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 411mania » Movies » Columns

The Death of Action Heroes: Expendables 3 Bombs at the Box Office
Posted by Steve Gustafson on 08.18.2014

My name is Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. Big thanks to Parts & Labor in Baltimore for a delicious dinner on Saturday and the Washington Nationals for taking care of me and my friends on Sunday. Let's get into it.

Many years ago, screenwriter David Callaham pitched The Expendables to a producer at Warner Bros. His draft of the screenplay eventually drew the attention of Sylvester Stallone, who took control of the project and re-wrote the script. With a budget of $82 million and the promise of gathering the biggest action heroes of the past, the film was about a group of elite mercenaries tasked with a mission to overthrow a Latin American dictator whom they soon discover to be a mere puppet controlled by a ruthless ex-CIA officer James Munroe. It pays tribute to the blockbuster action films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It earned $34.8 million in its opening weekend and took the #1 position in the U.S. box office. The film has made $103,068,524 in the U.S. and $171,401,870 in the international box office, bringing its worldwide gross to $274,470,394.All

The formula of bringing together various icons of movie history looked solid. Audiences were able to (again) enjoy the big screen stylings of Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews,Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke. Not to mention Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in uncredited cameos.

A sequel was quickly green lit and went on to out-gross the first movie with $312.5 million and received a more positive critical response.

A third movie was announced and even more names were attached. After production had wrapped, Randy Couture confirmed that, although The Expendables 3 had not yet been released, there were already plans for a fourth installment. This was confirmed in March 2014 by former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who stated that he had agreed with Avi Lerner to star in a future The Expendables sequel. Hulk Hogan claimed on hisTwitter account that he will be in the fourth film.

This is the part where we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Let's go back to the formula. Take a simple plot from the action movies of the 80s and 90s. Fill the movie with actors that audiences are familiar with, both younger and older icons. Release and watch the money roll in.

Not quite.

The Expendables 3 opened way, way below expectations this weekend. It took the #4 spot with just $16.2 million, far under the low to mid-twenties that Lionsgate was projecting it to do. With a budget of $90 million, it will need a strong international showing to make its money back and help continue the franchise.

So what went wrong?

PG-13 Rating
Love or hate movies from the 80s and 90s but one thing they had was excessive violence. Take a look at any offering from Stallone or Schwarzenegger and you'll see mega-explosions, gunfire galore, and a pinch of nudity here and there. A PG-13 rating is a nice try to make a grab at a broader audience but it can send a signal to the core fans that they're being robbed of seeing what this movie is supposed to be: Over-the-top action with over-the-top action heroes!

This is an old standby when ANY movie bombs. "It was marketed wrong." I just don't buy it with The Expendables. This is the third film in the franchise and people know what they are getting when they buy their ticket. The trailers were nothing special but at the same time, they didn't lead you to believe this was a period piece from the Shakespearean era. Which leads to...

Franchise Fatigue
Are people just tired of the idea of old men blowing things up? The film's initial numbers are the worst in franchise history. Look at the trend. The first opened to $34.8 million in 2010 while the second debuted to $28.6 in 2012. That's three films in a relatively short period. When you keep drilling for oil in the same well, you're bound to go dry. Which leads to...

Let's blame young audiences! With the continued strength of Guardians of the Galaxy and the surprising Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, did younger viewers simply not care? Both those movies managed to do more than $20 million in their third and second weeks in theaters. In a crowded marketplace, someone has to come last.

OK, this excuse really caught wind this weekend. As the disappointing numbers came in over the weekend, studio executives privately pointed the finger at a leaked copy of the film that hit the internet three weeks before its debut and was seen by 2.2 million people. 2.2 million.

I'll admit that I've seen copies being sold on the streets of DC the past two weeks, so I can believe it's even more rampant on pirate sites around the world.

"This is really a clear situation where this had an impact," said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com. "It's hard to measure, but the ripple effect, not only of the downloads, but of the word-of-mouth that spread as a result, can be seen in the soft opening."

It's tough to measure the impact of piracy on box office numbers. As easy as it is to point at the negative impact it has, you always find an exception to the rule. Take X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It was leaked over a month before it's opening date and it still made $373 million worldwide.

Still, research suggests that piracy can take a big chunk out of ticket sales. A 2011 study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that when a film is pirated prior to release, it loses nearly 20 percent of its potential revenue.

Is it time to say goodbye to The Expendables? Is a fourth one really necessary? I like the concept and feel its potential was never really scratched. I was never looking for Oscar worthy screenwriting and acting but I feel more weight could have been given to the franchise and its principal actors. Looks like we'll never get a chance to see the Hulkster get his moment to shine (again?) on the big screen.

My question:

Before I say GOODBYE!
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That's all the time I have. See you next week!


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