In the eighties, I think it’s fair to say, a few names dominated the movie box office, at least in terms of ticket sales if not stellar artistic achievements. Schwarzenegger. Stallone. Willis. At least, I think they did. Clearly, I’m gettin’ old and the memory ain’t what it used to be.
What was I talking about?
Anyway, gather ’round kids and I’ll tell you about a time which seems quaint in the present political climate. With gun control all over the news, it’s hard to remember that in the eighties we gleefully lined up to see films that were nothing but explosions and gunplay. Those movies still get made, but it’s nothing like back then.
Consider Sylvester Stallone: Forty-seven “Rambo” movies (I counted. It was something like that.) Movies about a post-traumatic Vietnam vet who kills lots and lots of people. He did the eighty-four “Rocky” movies too (Again, look it up.) He didn’t kill anyone in those, though.
Then there’s former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from back when he was, uh, PRE-California governor. He made “The Terminator” and it’s sequels, of course; playing an evil cyborg from the future who travels back in time mostly to kill lots of things. He made a bunch of other movies too. They were all loud. Even “Twins”, though that may just be Danny Devito’s acting style.
And, finally, the third musketeer, Bruce Wills. He, of course, made holiday classic “Die Hard” (There’s a Christmas tree in one scene.) and it’s sequels. He made other movies in the eighties too, most of which were pretty forgettable, at least to me. (“The Sixth Sense”, a very good film, didn’t come along until 1999.)
We all at our popcorn (with the good, extremely unhealthy, butter flavoring back before nutritionists finally wore us down.) and had a good time.
Then the eighties ended.
We wound our cinematic way through the next two decades. Stallone continued to make the same kind of cheap dialogue, high action films he always did to modest success. Schwarzenegger got into politics. Willis made movies too, but they weren’t quite as bullet-happy for the most part.
Action movies still got made, but movie-goers started demanding action heroes with more depth. They needed more back story, more heart. We also wanted movies that engaged in a wee bit less racial and cultural stereotyping of our villains. I can’t support this with statistics, but my hunch is that the attempts at traditional “action movies” these days don’t fare as well as horror or the latest Judd Apatow romantic/comedy something-or-other.
So, it seemed, the era of the action star might be over.
Is that Ben Gay arthritis cream and mothballs I smell? No one probably uses Ben Gay anymore, but I know three guys back in the day who probably did. Could it be…COULD IT BE?????!!!!!
Yes! They’re all back! Willis! Stallone! Schwarzenegger! They’re all up on the big screen this year, wrinkles and all. (Except Stallone who looks freakishly cut. Look at those abs. Pretty sure they just enlarged a Rambo action figure and stuck his head on it in some sort of top-secret lab.)
Willis debuts on Valentine’s Day(!) in “A Good Day to Die Hard”, the fifth installment in the franchise. I’m actually not going to rip on the film because (1) haven’t seen it; (2) I was surprisingly entertained by “Live Free or Die Hard” which came out a few years ago. Yeah, there are lots of bullets and explosions, but it’s SO cartoony, you can’t take it seriously. It’s a video game with someone else at the controls.
Stallone is in theaters now with “Bullet to the Head”. Didn’t see it, but the title tells me it will pretty much be vintage Stallone. That’s good or bad, depending on your taste.
And Schwarzenegger returns to movies with “The Last Stand” playing a small town sheriff who’s not taking crap from anybody. It’s hard to picture Arnold as a “small town sheriff”. Andy Griffith, he’s not. Not even Jack Carter (that’s a shout out to “Eureka” fans) But, then, Arnold always has liked odd choices. Remember “Twins”? Or that one where he’s a pregnant DUDE?
The point is: these guys are OLD. And they’re still out there doin’ it. And doin’ it the way they did back in the day, updated cultural sentiments be damned. Why? Nostalgia for the eighties? Maybe. I’ve got some. I still haven’t solved the Rubik’s Cube. I’ll probably see the Die Hard movie because of my weird affection for the franchise. I’ll skip the others, but lots of people go. Lots of money to be made.
And I guess that’s the answer.