Buried among this week’s DVD and Blu-ray releases is a little something called Absolution, an action thriller that teams Vinnie Jones (remember him?) with Steven Seagal. It’s the third film in which the former Under Siege star plays contract killer John Alexander, and if you’re not familiar with the series, don’t worry — you probably aren’t aware of of most of Mr. Seagal’s recent filmography, which (with the exception of his jokey cameo in 2010’s Machete) has consisted of low-profile movies, usually shot in Europe or Asia, and released straight to home video. He’s done more than two dozen of these films since his last theatrical vehicle, 2002’s Half Past Dead, and he’s not the only one; Redbox kiosks and VOD menu screens are, these days, jam-packed with stars you’ve heard of, in movies you haven’t. So we put together this little quiz to help you reacquaint yourself with the current activities of these stars of yesterday — and today.
1. Which of the following action stars has appeared in the most direct-to-video movies?
a) Steven Seagal b) Jean Claude Van Damme c) Wesley Snipes d) Bruce Willis
2. Which of the following Oscar-winning actors has not appeared in a direct-to-video movie?
a) Christopher Walken b) Adrien Brody c) Nicolas Cage d) Morgan Freeman
3. In the 2012 direct-to-video feature Freelancers, Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Robert De Niro took second and third billing to which musician-turned-actor?
a) Mark Wahlberg b) LL Cool J c) Mariah Carey d) Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
4. Which Oscar nominee appeared, alongside top-billed Twilight star Kellan Lutz, in the 2011 DTV feature Arena, playing the overlord of a modern-day gladiator web series?
a) Viggo Mortensen b) Samuel L. Jackson c) Gary Oldman d) Bruce Dern
5. How many direct-to-video films released in 2014 did onetime Oscar nominee Eric Roberts appear in?
a) 4 b) 7 c) 12 d) 34
6. True or false: Stars of Seagal’s magnitude typically take small salaries for their appearances in these low-budget films.
7. Who starred in the cops-robbers-hostages film Chaos, which was shot in 2005 but not seen in the US until its direct-to-video release in 2008?
a) Wesley Snipes b) Jason Statham c) Ryan Phillippe d) James Woods
8. Which of the following direct-to-video action films did not star beloved rom-com fave John Cusack?
a) The Factory b) Vice c) The Prince d) Drive Hard
9. Which former Batman starred in the 2009 film Hardwired as the evil mastermind of a corporation that implants chips into human brains?
a) Michael Keaton b) Val Kilmer c) George Clooney d) Christian Bale
10. How many direct-to-video sequels were made to the 1992 Jean Claude Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren vehicle Universal Soldier?
a) 3 b) 4 c) 5 d) 6
Your answers are on the next page!
1. A; Seagal barely edges out Van Damme here, with 28 to JCVD’s 21. Snipes has clocked nine, including a sequel to his theatrical film The Art of War. Willis, with only five so far, is the up-and-comer here — but give him some time.
2. Joke’s on you — every single one of them has appeared in at least one direct-to-video feature. Some, more than one!
3. D; “50 Cent” is one of the most oddly omnipresent names in the world of direct-to-video, with more than 15 credits since 2008 — not only as an actor (even though he, to put it politely, can’t act), but as a writer and even director. Most importantly, he produces many of his films, luring such past and present big names as John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Val Kilmer, and, yes, De Niro and Whitaker to co-star in his projects.
4. B; though Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t appeared in as many DTV movies as you might think (considering his ubiquity and questionable taste), he did star in this one, and if you haven’t seen the trailer, boy do I have a treat for you:
5. D, believe it or not — including such classics as Chicks Dig Gay Guys, Six Gun Savior, Taco Shop, Santa’s Boot Camp, and Wild Things in Europe 3D. Roberts has become something of a legend for his jaw-dropping IMDb page, which, beginning in 2012, finds the Runaway Train and STAR 80 actor appearing in so many film and television roles, you might wonder if he’s at the center of a Multiplicity-style cloning project.
6. You’d think so, but false. Stars like Seagal aren’t doing these movies for love of craft or even to stay in the spotlight — they pay, and often well, with the salary of a marquee player often encompassing well over half a DTV movie’s budget. We haven’t heard much lately about those budgets and paychecks, but a 2005 lawsuit indicated Seagal was paid $4.75 million for the film Mercenary, while a 2004 New York Times piece on the industry noted that stars like Seagal and Snipes are often paid “as much as $6 million for pictures on which the total cost is kept to perhaps $8 million; a director may be paid as little as $125,000.” And when stars like Snipes and fellow DTV fave Nicolas Cage find themselves in deep with the IRS, a few of those big paychecks for quick work can come in handy.
7. Everyone but D. But Mr. Woods isn’t too good for a direct-to-video movie every now and again; see (or don’t) his 2006 feature End Game, starring Oscar-winner-turned-DTV-standby Cuba Gooding Jr.
8. B; however, Vice does star Bruce Willis, who co-stars with Cusack in The Prince (alongside our old pal 50 Cent). It also features Thomas Jane, who co-stars with Cusack in Drive Hard. Everybody knows everybody in DTV Land!
9. B; Mr. Kilmer has done a lot of direct-to-video work since he fell out of big-screen favor in the mid-‘90s, including — and this is true — playing Wyatt Earp in a 2012 DTV film called Wyatt Earp’s Revenge, in a rather transparent attempt to piggyback off Kilmer’s turn as Doc Holliday in 1992’s Tombstone.
10. A — fewer than you’d think, really. The 1998 films Universal Solider II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business, and the 2009 film Universal Soldier: Regeneration went straight to video, while the 1999 sequel Universal Solider: The Return and 2012’s Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning saw theaters on their way to video. And the latter film is actually something of a favorite among a certain type of cinephile, with several critics (including The Paris Review’s Nick Antosca, The Concourse’s Tom Breihan, and The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray) praising it as “a secret masterpiece,” “a brutal Lynchian psychological horror movie,” and “a highly subjective, often aggressively abrasive inquiry into the nature of identity.” Which just goes to show, as we can often forget, that even the goofiest-sounding exploitation vehicles can turn out to be, at their core, works of art.