When "The Expendables" hit theaters back in 2010, nobody really expected much. A bunch of over-the-hill fossils spitting out cheesy one-liners and mowing down hordes of faceless bad guys like it was still 1987? That's going to bomb for sure, right?
Well, instead it became a surprise box office smash, spawning a successful sequel earlier this year with a third installment already in the works. And that's not all: As the release of "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" this Friday shows, it also seems to have revived interest in some of the franchise's many forgotten heroes.
Which brings us to our big question: Has "The Expendables" actually rejuvenated the careers of its '80s action stars? Or are fans only interested in seeing them packaged together with their fellow museum relics?
There's only one way to answer that, of course. So grab your headband, load your bazooka and start thinking of corny jokes, because things are about to get mighty '80s up in here.
Sylvester Stallone: Stallone's career resurgence actually began a few years before he created the fake '80s franchise "The Expendables" thanks to the revivals of his actual '80s franchises. But while 2006's "Rocky Balboa" and 2008's "Rambo" were successful at the box office, they weren't exactly huge hits, nor did they convince anybody that Stallone had anything new left in him. After "The Expendables," though, which he also wrote and directed, Stallone has more juice than he's had since his "Rocky" heyday three and a half decades ago.
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: Yes.
Dolph Lundgren: Lundgren is an interesting case study. Prior to "The Expendables," his last major theatrical release in America was 1995's "Johnny Mnemonic," which was a complete disaster. Over in Europe, though, he has remained a major action star, turning out no less than 25 films that basically never saw the light of day on this side of the Atlantic. Now, however, he not only had an expanded role in this year's "The Expendables 2," he has a new film opening in the U.S. this week with "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning."
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: America is where it's at, so yes.
Jean-Claude Van Damme: JCVD co-stars with Lundgren in "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," so you would think this would be a slam dunk, but not so fast, friends. Considering he wasn't in the first "Expendables" and ended up getting himself all killed to death in the sequel, he doesn't have quite as much momentum — or potential momentum — to work with as his fellow action heroes. Is he good for a cameo or a one-off villain like he played in "The Expendables 2"? Sure. But is he back to being big enough to anchor his own films again? Considering he's got Lundgren supporting him this time around as well...
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: No.
Jet Li: You don't really think of Li as being an '80s star, but in fact the 49-year-old martial arts master made several films back in the day. He's also never entirely lost his career mojo like some of his co-stars in "The Expendables," but in recent years, like Lundgren, he has begun making the majority of his films overseas as Hollywood lost faith. While "The Expendables" has proven that he can still kick some butt when he needs to, it may be telling that the only film he currently has lined up is... "The Expendables 3."
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: Not yet anyway.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Of all the folks on our list, Schwarzenegger may be the smartest one; when his career began to collapse in the late '90s, instead of just fading away or turning into a desperate has-been, he turned to politics and got himself elected governor of California. Now that his political career is over, "The Expendables" franchise has given him the perfect vehicle to prove he can still kill bad guys and declaim badly written dialogue at the same time. He said he'd be back, and he didn't lie.
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: Yes.
Bruce Willis: Well, look, Bruce Willis's career never needed to be rejuvenated because unlike everyone else in these films, he's remained an A-list movie star the whole dang time. In fact, taking on a role in "The Expendables" wasn't an opportunity to revive his career, it was actually more of a risky gamble. If it had turned into a dud, after all, he might have found himself lumped in with the rest as a has-been, which may be one reason he only agreed to a cameo in the first film before expanding his role in the sequel once he knew it was going to be a hit.
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: No, but it hasn't been hurt either.
Chuck Norris: We get it, Norris is a legend. He's also, by the way, 72 years old and hadn't appeared on the big or small screen in seven years before his walk on role in "The Expendables 2." During that time, he found a second career as an internet meme, but unless his next movie is about finding the Fountain of Youth, it looks as though Norris is going to stay happily retired. He's earned it.
Has His Career Been Rejuvenated: Chuck Norris is above such petty concerns. But no.