Failure of the Expendables

The movie (and franchise) I won’t shut up about finally came out…and flopped big time at the box office. While expected to make $24 million on its opening weekend, which was low, it only made $16 million. It’s been out for over two weeks and hasn’t even made its budget back. On a budget of $90 million, Expendables 3 has only made $86 million worldwide so far. It’s domestic gross is a dreadful $34 million. For comparison, the teen romance movie If I Stay and the comedy Let’s Be Cops have had better daily grosses than Expendables 3. Pierce Brosnan (who is, or was, slated to be in Expendables 4) all by himself beat the Expendables with the movie November Man, which had a bigger weekend gross.

So what the hell happened? The answer is, a lot of things.

Problem 1: About three weeks before Expendables 3 was released, someone stole a DVD-quality copy of the movie and uploaded it to all the pirate sites. By the time the movie appeared in theaters, almost 3 million people had already downloaded and watched it.

One movie ticket costs at least $8. Multiply that by several million people who downloaded the movie, plus all the others they showed it to, and that’s a hell of a lot of money lost, and a hell of a lot of people not going to the theater to watch your film.

Lionsgate already has an army of attorneys working on suing or shutting down many of the pirate sites. Since most these sites are outside the US, they’re going after the ISPs that host (or link to) these sites, using the legal argument that these sites are distributing stolen property. Which technically is true.

This is the biggest move a major movie studio has ever made against pirates, at least to my knowledge. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

Problem 2: Sylvester Stallone very stupidly made Expendables 3 PG-13. I understand the financial argument; that it’s easier to make money with a PG-13 film than with an R film because more people can go see it. Normally this is correct.

The problem is the Expendables movies are not your typical movies. The target audience for these films is pretty specific. It’s people like me: middle-aged Gen X men who grew up watching guys like Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Stallone blow shit up, say bad words, and kill bad guys in violent ways. The audience is not teenage girls, like it is for most horror films, nor is it even teenage boys.

So making a movie like this PG-13 can only harm it, not help it. Stallone did this as part of his plan to encourage more young moviegoers by having a younger cast. (I’ll get to that one in a minute.) Guys under 20, hell, under 25, aren’t going to be super excited to see a bunch of old men, many of whom they’ve never even heard off, act tough and shoot bad guys.

Problem 3: The competition in August was very stiff. The new Ninja Turtles movie did fantastic business in its second weekend when Expendables 3 came out. It also had to go up against Guardians of the Galaxy and Lucy, both good movies selling very well.

Problem 4: Sadly, the novelty may have worn off by now. Getting all the old action stars from the 80s and 90s was a really exciting idea when it first happened back in 2010. Four years and three movies later, people may not be excited about this concept any more, which is probably understandable. I love these guys and I could watch Expendables movies for the rest of my life, but I’m an old action movie nerd, and thus in a reasonably niched audience.

Problem 5: It was the worst Expendables movie of the three, by far. I hate to say it but it’s true. Stallone made a great effort, and I still enjoyed it, but compared to the other two he really screwed this one up.

The movie starts out well, and the final 25 minutes are really great, but the entire middle of the film really drags. “Really drags” is not something you want to see in a hardcore action film. The movie wastes a huge amount of time making a very big deal about a bunch of new young cast members no one gives a shit about. In over a third of the movie, great action stars like Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes are kicked off the screen and sidelined to make room for such exciting, badass actors as Kellan Lutz (who?) and Glen Powell (huh?). Have no idea who those guys are? Thus my point.

The movie also wasted several of the stars. Jet Li is in the film for maybe 2 minutes, and all he does is fire a few shots from a helicopter. No martial arts. None. Huh? Yeah. Arnold also has very little to do in this movie, which is a shame. There’s one scene where he’s literally standing around by a plane waiting for Stallone to get back from his adventures. “Hurry up,” Arnold says, “I’m bored.” Well, so was the audience. You’re honestly going to have one of the greatest men alive stand around and wait by plane?

Don’t get me wrong. There are some very good moments, and as a member of its target audience, I did like the movie overall. Mel Gibson absolutely steals the movie, especially during the scene in the van. Antonio Bandaras is also fantastic. Harrison Ford actually doesn’t look like he’s asleep as he has in his last few films. Seeing Wesley Snipes again was really fun and made me smile every time he was on the screen. The guy’s still got it. He could do another Blade movie right now and be just as good. All the other usual guys like Lundgren, Statham, and the rest were great as usual (I just wish they had more screen time). The humor in the movie is appropriate without being too cheesy (at least for my generation). And as I said, the huge final battle at the end is fantastic. The Expendables take on an entire army complete with tanks, helicopters, motorcycles, the works. It was fun.

So it’s possible this may be the last Expendables movie. If it is, then that’s sad but it had a good run. The next project they’re working on is the Expendabelles, where they gather all the women action stars into one movie. I’m very conflicted about that concept, though I’m sure I’ll go see it if they do it. We’ll see.

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  • Jonathan
    Posted at 12:39 pm, 4th September 2014

    middle-aged Gen X men who grew up watching guys like Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Stallone blow shit up, say bad words, and kill bad guys in violent ways

    Exactly! Die Hard, Rambo, Predator…

    Those were the days.

  • Infantry
    Posted at 11:30 pm, 4th September 2014

    Its a problem where you’d enjoy one of the old 80’s movies more than seeing The Expendables though. I haven’t seen number 3 yet, but I would much rather go and watch Commando then I would rewatch Expendables 1 or 2.

    Arnie had the best one liners.

    “You’re a funny guy Sally; I like you! That’s why I’m gonna kill you last”

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 09:39 am, 5th September 2014

    I would much rather go and watch Commando then I would rewatch Expendables 1 or 2.

    I agree. I have a huge action movie collection. I just watched Aliens last week.

    Arnie had the best one liners.

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