Add Sean Penn to the list of aging action stars who have lost a step or three at the box office, as his R-rated thriller “The Gunman” missed the mark with moviegoers this weekend.
The 54-year-old star is an acclaimed actor and more than just an action hero, of course. But his two Best Actor Oscars couldn’t keep “The Gunman” from flopping with just $5 million – roughly $45 million less than box office leader “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.”
The Open Road Films release is Penn’s worst opening weekend for any of his movies that debuted in more than 2,000 theaters.
This comes just a week after Liam Neeson, a star who found an action niche late in his career, debuted with an underwhelming $11 million in the similarly R-rated and bullet-riddled “Run All Night” for Warner Bros. The 62-year-old Neeson’s previous film, the dark thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” did just a little better last September, opening to $12 million and topping out with just $26 million domestically.
That’s quite a comedown for Neeson, whose three “Taken” movies grossed $914 million and averaged $304 million at the global box office between 2009 and this year for Fox. But the familiar vengeance plot of those films may be wearing thin, as the finale was the first that failed to top $100 million domestically.
Stallone, 68, failed to connect with 2013’s “Escape Plan” and 2012’s “Bullet to the Head,” both of which opened below $10 million, and last summer’s “Expendables 3” didn’t match the success of the earlier entries in the franchise.
Schwarzenegger hasn’t had a hit since stepping down as California’s governor in 2011. His last three action films – 2014’s “Sabotage” and 2013’s “Escape Plan,” in which he co-starred with Stallone, and “The Last Stand” – all tanked.
“A lot of over-50 action stars still do well when they stick to established properties,” said BoxOffice.com senior analyst Phil Contrino. “It’s unfortunate, but it seems like the paying public doesn’t really want them to try anything new.”
Stallone’s last non-action outing, the boxing comedy “Grudge Match,” didn’t have audiences breaking down theater doors. It opened to $7 million and topped out below $30 million domestically in 2013.
Overseas has been a saving grace for the older stars. Some films that flopped in North America have scored abroad. Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s “Escape Plan” made just $25 million for Lionsgate in the U.S. in 2013, but took in $112 million internationally, including $40 million from China alone.
The aging stars have resumes that are hard to argue with, so they’ll be OK. Neeson is the king with $6.4 billion in global grosses over the course of his career, boosted by supporting roles in the “Star Wars” and “Dark Knight” movies. Schwarzenegger has generated $4.2 billion globally, and Stallone is not far back with $3.3 billion.
Paramount Pictures executives might be watching the geezer gang with a bit of anxiety, and hoping that an established franchise can indeed make a difference. They are banking that Ahh-Nuld can wield his former box-office clout when the pricey and special effects-laden “Terminator: Genisys” debuts on July 1. That’s because there are two more films in the series scheduled, for 2017 and 2018 and Schwarzenegger will be 70 when the latter rolls out.