The Real Reason The Expendables (Almost) Never Kills Its Heroes
Across The Expendables movie trilogy, dozens of actors have joined the titular team, but here’s why only one has died to date. Sylvester Stallone built another franchise for himself with the first Expendables, which united some of the most iconic action stars of all time. Despite a premise that aped mission movies like The Dirty Dozen or The Magnificent Seven, the franchise has been surprisingly coy with killing any of its heroes. Outside of Liam Hemsworth’s “Billy the Kid” from The Expendables 2, every member of the group has survived to the end credits.
Stallone wrote and directed the first entry and had a strong creative hand in both sequels, and a 1988 Los Angeles Times might explain his reluctance to make his mercenaries truly expendable. While discussing Rambo III – which also co-starred Marlon Brando – he revealed the original plan for the Afghan boy Hamid – who helps the titular soldier – was that he would die. While Stallone admits this would have hammered home the sequel’s supposed theme of war being Hell, he vetoed this because “Some people get really rattled when a character they’ve grown to like dies.
Well, I don’t want to rattle the audience, I just want a little grief.” He also used the second film as an example, stating “When the girl dies in ‘Rambo II,’ it’s very smooth. It’s not a jar.” and “No one gets up and says, ‘Aw, I’m leaving!’ It wasn’t one of those.” Stallone has pretty much carried this storytelling mantra through all of his later films, where no key characters tend to die before the end credits.
How Stallone’s Rule Hurt The Expendables Series
Had Rambo III been a little gritter and darker, the death of Hamid may have worked. Of course, audiences wouldn’t have found this conclusion uplifting, but since the sequel was covering a then real-life conflict, it would have carried more weight. Unfortunately for The Expendables, Stallone’s unwillingness to go darker has been a consistent problem.
In The Expendables 3 (which Jack Nicholson passed on) for instance, outside of Terry Crews’ Hale Caesar being gravely wounded in the first – but eventually recovering – none of the heroes are in real peril. During the finale, there are 13 or so “expendables” against an entire army, but not only do they all survive, none are even injured.
Part of that might be The Expendables 3’s push to appeal to younger audiences – hence the PG-13 rating – but the sheer invulnerability of its heroes greatly undermined the stakes. Stallone seems comfortable with death as a motivating factor to set up a story – hence Billy’s demise in Expendables 2 – but he doesn’t want to end on a downer note either. That’s not to say a character dying would greatly improve any of The Expendables films, but Stallone’s unspoken rule undercuts their tension.
Expendables 4 Might Break Stallone’s Death Rule
The upcoming Expendables 4 – which already fixed two problems from part 3 – will see Stallone take more of a backseat in the series, with Jason Statham’s Christmas taking the lead. Stallone stepping back also appears to apply creatively, as he doesn’t have a credit for the story or screenplay either. That means one or more of the team might actually die, including Stallone’s leader Barney Ross. The Expendables franchise has never quite lived up to its potential, so maybe the fourth film could serve as a soft reboot that embraces the core concept.