Sure, it may have been a box-office field devoid of any huge players, but the $35 million that put The Expendables at the top this past weekend was certainly no joke. Sylvester Stallone's starring and directorial effort offered a clear alternative for moviegoers to self-centered "chick-flick" hedonism (Eat Pray Love) and the latest attempt to take niche films aimed toward "hipster geeks" (which would be us, I suppose) and aim them at the mass market (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.) The performance of Sly Stallone's throwback/love letter to the mindless, but satisfying 80's genre of muscled-up dudes shooting the s**t out of bad guys while making bad puns proved that there may indeed a viable market for films of its ilk. (Of course, the ridiculously loaded cast full of some of the best badasses of action movies past and present didn't exactly hurt the promotional blitz, either.)
Immediate analysis of The Expendables' performance have been evoking comparisons to the slightly larger numbers for Inglourious Basterds' $38.1 million opening weekend last year. However, one could argue that this week's competition, light as it may have been, likely served to split the weekend's take more so than Basterds' underwhelming competition with Shorts and Post Grad. The Julia Roberts vehicle Eat Pray Love arguably dragged more hapless, girlfriend/wife-towing guys away from the film than any of those efforts. While Quentin Tarantino's World War II action epic was itself a take on a long dormant genre similar to the old "ragtag team" war flicks like The Dirty Dozen, The Expendables may possibly end up being more of a watershed moment. Besides hints of a sequel, it served as an excellent showcase to remind us exactly what was so endearing about the old-school era of action flicks. For instance, Dolph Lundgren actually had a -- pretty decent performance in the film. (Huh?) One could easily see his career being revived from the straight-to-DVD purgatory in which his work has resided for the past few decades. I Come in Peace part 2, anyone?
Was it an avante-garde masterpiece? Of course not! In fact, the irony, is that this film was explicitly marketed for its status as mindless, old-school fun. It was a straight-up, no bones about it, "guy flick" of the purest type that has not seen big box-office exposure probably since perhaps the waning days of Jean-Claude Van Damme's last mainstream box-office run towards the end of the 90's. (Who, interestingly enough, passed on an offer to appear in the film.) However, its staying power at the box-office for the next few weeks may end up being the real test to see if moviegoers are ready to once again fully embrace the action badass style of days gone by. It's likely that The Expendables' biggest enemy this coming weekend won't be Eric Roberts's rogue CIA Agent, but rather Piranha 3D.
What say you? Did you catch The Expendables this past weekend? Should we go ahead and call it a comeback? Did you emerge from the theater with a freakish amount of chest hair and an inability to pass tests for performance-enhancing substances?