“Hard Target” stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as a martial arts master marine veteran hired as a bodyguard for a young woman played by Yancy Butler, who’s searching for her missing father. What they discover is that her father was killed by a private club led by a delectably evil Lance Henriksen, which has been hunting human beings for the sport of it. Pretty soon, Van Damme is standing on top of speeding motorcycles and shooting cars until they explode, like you do.
While the motorcycle part was definitely new, the DNA for “Hard Target” — and so many other movies and TV shows that it’s legitimately hard to keep count — comes from a 1924 short story and a movie called “The Most Dangerous Game.” The original tale was written by Richard Connell, a novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter who also co-wrote the story for Frank Capra’s classic “Meet John Doe.”
It’s the tale of a world-famous hunter, Rainsford (Joel McCrea), who escapes a sinking ship and swims to an island where a madman, Zaroff (Leslie Banks), hunts human beings for sport. While Zaroff initially hopes Rainsford will join him as one of the hunters, Rainsford draws the line at killing humans instead of animals and instead is forced to become the hunted. Blood-curdling adventure ensues.
This is a story that shines a light on the moral hypocrisy of big game hunting, which was particularly popular at the time, and the basis for hit films like the blockbuster epic “Trader Horn,” a movie with so much racism and real-life death and violence on camera that it’s legitimately difficult to watch. (And “Trader Horn” was nominated for Best Picture too. Yikes.) Anyway, it’s an ingenious subversion, blending old-fashioned derring-do with social commentary about classism and animal rights.
And in the decades that followed, it got ripped off constantly.