The Big Picture
- The decision to lower the rating of The Expendables 3 to PG-13 was a mistake that alienated the franchise’s loyal fans.
- Fans felt short-changed by the third film, which had a bloated story and focused too much on appealing to a wider audience.
- For the upcoming fourth film, the focus is on getting the story right and bringing back the core actors to refresh and push the franchise forward.
Expend4bles brings back our favourite old-age painmakers for another shot at bone-breaking action. Sylvester Stallone returns for a final outing as the team’s leader, Barney Ross, joined by familiar faces including Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, the team’s knife specialist, Dolph Lundgren as the visually impaired Gunner Jensen, and Randy Couture as Toll Road, the squad’s demolition expert. However, a fourth film for the crew may be something of a surprise given the financial situation that happened upon the most recent outing in the series.
Stallone both penned and directed the original movie, a concept he had contemplated for a long time, with the aim to unite the action stars of yesteryear and give them a shot at reliving the highs of their glory days. The unexpected triumph of The Expendables, as is often the case, spawned numerous sequels and an entire franchise. Nevertheless, the franchise faced a setback when The Expendables 3 failed to resonate effectively with viewers, resulting in a disappointing box office performance in 2014.
But given the success of the first two movies, which grossed, respectively, $103 million domestic and $274 million worldwide, then $85 million domestic and $314.9 million worldwide, what happened to the third film that saw the domestic return plummet to a shocking $39.3 million? Overseas, the movie did manage to outgross the original but its final tally of $214.6 million was the lowest of the franchise so far.
PG-13 Was a Mistake
Speaking with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff, one of the franchise’s directors, Les Weldon, opened up on the decision the studio made in the wake of the first two films, which was to capitalise on the success of those and lower the rating to PG-13. Nemiroff asked about the process of resuming a franchise following a poor box office return, with Weldon’s transparency refreshing.
“That’s a very good point you bring up because, you know, on the third one, I don’t know, it was probably an overreach on our part or something we assumed. We went for the PG-13. Look, in our mind, it was really to sort of try to reintroduce Expendables maybe to a wider audience, but I think that maybe the real fans felt a little bit short-changed.”
Neglecting the Franchise’s Fans
Weldon confessed that, by making the film more “appealing” to a wider audience, they had inadvertently shunned their long term fans who had come to expect a certain product from the studio and as such, had let them down, leading to less repeat business. The cast had become too big, overblown and maybe forgotten what it was like when the franchise first began.
“They wanna feel that explosion in their face and the machine guns and all that visceral action, that rumbling and trembling. I think they’ve maybe felt a little bit, you know, they didn’t know what to make of it sort of thing. And again, the story itself became, for me, a little bit bloated, perhaps. I still think it was a fun ride and a fun film, but on this one, we said, “Okay,” because a couple of years after the third one, we were getting a lot of interest, a lot of buyers. “When are you making another one? When are you making another one?” And that’s when we said, “If we’re gonna make another one, we’re gonna do it right.”
Remembering Why We’re Doing This
Weldon emphasised the importance of knowing why the series was started—Stallone conceived the original film, writing and directing it, based on a long-nurtured idea of assembling aging action stars for one final shot at cinematic chaos. That was the key to the next installment. Bringing in the Old Guard and showing the New Blood how things are done.
“We are gonna forget who’s gonna be in it. We know our core, our foundation. Let’s get the story right, and then if that’s working, let’s think of the actors that we want to bring in, but the actors that really work, that will push this story and push the franchise and refresh it all, more importantly.” So there’s sort of a mix. There’s a couple of younger actors, there’s a couple of older actors, but that sort of mix between the personalities is what works on this one because they all affect each other. Every one of them affects the other without just being, you know, a square into a round hole.”
The film is directed by Scott Waugh from a story and script written by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams, Spenser Cohen, and Dave Callaham. It is due to be released on September 22.