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Film / Sudden Death

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This is the story of Sudden Death
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
A pretty awesome movie about terrorists and hockey
Jean-Claude Van Damme!
Andy Dwyer singing about this movie, Parks and Recreation

Sudden Death is a 1995 action thriller, directed by Peter Hyams and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe, and Dorian Harewood.

The story is about Darren McCord, a Pittsburgh fire marshal who is on duty during the seventh game of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals. During the game, he uncovers a terrorist plot to hold its attendees—including his own kids, and the Vice President of the United States—for ransom.

A remake, Welcome to Sudden Death, was released Direct to Video in September 2020. Directed by Dallas Jackson and with Michael Jai White in the lead role, it centers around a different sporting event (a basketball game) and features a more comedic take on the plot. It drew largely negative reviews and has seemingly put the franchise on ice.

Tropes in Sudden Death include:

  • 555: The first three digits of the Civic Arena kitchen's phone number, where Andrew works. One of Foss' goons recites them to Andrew's wife when forcing her to call him while under hostage.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality:
    • This movie requires you to accept that this game is so interesting that every single person in the stadium - right down to the maintenance workers who are supposed to be behind the scenes and every security guard in the building - are either watching the game or has been compromised. Otherwise there is no way Darren could wander the entire building, which seems empty despite probably being the most occupied building in the city at that time.
    • Also, before overtime begins the players are shown in the bench. The playoff rules mandate that they should go to the locker room... which in the Penguins case means they would find it riddled with bullets and with some corpses.
  • Accidental Athlete: At one point Darren McCord actually has to pretend to be the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie to avoid the terrorists who have invaded the arena. He even makes a crucial save to prevent the Blackhawks from winning in regulation.
  • Alternate History: The movie is set in June 1995, the last 3/4 takes places during game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks. It was filmed before the 1994-95 NHL season even started (taking advantage of a lockout that made it easy to film at the Penguins' stadium for as long as they wanted.) The two teams that actually played during that season's championship round were the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils - who even beat the Blackhawks and Penguins respectively during that playoffs (the Wings beating the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, and the Devils beating the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, both in 5 games). The Devils swept the Red Wings in 4 games to win the Stanley Cup.
  • As Himself: The Penguins' real-life radio announcers (Mike Lange, Paul Steigerwald) and some of their players at the time (Luc Robitaille, Markus Näslund).
  • Bad with the Bone/Improvised Weapon: Darren to the Mook's neck.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Pittsburgh's mayor and his wife, several executives of the mayor and the U.S. Vice President, Andrew the chef and his wife, some Pittsburgh road workers and Civic Arena employees, among other innocent people, died terribly. However, McCord alone manages to save all of the over 10,000 fans who attended the biggest hockey game of the season, both teams and the broadcast crew, his children, the Vice President, and everyone else alive in the building by pursuing and finally killing Foss in a satisfyingly grand blaze, and makes it out injured, but alive. Before Emily is stolen by Foss during the climax, an executive for the VP tells Darren that the VP would like to meet him. After the events of the film, he could have ended up giving Darren a reward or some form of grand recognition for his heroic efforts.
  • Catastrophic Countdown: Once the game is over the Big Bad will blow the stadium.
  • Chekhov's Skill: When he's showing Tyler the Pens' locker room, McCord has a throwaway line saying he used to be a non-professional hockey goalie. Those old skills come in handy later when he has to hide in plain sight out on the ice.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Darren McCord is a textbook example, as he uses whatever he can get from his surroundings to beat the bad guys. Examples include, but are not limited to: boiling oil, a broken bone, gym equipment, hockey sticks, a squirt gun...
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Averted - it's actually pretty surprising that once they get Darren off of the little girl in the beginning, they just stare at her body and don't do CPR. Even in this situation any EMT or firefighter worth their chops would be all over that girl searching for any small spark of life left to work with.
  • Dark Action Girl: Carla, the henchwoman dressed up as Iceburgh the Penguins’ mascot, gives Darren a very hard fight in the kitchen.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mostly by the Faux Affably Evil villains, especially Carla, Jefferson, Scratch and finally Foss himself. Their villainous wisecracks are enjoyable to see.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Averted. Carla is the first of the terrorists to die at Darren's hands.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Die Hard at an ice hockey game.
  • Expy: Joshua Foss, the terrorists' leader, seems to be inspired by Hans Gruber from the first Die Hard movie. They're both shown to be suave and elegant men, but heartless monsters at the core with no feelings for anyone who gets hurt.
  • Evil Is Petty: Foss has McCord dead to rights and is about to escape in a helicopter. He wastes precious seconds and the chance to kill our hero by deciding to kill Darren's daughter instead, out of sheer sadistic spite, complete with a little speech about how he wants Darren to spend the rest of his life mourning that he couldn't save her. Darren gets his Heroic Second Wind, takes the bullet for his kid (in the shoulder), and fatally fucks Foss up.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Big Bad Joshua Foss and his terrorist henchmen (notable examples include Carla and Jefferson as well as the food-loving Scratch, the explosive expert with the Uzi and last, but not least The Mole Agent Hallmark). Out of all the other "Die Hard" on an X villains, these terrorists are the most wisecracking.
  • Full-Body Disguise: Darren dresses like a Penguins Goalie and goes out on the ice, sits next to and gets greeted by the team, plays goalie well, and no one notices that it's him and not the actual goalie. Not the other players, not the coach, not the audience... but for some reason the Mooks across the stadium recognize him, and his son way up in the nosebleed seats (though the only way the son recognized him was via their Secret Handshake).
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: Darren pulls one of these on a player of the opposite team while disguised as the Penguins goalie, in order to get out of the game.
  • Homemade Flamethrower: Darren makes one out of a small toy squirt gun (filled with a flammable substance) and a lighter.
  • I Have Your Wife: One of the cooks is forced to comply with Foss when his wife is held hostage. Scratch kills her as the game starts.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: A mook messes up by saying Carla's name. He then Lampshades it by saying "You didn't say it, did you? I'm always doing things like that..."
  • Karmic Death: Carla killed a woman to steal her mascot outfit. During her fight with Darren, the same outfit she's still wearing ends up stuck in a machine used to clean dinner plates, causing her to be simultaneously strangled and boiled alive.
  • Never Heard That One Before: When Hallmark calls up, Foss drly notes that "they cared enough to send the very best." The novelization notes Hallmark citing the trope "in the tone of someone who had heard that one at least once a week since the third grade."
  • No OSHA Compliance: Not a single usher is checking the seats to make sure everyone evacuated safely nor noticed a child sitting by himself in the stadium that everyone just evacuated due to an explosion. McCord, being the fire marshal on duty, is sure to include this in his report.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Much like Death Warrant five years prior, this movie tries to pass off Van Damme's Belgian accent as Quebecois. Then again, a Fake Canadian is appropriate to a hockey-themed movie.
  • Novelization: By Steven Mertz. An audiobook adaptation was released at the same time, read by Powers Boothe, who plays the film's villain.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Twice, in the girls room and in the office.
  • Pet the Dog: When the game is tied up, the Big Bad decides the extra time is fair.
  • Pittsburgh: Filmed at the now gone Civic Arena. Seeing this movie is basically a rite-of-passage for Pens fans.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The Penguins and the Blackhawks actually met in the Stanley Cup Finals once before in real life. In 1992, the Penguins swept the Blackhawks in four straight games to win their second straight Stanley Cup.
  • Real Person Cameo: Many of the hockey players, the announcers, and even the man with the fabulous hair doing the National Anthem are actually part of the Penguins organization. Paul Steigerwald (the younger announcer) and Jeff Jimerson (the Anthem singer) still do those jobs with the Penguins in 2016! The game on the ice was played by one of the Pens' farm teams from Wheeling, WV.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: That helicopter they dropped through the roof at the end? They really did that. Ask anyone though and they'll swear it looks fake. Though while the helicopter crash itself is real, it doesn't help that there are some rather obvious chroma-key shots of the helicopter flying past some of the other characters which do look a bit fake, which may trick some viewers into thinking the whole thing is fake.
  • Rule of Funny: Darren fighting the Penguins Mascot. Even more because the original writer said this scene was the only remnant of his script, intended as an Affectionate Parody instead of a straight-up action movie.
  • Shirtless Scene: The locker room, full of big burly hockey players.
  • Short-Lived Aerial Escape: Darren shoots out the pilot and the Big Bad does a LONG Big "NO!" as the helicopter slowly crashes tail-first into the skating ring below in an orange fireball.
  • Spanner in the Works: Foss has a pretty good plan going and it might well have worked. All it took to wreck it was for one little girl to run off from her seat, her dad looking for her and stumbling onto the whole plot.
  • Title Drop: The title of the film is displayed in big, flashy letters on the stadium score counter once the game reaches overtime.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Several times action takes place over and around a crowd who simply cannot be distracted from the game. Not a single person is looking anywhere but the game.
  • Wait Here: Darren tells Emily and Tyler to sit and watch the game. By themselves. Tyler listens. Emily gets fed up with her brother and marches straight into the plot.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Darren McCord's ex-wife, who only appears in a single scene early on and her dialogue entirely consists of being irked that Darren decided to visit his children that day (if at all) and that she doesn't wants them to go with Darren to the stadium (even if it's the Stanley Cup and they both love the sport). Her children and both husbands look at her like she's gone nuts (eventual hostage situation notwithstanding).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • We never find out who wins the game. Everyone panics and leaves at an explosion and that's that. To be fair, the stadium is in no shape to finish the game out by the end...
    • When the Big Bad decides to blow the stadium, only one charge remains. It blows a water line, sending water down a ramp, tripping people. This does not impact our protagonists at all, and is never brought up again.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: When Hallmark has a gun pulled on Darren instead of just shooting him he tells him to take his hands out of his pockets first. Bad move.
  • Would Hit a Girl: A brutal fight to the death between Darren and a female assassin, which ends with the villain being simultaneously strangled and boiled alive. Though she's dressed as a penguin during their bout.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The terrorists are willing to harm Darren's daughter, who's being held hostage by the Big Bad during the film (they would have killed her immediately, but the hostage-taker used all her bullets on a security guard before she could shoot Emily).
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Foss guns down the cook who was forced to help the terrorists, while Scratch kills the cook’s wife back at his home. In a sad, but ironic twist of fate, Paul Mochnick who played the cook in the film died six months prior to release of the film.