The 10 greatest Rutger Hauer films that aren’t Blade Runner
From the 70s to the present, we look back through the sterling work of Rutger Hauer to bring you the actor’s 10 finest films that aren't Blade Runner...
For some, Dutch actor Rutger Hauer will forever be associated with a certain rooftop speech about tears in rain. But although his turn as doomed replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner was a classic one, Hauer’s output before and since has been stunningly prolific. This list, therefore, is designed to highlight 10 of Hauer’s finest non-Blade Runner movies, with a particular emphasis on those that are lesser known – which is why we've gone for some older pictures rather than the more recent and mainstream, such as Batman Begins. And since this is Den of Geek, expect to find lots of action movies, horror, and low-budget sci-fi in the entries below.
One thing they all have in common, though, irrespective of who made them and for how much, is Rutger Hauer’s star presence – his film choices have been eclectic, to say the least, but you can always trust him to put in the same commitment and sparkle of charisma, no matter how daft the premise may be…
Soldier Of Orange (1977)
Before director Paul Verhoeven and Rutger Hauer embarked on successful filmmaking careers in the US, the pair made a number of Dutch movies together, including Turkish Delight and Spetters. Their best collaboration, though, had to be the 1977 war movie Soldier Of Orange, about the German invasion of the Netherlands in the Second World War.
Hauer played Erik, one of four students whose paths diverge as the war rages on – while his friends’ fates vary, Erik embarks on various affairs and fights on the side of the Resistance. Excellently shot by Verhoeven’s frequent collaborator Jost Vacano, Soldier Of Orange is the perfect showcase for Verhoeven as a dramatic filmmaker, and Hauer’s talents as an actor. It was the most expensive film in Dutch history at the time, and it shows – Soldier Of Orange’s depiction of a country in the midst of war is depicted with convincing detail and the same gripping pace Verhoeven would later bring to his output in Hollywood.
Given that so many of Hauer’s later appearances would be in movies of an action, sci-fi or fantasy persuasion, it’s worth revisiting this early entry in his acting history, in a straight dramatic role where villainy or outright heroism are absent.
A year before Blade Runner immortalised Hauer as cinema’s most poetic replicant, he made his US debut as the sociopathic terrorist Wulfgar in the thriller Nighthawks. Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams (who was just killing time before he flew off to blow up the Death Star, presumably) are the superhero cops on Wulfgar’s tail in a story that was originally written as a sequel to The French Connection.
During production, Williams often moaned that Stallone was stealing his close-ups, but he needn’t have worried - both Williams and Stallone were completely upstaged by Hauer’s steely screen presence, and he makes a superb, utterly ruthless villain who blows up shops, kills innocent people in cable cars (a stand-out scene, this one), and even murders his own love interest when she discovers exactly what he does for a living.
Hauer’s towering villainy is such that Stallone’s character has to stoop to some rather embarrassing tactics to defeat him; in a tense conclusion, Stallone’s character disguises himself as his wife (complete with blonde wig) in order to lure Wulfgar into his house. Ultimately, the bewigged Stallone wins the battle (largely because Wulfgar brought a knife to a gunfight), but thanks to his sterling performance, Hauer won the war – Nighthawks wasn’t a big hit, and it hasn’t exactly aged well, as its repeat showings on UK TV stations will prove, but Hauer’s performance is, as ever, never less than brilliant.
The Hitcher (1986)
In Robert Harmon’s 1986 thriller, Rutger Hauer may well have created one of the most disturbing antagonists of that decade. Apparently polite and affable when young driver Jim (C Thomas Howell) finds him hitching a lift by a quiet road one night, Hauer’s John Ryder gradually reveals himself to be a complete and utter maniac. And try though Jim might, he just can’t get away from this knife-wielding killer, who murders numerous innocent people, blows up a petrol station, and leaves a severed finger in Jim’s chips. Hauer brings all his frosty charisma to the role, turning what could have been a fairly generic (albeit incredibly vicious) slasher killer into a truly memorable screen character.
Legend has it that screenwriter Eric Red’s original script originally weighed in at around 200 pages long (which would have resulted in a movie of more than three hours in length) and was unspeakably violent. Even as it stands, The Hitcher is almost the equal of David Fincher’s Seven for macabre deaths – just look at the dreadful fate that befalls poor waitress Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The film’s grim tone and violence may explain why its contemporary reviews were decidedly mixed. And while it’s fair to say it’s not a perfect film, The Hitcher certainly deserves the cult status it has since acquired – if nothing else, because Rutger Hauer makes John Ryder’s every terrible move so darn interesting.
Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1987)
If there were any justice at the box-office, Wanted: Dead Or Alive should have been the movie that broke Rutger Hauer into the Hollywood mainstream as a leading man of action. But sadly, this quintessentially 80s thriller – a remake of the Steve McQueen TV series of the same name – failed to gain the attention it deserved.
Hauer stars as Nick Randall, a mercenary and former CIA operative who’s hired to hunt down and kill a deranged terrorist, Malak Al Rahim, whose numerous crimes include blowing up a cinema full of people watching Rambo. Malak is played by Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, who brought his own peculiar brand of manic energy to several memorable films in the 80s, including Michael Crichton’s 1984 robots on the rampage sci-fi, Runaway.
Director Gary Sherman, who’s previous work included the cult horror classics Death Line and Dead & Buried, presents the deliriously over-the-top action well, but the real star here is Hauer as the gun-crazy, harmonica-tootling Randall. He may lack the rippling muscles of other 80s action stars, but Hauer’s cool charisma and dry wit make Wanted a real cut above, say, Stallone’s earlier, abortive attempt at a thriller, Cobra.
At this point in his career, Hauer also boasted the best blonde pompadour in the business – something that should have assured a decent turn out at the cinema by itself.
Blind Fury (1989)
How could a movie featuring Rutger Hauer as a blind swordsman be anything but gloriously entertaining? As Blind Fury begins, Hauer’s stumbling about in the swamps of Vietnam, a wounded veteran robbed of his eyesight following a mortar explosion. Things soon begin to look up for Hauer, though, when Vietnamese villagers teach him how to wield a sword as part of his recovery process – now there’s something private healthcare should offer in the west.
Now blessed with the ability to chop fruit in to quarters in mid-air, Hauer returns to his Florida home in the US, where he discovers that his old army friend Frank (Lost’s Terry O’Quinn) has gotten mixed up with some very unpleasant drug dealer types, presided over by the evil MacCready (Noble Willingham). When Frank’s wife is shot dead by the evil mobsters, Hauer steps in to protect his friend’s young son from harm, and ultimately mete out some righteous justice on the bad guys.
Loosely based on the Japanese samurai movie, Zatoichi Challenged, the humorous, action-packed tone of Blind Fury is vaguely akin to a Hong Kong flick – in fact, it’s the sort of vehicle Jackie Chan would have excelled at in his prime, with its numerous scenes of slapstick action, and its lead character’s habit of ‘accidentally’ injuring his hapless opponents.
Philip Noyce’s handling of Blind Fury, though, isn’t without a hard edge – Meg Foster’s abrupt death by shotgun is surprisingly harsh, for example – but Rutger Hauer’s performance is the perfect lynchpin for the whole movie. He brings vulnerability, humour and strength to the role, and it’s without doubt his finest turn in a pure action movie. Now, if only Blind Fury had done well enough at the box office to entice its makers to make a sequel…
Salute Of The Jugger (1989)
When I first saw the cover of this movie in my local video rental shop as a youth, I naively hoped that a Jugger was a man who made jugs - but no. A Jugger’s actually the name of a brave participant in a violent future sport known only as The Game, and in a world riven by wars, Hauer is one of its most adept practitioners.
Salute Of The Jugger (also marketed under the less eye-catching title, The Blood Of Heroes) marked something of a Blade Runner reunion for Hauer, since writer and director David Peoples also co-wrote Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi classic.
It’s fair to say that Jugger doesn’t scale the dizzying heights of artistry achieved by Blade Runner, but it’s a fun entry in the brief post-Mad Max cycle of 80s post-apocalyptic action movies, where filmmakers would head off into the desert with some props and weird costumes and come back with a saleable movie. For other examples of this curious subgenre, see also Steel Dawn starring Patrick Swayze, Anthony Zerbe and Blade Runner’s Brion James, Warriors Of The Apocalypse, World Gone Wild (which starred Bruce Dern, and Prince Charming himself, Adam Ant), or Wheels Of Fire (which featured topless women strapped to the bonnets of cars). But I digress.
Salute Of The Jugger’s rather low production values are made up for by some fantastically violent future sports action - the rules involve armoured teams chucking a dog skull into the opposing team’s goal, but games generally devolve into bloody violence. Most importantly, Salute Of The Jugger sees Hauer in fine fettle - he may be stuck in the desert, clad in rags and brandishing a giant cotton bud for his pay cheque, but he gives the role all he’s got, God bless him.
His legendary turn in Blade Runner meant that Hauer would continue to be offered genre roles for decades afterwards. Wedlock is by no means the best of his post Blade Runner movies, but it’s still a fun mix of sci-fi prison drama and heist flick that revels in its B-movie status.
Hauer stars as Frank Warren, an expert in safe cracking and diamond theft, whose betrayal by his fiancee (Joan Chen, who also starrred alongside Hauer in Salute Of The Jugger) sees him thrown into a futuristic prison known as Camp Holliday. In a plot detail possibly inspired by The Running Man, the camp’s inmates are fitted with a collar that explodes if they wander more than a hundred yards from a fellow inmate they’re partnered with.
Lewis Teague’s indifferent direction and made-for-TV status are apparent throughout – much of Wedlock appears to have been shot in a factory, and the range of awful haircuts has to be seen to be believed – but there are some spectacular exploding heads courtesy of the sci-fi collar mentioned above, and Hauer’s delivery of the trashy script is great fun (“The last time I trusted a woman I needed six hours of surgery!”). Oh, and it’s well worth waiting until the final reel to see Hauer get his own back on the people who betrayed him.
Split Second (1992)
There’s much to enjoy in this London-set collision of Waterworld and a serial killer flick, which makes its scarcity on DVD (and non-existence on Blu-ray) rather disappointing. If you can get hold of a copy, though, you’ll be rewarded with an effective, low-budget sci-fi thriller, in which Hauer stars as a burnt-out cop on the trail of a demonic murderer.
Its plot is admittedly generic, but the concept of a future London flooded due to global warming is an interesting one, and it’s atmospherically shot – in a shadowy, 90s sort of way. Pete Postlethwaite, Kim Cattrall and Ian Dury appear in small roles, while Scottish actor Neil Duncan appears as a cop by the name of Dick Durkin.
The main reason to watch Split Second, of course, is because of Hauer’s stoic star presence. Striding around soggy London in his black leather coat and little round shades, a cigar permanently lodged in the corner of his mouth, he’s the ultimate laconic cop – and as ever, he brings a certain knowing humour to the inherently daft, gory enterprise. Just look at the bit where he presents his ID card to a guard dog and growls, “Police, dickhead.” Brilliant.
Undoubtedly the weirdest of Hauer’s 1990s period of little-seen B-movies, Hemoglobin (also known as Bleeders) is a brilliantly fun, trashy little horror movie, loosely (and unofficially) based on The Lurking Fear by HP Lovecraft. Hauer wasn’t the star of Hemoglobin – that honour would fall to actors Roy Dupuis and Kristin Lehman – but he’s brilliant in a supporting role of alcoholic Doctor Marlowe, who helps the two leads discover the truth about behind about John (Dupuis) and his mysterious blood disease.
Before they know it, Marlowe and his entire remote island are overrun by rubbery monsters, all apparently distant relations of John’s, and all reliant on the munching of human flesh for survival. Peter Svatek’s direction is workmanlike, and Dupuis spends much of the film dressed up like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, but Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett’s batty script provides plenty amusement. Plus Hauer’s brilliant in it, and even if he’s only present in a handful of scenes, he gets all the best lines (“I need a drink!” he exclaims, after discovering the hermaphroditic nature of the film’s monsters).
Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)
Not my favourite film on this list by a long chalk– though you could put this down to Grindhouse fatigue – Hobo With A Shotgun nevertheless deserves a spot for putting Hauer in the starring role. And clearly relishing the opportunity to take the lead in a grungy, anarchic revenge fantasy, Hauer brings all of his energy to bear as the titular hobo, an aimless drifter whose encounters with the lawless occupants of Hope Town soon boil over into bloody violence.
Shot on a budget of just $3 million, and barely distributed in America, Hobo With A Shotgun’s appearance on Netflix has launched into the realms of cult status. And like many of the other movies on this list, Hobo simply wouldn’t have worked without Hauer’s extraordinary screen presence.
Honourable mentions: Flesh & Blood, Ladyhawke, Minotaur, Precious Find, Armageddon/Deadline/Redline, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Also, he only had a very small role in Batman Begins, so we didn't count that.