The film was based on a story by Karen Elise Baldwin (the wife of then-Pittsburgh Penguins owner, Howard Baldwin, who also produced the film).
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
While attending Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks (a fictional rematch of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals) with his daughter Emily (Whittni Wright) and his son Tyler (Ross Malinger), he discovers a crime operation occurring in the arena.
Soon a gang of bloodthirsty terrorists led by former US government employee and fired CIA operative Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe) is holding U.S. Vice President Daniel Binder (Raymond J. Barry) and several other VIPs hostage in a luxury suite.
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. Darren must not just stop Foss, but somehow send the game into overtime and rescues both his son and daughter simultaneously.
Darren is pulled into the plot when Emily is kidnapped by Carla, the sole female member of the terrorists dressed as the mascot Iceburgh. Carla places Emily in the suite with the other hostages about to be executed.
Darren heads up to the executive offices and finds a mobile phone, with which he gets in touch with Secret Service Agent Matthew Hallmark (Dorian Harewood), 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 Police team up to surround the arena and a standoff ensues. Meanwhile, Darren manages to find a few of the bombs and disarm them, whilst Foss goes about killing several hostages after the 2nd period ends. Agent Hallmark finally makes his way inside and meets with Darren, who explains where the rest of the bombs are most likely located.
It is then revealed that Hallmark is in league with Foss & tries to kidnap Tyler, but fails. Hallmark then reveals his true self to Darren and Darren burns him alive. Darren then uses Hallmark's phone to contact Foss, who taunts him with the news that he is holding his daughter captive.
As time quickly ticks down, Darren manages to disable more bombs, but is severely slowed by confrontations with Foss's men. At one point, the fire marshal must pretend to be the Pittsburgh goalie to escape the thugs and ends up successfully defending a shot.
The third period runs down, and with the Penguins down by one goal, Luc Robitaille scores the equalizer in the last second, bringing the game to sudden death and prolonging the game, but only until the next goal is scored. Darren decides that there's no time left to find the remaining bombs and climbs up to the roof of the arena. He advances upon the owner's box from above and forces his way in, rescuing Emily and the remaining hostages.
Meanwhile, Foss manages to escape and blend in with the chaos that has ensued by one of Foss's henchmen falling from the roof through the score display and blowing it up. Foss sets off one of the bombs, flooding part of the arena & recaptures Emily when she recognizes him.
They head up towards the top of the arena where a helicopter is waiting to lift Foss away. Darren intervenes and saves his daughter. Foss flees, and a wounded Darren shoots the pilot through the floor and a screaming Foss is killed as the chopper falls into the arena and explodes on impact with the ice.
Darren is led to a waiting ambulance while and his son and daughter comment to the paramedics about how their father is a hero. A contented Darren is put inside the ambulance as the film ends.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme as Darren McCord
- Powers Boothe as Joshua Foss
- Raymond J. Barry as U.S. Vice President Daniel Binder
- Whittni Wright as Emily McCord
- Ross Malinger as Tyler McCord
- Dorian Harewood as Matthew Hallmark
- Kate McNeil as Kathi
- Michael Gaston as Hickey
- Audra Lindley as Mrs. Ferrara
- Brian Delate as Blair
- Faith Minton as Carla
- Manny Perry as Brody
- Brian Hutchison as Young Secret Service Agent
- Jay Caufield as Brad Tolliver
- Bill Clement as the pre-game announcer
- Cleveland Lumberjacks players as Chicago Blackhawks players
- Ian Moran as Chris Chelios
- Jeff Jimerson as Himself (credited as "Anthem Singer")
- Mike Lange as Himself (credited as "Play-by-Play Announcer")
- Mario Lemieux as Himself
- Luc Robitaille as Himself
- Paul Steigerwald as Himself (credited as "Color Commentator")
- Markus Näslund as Himself (uncredited)
- Bernie Nicholls as Himself (uncredited)
- Ken Wregget as Himself (uncredited)
- John Barbero as PA Announcer (uncredited)
"Sudden Death" was set and filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Middletown, New York. It was filmed in 98 days from August 29th to December 7, 1994.
Howard Baldwin, then-chairman\owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins was one of the film's backers. He had a two-year deal with Universal Pictures
Baldwin wanted to use footage from the October 1st game opener between Pittsburgh and Chicago, but it was delayed due to the 1994-1995 NHL lockout.
He arranged an exhibition game, but the players from Pittsburgh and Chicago didn't display the correct intensity, so they arranged another game involving players from the Johnstown Chiefs and Wheeling Thunderbirds of the East Hockey League (EHL).
The 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 people were there).
According to writer Randy Feldman, he wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the movie as a comedy\action movie parody, but the only scene that remained in the finished film was the scene where Jean Claude Van Damme fights the penguin mascot.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis were considered for the role of Darren McCord, but they all turned the role down before Jean Claude Van Damme even got the part.
Stallone turned the role down because he didn't like the quality of the script and Willis turned the part down because he was already working on Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
James Woods was considered for the role of Joshua Foss, but turned it down because he didn't like the direction of the character.
Grand L. Bush, Giancarlo Esposito and John Marshall Jones were each considered for the part of Agent Hallmark. In the end, Dorian Harewood got the role.
Mara Wilson was offered the role of Emily McCord (the daughter of Jean-Claude Van Damme's character), but her parents didn't allow her to accept it due to the violent content of the script. The role ended up going to Whittni Wright.
"Sudden Death" debuted at #8 at the box office, grossing $4,782,455 during its opening weekend with a poor $2,845 per screen average.
Domestically, the film grossed $20,350,171, but internationally, it fared a little better with a worldwide gross of nearly $64 million. In other countries, it made close to $50 million in profit with video sales.
"Sudden Death" received a mixed reaction from critics, but some of them considered it to be one of Jean Claude Van Damme's best films to date.
It currently holds a rating of 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Roger Ebert gave the movie three in a half stars, stating 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".
Rolling Stone said, "Despite the elaborate stunts, go-go-go direction from Peter Hyams, plus butt-kicking and surprise goalie action from Van Damme, Death deserves the hockey-puck booby prize for joining the nasty Nick of Time in getting its jollies by putting kids in jeopardy".
The San Francisco Chronicle called it "one of the best action thrillers of 1995".