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It was a knockout punch Sylvester Stallone couldn’t have seen coming. The Italian Stallion’s latest film, Bullet to the Head opened to an estimated $4.5 million dollars over the weekend. It ranks as the lowest opening for a wide release in Stallone’s career. To emphasize that point, here are three spectacular bombs on Stallone’s resume that still opened to bigger numbers than Bullet: 1984’s Rhinestone ($5.4M); 2001’s Driven ($12.1M); and 1992’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! ($7M).
The disappointing number for Stallone’s latest caught my eye for a different reason, though. Two weeks prior, box office analysts were blasting holes through Arnold Schwarzenegger’s failed bid for box-office glory, The Last Stand, when it opened to a meager $6.2M. At the time, pundits said audiences were telling Schwarzenegger – through their financial indifference – that they didn’t believe him in the action-hero role anymore, and they weren’t interested in these standalone law-enforcement endeavors that poke fun of his age.
What, then, do you think they are trying to tell Sly?
Are the days of box-office wine and roses over for the Planet Hollywood crew? Have audiences grown tired of these older men in action-heavy roles?
A few weeks ago, my answer would have been an emphatic, “No,” for several reasons. Stallone’s Expendables franchise, for starters, proves that ticket buyers will show up to see these action icons kicking ass on screen. And while the second Expendables earned less than its predecessor ($85M domestically versus $103M), both films made more than enough on the global market to get the wheels turning on a third installment -- perhaps with Wesley Snipes and Jackie Chan.
Elsewhere, you can also point to Liam Neeson’s Taken franchise as a lucrative property built on the shoulders of an older action hero. The 60-year-old Irishman’s only a few years behind Schwarzenegger (65) and Stallone (66), yet he doesn’t lean on his seniority as a punchline, and audiences have very little trouble accepting him as a lethal weapon. (Speaking of which, we can only pray that Mel Gibson and Danny Glover never reunite for a fifth Lethal Weapon, because that ship has sailed.)
Perhaps I’m just surprised to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger suffering such dreadful openings within such close proximity of one another. You have to go all the way back to 1985’s Red Sonja to find an Arnold movie that opened to a lower number than The Last Stand (and Sonja, in its defense, only opened in 1,091 locations according to BoxOfficeMojo). In their prime, Schwarzenegger and Stallone powered mediocre genre crap to impressive financial standings. Back in the day, studios could get away with a Jingle All the Way ($60.5M domestic gross) or an Assassins ($30.3M) because Arnold or Sly’s name above the title meant people were going to come regardless of the plot. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
If I had to answer my own question, I'd say that both men have some life in their action-hero legs, and these two abysmal openings just coincidentally occurred within weeks of each other. A movie flops for many reasons, and the age of the star doesn't have to be the deciding factor. I'm willing to chalk it up as an unfortunately bad stretch. In fact, the duo will join forces later this year for The Tomb, and if that's a hit, this column is moot.
However, I'm also paying attention to one other upcoming picture, and wondering if this action-hero malaise could swallow A Good Day to Die Hard, as well. For the first time, I’m legitimately concerned. Bruce Willis was one of the Planet Hollywood partners. He’s an official member of the Expendables ensemble. And at 57, he’s inching closer to that “too old for this shit” black hole that appears to be claiming his colleagues.
But the Die Hard sequel should be safe. For starters, it’s a damn Die Hard movie, and even the disappointing chapters (like Die Hard With a Vengeance) make money. Not to mention the fact that audiences (and critics) are far more interested in the thoughtful, challenging features Willis mixes into his workload in between action staples. You’d probably never catch Stallone or Schwarzenegger in a Wes Anderson comedy or a time-twisting thriller like Looper. By routinely shifting his approach, Willis keeps his fan base on its toes. They’re still willing to check back with the actor to see what he has up his sleeve.
However, if A Good Day to Die Hard opens to a lower number than Cop Out ($18.2M), Surrogates ($14.9M) or 16 Blocks ($11.8M), we could be adding yet another line to the eulogy that’s currently being written for my generation’s once-powerful action-movie icons … who could be going out with more of a whimper than a bang.