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Theatrical release poster
Theatrical release poster

Sudden Death is a 1995 American sports action thriller film directed by Peter Hyams and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe, and Dorian Harewood. The film was released in the United States on December 22, 1995. Set at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, the film was written by Gene Quintano, based on a story by Karen Elise Baldwin, the wife of then-Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin, who was a co-producer. It was the second collaboration between Van Damme and Hyams, after Timecop (1994).

The film was a box office disappointment in the United States, grossing less than $20.4 million at the box office on a $35 million budget. However, the film was a success internationally, particularly in Australia, Philippines, Germany, and the United Kingdom, making $64 million worldwide.[1] In other countries, it made close to $50 million in profit with video sales. It received mixed to negative reviews at the time of its release,[2] although retrospective reviews have been more positive and it is seen by many as one of Van Damme's best.


Darren McCord is a French Canadian-born firefighter for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire now serving as the fire marshal for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, after being unable to save a young girl from a house fire. During the Stanley Cup Finals, a group of terrorists take the Vice President of the United States and several other VIPs hostage in a luxury suite. Former CIA operative Joshua Foss has the arena wired with explosives, and plans to blow it up at the end of the game, while having hundreds of millions of dollars wired into several off shore accounts.

While attending Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks with his daughter Emily and his son Tyler, Darren discovers a criminal operation in the arena. Emily is kidnapped by Carla, the sole female member of the terrorists, disguised as the local mascot Iceburgh. Carla places Emily in the suite with the other hostages about to be executed. Darren finds a mobile phone in the executive offices and uses it to contact Secret Service Agent Matthew Hallmark, who advises Darren to stand by while the agents take charge. He angrily refuses, saying that he will handle this himself.

The Secret Service and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police team up to surround the arena and a standoff ensues. Meanwhile, Darren manages to find and disarm a few of the bombs, whilst Foss kills several hostages after the second period ends. Hallmark finally makes his way inside and meets Darren, who explains where the rest of the bombs are most likely located. Hallmark is revealed to be in league with Foss, and tries to kidnap Tyler, but fails. Hallmark then reveals his true self to Darren, who sets him on fire, and ultimately kills him. Darren then uses Hallmark's phone to contact Foss, who taunts that he is holding his daughter captive.

As time ticks down, Darren disables more bombs, but is severely slowed by confrontations with Foss's men. At one point, Darren, dressed as the Pittsburgh goalie to escape the thugs, enters the game and successfully defends a shot on goal. As the third period runs down, Luc Robitaille scores the game-tying goal for Pittsburgh in the last second, prompting sudden death overtime and prolonging the game. Deciding that there's no time left to find the remaining bombs, Darren climbs to the roof of the arena. He fights off two of Foss' henchmen; one of them falls onto the score display, blowing it up. As the arena erupts into chaos, Darren advances upon the owner's box from above and forces his way in, rescuing Emily and the remaining hostages.

Foss manages to escape and blend in with the panicking crowd. He sets off one of the bombs, flooding part of the arena, and recaptures Emily when she recognizes him. They head towards the top of the arena, where a helicopter is waiting to lift Foss away. Darren intervenes and saves his daughter. As Foss attempts to flee, Darren shoots the pilot, causing the chopper to stall and fall into the arena, sending a screaming Foss to his death as the chopper explodes on impact with the ice.

Darren is led to an awaiting Pittsburgh Bureau of EMS medic unit while his children tell the paramedics of his heroism. As a contented Darren gets loaded inside the ambulance, it is presumed that he was restored back to his position.



It was based on a spec script by Gene Quintano called Arena.[4]

Howard Baldwin, chairman of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was one of the film's backers. He had a two-year deal with Universal.[5] Baldwin wanted to use footage from the October 1 game opener between Pittsburgh and Chicago, but the game was delayed due to a lockout. He arranged an exhibition game, but the players from Pittsburgh and Chicago apparently did not display the correct intensity. So they arranged another game involving players from the Johnstown Chiefs and Wheeling Thunderbirds of the East Hockey League. Crowd shots were done over one night using between 2,000 and 3,000 extras, plus cardboard cut outs to make the stadium seem like 17,000.[6]

Sudden Death was filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it is set, and Middletown, New York, in 98 days between August 29 and December 7, 1994. Parts were filmed at the then-unopened and now closed Veterans Hospital in Aspinwall, PA.[7]

The final helicopter crash was filmed with a 400 ft crane that could pick up and lower the helicopter into the arena. Nine cameras recorded the event, which was filmed several times, and hundreds of emergency vehicles were on standby in case of an accident.[7]


The film received a mixed reaction.[8][9][10] On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Sudden Death holds a 51% critical approval rating, based on only 35 reviews; the website's consensus states "Sudden Death may not be a classic, but exciting set pieces and strong work from Jean-Claude Van Damme help this action thriller pay off part of its Die Hard debt."[11] Critic Roger Ebert gave the film two and half stars out of four and stated that, "Sudden Death isn't about common sense. It's about the manipulation of action and special-effects sequences to create a thriller effect, and at that it's pretty good."[12]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[13]

Sudden Death opened in the United States on the weekend of December 22, 1995, in eighth place, making $4,782,445 at 1681 theaters, with a poor $2,845 per screen average, and a $20,350,171 final tally.[2] Internationally it fared better, with a worldwide gross of nearly $64 million.[1] In other countries, it made close to 50 million in profit with video sales.


The novelization of the film was written by American writer Stephen Mertz.[14] The audio book is read by Powers Boothe.


On August 2019 it was reported that remake to be titled Welcome to Sudden Death is in production from both Universal 1140 and Netflix for a June 2020 release date. The film will star Michael Jai White and Gary Owen in a more comedic take on the material[15]

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