The Ultimate action franchise – The Expendables in numbers

What do you get when you take a bunch of action hero actors in various stages of their careers and shove them into one movie? The Expendables of course! Will the thirst for 80s action heroes ever disappear? Is it a thirst that simply gets misconstrued with nostalgia? Or were the 80s just fan-bloody-tastic? The 80s were a truly unique time and in so many ways, but it’s the movies that we remember. Indiana Jones, Robocop, Die Hard, all products of the 1980s.

The action hero, which many film aficionados believe to have been a by-product of the Regan era, became a staple of the 1980s – Commando, Rambo, Cobra, Conan – those 4 films are attributed to the two biggest stars of the 80s – Schwarzenegger and Stallone – but there are many others. Norris, Van Damme, Segal, the list goes on and on. The power of these formulaic films would carry on well into the 90s with more Die Hard sequels and hits like Con Air. And so, while it was refreshing, it also came as no surprise when Stallone decided to assemble a whole bunch of action stars, past and present into a singular vehicle called The Expendables. 

The numbers were good

If there’s one thing you’ve got to give Stallone credit for, it’s his ability to totally cash-in on a movie.  Before the Rocky movies, the idea of a sequel was largely unknown. Sly discovered the power of  repeat business and fully exploited the concept, making those who partook in and investing in indices trading on production companies very rich. Some of his, and a certain Arnold’s, business methods also paved the way for more movie start re-investing their earnings in these companies, starting their own production houses and hugely capitalized on the action-niche, as a whole. He’s played Rocky Balboa eight times! Never one to be disheartened by the critics, Stallone who had been interested in an ensemble movie for some time came across a script he liked as set about transforming it into what would eventually become the Expendables.

Action movie colleague, Jean-Claude Van Damme was initially offered a role but turned it down citing character development issues. The box office success of The Expendables made him change his mind and he was cast in the second instalment as the main villain. The eventual cast was the result of a sifting process that saw roles offered to the likes of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Wesley Snipes to name but some. But the big drawcards were there – Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li and Mickey Rourke. Actors approaching their twilight years might struggle to carry a movie on their own and Stallone clearly saw strength in well- known numbers. Speaking of numbers, The Expendables grossed a total of $274.5 million off a budget of $80 million, more than doubling the returns. Stallone had clearly struck and gold and went on to do what he typically would – making sequels. 

Subsequent outings

Now the that formula had been established – assemble popular action genre actors – and there was proof of concept, Stallone set about making two sequels in the span of 4 years, which in Hollywood time is really churning them out.  The second instalment in the franchise, The Expendables 2 was made off a budget of $100 million dollars and grossed $315 million dollars providing further proof that Stallone was clearly sitting on a lucrative franchise.  Naturally, as with all sequels, more old-school actors of the action genre were added including Chuck Norris and Bloodsport legend, Jean-Claude Van Damme. 

There was talk about a PG-13 rating, which received a fair amount of flack from fans, but when the time came, The Expendable 2 got an R -rating.  Stallone knew there was still milk in the udder and proceeded to milk it for one more. The Expendables 3 didn’t achieve the same financial returns as done by its predecessors. Sure, it made $214.7 million off a $100 million budget, which is still quite decent, but apparently its success was marred by its PG-13 rating, which upset the fans, and the fact that it was leaked three weeks prior to its scheduled release.  This one brought with it the likes of Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson, once again showcasing the franchises ability to rope in old talent. Over the years there have been talks of a sequel but for now talk is all there has been.