Top 25 Steven Seagal films: from 5 to 1
At long last, we've reached the end: these are the best films Steven Seagal has ever starred in
Our countdown of the top 25 Steven Seagal films went from numbers 10 to 6 last time (which you can read here). Now, we arrive at the ending...
We’ve made it! I have watched every film Steven Seagal has starred in. I have been thorough. Most of them I have seen twice. These are the five I enjoyed the most. And, to reiterate what I stated in part one of this series, I do love these films. I don’t sarcastically love them. I don’t ironically love them.
I know from previous articles I’ve written about Steven Seagal that he seems to bring out sneering and mean-spirited put-downs from some people. That’s on you, if that’s how you respond. I feel like, for the most part, these responses come from people with no intention of ever watching a Seagal movie. People smirking off to the side and chucking stones while not actually contributing anything. If that’s your bag, then go ahead. But there’s no way you’re having as much fun over there as I’m having over here joining in, with a beer and some popcorn.
If I’ve learned anything watching Steven Seagal films, it’s that these are the best ones.
5. Out for Justice
He’s a cop. It’s a dirty job… but somebody’s got to take out the garbage
Steven Seagal IS Gino Felino. Detective supremo. Reader of The Beano (unconfirmed).
When Gino’s partner and good friend Bobby Lupo is gunned down in the street in front of his family by mad dog Richie Madano (William Forsythe), Seagal’s hyper-skilled and well-connected detective decides to hunt down the killer himself. Richie is a reckless, unhinged psycho who has angered his mob bosses as much as he has Gino. As Gino chases down this rotten-breathed diarrhoea-chugger he uncovers secrets and shatters bodies. Bad guys seem to queuing up to stand in his way. It’s a poor decision, because you can’t stop a Seagal who is… Out for Justice!
If this was a ‘Top 25 first 45 minutes of a Steven Seagal film’ list then Out for Justice would be at the top. Unfortunately, no one is going to write that list (except for maybe me next year) and the second half of Out for Justice is not so good. It’s odd. The first half is just Steven Seagal chasing a car full of goons around New York, and it’s as good as it sounds. Then, someone involved in the production presumably called a meeting to decry the lack of milling about and chatting featured on screen. So we get 35 minutes of that, before a delightfully splatterful finale.
The story in Out for Justice is triggered by the most brazen murder I’ve ever seen. The killer shoots a cop in the middle of a crowded street in broad daylight, before spitting his DNA all over the crime scene. Then he just swaggers away, looking exactly like the easily identifiable William Forsythe. Forsythe puts in a great turn in Out for Justice and is a disturbingly believable bad guy.
Still, this is Seagal’s show. His accent may not be exactly right, but he does speak some Italian in this one (ladies, please try to control yourselves. Particularly your groins.). Also, this film sees him teamed up with the perfect sidekick: an adorable puppy. Out for Justice finds Felino on fine fighting form. There’s a butcher shop beatdown, which sees Seagal cleaver a man’s leg and cause general meat carnage. Then in the finale he shoots a man’s shin off (and, by association, his ankle and foot) before using a corkscrew to do something to someone that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet.
Our for Justice is must see, though, for the pool hall scene. My goodness, the pool hall scene. It’s a got a thick, murky atmosphere, as Seagal bullies and bashes a bar full of bad guys who aren’t showing him enough respect. He trashes the bar, goes on a snooker ball rampage, knocking out teeth, and engages in a pool cue duel that serves as a wonderful reminder that Seagal is a legitimately skilled martial artist and fight stunt performer.
4. Under Siege
1992. Stop. Battleship besieged by terrorists. Stop. Nuclear warheads stolen. Stop. Crew helpless. Stop. Lone man fighting to save the ship…
Steven Seagal IS Casey Ryback. Ryback is the chef on a battleship. He’s a nice chap and seems harmless enough. Bizarrely, even though Gary Busey is on board, no one figures out that this battleship is about to be overrun by machine-gunning nautical numbskulls, led by Tommy Lee Jones in a leather jacket and tie-dye shirt. The combined force of Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey should surely be enough to sink any ship (or to steal the weapons it’s transporting), but they hadn’t counted on Ryback. With a saucy stripper at his side, Casey Ryback is the only man who can John McClane the crew to safety and make the bad guys regret taking this boat… Under Siege!
“These guys are professionals. They can handle twenty marines and a hundred cooks!” Oh Tommy Lee Jones.
I think chef Casey Ryback is Steven Seagal’s most famous role. It’s not his best, I’d argue, but it is pretty great. This film is lacking some of the more outlandish Seagal exploits that mark his more interesting roles (Under Siege fills its crazy quota with its villains), but he’s a likable, solid presence. He gets a few decent kills and has some cracking interactions with sidekick/Playboy model Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak). Eleniak’s topless ‘popping out of the cake’ scene was something of a playground legend when I was a teenager, although when watching the film back now I was more struck by her proclamation that “I have two rules. One, I don’t date musicians, and two, I don’t kill people.” Because look, Erika, it’s great that you have a policy, but Steven Seagal tends to be an exception to the rule kind of guy. Now take this machine gun and start blowing some mothers away.
All right, the cake scene still isn’t bad. But come on guys, who has time for nudity when Seagal’s jumping off a battleship after blowing up something irresistibly explodable?
Under Siege is mostly notable for its villains. In fact, the first 30 minutes of the film are essentially Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey attempting to out-crazy each other. Credit to Tommy Lee Jones, as for a good chunk of time it’s actually competitive. As the film proceeds, Tommy Lee Jones swings between angry and joyously mad. Gary Busey doesn’t so much swing as furiously spin like a motorised wheel of misfortune, hysterically cackling as he whirls around.
There’s simply no outnutcasing Gary Busey, who is a dynamite good time to watch. Busey dresses as a woman for the ‘taking over the ship’ scene, despite it being of entirely no benefit to their plan. It’s also worth keeping an eye on his mouth, which appears to be behaving considerably more erratically than the rest of him. Presumably his jaw was trying to escape so it could see what Gary Busey was up to.
Perhaps competent rather than spectacular, the simple set-up of Under Siege facilitates a fun last hour. In truth, it never manages to shake the ‘Die Hard on a boat’ premise (with some less than subtle borrowing from that film), but it’s still an entertaining 90s action movie elevated thanks to some great performances from the villains.
I don’t think I can offer a stronger recommendation for this film than this extract from the notes I took while watching it; Steven Seagal just ripped out a dude’s throat – 4 stars.
3. Above the Law
He was a covert agent trained in Vietnam. He has a master 6th degree blackbelt in Aikido… and family in the mafia. He’s a cop with an attitude.
Steven Seagal IS Nico Toscani. A former CIA man, a cop, a husband, a father and a bone shatterer. When a bomb goes off in a church, Nico takes it pretty personally. Now, with familiar faces from the past revealing themselves, Nico must unravel a plot to assassinate a Senator. But who can he trust? He knows that a corrupt CIA kill squad has been dispatched and so he’ll have his work cut out for him. But it’s important to Nico to prove to these despicable fart bandits that no one is... Above the Law!
Seagal’s screen debut Above the Law is a blast. If you note the above tagline, you’ll see they really stacked Seagal’s character with badassness. Covert operative, blackbelt with mafia connections and an attitude towards his police work would be enough action movie types for an entire team of Expendables, while Seagal hogs them all in this one role (er, and in several of his other roles too. Like, nearly all of them.)
Due to his Aikido background, most of Seagal’s on screen clobbering involves flinging people into things or twisting them into shapes that the human body hates being in. In Above the Law, we get some stills of him learning these painful procedures. The stills are part of the film's introduction to the character of Nico, although it plays likes an introduction to Seagal the action hero. Above the Law is just a proper late 80s action film, complete with synthy score and bright look. This film is also notable for a smasherific fight scene in a convenience store (much to the owner’s dismay), a bloody nose bash and a brutal neck break.
2. Hard to Kill
He’s L.A. detective Mason Storm. Three hired assassins left him for dead. And he’s waited seven years to even the score.
Steven Seagal IS Mason Storm. Having rumbled a gaggle of half-witted bumblefucks plotting to kill a senator, Storm stashes his incriminating evidence, bludgeons a gang of armed robbers and then sets about sexing his wife. Unfortunately for just about everyone involved, the villains interrupt his thrusting with shotguns. Leaving Mason for dead, Mrs. Storm actually dead and Storm jnr. scampering, they may think they’ve got the job done. But Storm wakes up from a coma seven years later, and they fail to have him killed in the hospital. Escaping with the aid of his nurse, he recovers, reconnects with his son and sets about killing ever so many people. He may be outgunned and outnumbered, but Mason Storm is... Hard to Kill!
Phwoar. Hard to Kill is a pretty satisfying watch. Right early on we get the definitive Steven Seagal convenience store showdown, where he trashes a gang of armed robbers while in desperate rush to get home as he’s missing the Oscars (the opposite of my own theory that the Oscars are usually missing Steven Seagal).
Hard to Kill is notable amongst other Seagal films for some flashes of flair in the writing. Not least the character name, which is definitely my favourite of his and rivals Max Power for the strongest name in American pop culture. The script also features the excellent, tongue in cheek line “The deader he is the safer he is”. Seagal’s finest ever on-screen quip also features (I imagine his off-screen quips are probably tremendous, and felt it necessary to highlight the distinction); “I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the blood bank.”
Seagal is teamed up with real wife at the time Kelly Le Brock. As his nurse, she helps him escape the hospital on a bed, steering as though she were attempting to spill Seagal all over the pavement. Later in the film she earns her spot by highlighting potential threats in the fight scenes by heroically shrieking in their direction.
Hard to Kill features a cracking last twenty minutes, with shotgun violence, pool cue pummeling, punching, car chases, jacuzzis and Hank Schrader from Breaking Bad getting choked to death with his own tie. Also, wonderfully, ‘groin strike’ Seagal strikes again against groins. Ker-smash! You’ll also likely dig Seagal’s coma beard and the whole 90’s feel of this movie. Terrific.
1. Marked for Death
He’s a good cop in a bad mood.
Steven Seagal IS John Hatcher. After a mission in Mexico goes bad, resulting in the death of his partner, supercop Hatcher feels burned out and morally compromised. He retires and returns to his home town, only to find it at the centre of a drug gang turf war. His initial resolve to stay out of it is broken when a ruthless Jamaican gang, led by unhinged guff-huffer Screwface, take exception to him and shoot his young niece. It’s a dreadful decision that sets Hatcher off on a limb-shattering quest for revenge. Surely when they opened fire on Seagal’s house with machine guns they realised the only marks left would be on them, as they were... Marked for Death!
“I’m a fucking made man” says that smug shit Jimmy Fingers.
Hatcher shoots Jimmy through the face.
“God made man!”
While the above perfectly illustrates how brilliant Marked for Death is, allow me to top you up with some words. Holy macaroni, Marked for Death is brilliant. Seagal’s most underrated film, it’s a pure 90s action flick, packed with shooting, fighting, car chases, shot sidekicks and heroic quips, all packed into 90 minutes.
Marked for Death excels in two areas that are so important to action films; it has a great villain and a brilliant final showdown. Screwface (Basil Wallace) is a punctured hate pipe, spraying malice and violence in all directions. The Jamaican gang and their tactical application of voodoo add flavour to Marked for Death.
That said, they’re still nowhere close to a match for Seagal. This becomes obvious when Seagal punts his way into a hotel room, only to find himself outnumbered by the above mentioned Jimmy Fingers and an unnamed gangster. Returning to his car a few death-filled minutes later, he explains the fates of the two; "One thought he was invincible, the other thought he could fly. They were both wrong."
After a tooling up sequence (which includes Seagal shredding a big thing of meat with a silenced machine gun, almost as if suggesting that Rocky was a pussy for just boxing his dinner) that’s so magnificent I was almost moved to tears, the Aikido agony agent and two disposable sidekicks head to Jamaica for a showdown with Screwface. Silenced sniper shots and sudden samurai swords see Seagal to an unsettlingly slaughterful success. It’s a really wonderful last 20 minutes, crammed full of carnage. I’d love to go into more specific detail, as Seagal whips out a trick in one particular fight that escalates the level of violence past where I thought we were going, but I’d hate to spoil any of Marked for Death’s surprises.
Marked for Death is also notable for a brief appearance from Danny Trejo, a role for The Last Boy Scout’s Danielle Harris, Seagal breaking the arm of a man who attacks him with an umbrella in a department store ruckus and perhaps the most thorough killing of a final villain I’ve ever seen. Oh, and Seagal duets on the end credits song.
The Seagallion Stallion’s masterpiece, you have to see Marked for Death.
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