No Country For Old Men

Stallone

This weekend, the fifth installment of the ‘Die Hard’ series, ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,’ hits theaters. It marks the fourth film in the last three months to feature a prominent action star from the 1980s, and the popular expectation is it will underwhelm at the box office, despite the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend.

How have these formerly mega-stars performed already? Not so hot. Despite releasing during the prime movie-going Christmas season, Tom Cruise’s ‘Jack Reacher’ failed to ignite the buzz his fourth ‘Mission: Impossible’ film triggered in 2011. ‘Reacher’ grossed $79 million in the United States, a far cry from the over $200 million in box office receipts ‘Impossible’ did.

A few weeks later, despite having a three-day weekend in its corner for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘The Last Stand’ bombed and has since brought in less than $12 million domestically. It should be added the film cost $45 million to produce, and that doesn’t even include the marketing expenses.

Hoping to outdo his fellow 1980s brethren, Sylvester Stallone rolled into theaters Super Bowl weekend with ‘Bullet to the Head.’ In Sly’s defense, the weekend of the big game has always marked a low point for the film business, but even that excuse can’t save him from the abysmal $8.7 million ‘Head’ has earned so far.

What’s going on? Why aren’t audiences embracing these stars like they once did? The easy answer most media pundits will give is the appeal for these stars has dropped dramatically in recent years. Tom Cruise is seen by the general public to be a crazed religious nut, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a wife-cheating former governor, and Sylvester Stallone is just too old to play the good guy. Actually, they’re all seen as too old.

I guess those arguments could be given some consideration. However, if disdain for these stars is the sole purpose of this latest string of failures, then why did the fourth ‘Mission: Impossible’ do so well in 2011? Why have both ‘Expendables’ films been such major hits globally?

It’s because those films hit the sweet spot. They combine all of the elements that draw us into the theater: being a part of a major franchise, featuring actors we know, mixing in new stars with a new story and, most importantly, they’re familiar. We tend to give money to sure things.

Arnold

‘Jack Reacher,’ ‘ The Last Stand’ and ‘Bullet to the Head’ miss some of those pivotal features. Honestly, the only thing they have going for them is nostalgia. The plots are familiar, but not in the way of us knowing just the characters from prior films; we know everything that happens in these. That’s because we’ve seen these stories many times before, and they’re simply being rehashed in 2013, hoping to draw in a new audience.

These productions were put in place due to the film business – as usual – misreading the successes that were ‘Mission: Impossible 4’ and ‘The Expendables 2.’ They saw the dollars being brought in as forgiveness for these action stars’ personal deeds and a universal ignoring of their age.

In reality, their appeal was a unique blend of their franchise quality, the roster of talent they orchestrated and the fact they were actually good films. Sure, nostalgia played a small part in the process. But the supreme ignorance Hollywood continues to show after all these years is the false belief that nostalgia alone sells tickets.

Nostalgia doesn’t sell tickets. People may plunk down a $1 into a Redbox machine to get a warm feeling of past times on some random night of the week, but they’re not going to spend over $10 at a nighttime screening in theaters to see something they already have.

Why the new ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Superman’ and a dozen other franchise films scheduled to come out in the next few years will bring in a lot of money is not just because of the nostalgia some movie-goers carry from seeing the first installments in the 1970s. Instead, the primary driver will be to see new, exciting stories of these beloved fictional entities.

I have no doubt when Stallone debuts a new ‘Rambo’ or Arnold makes a cameo in a new ‘Terminator,’ people will show up. The days of people showing up just because their name is slapped on film’s title is long gone, though. One could say that for the majority of celebrities in our new franchise-driven film business, but the rule especially applies to those desperately trying to cling on to a status they attained 30 years ago.

We don’t mind seeing all of you old dudes in the ‘Expendables’ blowing up the world. In fact, we encourage it. Just don’t try to carry a film by yourselves anymore, fellas. At your age, your backs just can’t support it.

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Posted on by Alex Beene in Featured, Movies

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