The Expendables 3, the latest in Sylvester Stallone’s and Avi Lerner’s star studded 80s inspired mercenary action franchise opened in theatres this weekend, recording a franchise worst of a measly $15.9 million. The film also failed to do decent business overseas, where the franchise has generally fared better, grossing a mere $15 million after opening in 22 markets. Naturally of course, commentators and bloggers alike have already chimed in on whether or not piracy is to blame for the film’s lacklustre box office earnings. It all started when a DVD worthy copy of the film leaked online, weeks before the film’s general release. According to THR, the film is estimated to have been downloaded a whopping five million times from various torrent and illegal file sharing sites. Of course, various blogs and sites are citing piracy as one of the key reasons why the film may have stumbled, citing that younger filmgoers, of whom the film’s PG-13 rating was meant to entice, were the ones who were more likely to stay at home and download the movie for free. I mean, come on, why pay for a mediocre action movie when you can download it for free? Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that maybe these young filmgoers don’t care much about 80s action stars long out of their prime, or a film whose previous two entries prided themselves on over the top hard R rated violence, now neutered down to a lame ass and relatively bloodless PG-13 rating. To completely blame the film’s poor box office reception on piracy would do a disservice to the mediocrity and dullness of the latest instalment in this cartoonish franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing that piracy is exempt from blame. Far from it. I’m just saying that it’s not the only reason. Let’s look at the piracy angle. According to NYT, the film is estimated to have lost around $4 million only within the US. Adding that figure to the film’s weekend total, that still puts the film around $8 million behind the second entry in the franchise which opened to $28.6 million back in 2012. Not to mention, that number still puts it behind the weekend totals of Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So even if you take piracy out of the equation, we’d still be talking about The Expendables 3 being a major disappointment at the box office. Granted, the film may have performed better overseas, but who knows. Maybe that’s where the real damage lies, but I don’t think so. I think there’s more. Obviously I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.
There’s a whole bucketload of reasons why the movie failed. Piracy is not chief among them. The film suffered from a variety of things; a law of diminishing returns, the reduction in quality, not to mention the PG-13 rating which alienated the franchise’s clearly older skewing audience. Yes, the clear pandering to younger audiences did not help the film’s box office potential as the filmmakers had hoped.
It’s unfortunate to say, but times have changed in the world of action movie, and unfortunately the stars of this ailing franchise have failed to change with it. The first Expendables movie was a silly, fun nostalgic trip down memory lane. A glorious throwback to those cheesy action movies of the 80s and early 90s, that myself, film buffs and dads remember watching. It was a fun, if rather silly, time. But that’s all it was. That’s all it should’ve been. A throwback. A one time thing. The second one was an example of more equals even more stupidity, with an entry that sat on the line between cheesy 80s throwback and Looney Tunes cartoon. It felt that the franchise had already gone too far. It felt outdated. Irrelevant. In a world where the action stars of today are superheroes in Iron suits and super soldiers and teenage girls with exemplary archery skills, it seemed that at this point in time, Stallone and his motley style of macho man, all guns blazing action kind of action hero, is no longer relevant. The Expendables are finite, already complete super beings who hold big guns and go in guns blazing. They live in a world where men are men and machismo is rife. Unfortunately for this new generation of cinema goer, The Expendables way of doing business is a thing of the past.
Younger audiences just don’t share the same familiarity with these stars as the previous generation. Besides the obvious familiar franchise stalwarts such as the Rambos, Rockys and Terminators, the non franchise movies of stars such as Stallone and Schwarzenegger have struggled to find a foothold within the box office. Schwarzenegger’s comeback movie, The Last Stand and this year’s Sabotage failed to set the box office alight. The Stallone vehicle Bullet to the Head, and the Stallone/Schwarzenegger team up, Escape Plan, also failed to make an impact at the box office. Not even the younger Expendable recruits, who were purely cast to pander to the younger audience, don’t have the same star draw that someone such say a… Jennifer Lawrence or a Scarlett Johansson does. Kellan Lutz, who was clearly the main focus of the younger expendables, being the only character to have some sort of arc in the movie, isn’t exactly a draw for the younger masses. Plus, despite putting on a decent showing, people still have reservations regarding the presence of Mel Gibson. Having been out of the game for so long, it’s a wonder that any younger audience member would know who he was outside his tabloid exploits.Not even the inclusion of a new female Expendable in Ronda Rousy could lure the audience in.
It doesn’t help that for hale the movie, the older expendables were sidelined in favor of a new crop of healthy young whippersnapper expendables. The core audience according to THR for Expendables 3 skewed to 25 and over. These guys didn’t come to Expendables 3 to see a bunch of kids hog the limelight, even if one of them is in that shitty vampire franchise that they were forced to watch by their wives/girlfriends/teenage daughters. They came to see the old guard do their thing, with the added bonus of Wesley Snipes and Harrison Ford. Not Kellan Lutz and Glen Powell.
No longer are these guys these what younger audiences view as the action heroes of today. They are not flawed superheroes, nor are they flawed creations in recent YA adaptations. They are muscular supermen without the powers or the flaws. They make decisions, go in guns blazing, blow shit up, then sit back and do shots or hard liquor after a hard days’ killing generic henchmen and blowing shit up. These guys got no time to brood like a bunch of whiny little brats. But alas, this type of action hero is done. A thing of the past.
The action heroes of today are superheroes with powers. They are a girl whose archery skills are second to none. They are a man in an iron suit, a man with hammer with an unpronounceable name. They are man out of his time, a super soldier with a shield. They are divergent. They are Tris, Katniss Everdeen, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Star-Lord, Gamora, a gun toting raccoon and a talking tree with a vocabulary of only three words. They are not the muscle bound, gun toting, no nonsense heroes of the 8os. They are Scarlett Johannson in Lucy.
It’s no coincidence that I mentioned either Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johansson as bigger draws a the box office. The recent success of films such as Lucy and The Hunger Games and Marvel’s output prove that the action genre is changing. And yes, I do include The Hunger Games in the action/adventure genre as it is.
Perhaps if The Expendables 3 featured the likes of Scarlett Johansson in a starring role, the movie may have made a bigger impact than it did. Thanks to her role as Black Widow in Marvel’s ever expanding universe, Johansson helped Luc Besson’s semi-action movie, Lucy become a box office hit, grossing $44 million in its opening weekend, beating the likes of the more muscle bound and more classical male centric action hero, Dwayne Johnson in Hercules. With talk over the blogosphere pretty much begging Marvel to make solo Black Widow movie or any female superhero movie for that matter, it’s a clear indication that times are changing in the action genre. No longer is the action movie the male dominated playground where only the big boys are allowed to play. Women now get to play in the sandbox. Audiences want to see female action heroes. Especially female audiences. According to Box Office Mojo, a whopping fifty percent of cinemagoers for Lucy were female. A whopping forty four percent of Guardians of the Galaxy’s audience were female. Once again, I don’t think the lack of star female power in the Expendables lineup is the sole problem, but with the franchise totally aiming for a hardcore male fan base, the film has alienated a demographic that is becoming ever more hungry to be represented in the action genre. Including a single, solitary female UFC fighter whose star power is yet to be proven, giving her three lines, essentially making her the token female of the group, is not the kind of thing that audiences are yearning for these days.
Audiences it seems are itching for something different in this genre. They don’t want throwbacks. They want a talking raccoon and a tree. They want a female superhero. They want a Tris Prior and Katniss Everdeen. Unfortunately, they don’t want the old school or the old school’s version of the new school.
It’s a sign of a changing world. No longer are these types of male dominated hung-ho testosterone fuelled action movies relevant in today’s market place. Perhaps they might never be relevant again. The point is, much like its stars, this style of action movie is getting creaky in the legs, about ready to call it a day. Perhaps it’s time for the Expendables to hang up their guns and call it a day.
Action movies are not what they used to be, and may never be again.