Born Hans Lundgren on 3 November, 1957 in Sweden, Dolph Lundgren is an actor, writer, producer and director who found fame playing heroes and villains in action movies. In his youth, he learned karate and spent a year on military service before completing a degree in Chemical Engineering. He won a scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, he instead moved to New York City and studied at a theatre workshop, as he had fallen in love with model and actor Grace Jones after having been hired as her bodyguard. His first acting role was a small part in the James Bond film A View to a Kill, which featured Grace Jones as May Day.
The 6'6" actor is both adored and despised for exactly the same reason: Dolph makes violence look good. Between the extremes of the classic, clean-cut childhood hero He-Man in Master's of the Universe and the nightmare of scary, chillingly feral, twisted and tragic Sgt Scott in Universal Soldier the blond Swede with the blue eyes has portrayed fighting men on the whole grey scale of violence. He was a full-contact karate champion in his youth, and his experience adds authenticity to his performances.
Fascinating, repellent, anachronistic: it depends on the viewer's outlook. To his fans, his minimalist gestures and subtle displays of emotion make a powerful statement about the art and morality of fighting. Those who like Dolph Lundgren movies often maintain that his work is underappreciated and that his technically-staged action scenes and solid characterisation do not get the credit they deserve. However, his films are established in a cinematic subcategory of their own, with a global following.
Dolph Lundgren has more than 70 film acting credits to his name. Here are a few of the highlights.
Rocky IV (1985)
If he dies, he dies.
Ivan Drago was Dolph's first great role, as a Soviet Wunderwaffe taking on Rocky (Sylvester 'Sly' Stallone) in the boxing ring.
...tall, blond, taciturn, and hateful.
- Chicago Sun-Times
Poor Rocky wouldn't really have stood the ghost of a chance against the battering ram Ivan Drago, but the overly-patriotic setup means he must be the victor.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
Dolph Lundgren is He-Man, displaying his body to full advantage in tacky body-armour. Frank Langella plays baddy Skeletor. The plot and the characters are two-dimensional, but the swordfights are impressive.
Skeletor: Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of evil?
The Punisher (1989)
Jake: What the **** do you call 125 murders in five years, huh?
Frank: Work in progress.
The Punisher is a big and brutal Marvel film, beginning and ending with Dolph as 'the Punisher' Frank Castle sitting naked in a sewer talking to God in a deep grumbling voice. In between, Frank wears black leather1, rides his motorcycle a lot, kicks and punches, scowls, and disturbs his former police buddy Jake (Luis Gossett).
Universal Soldier (1992)
In this film Dolph plays Sergeant Andrew Scott, who has been killing people and collecting their ears. He kills and is killed by Private Luc Deveraux ('The Muscles from Brussels' Jean-Claude Van Damme). Scott and Deveraux are resurrected and turned into Universal Soldiers GR13 and GR44. They begin to regain memories of their former life, so Scott becomes murderous again. In fight scenes, although Dolph has the advantage over Van Damme in height2, both actors trained in karate, so their skills are well-matched. The finale sees GR44 battering GR13 in a fight reminiscent of Rocky beating Drago - goodness must prevail... at least in film.
Dolph reprised the role of Sgt Scott in Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012).
Joshua Tree aka Army of One (1993)
Hostage Rita: What did you do? What's your crime?
Santee: Turned away from Jesus.
This film features Dolph as Santee, an ex-racing driver and handler of stolen goods who is framed for murder. Lots of car chases are involved, and the Joel Goldsmith score underlying the bleak desert landscape adds atmosphere.
This is about a fictional East German pentathlete who wins Gold in the 1988 Olympics then escapes from his abusive coach by travelling to the USA shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The film contains not-so-minor historical quibbles, but is of interest to fans for its attempts at sensitive characterisation alongside the action.
In a case of life imitating art, Dolph was the USA's Pentathlon Team Leader for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Films for Fans
Given a choice between more awful Dolph movies and no Dolph movies at all, I'd rather see another string of bad Dolph movies.
- Ziggie's Video Realm
The list of Dolph Lundgren films that weren't such big hitters is long. Here are some notable examples.
Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) is a cop buddy movie that is tacky, cheesy and corny. It features Dolph and Brandon Lee. In spite of the movie poster for Johnny Mnemonic (1995), which lists both Keanu Reeves and Dolph Lundgren as stars, Dolph only has a few scenes. He plays a killer preacher in this futuristic film.
Silent Trigger (1996) is a cabinet piece played out between only four characters, with several faceless SWAT teams being, well, swatted for the body count.
Shooter: There's an old saying: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
Spotter: Yeah. That's not a saying, it's a joke. An old joke.
Shooter: Really? I never laughed.
In The Peacekeeper (1997), Dolph carries the US President's black case with the red button in it, but terrorists get hold of it by using dastardly tricks on our military hero. They push the red button to pulverise Mount Rushmore then threaten to drop a nuke on Washington. Dolph goes after the terrorists in a pursuit that involves a rooftop car chase, and recovers the case amidst much bloodshed. The President shows up in a long black car expecting Dolph to hand over the black case like a good patriotic boy, but Dolph reckons he had better keep the thing until the politics of those rockets gets sorted out. So he wanders off into the woods with a grin and with the black case firmly locked to his wrist.
In The Minion3 (1998), Dolph plays a Templar saving the world from a diabolical threat. This film is a member of the 'The world will end on 31 December, 1999' genre. Bridge of Dragons (1999) is set in a post-apocalyptic world that contains no bridges to speak of and zero dragons. The same is true of The Last Patrol aka The Last Warrior (2000). Can S&M be boring? It can in Jill Rips (2000).
Agent Red (2000) is a submarine-set film featuring Dolph as Captain Hendricks in charge of transporting a biological weapon from Russia to the USA. Some of the dialogue is very apt.
General Stilwell: Never heard of Agent Red?
Matt Hendricks: Sounds like a bad action movie.
In Detention (2003), the audience can easily believe Dolph would keep any schoolyard in order. Delinquent adolescents just don't want to mess with that teacher. When the school is invaded by murderous criminals during detention, teacher and pupils work together to save the day. Retrograde (2004) is set in the year 2200 AD. Dolph goes back into the past and the Antarctic to fix a few things there in order to prevent a biological catastrophe. So the catastrophe doesn't happen. So Dolph doesn't really go back. See? The space-time paradox underlying the script is perhaps more interesting than the film. Dolph's scientific training may have tempted him to take on this role.
Dolph plays another agent of the law in The Good, the Bad, and the Dead (2015) and stars as a professional thief in Larceny aka Maximum Security (2017).
Dolph has also taken roles in television series, including SAF3 (2013-14) and Arrow (2016-17), and has appeared as himself in numerous documentaries. He even took the role of gamesmaster in Take the Tower (2018), a gameshow based on action movies, and lent his voice to the character Svengeance in the animated film Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022).
Another of his notable directing efforts is Icarus aka Dolph Lundgren is the Killing Machine (2010). Despite the title, Dolph plays Edward Genn, a family man whose past as an assassin begins to catch up with him.
Honourable Mention Goes To...
Maximum Potential (1987)
Dolph's fitness video for everybody who wants to have a go at achieving that perfect body4.
On typecasting and becoming a director:
...I've fired a gun every way you can fire one and thrown every possible punch. If I want to grow in this business, I've got to do different things.
On action movies:
The tension and release produced by an action movie satisfies a deep urge in the human body. [...] I think that action movies probably fill some sort of void in our emotional makeup.
On body and mind:
...when I watch a great athletic feat, like a basketball player soaring through the air, doing something seemingly impossible with his body, or a sprinter crossing the finish line, I'm speechless. At that moment, there's something about the body that's so primal, so pure. Godlike. [...] In martial arts, for example, when you're training extremely hard, when you're fighting and it's the last 30 seconds and you're totally finished and you know you have to get it together and find that source of energy [...] the body just takes over. I'm amazed by that. It humbles you. Reminds you how little you actually control things. [...] And then, of course, the biological process itself lends a certain urgency to life. I mean the experience of being injured, of healing, of aging, without your 'participation', as it were. It's astonishing, a miracle.
On martial arts:
I felt a little bad for my opponents but after winning those two fights, I knew full-contact was definitely for me.
- on the 2nd World Open Karate Tournament in Tokyo 1979, one of the earliest international full-contact tournaments, when he knocked out his first two opponents with a "hiza-geri" (knee-kick to the face)
I believe the martial arts made, and still make me, a better person.
Karate and physical fitness have kept me reasonably sane in a very tough and often spiritually empty business.
On heroes and villains:
Brando was the first to play the likeable villain. 'The Wild One' was a great image. I would like to play those kinds of roles, not the sugar-soft kind. Or a good kind of guy who's slightly unlikeable. You've got to have those two sides, otherwise you're boring.