Where have all the young actors gone?

While I was watching Expendables 3 with a friend, he asked a question that I actually felt I needed to pause the movie and answer it, because in my mind, it is a pretty big issue and I have opinions on it. As stated prior somewhere, I’m an opinionated person and since this is my blog and my rules, hey I can let fly with them. My friend seemed genuinely confused about why they kept adding people to the Expendables’ franchise instead of keeping the same core crew and making stories with just them. Because he also felt that there were just too many characters in the movie.

Now, I don’t claim to know the mind of Sylvester Stallone or the executives at Lionsgate. But I do have my own opinion on the subject. Whether or not they are being successful in what I think is happening, is another story all together.

Lionsgate in recent history has had huge success with making franchises marketed towards a younger customer featuring younger actors. Major example, the Hunger Games. Contrasting to the Hunger Games is the Expendables, a franchise skewed mostly of older actors (I’m talking 40s or more) targeted to the adult male demographic who have grown up with the featured actors. We’re talking that most of these actors are veering towards their sixties and have actually had pundits claim that they are ‘no longer action stars.’

What follows here is opinion, because like I said, I don’t know Stallone’s or the Lionsgate executives’ thinking processing. It is my opinion, that while Stallone and his creative team are trying to give that older audience what they want, which is a bunch of older action stars doing what they do best and trying to bring in that younger demographic by adding younger actors and giving those actors an opportunity to make a bigger name for themselves in Hollywood and open doors for them that might otherwise be shut.

Maybe I’m being too kind here. Stallone has talked about how he likes working with younger actors, how he thinks they’re a great bunch of kids. I just have a hard time seeing someone of Stallone’s caliber having younger, possibly more fit, actors in his film if he didn’t want them there to begin with. (That and he makes a lot of jokes at his own expense over it. At least, he has a sense of humor about it.) I also want to point out that both the actors who played henchmen to Stone Cold Austin and Jean Claude Van Damme are champion winning martial artists in their own rights. So, not only does the movie feel more authentic, these guys get an acting credit and more exposure.

If this is the case, I applaud them for what they’re trying to do. If it isn’t the case, well, I’m going to applaud them anyways because whether they know it or not, that’s what they’re doing. And the only way to be able to say if this is going to be successful or not is if these younger stars go on to headline movies in their own rights that bring in decent box office numbers. The proof will be in the pudding to use a time worn idiom.

Because, let’s all face it, there aren’t a lot of franchises that feature younger actors in action roles. In fact, most action movies with young actors that aren’t part of a large franchise flop at the box office. This could be said of some of the older actors too. No one is quite ready to see Arnie be in yet another action movie, but he keeps trying. I liked the Last Stand, apparently I was the only one. Of standalone action movies that feature ‘new’ or ‘younger’ actors in the main role, I can’t think of one that did well at the box office. A lot of these movies are actors who are either in big television shows or have acted in popular franchises and these action movies are a ‘test’ to see if they can draw an audience in on their own name. (Usually the answer is no, see below for why.)

Of the maybe ten current action movie franchises that I can think of, almost half of them feature older actors and those that do feature younger actors are 90% comic properties. Which means that those who are coming to the box office aren’t coming to see Chris Pratt, they’re coming to see a comic book character, Starlord, that they know already and like. Whether or not they like Chris Pratt may depend on his performance as Starlord. People didn’t go to the first Captain America to see Chris Evans. They may go now to see him, but at first they were definitely there to see the story of Captain America! (I’ll prattle about what I think the MCU is up to in a later post, preferably before I start reviewing the MCU.) But just because they like Chris Evans in the role of Captain America, doesn’t mean that they will watch just any movie Chris Evans is in.

Now, I like the MCU and I like the X-Men, but when these are the only roles available for younger actors who like to do action. You can see, not only is there huge competition for the parts, the parts are extremely limiting! Then on top of it, the actor is fighting a preconceived notion in the viewers’ head of what the role is and how it should be played. And then when they are pitched an idea about a movie like Pompeii, or Battleship or even Cowboys Vs. Aliens with original characters and an original plotline (minus Pompeii, we should all know how that ends.) The movie fails and then they are blamed as the studio plays pass the hot potato and the actor has no one to pass the potato to because he or she wants to continue to get jobs! If this happens enough times, their names end up being, according to the studios, box office poison and they can’t find work! Then on top of it, things get insinuated that they’ve been given too many chances and are only getting these chances due to race and sex, which totally ignores the inherit problems in the industry and any other circumstances around how the actor got the job or why the previous movie ‘failed.’

And remember, failure is determined it seems, only by box office numbers and doesn’t matter if the actor did the job well with what he had, or if the story was bad or the concept something the audience wasn’t prepared for or interested in. The bottom line of Hollywood is the money that the movie brings into theaters (disregarding all merchandising and DVD sales which can account for in the long run 70% of a movie’s profitability.)

It’s incredibly frustrating for me, the viewer. And I am sure it is incredibly frustrating for the actor, because I, as a writer (who if a studio bought the rights to my work, I would then have no control over what they did with it), and the actor because they’re under contract and so on, know that the actor is the very last person to have any sort of control over the movie unless they just so happen to be Sylvester Stallone or Will Smith. So, when the studio blames the actor for the story being bad, or the marketing failing even if it was marketed wrong or not marketed at all, or because they happened to move the date of the movie or chose the wrong date to release the movie and these are all things that the actor has no control of because, he or she isn’t Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp. (Prime example is R.I.P.D. Both actors have gone on record saying that the movie they saw in theatres wasn’t the movie they felt they were filming at the time.) It has to be like running into brick walls. It would make turned off from doing movie work ever again. And if it happens over and over again (which I’ve seen) it begins to feel like there is some sort of conspiracy in Hollywood to ruin that person’s career. I have a huge amount of respect for these actors, who show up, do their jobs, get blamed when it fails and show up again anyways.

Now there is another personal reason I find this frustrating. I want to see actors and actresses my age on the big screen doing action films! Those are the types of films that I want to see. And I want actors my age doing them so I have someone to, being honest here, oogle at where I won’t feel like a creep because they’re in their teens or early twenties or strange because they’re old enough to be my father! I want actresses I can cheer on and maybe look up to for the amount of work I know it takes to be in an action movie. And right now, that seems to be the age gap, early twenties or in their fifties and sixties. Where are all the young people in their late twenties and in their thirties?

I do know the answer. Television. Except for the few Channing Tatums and Michelle Rodriguezes, most actors and actresses born in the late seventies and early eighties are on television shows where a single bad episode rating doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a career. They’re in everything from The Vampire Diaries to Game of Thrones, on FX, the CW and HBO. And I can’t blame them for sticking with television! Television is steadier work with a steadier income. Even big name actresses in the movie industry like Rebecca Romjin-Stamos are doing television work. To watch a television series requires more commitment than a movie. So, if the character is written out of a television series for various reasons and the fans liked the character, there is higher of a chance for that character to return for a visit or get their own television show. But, there aren’t a lot of action themed television shows simply because there is no budget for them. Action movies aren’t really set up to be long drama arcs.

And since the phenomena of Buffy (though Star Trek probably started it), the creators and writers of television shows are a much more visible force in the industry that if a show fails, it isn’t the actors fault, but it is the creator or the writer’s fault, which has to be refreshing. Though there are networks that are notorious for making it feel like they deliberately select shows to fail. But at least the actor can’t be blamed if the studio puts the show in the wrong timeslot. Now if only this mindset would pass over to movies.

So back to what I was saying about the Expendables. Now, the Expendables is one of the rare franchises where if it fails, we can whole heartedly blame Stallone. He’s got his fingers in almost every aspect of the movie. In fact, the only other franchise I can where the star has this much creative control is the Fast franchise with Vin Diesel. Vin has what he calls his “Fast Family.” So, it’s nice to see Stallone sharing some of his star power with the younger set without them having to worry if something goes wrong it will be on their shoulders. Now, if there was only a way to take that same star power and give a boost to younger actors careers in films that younger actors actually star in that aren’t things like Captain America or Spiderman. Let’s see some fresh ideas and some fresh faces (or you know those actors who’ve tried and tried, get them some recognition with material that suits them.)

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