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Get ready to go down the rabbit hole of 80’s action cinema. I sat with an iconic 80s & 90s action film director, writer, and producer this week – Sheldon Lettich brought to our screens some epic actors and fighters like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone. He’s the trailblazing director and writer of Lionheart (1990), Bloodsport (1988), Rambo III (1988), and the Cold War drama, Russkies that first introduced us to the phenomenon that is Joaquin Phoenix.
An Ex-French Soldier begins participating in underground street fights in order to make money for his brother’s family.
Lettich’s experience as a Vietnam veteran has inspired much of his films and plays throughout his career. Paired with his academic background in photography and cinematography, he bulldozed the action film scene with other classics like The Order, Double Impact, and The Last Patrol.
Between 1983 to 1987, Lettich wrote and directed a couple of short films that did not pick up as much. The following year, he wrote and the martial arts classic, Bloodsport – inspired by tall tales from Frank Dux that Lettich became a famous name in Hollywood.
The film also launched Jean-Claude’s career, the star of Bloodsport who played Frank Dux, an American martial artist serving in the military, who decides to leave the army to compete in a martial arts tournament in Hong Kong where fights to the death can occur.
If you love Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat then you have Sheldon to thank. Bloodsport was the first time you have multiple fighters, from around the world, with unique styles fighting in a tournament.
The commercial success of Bloodsport, which grossed $50 million on a $2.3 million budget catalyst more trailblazing films. Lettich signed an overall deal immediately with White Eagle Productions that led to his collaboration, co-writing Rambo III alongside Sylvester Stallone in 1988. The movie was a HIT for the Box office. It outperformed his previous project, grossing $189 million on its $63 million budget.
One thing I discovered speaking to Sheldon is that Bloodsport was NOT A TRUE STORY. The person that the film was based on, Frank Dux, was apparently a brilliant storyteller. There were lawsuits, books written, just and absolute mess. Either way the film is a masterpiece of 80’s action cinema.
Another classic in Sheldon’s canon was the highly anticipated sequel, Rambo III starring Sylvester Stallone. Rambo mounts a one-man mission to rescue his friend Colonel Trautman from the clutches of the formidable invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Lettich reunited with his friend, Jean-Claude in 1990 for the fan-favorite, Lionheart. This time directing and as a co-writer. He approached the project to allow Jean-Claude to display versatility, compassion, and rises beyond the “Karate Guy”, now that he had become a household name. The film made $24.3 million on a $6million budget and became popular amongst his films.
The two, Lettich and Van Damme, immediately followed up with their third of several collaborations, Double Impact in 1991 with Jean-Claude playing a set of twin brothers who were separated when their parents were murdered but 25 years later they re-unite in order to avenge their parents’ death.
Like their initial projects, this one too became a critical and commercial hit.
It was a nostalgic thrill chatting with Sheldon about these movies that are part of the beautiful tapestry that is 80’s action cinema.
Enjoy this throwback entertaining conversation with Sheldon Lettich.
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