One version of The Expendables, a kind of Magnificient Seven treatment for 1980s action heroes, was a good (and lucrative) idea. A sequel was inevitable. But no amount of nostalgia and old-guy jokes could rescue the third installment.
Sylvester Stallone’s latest episode of senior-citizen stunts garnered only $16.2 million in domestic ticket sales this past weekend, compared to $28.6 million earned by the preceding film and the $34.8 million that the original managed in its debut.
The result would have been higher had a pirated version of the movie not leaked earlier this summer. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also laying claim to the nostalgic ticket-buyers this weekend.
The Expendables franchise rests on the super-cast. Sly is the glue and he brings the Stallone fans; Jet Li brings the martial arts crowd; Mel Gibson, well, he’s in the film too. Wesley Snipes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas—many of these actors haven’t carried a decent movie in a long time. Harrison Ford was last seen in a small part in Anchorman 2.
The idea is that the whole ought to be greater than the sum of its somewhat saggy parts. But that equation didn’t add up this time. The whole ensemble of greying meatheads couldn’t muster at the box office what any single one of them did in his prime. Even the more expendable Expendables—Jason Statham and Li—have had bigger weekends.
In the Stallone canon, however, Expendables 3 is certainly not a low point. Adjusted for inflation, plenty of Sly films have done worse. For every Rocky III, there was a Tango & Cash. Even First Blood, the seminal Rambo film, barely did better in its opening weekend.
The opportunities here are clear, starting with Cliffhanger 2. Maybe Lundgren can play the bad guy.