1990s R-Rated Violent Crime Action Movie Is A Diamond In The Rough, Stream Without Netflix

By Robert Scucci | Published

Most Jean-Claude Van Damme fans will tell you that Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Lionheart are three of his best films. But I need to talk about Lionheart because it not only showcases Van Damme’s impeccable roundhouse kicks, but was the first film to truly explore his talent as a dramatic actor and not just a fighter. While there’s no shortage of expertly choreographed fight sequences in this film, there is an attempt to tell an emotional story that’s worth your time in this action-packed classic.

A More Uplifting Entry For JCVD

Lionheart sets itself apart from Jean-Claude Van Damme’s previous efforts because its main story doesn’t focus on revenge, but instead explores more uplifting themes. When Van Damme’s Lyon Gaultier learns of his brother Francois’ violent and fiery run-in with drug dealers in Los Angeles, he abandons his post in East Africa with the French Foreign Legion and runs the risk of being court-martialed. Arriving in New York City with no means to travel across the country to visit his severely burned and dying brother, Lyon participates in an unsanctioned street fight in order to earn a few quick dollars. 

Family Comes First

Lyon’s prowess as a fighter catches the attention of the fight’s organizer, Joshua Eldridge (Harrison Page), who introduces him to Cynthia Caldera (Deborah Rennard), a prominent figure in the underground fighting circuit. Agreeing to sponsor Lyon, Cynthia gives him the nickname “Lionheart” and agrees to transport Joshua and Lyon to Los Angeles. Upon arrival, Lyon learns that his brother succumbed to his injuries, leaving behind his wife, Hélène, and his daughter, Nicole. 

Hélène, who blames Lyon’s absence and lack of brotherly guidance for Francois’ life of crime, rejects his offers to help her out financially. From this point forward, Lyon fully commits to fighting, not for revenge, but to earn money for Hélène and Nicole. Every time Lionheart wins a fight, he has Joshua deliver a check to Hélène, stating that it’s money from Francois’ secret life insurance policy. 

Plenty Of Van Damme Action

As for the fight sequences, they’re exactly what you’d expect from Jean-Claude Van Damme, who had a heavy influence on the fight choreography behind the scenes. Since we’re talking about street fights that are organized by the rich elite, there’s no octagon or square circle in Lionheart, but rather parking garages, squash courts, and drained swimming pools. As Lyon continues to level up, the fights only get more intense.

Critics Were Harsh

Marking Van Damme’s first major studio release in the United States, Lionheart was a massive commercial success upon its 1991 release, earning $24 million domestically against a production budget of $6 million. Though critics will lead you to believe that this Van Damme vehicle only deserves a 39 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, online communities celebrate Lionheart as one of Van Damme’s most well-thought-out early roles. It may not have the same level of intensity as Bloodsport, but the emotional through-line involving an ex-soldier trying to do right by his family clearly resonated with audiences. 

Where To Stream Lionheart

If you’re a fan of martial arts movies that offer more than just a healthy amount of fighting, Lionheart should be the next film that you watch. You can stream the title on Amazon Prime Video, The Roku Channel, and Tubi if you’re ready to bear witness to one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best early roles.