How old is too old in the action movie game?
If you asked the now 65-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former body builder, governor of California, and star of this weekend's action offering “The Last Stand” would likely say he’s just getting started. His career in politics behind him, the "Terminator" and "True Lies" star is back in a big way -- he's even doing AMA sessions on Reddit.
Schwarzenegger is part of a vanguard of aging action movie icons -- one that includes Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis -- who are once again, quite proudly, making the sort of films that made them megastars in the 1980s and ‘90s. The resurgence of this “old style” action movie is thanks in large part to Stallone, whose 2008 film “Rambo” and 2010 all-star shoot ‘em up “The Expendables” helped renew interest in the then-antiquated genre. A generation of movie fans who’d grown up watching movie heroes like John Matrix, John Rambo, and John McClane get the bad guy were ready to see their idols back in action.
To be fair, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis never really stopped making action movies (Arnold even appeared in the first “Expendables” while he was still governor of California), but all three hit a bit of a career slump in the early 2000s that included some really lousy movies. After the poorly received “Collateral Damage” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” Schwarzenegger got into politics, while Stallone made flicks like “Driven” and “Avenging Angelo” and Willis made “Tears of the Sun” and “The Whole Ten Yards.” Not exactly their finest work.
With all three returning to one-liner spewing, baddie-shooting glory in last year’s “The Expendables 2,” it’s safe to say that the trio has made a comeback of sorts. But will they be able to hold the attention of audiences in movies of their own?
Willis has already proved his mettle with an action-heavy role as an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Rian Johnson’s time travel film “Looper,” and will return to the franchise that made him famous in February with “A Good Day to Die Hard.” Schwarzenegger and Stallone, on the other hand, haven’t yet demonstrated that they can still draw a crowd in a solo venture. Both stars will have a chance to prove that when Schwarzenegger's “The Last Stand” hits theatres Jan. 18 and Stallone's “Bullet to the Head” is released next month.
It’s so great to have these guys back in the action movie fold -- really, it is -- but realistically, even their most devoted fans must be wondering how long these fellows can keep. Schwarzenegger is 65, Stallone is 66, and Willis is 57. That’s getting up there, particularly in the physically demanding action movie genre. Not every punch line in their forthcoming films can be about how long in tooth they’re getting!
For some indicator as to how long we can expect to see the Schwarzenegger generation in action, a look at their predecessors might be in order. Hollywood legends like John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and Clint Eastwood are generally considered to be the forbearers of the modern action hero. All three played bad-ass butt kickers well into old age – and in the case of Wayne and Marvin, until their final days.
Wayne’s final film appearance came at the age of 68 in 1976’s “The Shootist,” a star-studded Western in which the actor played an aging gunfighter dying of cancer. The star of countless Hollywood Westerns died just a few years later from stomach cancer. Marvin, star of iconic action movies like “The Dirty Dozen” and “Point Blank” played action hero until his death in 1986 at the age of 63. His final films were the 1985 sequel “The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission” and “Delta Force” opposite human roundhouse kick Chuck Norris, who was then in his 40s.
As the younger Clint Eastwood demonstrates, both Wayne and Marvin would have likely continued in the action genre had it not been for their untimely passing. At the age of 82, the "Dirty Harry" actor continues to act and direct, although he hung up the character's signature .44 magnum in 1988's "The Dead Pool" in favour of more dramatic and political fare. Eastwood's last true action hero role came at the age of 78 in 2008's "Gran Torino."
So, barring anything unfortunate, action fans can bank on at least a few more decades of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis showing movie bad guys that it's a terrible idea to mess with them.