C'mon Hollywood: Can Schwarzenegger and Stallone recover from their recent flops?
As a child of the ‘80’s I was immersed in the action films of that era. The macho posturing, endless ammunition, colorful villains, creative profanity, and blood-squib splatters were brought to me regularly by three key actors: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis, with many others filling in the gaps (Steven Seagal, Van Damme, Lundgren, Snipes, etc.). I never fathomed a time when the genre would change or die, it was just the way things were. And I was happy for it.
Then, sometime in the late ‘90’s a shift began. The quality began to decline, the showmanship was half-assed, and the vigor of the previous era had been replaced by safer or experimental genres that just didn’t click. Minus a few hits here and there, the power of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis seemed to take a nosedive. Stallone began hiding out in direct-to-video/cameo land, while Schwarzenegger hopped from the Cameron-less TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES and into the governorship of California. Willis would have a little better luck, but not by far, as he’s churned out more forgettable than memorable films since his heyday.
Last month, Schwarzenegger debuted his “comeback” vehicle THE LAST STAND, which opened in 10th place and has thus far garnered only $11 million (with a $45 million budget). Stallone’s stand-alone starrer, BULLET TO THE HEAD opened this past weekend in fifth place with a $4.5 million take. The Walter-Hill-directed action pic had been delayed from the get-go and obviously didn’t reap any kind of benefit as a result. It’s a sad one-two punch from team Stallone/Schwarzenegger, who enjoyed some nostalgic success with THE EXPENDABLES 2 last year, which served as a beacon for their return.
I wasn’t expecting that THE LAST STAND or BULLET TO THE HEAD would be TRUE LIES or RAMBO material. I had no such illusions. But, I did hope that they’d have a healthy dose of nostalgic action, inspired direction, and some of the charisma that made them stars. Unfortunately, both films delivered only a fraction of those attributes, leaving us with the kind of stuff I’d rather have waited til Netflix for. My mind was barely in the game for either and I felt bad because of it. I wanted to dig these movies!
So, what happened? Why are these first entries into their “comeback” state so mediocre and is that what kept audiences away? The marketing for both films was pretty aggressive, even if not exactly on point. You would think that with the level of star power these two giants have behind them would open a film in better than 5th or 10th place. And really, the reviews aren’t all that bad (59% for THE LAST STAND and 46% for BULLET). So, why did audiences stay away? Are these guys through? Do they only have hits when in an established franchise? Have those of us that grew up with them now grown out of them? Are new audiences too sophisticated (or less, perhaps) for their brand of action?
I think that it’s a mixture of all of those reasons. Schwarzenegger’s last great film was TRUE LIES, while Stallone had more recent success with RAMBO and THE EXPENDABLES, but was in the gutter for a long time after CLIFFHANGER. I think what’s happened is that we’ve seen these two stars own a decade; they were the champions, the box-office draw, and now the tide has turned. Because, let’s face it, the ‘80’s are over and the cinema it churned out during that time (and even into the mid-90’s) is now virtually nonexistent.
The techno-thrillers, superhero epics, raunchy comedies, and young adult fare are the kings of the box office these days, all genres these two stars have only dabbled in at best. It really shouldn’t be that surprising that their latest efforts reflecting the old guard weren’t welcome with open arms. They simply didn’t fit the mold of what people are paying to see. And despite some people’s vehement defense of both films, the honest truth is that they are simply aren't up to snuff, either as throwbacks to the genre or modern-day efforts.
Now, this could potentially be a fluke; a bad kick-off, a slow start, whatever you want to call it. Arnold and Stallone both have some intriguing works on the way, one of which stars the both of them. THE TOMB, a high-tech prison escape thriller, followed by TEN, with Schwarzenegger playing a shady DEA agent for director David Ayer (END OF WATCH). Both of these pics have more going for them than THE LAST STAND or BULLET TO THE HEAD combined.
With Arnold circling a return to both CONAN and THE TERMINATOR franchises and Stallone jumping into a third EXPENDABLES (with Arnie in tow) and back in the ring with Robert De Niro for GRUDGE MATCH, the Kings of the ‘80’s aren’t letting a few flops stop them from charging forward. And really, they never did. It’s my belief that both Arnold and Stallone will recover from their recent box office flops and re-emerge as seasoned stars that can still connect with their audience.
What it comes down to is choosing projects that they are passionate about and working with creators who share that enthusiasm. Arnold works best with big-budget filmmakers who know what to do with him and Stallone soars when he’s directing himself more so than anyone else. By looking at what worked best throughout their careers and following their passion, rather than jumping into a commercialized stereotypical vehicle like the duo gave us these past few months, they could easily get unstuck from the mud of Hollywood mediocrity and take flight into a successful third act of their long-standing careers.
|Extra Tidbit:||The third Planet Hollywood cardholder in this trifecta is Bruce Willis who opens up with A Good Day To Die Hard in a few weeks. Do you think he'll suffer like his counterparts or is sticking with a franchise entry the safe bet?|