Bad guys are important. Without an endless array of nameless musclebound thugs, cowardly sneaks and psychopathic henchmen to beat up, mow down and drop from a great height with a witty quip, where would Arnie, Sly and the rest of The Expendables be? Still stuck in the straight-to-video bargain bin, that's where.
But despite being stuffed full of action heroes of yesteryear, the Expendables movies have largely ignored those all-important baddies - even casting old school good guys Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson as antagonists. The Expendables 3 features a cameo from a certain action movie wrong'un so obviously-suited to the franchise I had to check IMDB because I could have sworn he'd already been in one of them (I won't spoil it), but by and large the hit-men, thugs and henchmen of the VHS era have been criminally under-represented.
To right that wrong, here's our list - in no particular order - of ten of our favourite action movie adversaries who deserve to tool up once again...
Mad Max 2, Commando, Innerspace, Circuitry Man, Circuitry Man 2: Plughead Rewired
There's nothing that screams 1980s action movie more than a shirtless and glistening Arnold Schwarzenegger having a blue-lit punch-up in some kind of steelworks, all pipes and gantries and dangling chains, that ends with the impaled bad guy being told to "let off some steam". Brawny Australian actor Vernon Wells gave the Austrian Oak a genuine run for his money in Commando, despite his dodgy 'tache and penchant for fishnet vests. In the 1980s Wells notably faced off against both Arnie and Gibbo, who are in The Expendables 3, and Martin Short, who isn't.
Nils Allen Stewart
Mercenary, Bloodsport 2, The Quest, Barb Wire
Hulking Russian, Scottish, and Blackfoot Indian stuntman Nils Allen Stewart flirted with mainstream action in The Scorpion King and Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, and even played a lead role as another real-life Expendables candidate in The Jesse Ventura Story. But apart from that, Stewart's CV - which includes Mercenary, Bloodsport 2, The Quest, Barb Wire and Cop and a Half - illustrates the lot of the jobbing tough guy: he's billed simply as "Bouncer" three times and "Fighter" four times; he's played "Thug", "Head Thug", and "Deadly Thug"; and he's been "Large Man", "Cue Ball", and "Shaved Head Robber." Endearingly, he's also twice played a character called "Tiny."
David Patrick Kelly
The Warriors, 48 Hrs, Commando, Wild at Heart, The Crow
"Warriors… come out to plaaa-aaay!" A good bad guy surrounds himself with not just muscle, but the occasional weasel too. As the sneak who fingered the Warriors, the tight-lipped David Patrick Kelly personified the type of creep who followed the school bully around going "Yeah!" after every lunch money demand, so everybody cheers in Commando when Arnie break his promise ("You're a funny guy, Sully. I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last") and drops him off a cliff ("I lied").
Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport, Double Impact
First of the modern action stars - and perhaps still the greatest - Bruce Lee met bodybuilder Bolo Yeung on the set of a cigarette commercial. The slab-like Yeung also appeared in several Shaw Brothers films in the 1970s before meeting Jean-Claude van Damme; the Beast from the East faced off against the Muscles from Brussels in a couple of of movies in the late eighties and early nineties.
Karate Kid, Rambo II, Mercenary, Death Race 2000
"Finish him!" As every kid knows, there's no worse bad guy than a pushy parent yelling from the sidelines. In the first three Karate Kid movies (y'know, the proper ones) the sinisterly handsome Martin Kove played Vietnam veteran and ruthless sensei John Kreese of Cobra Kai dojo, which led to him spending a few years as a spokesperson for Cobra beer. He also appeared alongside Bolo Yeung and his Karate Kid pupil William Zabka in the marvelously-titled Shootfighter: Fight to the Death.
The Untouchables, Lady Dragon 2, Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection
There are many reasons to turn to crime: poverty, addiction, or just being born with the sort of face that makes people cross the road to avoid you and mothers gather their children off the streets. With his glittering eyes, hollow cheeks and sneering grimace, when Billy Drago appears on screen you just know he's a few bullets short of a few clip. Killed by everyone from Cynthia Rothrock to Bruce Campbell and Chuck Norris (twice), while Playing Al Capone's right-hand psycho Frank Nitti in The Untouchables, Drago did at least claim the bad guy distinction of becoming one of the few people ever to kill Sean Connery (a treacherous crew that also includes Finchy from The Office, bizarrely enough).
Kickboxer 2, Cyborg, Point Break
Scorcese and DeNiro. Ford and Wayne. Fellini and Mastroianni. Some of cinema's greatest bodies of work come when a director and actor form a synergistic partnership greater than the sum of its parts. That's certainly the case with Albert Pyun and New Zealand-born pro surfer-turned-tough-guy-actor Vincent Klyn. You might know Klyn as Warchild from Point Break ("We're just gonna fuck you up!"), but he also appeared in twelve of Pyun's movies, including Kickboxer 2 and Van Damme classic Cyborg - in which he played the chief bad guy named Fender Tremolo.
Tank Girl, Blue Thunder, Star Trek: Generations
Alan Rickman may have invented the suave-but-snarling British bad guy that dominated nineties action, and Gary Oldman may have got the most mileage out of the trend, but none embody the straight-to-video spirit of The Expendables better - or worse - than Malcom McDowell. An unassailable cinematic legend for his work in A Clockwork Orange, If… and O Lucky Man, McDowell deserves a place on our list for his unstinting commitment since then to appear in literally any old shit, no matter how cheap, inept or just plain pervy. Along the way he's sneered and slaughtered his way to the depths of depravity playing everything from a child-eating Russian serial killer to Satan himself, yet even the antics of the prince of darkness pale into insignificance next to McDowell's ultimate act of villainy: he killed Captain Kirk, for God's sake.
Lethal Weapon, Big Trouble in Little China, 24, too many more to list
Even bad guys care about diversity. Wes Studi, Danny Trejo and Tony Todd are among the hard men adding a bit of colour to crews of ne'er-do-wells in countless action movies, but the undisputed emperor of the, shall we say, exotic bad guys is Al Leong. Often billed as the Asian thug or some variation, Missouri-born stuntman and martial artist Leong is the henchman who steals the candy bar in Die Hard, the torturer in Lethal Weapon, and the guy dispatched by an ice cream cone to the back of the head in The Last Action Hero. Henchman don't come much hencher.
Basically every Arnie movie, Lethal Weapon, Gladiator
One of the dilemmas of the Expendables generation of hulking heroes is that they need villains of equal physical stature in order to pose some threat... enter Danish bodybuilder Sven-Ole Thorsen. You may recognise Thorsen as straw boater-sporting mall cop La Fours in Kevin Smith's Mallrats, or as Tigris the Gaul, the formidable fighter spared by Russell Crowe in Gladiator. But he's also faced off against Arnie in - deep breath - both Conan movies, Raw Deal, Predator ("Knock knock!"), The Running Man ("I've got to score some steroids"), Red Heat, Twins, The Last Action Hero, Eraser, End of Days and Collateral Damage. He's in Van Damme starrers Nowhere to Run and Hard Target, he's in Steven Seagal eco-pagger On Deadly Ground, and he's the demon that haunted Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. In Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 3 he plays a mercenary and Henchman no. 2, and he's even in 1997's proto-Expendables The Bad Pack, a sort of Magnificent Seven rip-off featuring Robert Davi, rowdy Roddy Piper and our old friend Vernon Wells.
As if that isn't proof of how nails this guy is, he's been in an open relationship with Grace Jones since the nineties. All hail Sven-Ole Thorsen, King of the Expendables of Bad Guys!
The Expendables 3 opens in UK cinemas on 14 August. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer (for no apparent reason) and some young guys no-one cares about, it's exactly what you expect it to be. Except for Antonio Banderas, who seems to think he's in a completely different movie.