I love Steven Seagal films.
I think that’s an important thing to state here. This isn’t a sarcastic, snarky piece. This is all high fives and hi-ya!s.
Look, I kind of get it. Steven Seagal’s films do have common aspects that you can expect to see. He often plays very similar characters and, as someone who went from box office star to DTV hero, some of his later films have attempted to recreate elements of the more successful ones. He has also made some unwatchable toilet films (Against the Dark, for example, is a vampire toilet film).
Still, though, I love these films. I love that I can spot the same elements. I love that he always plays a tough guy with a secretive military background. I love it when he goes an entire film without getting hit. I love it when he becomes ultraviolent. I love it when he goes to a strip club (so, so often). I love it when he wrecks a convenience store. His movies are fun to watch and I take legitimate pleasure from watching them.
Regarding how the list was compiled, I’ve included films with Steven Seagal as the star but not those in which he plays a supporting role. There’s an argument for doing it either way, but I’ve chosen to do it this way. That’s why you’ll not see Machete, Executive Decision and the like.
I’ve ranked films here based on how much I like them. That might not sound very scientific, but if Steven Seagal films have taught me anything it’s to disregard science and smash some dudes in the groin. I’ve tried to explain what happens in each film that makes me dig it or why it’s higher up or lower down the list than you might expect.
Below you’ll find the lowest five entries. I may not entirely love this five. Mostly straight to DVD films, these ones are likely to appeal to hardcore fans only.
25. Out for a Kill
Out for revenge. Out for payback.
Steven Seagal IS Professor Robert Burns, an archaeologist with a shady past. He’s a cool character who maintains his poise despite being falsely imprisoned and disrespected in front of his beloved wife in a nice restaurant. But gangs full of wanker mobsters, deviously battling over international drug distribution and foolishly using Seagal as a pawn, go too far when they explode his home and sleeping wife. Now, nothing will satisfy him but brutal, violent vengeance. Steven Seagal IS… Out for a Kill.
Now, you’ll absolutely have some fun with Out for a Kill, but it’s a mess. In fact, I think this is the most cynical inclusion on this list, because to really enjoy it you’ll have to do a fair amount of snickering. The special effects are dreadful; bad ideas that look cheap and unconvincing. The story follows as though the script was tossed into the air and the pages put back together in the wrong order.
Fortunately, the tone is light and the silliness passes as good fun. There are a couple of great fight scenes, too. My favourite part of the film sees Seagal fighting a guy who bizarrely develops the ability to crawl along walls, mid-brawl. Obviously, Seagal smashes him to pieces regardless. We also get lots of scenes set in strip club, because of course, and plenty of Seagal shooting.
24. Shadow Man
Either you’re with him… or you’re dead!
Steven Seagal IS Jack Foster, a loving father and dangerous martial artist. When his beloved offspring is kidnapped upon arrival at their holiday destination, Foster is forced to fight to get her back. Who does he have to fight? Well, it seems no one can be trusted. The police, the CIA, local drug dealers, gangsters, his own father in law. So he just fights the lot of them. He’s being used as a pawn by someone, although he’s not sure who, in a scheme involving a dangerous chemical weapon. All these trout-sniffing scumbags are out to get Foster, but while someone has his daughter, he’s out to get them first. They’d all do well to stay in the light when Steven Seagal is a… Shadow Man.
Shadow Man has some problems. It has too many characters and no clearly defined big bad. The story doesn’t really make sense. The script insists that every third line of dialogue Seagal speaks is “I just want to find my daughter.” It’s too slow and we get a really clear look at Seagal’s doubles on occasion. There’s some fun stuff in there too, though. Seagal shoots a helicopter out of the sky, squashes a man’s eyes and turns a room full of junk into a slaughter emporium. You’re most likely to remember this one for its botched eroticism, with a wonderfully gratuitous nude scene at the beginning and a couple of women just hanging out, having an uncomfortable smooch in a club toilet.
23. Exit Wounds
What can two men do against a gang of crooked cops? Whatever it takes.
Steven Seagal IS Orin Boyd, a cop who gets results any way he can, much to the annoyance of the suits back at the precinct. Surrounded by cops who he’s reluctant to trust (and he may just be onto something here), Orin will have his work cut out for him if he wants to expose the villainous bogwads behind a high profile assassination attempt. But in finding out how wide this conspiracy spreads, Boyd may have found an unlikely ally in Latrell, a gangster to whom, much like a Transformer, there is more than meets the eye. Orin and Latrell must save the day and make the bad guys leak blood and regret through their newly inflicted… Exit Wounds (yeah, I know, but you try using Exit Wounds as the end of one of these things and then get back to me with any complaints).
Based on your having actually heard of it, you may have expected to see Exit Wounds further up the rankings than this. Problem is, Exit Wounds really isn’t very good. It has a much bigger budget than most of the other films at this end of the list, but it pisses it away with clumsy set pieces, a terrible score (I don’t hate rap music but I strongly dislike shitty rap music) and a plot that’s not as clever as, a) it thinks it is, or b) a henchman that Steven Seagal has beaten for several days. It’s just a very dull film. It demands inclusion in this list, though, due to it featuring the highest budget and best Seagal shooting a helicopter out of the sky.
22. The Keeper
Steven Seagal IS Roland Sallinger, a former cop just recovered from a violent betrayal by his former partner (who Roland was able to shoot to death from his hospital bed, because sometimes corrupt cops are also death-courting dimwits). He takes a job watching over a rich friend’s daughter, only to find that her pro-boxer boyfriend and his gangster friends have landed the girl in serious danger. He also can’t help but feel that her father isn’t telling him everything. She’s kidnapped by moronic masochistic mobsters, who get more than just a ransom delivered to them by… The Keeper.
The Keeper is all right. A low budget straight to video action film, it keeps things simple. Structurally it’s a little wacky, with a dull first act that almost serves as a mini-movie unrelated to the rest of the film. The Keeper benefits from having plenty of action, even if it is more a display of Seagal’s legendary skills as a marksman than a celebration of his face-flattening fist fighting abilities. An unremarkable film that does the job, this one’s worth checking out when you next stumble across it on TV.
21. The Foreigner: Black Dawn
It’s always darkest before dawn.
Steven Seagal IS Jonathan Cold. Again. The sequel to The Foreigner (a film that you won’t find placed on this list because of how good it isn’t) finds Cold up to his old tricks again. A former CIA operative now working as a private contractor, Cold breaks a weapons dealer out of jail, only to find himself in the midst of a battle for a plutonium-infused bomb. Everyone seems to want the bloody thing and they’re all willing to kill to get it. Pricks. If Cold can’t stop each different faction of villainous bum nuggets then all of California could be facing a… Black Dawn.
Black Dawn is a significant improvement over The Foreigner. One of its strongest assets is its pace, which stops you asking questions, such as ‘why is this happening?’ and ‘what?’. The film isn’t Seagal at his finest, but it is passable Sunday afternoon film. Black Dawn is most notable for a car chase that finds Seagal shooting from the back of a truck (employing some questionable special effects), some wonky accents, around six hundred double crosses and hidden agendas, this dialogue exchange;
“Who is Jonathan Cold?”
“He taught me everything I know.”
and (spoiler alert) for featuring the same ending as The Dark Knight Rises, several years earlier, only with Seagal making a better job of it, definitively proving that he IS tougher than Batman.
Part 2 of the top 25 Steven Seagal films? You can find that on the site tomorrow…
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