A-List: The Expendables 3
One major selling point of the first Expendables movie was a scene that featured Stallone’s partners in the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis all appeared on camera together for the first time. Schwarzenegger’s political career was winding down and he was likely testing the waters for his eventual return to acting. And Willis likes paychecks. Their appearance gave The Expendables credibility. It was like the Justice League of action heroes. All your 80s favorites in one movie. Unless your eighties favorite was Chuck Norris or Clint Eastwood. But you get the point.
After the surprising success of the first movie, Stallone got to work on The Expendables 2. Schwarzenegger and Willis took on bigger roles. This was a franchise now. Everyone wanted a piece. Jean-Claude Van Damme who had turned down Stallone for the first movie agreed to play the villain in the sequel. The second movie did well enough for a trilogy. But it fell short of the first movie. No one seemed to take notice.
Stallone was back in business if not exactly back on top. In 2013 he teamed up with Robert DeNiro for Grudge Match. And later that year he and Schwarzenegger starred in The Escape Plan. It would have been a dream team match up in the 80s. But the novelty had word off. The Escape Plan opened in 4th place at the box office behind the remake of Carrie which also flopped.
Fortunately, they still had The Expendables franchise to fall back on.
During pre-production, Willis and Stallone got into a spat over money. Stallone put Willis on blast on Twitter calling the actor “lazy and greedy”. Which, by all accounts, he is. But it’s uncommon for one action movie star to call out another in such fashion. The fact of the matter is, Willis was the only guy in the cast who didn’t NEED The Expendables. His career may not be as vital as it once was. But he’s still relevant. For example, he’ll be appearing in Sin City 2 in a couple of weeks.
So Willis was out and the legendary Harrison Ford was in. That’s trading up. Until you take into account that Ford is old even by Expendables standards. Stallone stacked the deck with desperate former A-listers like Mel Gibson and recently-released from prison Wesley Snipes. It was like a What the Hell Happened convention. I kept waiting for an announcement that Val Kilmer would be cast as Stallone’s cousin, Skippy.
2014 has been a rough summer for Hollywood. Compared to last year, the box office has been down by 20%. Studios have been in panic mode. By the time August rolled around, they were desperately hoping that one or two of their releases would over-perform.
As it turns out, Hollywood got their wish. Two movies did exceed expectations. Those movies were Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Good for Megan Fox and Chris Pratt. Bad for the old guys. Making matters worse, The Expendables 3 leaked on the internet several weeks before it was released. No one can know how badly that leak hurt the movie. But it was certainly a factor.
As of this writing, the final box office numbers aren’t in. But it is certain that Ninja Turtles and Guardians will take the top two spots. Expendables 3 is in a battle for third place with the low-budget comedy, Let’s Be Cops. And if the numbers hold up, it’s going to loose that battle. Regardless of whether it places at third or fourth, this is a major setback for the franchise and the actors who rely on it.
So who are the winners and losers in all this? Well, the only potential winner is Bruce Willis who gets to thumb his nose at Stallone. If there is a fourth Expendables movie, you can bet Willis will be offered a handsome sum to return.
The big loser is Stallone. As the architect of the franchise, this is his baby. And as every other movie he has starred in has demonstrated, he needed it. It was the goose that laid the golden eggs. And if it isn’t dead, it is fatally wounded. Schwarzenegger at least has next years Terminator 5 to cling too. Stallone has no life boat. And then there are guys like Gibson, Snipes and Banderas. They were no doubt counting on The Expendables 3 for a career bump if not a full comeback. They will have to look somewhere else.