“What’s Behind Hollywood’s Obsession With Old Man Action Heroes?”

January 31st, 2013 by

The Expendables. Taken. Red. Bullet to the Head. A Good Day to Die Hard. What’s the deal with “old man action heroes”? That’s a question raised in this Flavorwire article:

These days it seems action films aren’t just a young man’s game anymore – they’re becoming a game for finely aged actors. We’ve had actors dolling out justice well into their middle-years before (see: John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, the cast of The Wild Bunch ), but it’s never been this pervasive as a trend. Which begs the question: why now?

One reason is the current state of the action genre. As Adam Sternbergh noted in his heartfelt eulogy for the bygone days of Commandos and Rambos – “America forgot how to make action movies.” Where once we had a healthy action genre, now we just have action movies – most of which are superhero flicks or CGI sinkholes. There’s no more good old-fashioned bare-chested, bare-knuckled grit. Not that there’s anyone to get bare-chested or knuckled. Aside from Jason Statham and false-starters Vin Diesel and The Rock, no new young action stars have come along to replace the old, and the existing ones have faded (Tom Cruise, Will Smith). Now we just get regular actors like Matt Damon and Daniel Craig taking on action movies.

Ah, so Hollywood somehow forgot how to make action movies. What, this particular type of genre movie is ultra complicated to craft? There was some sort of expiration date on the secrets of making action movies and that date has passed? And of course, with the passing of this ability to understand how to make action movies, the number of Hollywood projects in that genre has absolutely plummeted, right? I mean look at these spec script sales in 2011 where… hm… the #1 genre was Action with 29 deals. Okay, that was 2 years ago. Surely, in 2012, sales for Action spec scripts just crashed and burned with a measly total of… uh… 29… again leading the pack as the top genre.


I don’t claim to be a genius, but here’s another number for you: 87 million.That’s the number of Baby Boomers still kicking who grew up with action movies, love action movies and have proven they will show up in numbers… if Hollywood actually produces good action movies aimed at them. And names like Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Lima Neeson, and Helen Mirren for God’s sake actually mean something to that target demo.

What do you think? Has Hollywood somehow forgotten how to make action movies? Or could it possibly be that there is a sizable audience that actually wants to see Old Farts on screen kicking ass?

For more of the Flavorwrite article, go here.

12 thoughts on ““What’s Behind Hollywood’s Obsession With Old Man Action Heroes?”

  1. TheQuietAct says:

    Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Liam Neeson, and Helen Mirren.

    Old farts?

    I think not! Especially not Liam or Brucie.

    But do I want to see Old Farts on screen kicking ass?

    Of course!

    1. Bryan Colley says:

      You don’t need to speak English to understand most action movies.

  2. It’s all about overseas boxoffice. While in this country only Kristen Stewart can open a movie, abroad all those geezers can still do that in the genre that made them stars.

  3. Bryan Colley says:

    I’m a Gen Xer who grew up loving action movies, but I long ago gave up on the idea that Hollywood would make another good action movie in the era of digital effects.

    It all began with the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Harrison Ford battled fake CGI traps. It was nothing compared to the opening of Raiders. No tension, no danger, no stunt work.

    Digital effects are great at creating worlds, but lousy at creating danger, which is what action movies need to work.

    Needless to say I’m not watching any of these old actor action hero movies. I’d rather see them act their age.

    1. I’m curious as to what you think is the last good action movie you’ve seen.

      For my money, in recent years, RED *was* a lot of fun as were the Crank/Transporter movies and the last Die Hard.

      For more substantive fare, the Bourne movies are pretty decent imho. Taken & Salt were underrated and Safe House was pretty cool.

  4. Fitting that this post follows that bipolar trailer for Olympus Has Fallen which is just an enormous mash up of prior action flicks…the core of which seems to be a tired predicate to the eternal subject, “It’s DIE HARD in a [insert venue here].”

    And yet I’ll see it.

    Because, like most of you, I WANT it to work. I want to recapture the “cool” of the 80’s action movie. Those films were like high school pep rallies in a darkened theater. When Schwartzenegger says, “Get to the Choppah!” and Stallone sneers, “I’m comin’ fer youuuuu!” we get chills and our gizzards do a little fist pump. That’s what a good action romp can do.

    It’s interesting how Hollywood’s two stalwart genres, the Action Movie and the Romantic Comedy, are both in flux.

    Inasmuch as I think both genres are experiencing a turning point, both are ripe for a renaissance. And I fear the geezers mentioned above aren’t going to be the ones to bring it. These films (Expendables, A Good Day to Die Hard) all bank on a certain nostalgia. And it works for them. Up to a point. I don’t know about you but I get that same creepy feeling watching Stallone make bang-bang with his mega-machine-guns as I get watching Mick Jagger wheezing out another verse of Satisfaction.

    Anecdote – I was sipping at my local corner bar last Tuesday and Predator came on AMC. The entire room, mostly comprised of guys in their 20’s (and their perpetually annoyed girlfriends), became instantly rapt, cheering, calling out lines. I even heard a few of them lament ‘man, they just don’t make movies like this anymore.’

    Takeaway? The market is there and it’s not being served.

    Get to work people! Open up Final Draft tonight and blow some shit up! 😉

    (hmm…this topic would make an interesting Masterclass, Scott…crafting action movies which are current and compelling and, of course, fun!)

  5. churnage says:

    A number of things going on:

    1) Boomer nostalgia for action heroes of the past

    2) 80s & 90s were a golden age of action movies.

    3) Stallone, Willis & Arnold are identifiable brands in a global market.

    4) With the exception of Jason Statham, no new franchisable action stars have appeared in the last decade.

    5) In a complicated world, people long for easy black-and-white answers. Action movies–especially of the Expendables variety–feed that need.

  6. pgronk says:

    If they want to make action films targeted to the baby boomers, then I am dubious that appeals to nostalgia constitutes a sufficient hook.

    What is needed are story lines infused with the sensibility and perspective on life that comes with having survived to a certain age.

    Can writers 1/2 — or less–the age of that demographic comprehend the issues, priorities, and point of view of that target audience?

    Are studio suits willing to turn to the most obvious and logical people who do understand and still have their writing chops, veteran writers who they have, heretofore, written off as too old?

  7. MarkNMays says:

    Some perspective, please:

    TAKEN didn’t signify anything new. Harrison Ford, older than most of the actors noted above, pioneered the old man action hero. He’s done what Neeson did a few times over.

    EXPENDABLES suggested that people wanted to see the elder stars in action movies as long as the films are delivered with a big ass wink. Willis is an expert in letting the audience in on the wink without breaking the fourth wall. Those other actors take themselves way too seriously. Schwartzenegger still doesn’t get it that THE LAST ACTION HERO was a joke at his expense. These old man fu movies will generally tank.

    I have no desire to recapture the spirit of 80’s action films. I will see neither OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN or WHITE HOUSE DOWN (ft. President Django). Well, I will probably watch when they end up on cable.

    The audience for the HBO show “Girls” is mostly older white men. I’m thinking that audience is more interested in watching naked hipsters than watching Stallone juiced up and street brawling.

    1. Michael Winner’s passing reminded me that in fact old-man action movies have been around for a long time, what with Charles Bronson in the Deathwish movies, John Wayne in McQ, Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza, Roger Moore in the Bond movies, etc…

  8. John Arends says:

    Things move in cycles, and the current swing through the nader of the action movie cycle coincides with many of the great points above–noise and VFX drowning out the things the create franchises: Great characters thrown into original, fresh character-defining situations that resonate and create emotional impact…

    Oh, and in trying to give some mojo back to the genre, why focus on delivering the goods for just us old farts? The real opportunity is for 4 quad action thrillers. The Bond and Borne franchises aside, there’s still plenty of room for new great characters in that space.

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