Sylvester Stallone quits The Expendables 4

Stallone in 2014's 'The Expendables 3' (credit: Lionsgate)
Stallone in 2014’s ‘The Expendables 3’ (credit: Lionsgate)

Say it ain’t so: the elder statesmen of action cinema have just lost their figurehead.

Yes, Sylvester Stallone has backed out of making the fourth instalment in the ‘Expendables’ franchise, reportedly over creative disputes with Avi Lerner, series producer and head of production house Nu Image/Millennium Films.

According to Deadline, Stallone and Lerner were unable to agree “on a new director, on the script and on certain qualitative elements of the film.” Sources close to the production reportedly state that Stallone, a recent Oscar nominee for ‘Creed,’ was “concerned about potentially underwhelming results of another franchise with which he is indelibly linked.”

No doubt this will be a bit of a blow for fans of the action star, who has been the main driving force behind ‘The Expendables.’ As well as playing Barney Ross, leader of the musclebound mercenary team, Stallone also co-wrote and directed the 2010 original, coming to the film during a career resurgence after the success of 2006’s ‘Rocky Balboa’ and 2008’s ‘Rambo.’

Although he did not take the helm on the two sequels (directed by Simon West and Patrick Hughes respectively), Stallone still co-wrote the films, and was instrumental in bringing so many other noted action stars of yesteryear into the fold throughout the trilogy, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford.

Old action stars assemble in 'The Expendables 2' (credit: Lionsgate)
Old action stars assemble in ‘The Expendables 2’ (credit: Lionsgate)

Even so, the films were only moderate commercial successes, cumulatively grossing just over $804 million at the global box office; and they were met with a largely negative response from critics (only ‘The Expendables 2’ is rated fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, with a 66% critical approval rating). Considering that Stallone’s seventh appearance as Rocky in 2015’s ‘Creed’ was perhaps his finest performance to date and the most widely acclaimed film Stallone has appeared in for some time, it isn’t so surprising that the idea of doing another ‘Expendables’ might not have much appeal anymore.

In any case, the 70-year old screen veteran looks to have no shortage of big things in his future. He’s working on a sequel to ‘Escape Plan,’ and his upcoming role in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is rumoured to become a recurring figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (although Stallone’s role in the film remains a mystery at present). Deadline also hint that Stallone may be working on a project with his old friend Jackie Chan.

So what now for ‘The Expendables 4?’ Avi Lerner tells Deadline, “in my opinion, it’s not dead,” but given that the franchise appeals to a comparatively niche audience as it stands, it’s hard to see it retaining the same pulling power without Stallone front and centre.

Whatever happens, Stallone will next be seen in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2,’ opening 28 April.

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