Why Bruce Willis Will Blow Up the Box Office When Stallone and Schwarzenegger Could Not

Analysis: Action films with older stars have bombed this year, but "Good Day to Die Hard" should reverse that trend

Moviegoers are not going where the action is, at least so far this year..

Sylvester Stallone's “Bullet to the Head” is the latest slam-bang misfire, taking in just $4.5 million over the weekend for Warner Bros. That was even worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger's “The Last Stand,” which managed just $7.2 million in its debut earlier this month, and Jason Statham's “Parker,” which opened to $7 million two weeks ago.

It's only three movies, but that's a nasty trend for three action films with well-established stars, though Schwarzenegger, 65, and Stallone, 66, may be creaking a little. With their two films opening three weeks apart — and “Parker” in between them — there may have been just too much material in the marketplace that skewed to older males. All three were rated R as well, and while none was expected to do gangbusters business, all were expected to do better than they did.

“The mistake that Arnold and Sly made was in thinking they had their fans back after 'Expendables' and that they'd follow them anywhere,” BoxOffice.com vice-president and senior analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap Monday. “That's not the case and fans sent that message loud and clear.”

Also read: Stallone and Schwarzenegger Are Finished: 10 Who Should Replace Them

It's possible the success of the “Expendables” movies — the first made $274 million worldwide in 2010, the second just crossed $300 million — may have unrealistically raised expectations for the solo projects.

Contrino thinks both of them should have waited for more established projects,.

“If Arnold had waited for a 'Terminator,” or a “Conan' or even a 'Kindergarten Cop' we'd be having a whole different conversation now,” Contrino said. “Those are the kind of films that would tap into what audiences are looking for from these guys now, which is a rush of nostalgia, and to be reminded of characters they loved..”

The two will be paired in "The Tomb," the Lionsgate prison thriller set for September. "That film has a great concept, and the sum of Arnold and Sly has us bullish," Lionsgate's executive vice-president and general sales manager David Spitz told TheWrap

It has been bad projects, rather than action fatigue that's resulted in the box-office dip, said Contrino. He's convinced that the genre malaise is nothing that  “Good Day to Die Hard,” the Bruce Willis film from Fox that opens on Feb. 14, won't cure.

“It's tracking very strongly and we have it opening to around $45 million over the four days,' he said.. “It's also looking very strong overseas, and we see it doing $300 million globally.”

And it's a healthy franchise. Starting with the original film in 1988, which made $148 million worldwide, each successive movie has made more money at the global box office. The last one, “Live Free Or Die Hard,” made $383 million in 2007. In all, the “Die Hard” franchise has taken in $1.13 billion.

Also read: Glut of R-Rated Movies Putting Box Office on Overload

Willis is 57, but his age isn't the only thing that's putting him in a different realm than his “Expendables 2” pals Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

“He's seen as more versatile,” Contrino said, “and cooler. 'Looper' was a really interesting project and exposed him to younger audiences.” 

"Looper," a $30 million sci-fi thriller co-starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt that was shot in Shanghai, made $160 million worldwide for Sony since its release last year. It made more than $20 million in China, and “Good Day to Die Hard” is expected to pack a punch there, too.

It's not set in stone, but the latest “Die Hard” film has a March 16 opening date in the works in China.  Film officials there, anxious to protect their domestic films at the box office, are considering putting it up against Disney's “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” which opens March 8 domestically.

It might not be the box-office throw down that the Chinese orchestrated in August, when they paired “Dark Knight” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” but Bruce Willis vs. the Wizard of Oz  should be a pretty good match-up, too.