Sylvester Stallone has been in the news lately, as a version of his new movie “The Expendables 3” has been illegally downloaded by 200,000 people. The first two versions of the movie were made in 2010 and 2012. To stay on schedule “The Expendables 4” will be released in 2016 when Stallone is 70. At some point soon he will be too old to be an action hero.
Major studios are among the largest contributors to the profits of the multimedia giant parents. For example, in the first quarter of this year, $3.1 billion of Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE: TWX) $7.5 billion in revenue came from studio operation Warner Bros. It was $369 million of the public corporation’s $1.9 billion in operating income. The numbers are not much different for Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB) and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (NASDAQ: FOX).
The Stallone conundrum has been a trouble spot for studios for years. Errol Flynn was too old to be an action hero by the time he reached his mid-40s. John Wayne was successful in the genre (or at least the Westerns) until a year before he died. Studios promote new 20-year-old talent. However, it is still hard to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford, each of whom has been a bankable star at the center of at least one multi-film franchise. The Terminator franchise has brought in $515 million. The Die Hard Franchise $509 million.
Male stars, the argument goes, are harder to replace than female stars are, because aging women lose their box office appeal when in their thirties or forties. There is a great deal of proof that is not true. One of the best examples is Meryl Streep. Of course, she was never a draw in action movies. However, there is little doubt she will stay a bankable star well into her sixties or seventies, even if she cannot fire a gun or hold a bazooka.
Regardless of the appeal of Streep, or even John Wayne, Stallone’s biggest problem is not that “The Expendables 3” was pirated. It is that he is getting old.