This weekend, yet another 1980s-era action-movie star will be put to the test. And, for a change, the early returns are encouraging.
Bruce Willis' A Good Day to Die Hard opened Thursday to an estimated $8.3 million, its studio reported.
The sequel finished a close second to the Josh Duhamel-Julianne Hough romantic-drama Safe Haven, which also hit theaters Valentine's Day. Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst Jeff Bock said it was likely the Die Hard installment would win the Presidents' Day holiday weekend box office. A three-day, Friday-Sunday gross in the respectable neighborhood of $30 million was expected.
And the action genre was expected to die another day.
"There's always going to be room for tough-guy movies," says Alain Burrese, author of the Tough Guy Wisdom movie-trivia and quote books.
The problem with Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand ($6.3 million opening weekend) and Stallone's Bullet to the Head ($4.5 million opening weekend) isn't so much that they were action movies, Marshall Julius, who wrote Action! The Action Movie A-Z, argues, it's that they weren't considered good action movies.
"It's not enough to kill a load of bad guys and throw in a few funny lines," Julius said via email. "It wasn't then, and it isn't now."
Schwarzenegger's biggest box-office hit, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, was released 22 years ago; Stallone's, Rambo: First Blood Part II, 28 years ago. Willis, who has worked more than the other two, and in a greater variety of genres, scored the biggest hit of his career to date in 1999 with the thriller The Sixth Sense.
All three stars were part of the Stallone-led The Expendables, 2010's throwback hit that spawned last summer's The Expendables 2. The sequel, while a bigger success overseas than the original, didn't spark as much interest among statewide audiences—an early sign that nostalgia for catchphrases and ammo would only go so far.
"Although to fortysomething geeks they're movie gods, to kids today, they're ancient unknowns," Julius said.
Burrese reminds that it's inevitable for even the best and biggest of action stars, from John Wayne on down, to lose something off their punches. "It happens," he says.
Willis probably won't see it happen to him this weekend; Stallone and Schwarzenegger will hope it doesn't happen to them again this fall when their new team-up movie, The Tomb, opens.