In his last on-screen leading role, action legend Arnold Schwarzenegger put himself back into the iconic black shades of the Terminator. The film, T3: Rise of the Machines, was met with a mixed critical reception (as an aside, I liked it a lot, especially the ending) and didn’t meet domestic financial expectations either. But Arnold was great in it, and it was quite evident he held the film series in high regard. That respect for the source material is also what makes Stallone’s latter Rocky and Rambo films engaging as well. There is a genuine-ness to Schwarzenegger and the stars of his day which often goes overlooked by the majority of filmgoers. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Van Damme … these names bring back memories of some of the most awesome movies of the 1980s. They weren’t all hits, but the good majority of them were entertaining. In today’s installment of our regular feature What Went Wrong?, I will write about Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a decade, the recently-released flop movie The Last Stand.
Before his political hiatus, Schwarzenegger had starred in a series of high-profile disasters. 1999’s End of Days, an apocalyptic thriller which starred Arnold as an ordinary, everyday security guard facing off against Gabriel Byrne as Satan, debuted with a muscular bow, but bad word-of-mouth doomed the film, and it ultimately wound up a box office disappointment. 2000’s The Sixth Day, a techno-thriller so bad that it’s positing of the ultimately-doomed XFL as the next big thing in sports entertainment was only the least laughable aspect of it, also disappointed critics and audiences. Schwarzenegger’s last big chance to keep his marquee name seemed to lay with Collateral Damage, a 2002 terrorist-themed thriller film that had been delayed several months by the 9/11 tragedy. Collateral Damage was a fairly decent movie (by far the best of the three covered in this paragraph), but there was no way it was going to step out of the shadow of such a national tragedy.
In 2010, Lionsgate Films released The Expendables, an ensemble action yarn featuring a glut of 1980s film heroes (minus Van Damme, who appeared in the sequel) together in a movie for the first time. Meeting surprising critical reception and box office success, The Expendables went on to foster a sequel, the even more successful The Expendables 2, which out-grossed its original on a worldwide scale by a fair margin, and which was also met with even more surprising critical attention (65% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes). One of the biggest slams against the original film was that Schwarzenegger and Willis, who were heavily marketed as supporting players, appeared only minimally in the final product. The sequel beefs up their roles considerably, and is one of the reasons why part two is a much better film than part one. It seemed audiences finally craved for more Schwarzenegger, and now that his political distractions were put aside, we could get back to more Arnie on the big-screen. Arnold’s first starring role in a decade however, The Last Stand, debuted to embarrassingly bad box office returns. So, what exactly went wrong?
Lionsgate Films chose to market The Last Stand in a completely bizarre way. Arnold’s comeback should have been the big selling point of the film, but it was almost as if this this was secondary to showing off the big guns and action sequences in the most generic way possible. In one expose on the film I read through, I seemed to garner that Lionsgate’s refusal to play up Schwarzenegger in the most effective way possible stemmed from the fact that they had done so for The Expendables and its sequel and had been kind of burned by fans. This makes absolutely no sense to me. While it is true that fans clamored for more Arnie in those two movies, The Last Stand is a film in which Schwarzenegger is the main character. Building an ad campaign around his first starring role in a decade should have been a no-brainer. Lionsgate is oozing money due to the success of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises, and the marketing department has been on the ball for those films. But their inexplicable behavior around the marketing of this particular movie is frustrating to say the least.
Additionally, The Last Stand happened to be Arnold’s comeback film, but it was also the coming-to-America debut of South Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-Woon. Ji-Woon, director of 2010’s critically acclaimed I Saw the Devil, was touted highly as the next big import by Hollywood heavyweights (think John Woo and Ang Lee). Though Ji-Woon may be little known to most people, his name is potentially a draw for fans of foreign cinema. But Lionsgate Films chose not to advertise this aspect of the film either, again focusing instead on the action in the most generic way possible. Go back and watch the trailer for The Last Stand. Notice the awful rock music? The close-up shots of big weaponry? The obnoxious behavior of a barely recognizable Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman? Lionsgate could and should have done a much better job with this.
The Last Stand was also unfortunate to open at a time when other big-budget, critically acclaimed films were dominating the box office. Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, two of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, pulled in strong box office numbers that weekend, and other holdovers such as The Hobbit and Gangster Squad probably pulled away male audiences. The Russell Crowe/Mark Wahlberg vehicle Broken City also debuted during the same opening weekend as The Last Stand, and out-grossed it modestly as well. There just wasn’t enough room at the box office for Arnie. Media pundits almost immediately questioned the box office potential of Schwarzenegger’s next starring role, the upcoming The Tomb, a movie that also prominently features Sylvester Stallone. That seems a bit premature and unfair to me. The Last Stand will probably make its own last stand on home video, which is where I will see it, and hopefully enjoy it as well.