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The Expendables have fallen, and they can't get up. This weekend's box office suggests that The Expendables 3 has at least temporarily ended the big budget action franchise spotlighting action heroes of yesterday and tomorrow. Though many reasons have been stated as to why the series has shown declining popularity, one suggestion was a massive piracy leak weeks ago, as a pristine copy of the film circulated online weeks before release. But is piracy really the boogeyman here?
The New York Times crunched the numbers and found out that, if the downloads represented paying customers (and many came from overseas), then the film lost a potential $4 million in gross. Which is nothing to sneeze at – that's basically an entire Bruce Willis salary. But it's not a doomsday scenario depicted by some who are discussing the movie's flopping. If the third one was going to do the exact same business of the second movie, which debuted to $28 million, the money lost would still not account for an additional $6 million it lost in registering its feeble $16 million starter.
That's assuming all the downloads occurred in America, which they absolutely didn't – the franchise has been much healthier internationally, with 72% of the second film's overall gross coming from foreign territories. It's still too early to forecast how well part three will do worldwide, though The Expendables 2 banked $53 million in China back before that country's film economy was still taking shape, and was not yet the juggernaut it is today. Remember, it was the biggest region for Transformers: Age Of Extinction, pulling in a staggering $300 million. Maybe The Expendables 4 is still alive, even if they'll need to make some necessary adjustments.
So, we're back to the dreaded "franchise fatigue" as a reason for why this film failed. That makes sense, as the first film had the greatest appeal. Here were some of the greatest action legends in one place, finally. It's the sort of gimmick you can only pull off once, and just because the second one gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do while opening the door for Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris doesn't mean the film had the same novelty. The third film had a similar lack of appeal: the second at least had the thrill of a lot of guys who haven't been on big screens in awhile, particularly Schwarzenegger. But the third film's theoretically exciting additions of Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes were less exciting, because of course they would do the movie: none of those guys have been strangers to taking a quick paycheck.
After 2002's Signs, Gibson's only other big mainstream film was Edge Of Darkness, and he's only been in indies and flops since then. Snipes, a would-be star attraction, hasn't made a major movie since Blade Trinity a full ten years ago. That would appeal to someone who enjoys R-rated movies. PG-13 audiences, not so much.
So, long story short, blame all of that. Not piracy.