What Went Wrong With The Expendables Franchise & How To Fix It

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Summary

  • The Expendables movies initially gained attention for their nostalgic cast of 80s and 90s action stars, but they have gradually lost the elements that made them fun.
  • The franchise has run out of 80s action stars to use, making it difficult to continue milking nostalgia without fresh additions to the cast.
  • The long wait for The Expendables 4 caused audiences to lose interest and forget the story arcs and characters’ motivations, risking the franchise’s existing viewer base. Change is necessary for the next installment to succeed.


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A lot has gone wrong with The Expendables over time, but the action movie franchise can still change its trajectory and fix itself before it is too late. In recent years, many action movie franchises like John Wick, Mad Max, and Mission Impossible have grown from strength to strength with each installment. Although The Expendables showed a similar level of promise with its initial installments, it has not been able to reach its true potential, experiencing a gradual decline in quality.

While The Expendables movies have never garnered exceptional critical ratings, the fourth installment in the franchise currently sits at 16% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a significantly lower score than that of its predecessors. Even from a commercial standpoint, The Expendables4 turned out to be a massive box office bomb after raking in only $8.3 million against a $100 million budget. Although many factors have contributed to the franchise’s sudden downfall, here is a rundown of the primary reasons for its failure and how The Expendables 5 can fix these problems.

RELATED: The Expendables Franchise Needs To Go Back To The 1980s


The Expendables Movies Lost What Made Them Fun

Sylvester Stallone drinking a beer as Barney Ross in The Expendables 4.

Similar to the Cobra Kai franchise, The Expendables movies initially garnered attention because they instilled a sense of nostalgia by combining a cast of legacy action stars with new ones. While at it, the films also materialized dream actor pairings involving nearly every major action star from the 80s and 90s. While the movies’ storylines did not offer much depth, they were replete with all the makings of 80s action movies — from slam-bang hand-to-hand combats to bombastic explosions, from corny one-liners to synth scores. Unfortunately, with each installment, the movie franchise has seemingly diminished all these elements.

80s reboots and sequels like Top Gun: Maverick and Creed work well because of their solid narratives that not only thrive on nostalgia but also add new depth to the franchise’s overarching lore. The Expendables movies, on the other hand, were never truly about expanding the world-building or narrative heft of existing 80s movies. From the beginning itself, they were merely leveraging the fame and nostalgia surrounding iconic action veterans like Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and others. By gradually dissolving the fast-paced, explosive playground it had created for its action movie legends, The Expendables movies are losing what made them fun.

Expendables Ran Out Of 80s Action Stars To Use

The Expendables 2 cast image

By featuring Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lungren, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, and Terry Silver in one frame, the first Expendables movie creates history. Following its lead, The Expendables 2 boasted an even more impressive ensemble by adding Arnold Schwarzenegger, Randy Couture, Chuck Norris, and even Jean-Claude Van Damme to its roster. Although The Expendables 3 was relatively lighter with its star value, it still continued the franchise’s trend by involving Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Mel Gibson in its cast.

Although The Expendables 4 also made some exciting cast additions like Tony Jaa, 50 Cent, and Iko Uwais, the fact that it focused on introducing new generation stars made it evident that the franchise was running out of 80s action stars to use. Sequel movies could again milk the 80s and 90s nostalgia by including Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, or even Keanu Reeves. However, it seems unlikely that Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves would join the franchise, given their involvement in other well-established action franchises. Jackie Chan and Peter Weller could also be great additions to the franchise, but their recent movie choices suggest they have been fairly selective about their roles.

The Wait For Expendables 4 Allowed Audiences To Lose Interest

Expendables 4 collage of Sylvester Stallone in foreground with Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture with a lot of guns on the table behind him.

The first three Expendables movies were released in a five-year time span, but it took The Expendables 4 to premiere nearly a decade after the third installment of the franchise. While the first three movies actively engaged audiences by introducing new storylines, cast members, and character beats with each installment, The Expendables 4 broke that momentum of hype and enthusiasm with its late release. This, in turn, not only made audiences less interested in what it had to offer but also allowed them to forget the story arcs and characters’ motivations the previous movies had set up.

Movie franchises with an active record of performing well at the box office also give actors, producers, and audiences the confidence to invest time and money in them. However, by taking a long 9-year hiatus, The Expendables 4 risked not only diminishing the franchise’ existing viewer base but also capitalizing on its established formula of bringing together some of the most iconic 80s and 90s action heroes. Hopefully, if another Expendables movie sees the light of the day, it will not repeat the same release timing mistake as the fourth movie.

Modern Hollywood Action Movies Elevated

Keanu reeves John Wick Expendables

Like most other genres, even action movies are constantly evolving in Hollywood. The John Wick and Mission Impossible franchises have revolutionized what audiences expect from action flicks, making it challenging for critically mediocre franchises like The Expendables to survive. In a marketplace that is overly crowded with a slew of run-of-the-mills standalone action movies and franchises, it is hard for a dying series like The Expendables to stay afloat. The competition from other Hollywood films coupled with The Expendables 4‘s inability to exploit the excitement generated by its predecessors has left the franchise on thin ice. The fact that it is slowly losing its unique selling point of assembling 80s action stars is further eroding its overall quality and chances of defeating bigger franchises.

Expendables 5 Can Only Happen If The Franchise Changes Course

Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham in Expendables 4

Sylvester Stallone, too, has confirmed his departure from The Expendables, which seems to be the final nail in the franchise’s coffin. The Rambo star was among the leading forces that built the franchise from scratch. Not only was he involved with the movies’ scripting and direction but also played a crucial role in bringing together the ensemble cast in each installment. Without him and other 80s stars, the franchise would be bereft of its primary selling point. In his retirement video (via Instagram), Stallone confirmed that Jason Statham will be taking his place as the movie series’ lead.

While Jason Statham does have significant star power, he was never the face of The Expendables movies. Since Sylvester Stallone and his 80s action co-stars were the big draws for the franchise, it must bring them back in Expendables 5 to have a shot at sustaining its box office returns. It must also avoid taking as big of a break as The Expendables 4 to ensure audiences stay invested in what it has to offer. And even if The Expendables 5 does not manage to bring back Sylvester Stallone or goes on a long hiatus like its predecessor, it will have to change its course in such a way that it narratively and visually makes up for all the flaws of the franchise.