Could 'The Expendables' be this year's big end of summer hit?
Judging from the eye-popping tracking numbers showing up for "The Expendables," Sly Stallone's over-the-hill gang action film, it sounds as if men everywhere are having what you might call mangasms over the film. The movie, which arrives in theaters Aug. 13, features an all-star ensemble of B-movie wrestlers and action movie brawlers, including Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Jet Li and Terry Crews. (The film has also been getting a tremendous amount of mileage out of its cameo appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger.) According to this week's NRG tracking, the film has huge numbers for men both under and over 25, numbers that dwarf what the other upcoming films in the marketplace are getting.
Even women sound as if they're excited about the film, judging from the sizable number of female onlookers among the 6,500 people jamming Hall H for the movie's Comic-Con panel this week. (Some visitors estimated that 40% to 45% of the crowd were women.) The online chatter over the film's trailer has been intense, with one female fan exclaiming: "I can get pregnant just watching this trailer!" Most of the film's stars were on hand at Comic-Con, doing their best to stir the pot even more. According to this dispatch from my colleague Steven Zeitchik, there was so much roughhousing on the set that Austin actually broke Stallone's neck (something some studio execs have wanted to do over the years), while Couture spent a lot of time laughing after he'd thumped someone around in a scene.
None of this means that the film is going to be a critical delight, since it was made by Avi Lerner's Millennium Films, which is far more geared to making movies that are easy to sell to overseas audiences than to highbrow critics. But Lionsgate, which is releasing the picture, has done a great job of making the film feel like a must-see picture, at least for action fans. Lionsgate marketing wizard Tim Palen actually began the campaign at the Cannes Film Festival two years ago, with an online-oriented virtual outdoor setup that it made it appear as if the film's promos were everywhere.
Lionsgate cut a great trailer that set the film up for both older men, who see it as a nostalgic reunion, and for younger ones, who are drawn to the kick-butt action scenes. Let's just say that rival Hollywood marketers are impressed by the buzz surrounding the movie. "They've done a great job of making the movie feel like a real event, especially with that tag line: 'The greatest action heroes together for the first and only time,' " says one studio marketing expert. "They haven't really needed to sell the story, just the testosterone appeal of the cast. It's definitely going to have a big footprint in the marketplace when it opens."
This is good news for Lionsgate, which could definitely use a hit right now as it fights a takeover bid by Carl Icahn. And good news for Stallone, who has been desperate to make himself feel relevant again with younger audiences. And who knows? This could be good news for Schwarzenegger too, who's going to be looking for a new line of work after the November elections. Maybe there will be room in show business for another aging action hero after all.
Photo: Bruce Willis, right, making a surprise visit to "The Expendables" Comic-Con panel to greet Sylvester Stallone (center), Dolph Lundgren (left) and Randy Couture. Credit: Mike Blake / Reuters