Where are all the young male action heroes these days? Back in the 1980s and 1990s, we had a slew of brawny action stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Jean Claude Van Damme, Harrison Ford, Steven Seagal, Tom Cruise, the list goes on.
In the 2000s, those stars were waning at the box office, but they were still making action flicks, primarily because there were no young guns to take their place. A few young male stars emerged, Channing Tatum and Chris Hemsworth, for example, but no one really grabbed the public’s fancy like the stars of old.
Hollywood even put almost all of the iconic stars into one action film franchise, 2010’s “The Expendables,” a throwback to the action films of the ’80s that was either a brilliant parody or just an excuse to put all those action stars into the same film for the first time. That action franchise is now in its second sequel, with probably more to come…if their aging stars can still pull it off.
Even the top action franchise these days, the phenomenally successful “Fast and Furious” franchise now on its sixth sequel, “Furious 7,” stars male action figures on the northern side of 40. The top billed actors include 48-year-old Vin Diesel, 42-year-old Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, 48-year-old Jason Statham, and the late Paul Walker, who was 40 when he died in 2013.
In the past several months several high-profile actors 60 and older released action vehicles, including the “new” face of action, 62-year-old Liam Neeson (“Taken 3” and “Run All Night”), as well as 60-year-old Denzel Washington (“The Equalizer”), 61-year-old Pierce Brosnan (“The November Man”) and 60-year-old Kevin Costner (“Three Days to Kill”).
But this weekend they get competition from a younger action star, one with two Oscars on his mantlepiece at home.
Yes, the youthful Sean Penn, all of 54, takes on the action genre with “The Gunman,” starring as a black ops agent who wants to retire and live out life with his lady love, but is hunted down by the company that once hired him. Needless to say, a lot of bad guys, henchmen, hitmen and agents get dispatched in a number of violent ways at the hands of Penn’s character Jim “Twink” Terrier.
That brings us back to the original question, “Where are all the young male action heroes these days?” The young actors of today either don’t seem to want to attempt to take a stab at the genre or lack the charisma and acting chops of the stars of old.
The most likely young actor, Channing Tatum, who is 34, tried it with the thriller “White House Down,” but that film flopped. Now he’s content to do broad comedies like “21 Jump Street” or serious indie dramas such as the Oscar-nominated “Foxcatcher.”
There are a couple of young actors who are flourishing as action heroes, not young males, but young females. And one of them has an action film opening alongside “The Gunman” this weekend. Shailene Woodley, 23, is the take-action heroine of “Insurgent,” the second film in the “The Divergent Series” trilogy, playing Tris Prior, who becomes a leader of a revolutionary faction in a post-apocalyptic world. It opens March 20.
And let’s not forget 24-year-old Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the action hero of the hugely successful “The Hunger Games” film franchise. The final film of that series, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” is set to open this Nov. 20 and there are still two more films to go in “The Divergent Series” scheduled to open in March 2016 and 2017.
That means, unless one of their fellow young male actors steps it up, Woodley and Lawrence will more than likely be the top two young action stars for the next two years or more. Maybe they can even teach The Expendables a thing or two!