same name, but was replaced at the last minute. He finally got his big break in 1986 as the Russian villain in No Retreat, No Surrender. His eastern European accent and Adonis-level body made him a perfect foil for an American protagonist and he applied his real-life kickboxing skills to introduce audiences to a new style of screen combat.
He proved his chops as a box office draw in his back-to-back 1988 roles in Black Eagle and perhaps his most famous film Bloodsport. Bloodsport in particular endeared him to Cannon Film Studios who regularly used him as an action star until the company folded in 1994. These projects included the cyberpunk fighting film Cyborg and Van Damme’s first franchise film Kickboxer.
Van Damme’s success continued well into the 1990s’. Films like Death Warrant, Lionheart, Double Impact and Universal Soldier hid his fairly limited acting range, put him in collaborations with some of Hollywood’s best directors and helped him develop his signature style and tropes. His films regularly grossed tens of millions and he reached his peak as an action movie star. Then he signed on to Street Fighter and things started to go downhill.
Based on the popular arcade game, Street Fighter was a commercial success but critics tore into Van Damme, who it seemed had finally exposed his lack of acting ability. After the collapse of Cannon, Van Damme was shuffled over to Universal and Columbia studios. Both studios had bigger budgets, but neither seemed to know how to properly use the lithe and lean Belgian. Sudden Death, The Quest and Maximum Risk all failed at the box office. Things came to a head with Double Team, which saw Van Damme partnering up with, of all people, Dennis Rodman.
It didn’t help that audience tastes were changing. The burly European action star archetype was giving way to the John McClane everyman hero. Van Damme attempted to capitalize on his fame with a sequel to Universal Soldier, but audiences weren’t receptive anymore, even with WCW star Bill Goldberg as the villain. By 2000, Van Damme had stumbled deep into the direct-to-video brackets of the Hollywood hierarchy. In this time, he’d also developed a nasty cocaine dependency that was hemorrhaging his money and visibly damaging his body.
For many years, Van Damme never even made it to movie screens. His projects in this period were almost exclusively foreign films that went straight to tape. He made a valiant attempt at a comeback in 2008 with JCVD, a Belgian movie where he played a reflective version of himself as he gets caught up in a bank robbery. Critics fawned over the film and declared it Van Damme’s best performance, but the movie faltered at the box office and Van Damme slid right back down the totem pole.
More recently, Van Damme has had something of a subtle pop culture renaissance. Most of his films are still unknown works, but he got a voice-over cameo in the Kung Fu Panda franchise and his famous Volvo commercial introduced an entire generation of young viewers to his legendary splits. All in all, Van Damme is still doing pretty well for himself, still has a career and still has time left to remind the world why he was such a big star in the first place.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is going to hit the silver screen this year with his upcoming movie ‘We die young’.