[We originally ran this countdown over the course of a week, in five parts. Here’s the full countdown on one page]
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.
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.
20. A Dangerous Man
They started this. He’ll finish it.
Steven Seagal IS Shane Daniels, a former Special Forces operative. Released after six years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Daniels soon finds himself in the thick of it again, battering muggers and jumping into the Chinese mob’s plot to work with the cops to extort and people smuggle. He teams up with the Russians to help a young woman rescue her uncle. Will Daniels be able to bash these shit-munchers up? Well, he is… A Dangerous Man.
A Dangerous Man has a terrible first five minutes, a good next twenty five minutes, and bit of a lull in the middle and a fightfully great last twenty. Highlights include every single fight, a weird sexy lapdance repeatedly shown as a sentimental flashback, a cool walkaway explosion and Seagal punting a man into a saw blade. Not the best starting point for those looking to investigate Seagal, but there’s enough in this one to keep Seagalophiles entertained.
19. On Deadly Ground
His battle to save the Alaskan wilderness can only be won… On Deadly Ground
Steven Seagal IS Forrest. He is tree, ground, wind, rain and snow. He is mother nature. Wait, no. This isn’t right at all.
Steven Seagal IS Forrest Taft. Horrified by the damage done to the environment by his nature ravaging employers, Taft speaks up and soon finds himself being framed by his wealthy tycoon boss. The bad guys are ruthless and have seemingly endless resources, but Forrest has the power of good, the support of the people of the land and, luckily, is particularly talented at inflicting violence on villains. The bad guys’ decision to take on Forrest finds the oil-glugging, Bambi-bashing bastards treading… On Deadly Ground!
Apparently Warner Bros. agreed to let Seagal direct On Deadly Ground in exchange for his committing to Under Siege 2. It’s not very good, I don’t think. A few of the fight scenes are all right, and the cast is crazy. Seagal found himself directing Michael Caine, R Lee Ermey, John C McGinley and Billy Bob Thornton. Still, after a reasonable first 15 minutes, it loses its pace and becomes kind of a drag. On Deadly Ground’s message (we must stop killing our environment, guys) is delivered with as much subtlety as it’s possible to force-feed a person 80 pounds of cheese with. There are several nice shots of an eagle soaring over snowy mountains, although disappointingly Seagal doesn’t fight it. Mainly worth seeing as a curiosity, this one is notable for an action-packed climax, a cool bar fight scene, a seemingly unending preachy slideshow at the end and Michael Caine’s American’t accent.
18. Mercenary for Justice
It’s time to fight again.
(Please note that my laptop refused to acknowledge my Mercenary for Justice disc and so I wasn’t able to grab an image from it. Instead please enjoy this picture of the Blu-ray being shot at by a Steven Seagal action figure that was given to me by Den Of Geek’s own Duncan ‘Four Stars’ Bowles.)
Steven Seagal IS John Seeger, a mercenary on a mission gone bad. He loses a good friend to gun fire and is soon blackmailed into working with his old team again (he’s convinced after his dead friend’s wife and child are taken hostage). Tasked with breaking a corrupt billionaire’s son out of a South African prison, Seeger has his work cut out for him. But everyone has their own agenda and Seeger knows that he’ll have to make his own plans to ensure every one of these toilets gets what’s coming to them. After all, he’s not in it for the money, he’s a… Mercenary for Justice!
If I had to sell you Mercenary for Justice in seven words, I would choose these seven; ‘Steven Seagal matches wits with Luke Goss’.
Presumably you’ve just returned to this article after buying your copy of Mercenary For Justice. You’re probably going to enjoy the first half hour, as it’s a shooty battle with guns, tanks and a helicopter. The rest of the film is a slightly wobbly thriller, which struggles with too many characters and not enough story. Still, it’s pretty fun. The production looks way more expensive than I’m used to seeing in DTV action movies and the movie has a pretty decent cast, too. The film is most memorable for a restroom ruckus that finds Seagal dispensing a brilliantly berserk bathroom bastard bludgeoning.
17. Pistol Whipped
They came to collect a debt. He paid in full.
Steven Seagal IS Matt, a former cop turned degenerate gambler. Matt’s in a million dollar hole and a mysterious stranger (Lance Henrikson) has bought out all his debt, insisting that he work it off as a hitman. Matt obliges, while turning to his daughter’s new stepfather (a cop) for help finding out who this shady shitbag is and what the shitting hell he thinks he’s up to. But as he digs deeper, Matt starts to question who the real villain is. When he finds out, the least of their worries will be being… Pistol Whipped.
This is a fun one. Seagal seems to be invested in Pistol Whipped (inappropriately named, in my opinion, as I can’t think of any prominent instances of pistol whipping in the entire film), as he really turns up for it. We get some of his more involved fight scenes and he charms a little in the role, too. The character is a little different from the usual Seagal character, in that he has flaws. As a result we get to see Seagal seduce someone, which he does with expected expertise, and it warmed both my heart and my loins. It loses a little steam towards the end, and the opening/closing shootout is just terrible, but otherwise we get a decent cast, a reasonable script with some lovably cheesy dialogue and cool fight scenes.
16. The Glimmer Man
Two good cops. One bad situation.
Steven Seagal IS Jack Cole. Cole is a mysterious police Lieutenant on the case of The Family Man, a snot-gobbed serial killer murdering entire families and doing weird Jesus stuff with the corpses. Cole’s colleagues, particularly his partner (Keenan Ivory Wayans), are suspicious of Cole, owing to his mystical ways and secret past. As the murders start to become personal, Cole suspects that maybe The Family Man isn’t the only murderous twat he’s dealing with; could shady figures from Cole’s past be taking advantage of the situation and attempting to frame him for murder? Dumb move if you ask me, or have read any of the previous entries on this list. The last thing you want to do is antagonise… The Glimmer Man.
Perhaps owing to its troubled production, The Glimmer Man feels like it has all the parts necessary to make a better film. As it stands, it’s slow, has a jittery changing tone and is full of bits that seem like they’ve fallen onto your screen from another film. Still, the odd scenes that do work are a pleasure to watch. Seagal fucks off the laws of physics with a smashing window jump inside the first ten minutes, forgets what race he is in the first fifteen and arrogantly points out breast implants on a corpse in the first twenty. Wayans does really well, although he’s basically wasted. The fight scenes aren’t particularly well photographed. However, the one in the restaurant ranks amongst Seagal’s best and does a wonderful job of highlighting his willingness in all situations to attack the groin (an area that simply isn’t off limits if you’re being attacked by a squad of goons).
15. The Patriot
The crisis is spreading. The danger is growing. Time is running out.
Steven Seagal IS Dr. Wesley McClaren. Wesley is a small town doctor, raising his daughter on a farm and helping the locals with their ailments. Unfortunately for Wesley, his peaceful life is interrupted by a local militia intent on using an engineered virus to make some vague point about the decline of America. These filthy banjo twangers have no idea the kind of facial trauma they’re getting themselves into. Out of their depth, they kidnap Seagal’s daughter, as movie villains do, and are soon facing the wrath of… The Patriot!
Originally destined for the big screen, The Patriot somehow managed to get diverted along away the way, making it the star’s first straight-to-video movie. It’s certainly a silly affair, culminating in military helicopters being used to disperse flowers through the streets, but it’s perfectly watchable. This one is notable for a flip through a window, Seagal in a lab coat, Seagal as a cowboy and Seagal nursing a Shetland pony back to health.
14. Driven to Kill
They took his daughter. So he’s taking them down.
Steven Seagal IS Ruslan, a former Russian mob affiliate turned author. You guys are not going to believe what the bad guys do; they attempt to kill his ex-partner and his daughter on the day of his daughter’s wedding. This film came out in 2009, so you’d think they would know what happens to people who that sort of thing to Steven Seagal’s loved ones. These dogshit doughnuts think Ruslan’s daughter is dead, but Ruslan has her stashed away in a hospital while she shakes off a minor coma. He teams up with her heartbroken fiancé, who thinks she is dead, and just beats the shit out of everyone. Ruslan will find out who is responsible for the attempted hit on his daughter; they started his engine, now he is… Driven to Kill!
Slow to start, silly and simple? All accusations you could fairly make against Driven to Kill. So why is it here? Because it’s a laugh and a half. It’s a film I’ve previously described on Den of Geek as ‘passionately in love with knife fighting’, and indeed, the highlight of the movie a strip club slash ‘em up brawl where Seagal dices up Russian henchmen like they were ingredients in a Soviet stew. Unlikely to win him any new fans, Seagal enthusiasts will find much to enjoy.
13. Renegade Justice (aka Urban Justice)
When revenge is personal, justice can be brutal.
Steven Seagal IS Simon Ballister, a heartbroken father investigating the murder of his policeman son. Simon takes an apartment in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood to get to the bottom of his son’s shooting, soon causing a stir amongst the local gangs by tying many of their limbs in such a wide variety of knots you’d swear he was trying to earn a scouts badge. He soon learns that the crime was not the senseless gang slaying that the police had suggested. In fact, perhaps it’s a cockheaded corrupt cop who deserves to feel the force of Simon’s… Renegade Justice!
Although Renegade Justice was released straight to video, it was apparently considered for a theatrical release. It’s easily one of the most polished and competent of Seagal’s DTV era. The film is well acted, well-paced and, save for a few shoddy looking sequences, well photographed. It feels like a middle ground between Seagal’s DTV and theatrical films. Eddie Griffin surprised me with a really entertaining turn as an ambitious gang leader. Seagal, too, puts in one of his strongest performances.
The film is a joy to watch, with shoot outs, car chases and glorious arm pulling, face punching, nut punting fight scenes (Seagal kills a guy with the Iron Sheik’s Camel Clutch move!). Renegade Justice gets bonus points for a brief cameo that reunites Seagal on screen with Dangerous Danny Trejo! Seagal tells him “You’re a lot like me – a bad guy with good intentions” and if that doesn’t make a man out of you I honestly don’t know what will. Goodness me.
Renegade Justice, then, isn’t the most adventurous film, but it’s probably the best version of this type of Steven Seagal movie.
12. Half Past Dead
The Good, the Bad and the Deadly
Steven Seagal IS Sasha. Arrested while hanging out with Ja Rule (who opens fire on the FBI, unprovoked, because that was the mood of the room at the time), Sasha finds himself imprisoned in a new super-jail on Alcatraz. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the prison is attacked by violent, thieving shitclowns after a death row inmate who has gold stashed away. It’s up to Sasha and Ja Rule to stop bad guys, save the good guys and maintain their valuable, heartwarming friendship. When they finally track down the bad guys, they’d better set their watches to… Half Past Dead.
Seagal’s last theatrical starring role to date, Half Past Dead is basically The Rock meets Die Hard but nowhere near as good as either. It’s not bad, though. Ja Rule makes for an interesting sidekick, offering at times a trigger happy nuisance and, at others, a damsel in distress. The fight scenes aren’t great, the effects are poor and it’s as cheesy as Dutch nachos. Still, it’s silly and entertaining. This one is most notable for its bizarre skydiving ending, a villain who appears to be called Sonny Eggfart and a scene where Ja Rule teaches Steven Seagal how to say “aight”.
11. Maximum Conviction
Maximum security. Maximum firepower.
Steven Seagal IS Cross, a highly trained former military professional, shutting down a secret prison with the help of trusted ally Manning (‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin). What should be a simple procedure turns into a violent nightmare when a heavily armed team of shart merchants attack, intent on taking one of the remaining prisoners due to valuable information she has. The saying goes ‘don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time’, and with Seagal as judge, they face… Maximum Conviction.
Maximum Conviction is fine for the 25 minutes it takes to set itself up. Unspectacular, but fine. Once the violence kicks off, though, it’s a blast. With a decent cast of characters, and Austin taking co-headline, the big S is freed up to do what he does best; swagger around delivering cool guy lines and twisting the bad guys into shapes that contradict the design of the human skeleton.
There’s just so much action in it, and it doesn’t get bogged down in plot (which is the downfall of many light action films). It brings in a load of characters, shuts them in an enclosed space and lets them get on with pummeling and shooting each other to death. Every character gets a chance to prove how deadly they are, and most do so with enthusiasm. For me, Maximum Conviction was an unexpected pleasure. It’s a film notable for an excellent fire stunt, a gruesome arm injury and potentially the best poodle quip I’ve ever heard in a film.
10. Kill Switch
His rules. His way. No exceptions.
Steven Seagal IS Jacob, a detective who plays by his own incredibly violent rules and gets results. Jacob is after The Grifter, a serial killer and total twat. An inexperienced FBI agent keeps getting in Jacob’s way and people keep going missing. Jacob is frustrated with a system that doesn’t seem to work; for example, he recently beat a guy up so badly that a judge decided to just let the criminal off (he’d had planted a bomb in a woman’s chest and Jacob beat instructions on how disarm it out of him before kicking him out of a window). The Grifter sets Jacob up, framing him for the murders and effectively flipping his… Kill Switch!
“Get me a fucking blanket!” yells Steven Seagal, in a moment that accurately sums up the charm of Kill Switch. It’s a big, dribbling, clumsy dog of a film, bounding around and knocking over furniture. It’s marred by hyperactive editing and some obvious stand in work, which is a shame. Still, Kill Switch makes up for it with its main battle, which sees Seagal beating up a serial killer in a bar, spilling potatoes everywhere as he does so. The killer grabs a screwdriver, which is meant to threaten Seagal. Unfortunately, aggressively raising a screwdriver to Steven Seagal is how you challenge him to a tool fight, and Steven Seagal loves tool fights. What is this leading up to? Kill Switch hammer fight!
9. Into the Sun
Only one man can stop the Yakuza.
Steven Seagal IS Travis Hunter, an American operative tasked with investigating the public assassination of a governor in Tokyo. Travis quickly works out that the murder was an attempt to draw attention away from the efforts of the Yakuza and the Tongs, who are setting up an operation to smuggle heroin out of Myanmar. They’re obviously going to struggle with this now that Travis is on the case, even if he is hampered by a bungling government-appointed sidekick. The dickhead villains make things even worse for themselves by killing Travis’ fiancée, which comes with a higher risk of death than running directly… Into the Sun.
Into The Sun is ridiculous. The Japanese mobsters in this film are unhinged, shooting everyone who dares to encroach on their screen time. The film works thanks to a decent enough script, some great work by the director (a chap called mink – lower case ‘m’ intended) and an invested turn from Seagal. It’s great fun to hear Seagal speaking in Japanese, to see him wandering around Tokyo and to enjoy him fighting lots and lots of people. The last 30 minutes in particular find Seagal in full on rampage mode. His Aikido style of fighting often sees him flinging people into furniture and other breakable things. Here, he utilises his villain-chucking abilities in an arcade and by sending a bastard through an 8th floor window. Then he hunts down the main bad guys with a samurai sword, with results even more gruesome than you’re expecting.
8. Fire Down Below
Beneath a land of wealth and beauty hides a secret that could kill millions. Undercover has never run so deep.
Steven Seagal IS Jack Taggart, a missionary visiting a small town to help out, doing odd jobs on behalf of the Church. When Jack finds his good deeds met with glares and suspicion, he knows that something is up. Sure enough, he finds that the local mines are being used by a large company to dump toxic waste. Fortunately for the environment, Jack is actually working undercover for the EPA and will stop at nothing to protect the land from greedy corporate colon clouds. Much like me watching a Steven Seagal film, he’s spurred on by a… Fire Down Below.
Now, perhaps fairly, I was concerned upon hearing of toxic waste being a plot point in Fire Down Below. Referring back to my notes, I appear to have responded by writing ‘Oh God, he’s gone eco-warrior again’. Fortunately for me, Fire Down Below is a much better film than the tree-tonguing On Deadly Ground. It’s cheeky, wacky and violent. Early in the film, a light piano piece informs us that Seagal’s penis has identified a female orifice it would like to explore. He goes on to romance the lucky lady in possession of said orifice by buying a significant quantity of honey (either that or there’s a cut scene where he ambushes a Pooh Bear). Then there’s the toxic waste, which looks like barrels of Predator blood. That said, it’s entirely possible that Steven Seagal has accidentally slaughtered everyone in a glow-stick factory. Fire Down Below is solid Sunday afternoon viewing.
7. Belly of the Beast
A father’s rage knows no limits.
Steven Seagal IS Jake Hopper, a former CIA operative. God knows why people are still kidnapping Steven Seagal’s characters daughters, but that’s exactly what balaclava-wearing wombats do. Seagal teams up with a former partner-turned-monk and goes on a fighting spree in an effort to rescue her. Along the way he is helped by a collective of monks, who chant away the damage done to Seagal by a nutcase with a voodoo doll, and encounters a woman who can magically summon a tattoo onto her exposed breasts. Jake must press on through all of this if he wants to rescue his daughter from the… Belly of the Beast!
Belly of the Beast is bizarre. To me, that’s its appeal. The story is typical of Seagal films, and especially so of his direct to video efforts, but is brought to life by utter lunacy. We’ve got wirework, black magic, brutal fight scenes, shoot outs, forward rolls and an incredibly violent finale. My favourite of Seagal’s direct-to-video movies, this one is notable for a rail yard shootout where we’re not supposed to notice that all the guys getting shot are just different camera angles of the same two guys and a market fight scene that sees a villain run from Seagal, only to slip, slide along a table covered in ice and fish and then impale his face on a cleaver.
6. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
A top secret nuclear satellite. A team of international terrorists. A government held hostage. An undetectable moving headquarters. Only one hero stands in their way.
Steven Seagal IS Casey Ryback. Tasked with escorting his niece (played by a young Katherine Heigl), who he hasn’t seen since she was little, by train to her parents’ funeral, Ryback finds himself in the middle of a big money nuclear weapons hijacking. What terrible luck! Not for Ryback, of course, but for these idiots who keep attempting to be bastards with weapons on methods of transport without checking if Seagal’s about first. It’s up to Ryback to stop these railroad rotters before they blow up something important or kill his niece. If Seagal made the villains of Under Siege regret taking a battleship under siege (come back tomorrow for details), then he’ll surely make the villains here pay for taking a train… Under Siege 2/too!
Ryback is right back! “You think this is being shot? This isn’t being shot!” laughs Casey Ryback when questioned about his bullet wound. Under Siege 2 is a bit like that. In one scene, someone watches Seagal build a bomb from things he finds in a bar and the only ingredient they question is lighter fluid. Brief aside; this film features an awesome fire stunt. There’s also a scene featuring the villains standing around and gossiping about how good Ryback is. They must have seen Under Siege.
Under Siege 2 is more fun than you probably think it is. It’s not great, it struggles with a miscast villain (which is ridiculous because they had Kurtwood Smith right there in the film doing basically nothing as a good guy), but it’s light enough that it just about works. My favourite element of the film crops up around the middle; Seagal steals a vital CD and the films villain learns an important lesson about backing up your data. In fact, technology plays a key role here, with Seagal also utilising a fax machine to send for help.
“I guess I’m not trained for this!” In Under Siege 2 Casey Ryback realises that the greatest challenge of all is accompanying your dead brother’s orphaned daughter on a short train journey. Fortunately, he finds it presents similar challenges as his life as a chef, in that it seems to involve fighting murderers on a form of transport.
Under Siege 2 is perhaps most notable for the number of henchmen that Seagal throws off a cliff.
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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