"The Expendables 3" lived down to its title over the weekend as moviegoers shunned the third installment of the shoot-'em-up franchise featuring the action heroes of yesteryear. The movie grossed an estimated $16.2 million, falling short of Lionsgate's projected take of $20 million to $25 million and putting it in the No. 4 spot for the weekend.
"The Expendables 3" also trailed the series' previous two movies, which debuted with $34.8 million and $28.8 million, both good for the No. 1 spot. What happened this time around? Here are five factors that may have contributed to "The Expendables 3" botching its mission.
Arr, pirates: Not the high-seas kind, but the high-tech ones. Weeks before "The Expendables 3" hit theaters, a DVD-quality copy of the movie cropped up on file-sharing websites — a rare occurrence for a movie yet to open — and was downloaded by millions of users. It's hard to quantify how much and how directly piracy affected "The Expendables 3" opening, but it's reasonable to assume that a portion of downloaders who would have seen the movie in theaters opted to stay home and save a few bucks instead.
The new recruits: Although the "Expendables" franchise is powered by aging '80s and '90s action heroes like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes and Mel Gibson, the third movie has brought in some new blood in the form of Kellan Lutz (the "Twilight" films), Glen Powell ("The Dark Knight Rises"), boxer Victor Ortiz and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.
With all due respect to the new class, much of the tongue-in-cheek fun of the "Expendables" movies comes from established stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger sending up their own larger-than-life personas. Lutz, Powell and company just don't have the same star power or name recognition.
Losing its edge: In what sounds like a shrewd marketing move, "The Expendables 3" represents the first film in the series to carry a PG-13 rating rather than an R. While that decision broadened the potential audience to include a younger demographic, it also defanged a franchise known for over-the-top carnage.
In a scathing review for Variety, Justin Chang called the film's PG-13 makeover "a gutless decision that drains the action of its excitement, its visceral impact and its glorious disreputability."
Disputed territory: Another side effect of the PG-13 rating is that it put the movie squarely in competition with the summer tent-poles "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which opened Aug. 8, and "Guardians of the Galaxy," which opened Aug. 1. Both movies proved to be strong holdovers and beat "E3" at the box office.
The stiff competition faced by "The Expendables 3" also underscores how August may be shedding its reputation as a cinematic dumping ground between early summer blockbusters and fall prestige pictures.
Franchise fatigue: The most significant factor in "The Expendables 3" fizzling may be the simplest: The novelty has worn off. The first "Expendables," released in 2010, was fresh yet nostalgic, giving moviegoers a dose of old-school action with an ironic update; "Expendables 2" upped the explosions and the camp two years later.
But "Expendables 3" arrives as the third such movie in four years, without much development or differentiation in the story lines, directorial vision or overall ambition. So far, "The Expendables" movies have been content to assemble a team, blow stuff up and drop a few one-liners — but that may no longer be enough.