The smash hit Rocky (1976) catapulted Sylvester Stallone
into the A-list. Inspired by the Muhammad Ali- Chuck
Wepner fight, Stallone wrote the script for the film
in just three days. Rocky was embraced by both audiences
and critics alike, and won the Oscar for Best Picture,
Best Director and Best Film Editing. The inevitable
sequel Rocky II (1979) followed whose box-office success
further cemented his position in Hollywood. Rocky III
(1982) followed three years later, but that year was
more significant for the debut of Stallone’s other
franchise, John Rambo, in the action-war movie First
Stallone would continue to make two more Rambo films
and two more Rocky movies in the 1980s and 1990, with
each film less successful than the last. Rocky IV (1985)
however was notable for the climactic fight between
Sly and Russian boxer Ivan Drago as played by Dolph
Lundgren and is widely regarded as the movie that launched
The 1990s saw the decline of his popularity- Cliffhanger
(1993) the most successful among others such as modest
hits Demolition Man (1994) and The Specialist (1994),
and outright bombs like Judge Dredd (1995) and Daylight
(1996). However, he did receive praise from critics
for acting against type as the overweight and slightly
dull sheriff in James Mangold’s Cop Land (1997)-
though the film’s box office reception was cold
to say the least.
A string of disappointments followed in the 2000s before
his renaissance began with “Rocky Balboa”
and “Rambo IV”. The successes of both films
fuelled speculation that Stallone was going to make
yet another Rocky and Rambo film. Sly has stated categorically
that he will not return to play Rocky, though the future
on a fifth Rambo film is less certain. The success of
The Expendables (2010) has led Stallone to announce
plans for a sequel and put Rambo V on hold indefinitely.
If The Expendables 2 flops, Sly could very well return
to John Rambo once more.
breakthrough hit was Conan the Barbarian (1982), which
followed two years later with a less successful sequel
Conan the Destroyer (1984). But then it didn’t
really matter- because 1984 was also the year Schwarzenegger
became The Terminator (1984), James Cameron’s
science-fiction thriller which gave the star arguably
the signature role of his career.
Schwarzenegger had a great run in the latter half of
the 1980s, producing hit after hit like Commando (1985),
Raw Deal (1986), Predator (1987) and Red Heat (1988).
His career high came in 1991 with his reprisal of his
trademark character in the sequel Terminator 2: Judgment
Day (1991)- though the success of another sci-fi thriller,
Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990) a year earlier
probably had something to do with it as well.
Besides doing action movies, Schwarzenegger took a brave
leap into comedy in Ivan Reitman’s Twins (1988).
The unexpected success of that film led him to reteam
with Reitman on the comedies Kindergarten Cop (1990)
and Junior (1994). The last film however continued his
declining success in the comedy genre that began a year
earlier with The Last Action Hero (1993).
Even on the action front, Schwarzenegger’s star
started fading after the James Cameron spy thriller
True Lies (1994), perhaps his last bona fide hit. Eraser
(1996), Batman and Robin (1997), End of Days (1999),
The 6th Day (2000) and Collateral Damage (2002) were
disappointing at the box-office and Schwarzenegger made
his last lead role appearance appropriately in 2003
with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Today the Governor of California has his mind set on
political ambitions than his movie career, appearing
only briefly in cameos for films like The Rundown (2003)
and Around the World in 80 Days (2004). Will he ever
return to the big screen as a leading action hero? Our
guess is not.
Willis became an overnight star with Die Hard (1988)
as Detective John McClane. He followed up that unexpected
success with another successful sequel Die Hard 2 (1990).
Yet his rising star hit a snag with a string of flops
like Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Hudson Hawk (1991)
and Striking Distance (1993).
Thankfully, his career revived with a supporting role
in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) and
he parlayed his newfound success to good effect with
modest hits Twelve Monkeys (1995) and The Fifth Element
(1997). His tumultuous career continued with flops like
The Jackal (1997) and Mercury Rising (1998), as well
as hits like Armageddon (1998) and M. Night Shyamalan’s
The Sixth Sense (1999).
The 2000s were also hit-or-miss affairs for Willis-
his reteaming with Shyamalan Unbreakable (2000) did
well, his mafia comedy The Whole Nine Yards (2000) a
modest hit good enough to warrant a sequel that flopped,
while others like Bandits (2001), Hart’s War (2002),
Tears of the Sun (2003) and Hostage (2005) tanked. He
made a brief career revival reprising John McClane in
Die Hard 4.0 (2007) but subsequent action movies like
Surrogates (2009) or action comedies like Cop Out (2010)
were much less successful.
Though he has at best one iconic character to his name,
Willis has more projects than both Sly and Schwarzenegger.
He will next be seen in Red (2010) based on the comic
book mini-series of the same name, and also in the movie
adaptation of the video game Kane and Lynch: Dead Men
(2011). It’s hard to predict whether his upcoming
movies will be successful, given his uneven track record,
but at the very least, Willis is already lined up for
the fifth instalment of the Die Hard series due 2011.
Van Damme is most commonly known as the Muscles from
Brussels, owing to his physique as well as his Belgian
origins. His Hollywood career began with Bloodsport
(1988) made on a shoestring budget but became a hit
after word-of-mouth spread among martial arts enthusiasts.
He followed that with Kickboxer (1989) which was even
more successful and another worthy showcase of his martial
arts agility, especially his high kicks.
Double Impact (1991) saw Van Damme playing dual roles
and despite negative reviews became the modest success
Kickboxer was. Ditto for Universal Soldier (1992), which
he co-starred with Dolph Lundgren- the movie became
his highest grossing movie at that time, and was followed
by two sequels, Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
and Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2010).
John Woo’s Hard Target (1993) was another modest
hit but Van Damme was to have the biggest hit of his
career in the following year with Timecop (1994). He
began to flounder at the box-office with Street Fighter
(1995) and subsequent big-screen releases like Sudden
Death (1995), Maximum Risk (1996), The Quest (1996)
and Double Team (1997) just lost more and more audiences.
When the first sequel to Universal Soldier tanked in
1999, it sealed his fate in the DTV territory and he
continued to languish with these unmemorable action
movies for close to ten years. He surprised critics
and audiences alike with the independent crime comedy-drama
JCVD (2008) playing himself and that film enjoyed a
brief limited theatrical run to mark the end of his
It was not enough to revive his career though and Van
Damme has gone back to DTV films such as The Eagle Path
(2010) and Weapon (2010). That said, he has received
modest praise for Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2010)
and another sequel Universal Soldier: The New Dimension
due out next year has already been announced. His best
shot at coming back to the big screen? Starring in Sly’s
inevitable The Expendables sequel.
Lundgren shot to stardom playing the Russian boxer Ivan
Draco in Rocky IV (1985). Two years later, he landed
his first lead role as He-Man in the live-action Masters
of the Universe (1987) but that and his subsequent films-
Red Scorpion (1989), The Punisher (1989) and Showdown
in Little Tokyo (1991) didn’t cut it.
Universal Soldier (1992) was his biggest hit at that
time and subsequent action movies like Joshua Tree (1993),
Men of War (1994) and Silent Trigger (1996) were largely
forgettable. The Swedish actor has struggled ever since
with DTV flicks, though those who have seen them will
realise that they are at least respectable.
Lundgren returned to the Universal Soldier franchise
this year with Regeneration (2010) and more significantly
to the big screen with The Expendables. The interest
generated from The Expendables might just earn him some
big screen goodwill- the actor has announced his next
project Skin Trade (2011) may co-star Steven Seagal
and their collaboration could stimulate enough interest
for the movie to be picked up for release in theatres.
The real-life aikido master’s first film Above
the Law (1998) made him an instant action star as audiences
lapped up to see Steven Seagal parlay his aikido moves
to graceful but devastating effect onscreen. A string
of hits soon followed- Hard to Kill (1990), Marked for
Death (1990) and Out for Justice (1991)- before his
career franchise came in Under Siege (1992), a bona
fide hit at the time.
Unfortunately, he took a misstep by venturing into directing
with On Deadly Ground (1994) before returning to Under
Siege with the sequel Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
(1995) which became a minor disappointment. The Glimmer
Man (1996), Fire Down Below (1997) and The Patriot (1998)
followed as a string of box-office disappointments before
producer Joel Silver delivered something of a career
revival with the urban action drama Exit Wounds (2001).
But Seagal made a quick exit out of the big screen following
the failure of Half Past Dead (2002) and has planted
his feet firmly in DTV territory ever since. His output
in DTV land however is somewhat amazing- he makes four
films a year released straight to video- but each of
those movies were expectedly subpar.
Still Seagal’s loyal fans continued to support
him, and his following allowed him to produce (through
his Steamroller label) and write some of his material
including Into the Sun (2005), Kill Switch (2008), The
Keeper (2009) and his latest Born to Raise Hell (2010).
Seagal makes his big screen return this year in Robert
Rodriguez’s ultra-violent Grindhouse offshoot
Machete (2010) but future big screen efforts are murky.
The Expendables 2 perhaps?
If You Missed Part One Of
Expendables opens in theatres 19 August 2010
First Blood (1982)
Sixth Sense (1999)
Hard Target (1993)
Street Fighter (1994)
He-Man: Master Of The Universe (1987)
The Punisher (1989)
Marked For Death (1990)
Glimmer Man (1996)