The Expendables started with one of the coolest and simplest premises we ever heard: getting all the famous faces from your favorite vintage action movies and seeing how much ass they can kick as a group. And while these Lionsgate movies didn’t always live up to the quality of that initial premise, nobody can deny that it was a delight to see our favorite action heroes (and villains) together on the big screen. With that in mind, we decided to put together the definitive list of the best performances in the franchise so far.
Wesley Snipes/Doctor Death
Going back to the days of Blade, one of our favorite things about Wesley Snipes has been his crazy lines and crazier line deliveries, including the insanely quotable “Some motherf****** are always trying to ice-skate uphill.”
And what we love most about his Doc Death character in The Expendables franchise is that we get echoes of his badass martial arts movie background along with a character who is canonically insane and free to say whatever is flitting through his mind as he lives up to his scary Doctor Death namesake. And just like with Blade, you’re going to be quoting his bonkers character lines long after the credits start to roll.
Jason Statham/Lee Christmas
If you’re like us, you probably giggled uncontrollably at the recent preview for The Meg 2: The Trench once you saw Jason Statham riding a jet ski into battle and wielding a sword against a giant, primordial shark. But there’s a reason Statham gets cast in shlocky, over-the-top action roles: he’s just really, really good at giving 110 percent and making his action roles leap off the screen like…well, like a man attacking a shark on a jet ski.
And he brings this awesome energy to The Expendables franchise, where he plays a former soldier who is an expert at using edged weaponry (here’s hoping he gets to bring his shark-slaying sword to the next film).
Terry Crews/Hale Caesar
If you grew up playing with G.I. Joe figures, seeing Terry Crews in the Expendables movies is a delight because it’s like seeing fan-favorite Joe Roadblock brought to life. Crews plays the heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar (probably our favorite name in the franchise), which gives him the perfect excuse to walk around with huge weapons while delivering some of the films’ most memorable one-liners.
Then again, those weapons don’t look so huge when Crews is using them: his famously-intimidating physique is on full display in each movie, and it’s always clear that he doesn’t need fancy weaponry to lay down some serious pain on his enemies.
Dolph Lundgren/Gunner Jensen
If you grew up thinking Dolph Lundgren was nothing but a scary villain in Rocky IV and a surprisingly-decent live-action He-Man, then his performance in the Expendables films will be a genuine revelation. That’s because the character of Gunner Jensen is wildly self-referential: like Lundgren himself, he’s a former chemical engineer, and the character is considered something of a washed-up has-been who has struggled to keep it together after years of hard living.
This is how many fans perceived Lundgren himself due to his many years of direct-to-video shlock, but his performance in the Expendables franchise proves the actor has always been a far more skilled and nuanced actor than people give him credit for.
Jean-Claude Van Damme/Jean Vilain
Like Dolph Lungren, Jean-Claude Van Damme is another actor who is best known for his iconic roles from decades ago and who has more recently languished in direct-to-video films that far too few people have seen.
Of course, he became famous in the first place because he’s really good at martial arts action, and in the second Expendables film, he channels his past as both a cinematic badass and a criminally-overlooked actor in order to become the most memorable villain of the entire franchise.
Action films are filled with generic mercenary characters, but Van Damme’s Jean Vilain is one that oozes with genuine menace whenever he’s onscreen.
Despite his long and illustrious history of killer action films, Antonio Banderas is a late addition to the Expendables franchise, appearing in the third film as a former Spanish Armed Forces soldier who is wrestling with both his guilt over the past and his desire to once again be part of a team.
This gives him a complete character arc, which (let’s be honest) is more than we can say about most characters in this franchise. On top of that, his Galgo character’s glee at getting back into action is downright infectious, and it helps to remind audiences why they fell in love with action movies in the first place.