Packing Sylvester Stallone and other faces from the 1980s as well as more contemporary action stars Jason Statham and Jet Li, The Expendables has been gunning to be the Valentine's Day of action movies. Its marketing has claimed to have all the action stars in it, but, like Valentine's Day, the movie doesn't actually live up to that promise upon further scrutiny (Where's Chuck Norris? Carl Weathers? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Among others). The ads, though, have primarily pitched the three biggies: Mr. Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Schwarzenegger has even been listed first in many ads, though he does not appear on the posters. Mr. Willis and Schwarzenegger reportedly have cameos, making the marketing disingenuous in its emphasis, but the two were needed to make the movie's tagline, "The Greatest Action Legends Together for the First and Only Time," even remotely plausible.
Brandishing distributor Lionsgate's highest location count ever, the company has opted to push star power and 1980s nostalgia over anything else. Early in The Expendables' campaign, a pedestrian storyline about stopping some fictional South American dictator was presented, though that made the picture seem as uneventful as Stallone's last Rambo. That angle was given the heave-ho and recent ads have struck a light, star-focused tone for the R-rated action picture, featuring Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City," Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Night" and, perhaps most apt, Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" (which was famously used for the Toy Story movies).
Despite the hype surrounding these actors teaming up, it's important to note that such ensembles rarely equal the sums of their parts. Not only that, these actors haven't heated up the charts lately. Jason Statham and Jet Li previously co-starred with each other in WAR, an August 2007 release that grossed $22.5 million in its entire run. Stallone's Rambo comeback posted a relatively tepid $42.8 million, while the more popular Rocky Balboa didn't restore the Rocky franchise's former box office glory.
In the past year, there has been a mini-revival of "men-on-a-mission" movies, and The Expendables' August release was partly inspired by the success of Inglourious Basterds last August, though the month has bore adult action hits in the past. Basterds drew $38.1 million on its opening weekend and collected $120.5 million by the end of its run. The two "men-on-a-mission" movies that followed disappointed: The Losers made $23.6 million in its entire run, while The A-Team was weak by summer event standards, starting with $25.7 million and accumulating less than $77 million thus far.
The Expendables isn't the only movie relying on faded star power. Based on an allegedly popular book, Eat Pray Love marks Julia Roberts' first solo vehicle since Erin Brockovich in 2000, and her top-billed pictures following America's Sweethearts in 2001 (Mona Lisa Smile, Closer and Duplicity) weren't up to snuff. Also like Expendables, Eat Pray Love has been released in August to recreate a success from last August: Julie & Julia, which debuted to $20 million and closed with $94.1 million. Eat Pray Love's marketing has pushed a colorful travelogue about self discovery, mostly featuring Ms. Roberts doing her trademark grinning. The picture appears to be less meaty than Julie & Julia, though it's possible that enough fans of the book could come out of the woodwork to compensate. It also recalls Under the Tuscan Sun, which bagged $43.6 million back in 2003, among other mid-range performers.
It's tougher to pin down antecedents for Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World than for The Expendables and Eat Pray Love, rendering it the weekend's wild card. The video-game-and-comic-book-inspired rock 'n' roll romantic action comedy appears to be strictly a fan boy affair, which doesn't necessarily bode well as Kick-Ass can attest to. The Comic-Con crowd is small but vociferous, often amplifying the buzz for movies like this far beyond the reality. With few exceptions like Zombieland, genre mash-ups seem to stir rejection and indifference from general audiences, as Scott Pilgrim director Edgar Wright saw with his romantic zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead and his action spoof/horror comedy Hot Fuzz (though both were considered successful relative to their lowered expectations). Preaching to the choir, Scott Pilgrim's advertising has displayed Speed Racer-on-speed aesthetics and characterizations, which may inhibit the movie's broader relatability, but it has been on point about the movie's premise. Another concern is that lead actor Michael Cera's shtick hasn't been a significant draw since Superbad.
In Box Office Mojo's reader polling, The Expendables was the clear favorite: over 36 percent voted to see it on opening weekend. Interest was a bit less than Inglourious Basterds at the same point last August, but the voting pattern was similar, and it had more heat than The A-Team. Predictably, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World also generated good reader interest, scoring more than 23 percent for opening weekend, but there was less excitement than readers had for Kick-Ass and Zombieland. Eat Pray Love logged just under ten percent for opening weekend, which was less than Julie & Julia but more than double No Reservations.