blog by BruceWillisOnly.com

mainly gossip about Bruce Willis

Why are 80’s Action Hero’s making a comeback

Posted by Janett on August 18, 2007

I’m writing this article five weeks after the release of Die Hard 4.0 and less than a year before the release of Rambo 4 (John Rambo) and the fourth instalment of the Indiana Jones series. All of these films are being made after a long hiatus from their last instalment. Why has Hollywood decided to revisit these franchises after so long? More importantly; why are audiences interested in paying money to revisit these iconic characters?
One could argue that Hollywood’s recent dusting off of dormant franchises started with
Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the Terminator franchise in 2003 after a twelve year gap. Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines was a huge success ($433 million) beating the much touted Hulk at the box office and book-ending Schwarzenegger’s acting career before he went into politics. It seems that studio executives suddenly realised that there was an eager audience and money to be made. However it was several years before Terminator 3 when Sylvester Stallone, another fading Hollywood action icon decided to revisit his most successful characters by trying to resurrect his career with new Rambo and Rocky films. Executives balked at Stallone believing that these characters were firmly rooted in America’s Reganite era and that there wouldn’t be an audience for such films.
With the success of his former rival and business partner’s new Terminator film suddenly Hollywood was willing to take a risk on a new Rocky film. Against all odds Stallone again went the distance and had a knock out success with 2006’s Rocky Balboa ($155 million gross from a budget of $24 million).It was also in 2006 that 20th Century Fox decided to dust the cobwebs from their Die Hard franchise after an eleven year break. Like Schwarzenegger before him Bruce Willis negotiated a huge salary and returned to his most iconic role. What made this announcement curious however was that for the best part of a decade Willis had refused all offers to return to the character of John McClane.

Willis had decided that his action hero days were behind him, however a recent downturn in his box office grosses made economic sense in order for him to keep balancing smaller character driven roles with the type of film that pays the mortgage.One of the reasons for this return to 1980’s film icons could be that there just aren’t enough good mainstream Hollywood Hero’s anymore. Sure, you have your Jack Sparrow’s and your Jason Bourne’s, but will these characters stand the test of time? Jack Sparrow is already beginning to show audience fatigue and will Jason Bourne still be relevant in ten years time?

Probably not. Hollywood just doesn’t make mass entertainment like it did twenty or so years ago. They knew how to mix a good story and good action to make great entertainment. This combination was able to appeal to adults and children and therefore they made films that stood the test of time. Today everything is aimed at the teenage market and they are dumbing down the films to suit this audience.

One only has to look at Stephen Sommer’s Van Helsing from 2003 to see what can happen when a great film idea is ruined by a target audience, a release date and the expectation of franchise potential. We were told this film was going to be a hit almost two years before it was released! Sadly it wasn’t, it was a confused mess of CGI and underwritten roles, with no cliché left unturned. The reason? Instead of being a smartly written gothic adventure, Universal Pictures decided to turn it into a live action cartoon and they ended up with confused mess.

It seems that today in Hollywood they under develop films in order to meet a release date and then they aim for the lowest common denominator. Another example with this again lies at the door of Universal Pictures. In 1999
Pitch Black was a cult hit that launched Vin Diesel to stardom. Suddenly there was an heir to the 80’s action icon throne, he was Willis and Schwarzenegger rolled into one- he had hulking presence and he could act- what could go wrong? The Chronicles of Riddick.Diesel started to promote the film as the first part of a new trilogy- the Lord of the Rings to Pitch Black’s Hobbit (these are Diesel’s terms, not mine). Again there was too much riding on this film to meet the huge expectations. Whereas Pitch Black had been a low budget Sci-fi actioner in the mould of Mad Max or the original Terminator, Riddick would be an epic on the scale of Waterworld. The film was again shaped to be aimed at teenage boys, lacking the tension and gore of it’s predecessor, it buckled under the wait of it’s on expectations and the franchise was never continued and Diesel’s promise as a major star was never fulfilled.

One could not accuse the new Indiana Jones film of being rushed into development. First mooted in the early 1990’s numerous plots have been bandied about through the years with storylines ranging from Indiana Jones and aliens to
Kevin Costner as his illegitimate evil younger brother.

Screenwriters as acclaimed as Frank Darabont and M. Night Shyamalan came and went and still George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford couldn’t agree on a script, a rarity considering that Hollywood appears to have lost any sort of quality control when green lighting action films. With the film currently in production featuring a high calibre cast including Cate Blanchett, John Hurt and Shia La Boef, it appears that Indiana’s latest adventure could out gross it’s predecessors at the box office. Lucas however must be wary, his recent Star Wars films, although successful were met with mxed critical and fan approval.Harrison Ford like Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger before him has also recently had a fall in box office takings.

Even when teamed with a younger star like Josh Hartnett his films haven’t achieved the level of success that he is used to. In fact Ford’s last sizeable his was 2000’s What Lies Beneath and it must be getting increasingly difficult for him to demand and receive $25 million pay days.

Stallone’s John Rambo has also recently wrapped production and it is currently going through its postproduction phase. A early preview shown at this yers Cannes Festival showed that this fourth instalment of the franchise wouldn’t skimp on the action front and there was a level of gore that would give a horror film a run for it’s money.

Stallone currently riding high on a wave of fan support appears to be willing to give his action fans what they want, a sure sign that he realised what went wrong with his career in the late 1990’s.There are numerous reasons why these characters could be dusting off their mothballs; most studio executives and creative personal in Hollywood are now of the age where they remember these films from their teens or early twenties. DVD sales also show that these films are still popular and therefore if someone is willing to buy the DVD’s they may also be willing to see a new chapter in the cinema (and then buy another DVD).

These films also have name recognition and considering we are now in a period where Hollywood green lights a remake every month it would appear that it’s another way for the studios to plunder their back catalogues. However these films have characters which are closely defined by their lead actor; Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and Bruce Willis is John McClane, they would be impossible to recast.

The sequel resuscitation may not stop with these films; a new Beverly Hills Cop film is in development and for all we know it may never end, in twenty years we may be talking about a 55 year old Matt Damon becoming Bourne Again.

Niall Browne

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