With Bruce Willis' most recent film success, "A Good Day to Die Hard," one might ask just how long the tough guys like Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger can keep on making these movies as they enter their AARP years.
Admittedly, there are different kinds of tough guys. There's the strongman like a Schwarzenegger, Seagal, Van Damme, Norris, Stallone or a Dolph Lundgren, the kind of guy you expect to be lifting a wagon over his head and screaming out "DRAGGGGOOOO!" Sure he'll hold an assault rifle, but he could just as easily break an assault rifle in half.
Then there's the hard-nosed vigilante type, badasses known more for their cold stares and quick trigger fingers, guys like Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, John Wayne.
For the first type, strongman, the aging is noticeable a lot quicker. There's more of an obvious call for humor as these guys head into their 60s still expecting to win a fight with young punks. Like any aging athlete, you begin to almost feel sorry for them.
Vigilante heroes tend to have a longer and more honorable aging, perhaps because the bitterness and vicissitudes of old age lend extra depth to their generally hard-edged character.
Clint Eastwood's last incarnation of a Dirty Harry type was in 2002's "Blood Work": he was 72. Eastwood colluded in the idea of his old age and frailty though by giving his character a heart condition. In fact, his very frailty added to the suspense.
Like Eastwood, John Wayne's "golden year" films were also acclaimed: he won the Oscar for Best Actor at the age of 62 for playing the aging gunfighter Rooster Cogburn in 1960's True Grit. Then at 72, he got some of the best reviews of his career playing a dying gunfighter in "The Shootist". It was the last film of his career.
Charles Bronson was still blowing away the bad guys to big box office profits at the age of 65. His 80's flick "Murphy's Law" opened at #2 at the Box Office. However, subsequent pictures like Death Wish IV and V got mixed reviews and less box office success, perhaps because they didn't incorporate Bronson's obvious aging as well into the narrative.
You just begin to wonder with the way technology works, and the way everyone these days is living longer, how much more these action heroes can keep themselves going, especially the ones who were known far more for their muscles and stuntwork than their acting abilities. Guys like Eastwood have managed to be tough guys without being known as amazing athletes. It was Eastwood's attitude that was scary and tough; and when he held out a gun in Gran Torino at the age of 78 and had that knowing grin and half-shut eyes, he was just as scary as the tough Dirty Harry that he'd portrayed almost thirty years before.
However, guys like Schwarzenegger, his body WAS what got him hired. If I remember correctly, Cameron first considered him for the Terminator because of his physique. So maybe for Stallone, the aging of his body makes him less believable as the intimidator he once was.
Stallone keeps making Rocky and Rambo movies even as he heads into his 60s, and thankfully he seems to be one person who's well aware of the humor of it. The Expendables series has made a welcome mockery of the aging 80's action heroes, bringing in Charles Bronson, JCVD, Schwarzenegger and Willis into an all-out celebration of the gray-haired bad boys.
The question is how long will box office audiences eat this up, and at what point will it (or could it) become pathetic?
Danny Glover originated that line when he was only 41 years old. Real star athletes are usually done by the time they hit their 40s.
Once when Matt Damon was being interviewed about whether he could do another Bourne movie, he said to Jon Stewart, "Man I don't know, I'm 37 now...." Of course, Stewart being a few years older immediately mocked him about it.
But the question is how long can guys like Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone keep doing this? Films like RED showing the aging assassins? Or the Expendables series?
And how long will the box office keep rewarding them?
What does history teach us?
Of course, the gun makes it a lot easier to extend one's lifecycle as an action hero. A swashbuckler in their 70s isn't going to be much to watch.
At one point in the new film Stand Up Guys, Christopher Walken and Al Pacino pull Alan Arkin out of a nursing home to go pull a heist job. Of course, once Arkin's behind the wheel, he's back in action no problem.
Can a guy like Tom Cruise go into his 70s? Why not?
And who is there to take their places? In the latest Die Hard and Indiana Jones films, we each are introduced to a son who could be geared to take over, but neither of them honestly seems up to the challenge. Shia LeBoeuf replacing Harrison Ford? Or Jai Courtney (who no one knows) taking over for Bruce Willis? Really? You almost wish that these guys were able to live forever, because the way the legends do it is so strong in our minds.