SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Expend4bles. If you have not yet seen the film, proceed at your own risk!
When the Expendables franchise launched in 2010, Sylvester Stallone was at the center of it… literally. The original concept for the series was bringing together an ensemble of big action stars, but Stallone was given the most prominent position on the poster, and he was given top billing. This remained true for the two subsequent sequels, but 13 years later, things have changed: on the Expend4bles poster, Stallone’s name is below Jason Statham’s, and he is positioned just slightly behind his British co-star.
The reason for this is explained in the film, as Stallone’s character Barney Ross is “killed” in the first act and doesn’t return until the very end of the adventure. But why is that the case? According to the movie’s producers, it was a creative decision made in the development of the script and a choice to promote franchise longevity.
During a virtual interview earlier this month with filmmakers Kevin King-Templeton and Les Weldon, I asked about Sylvester Stallone having a smaller than expected role in Expend4bles, and they told me that it was always a part of the plans for the film. According to King-Templeton, the decision to have Barney Ross die early in the story was written and ultimately accepted by Stallone as the right direction for the series. Said the filmmaker,
That was the script that was developed. Sly read it and was fine with it. He was definitely on board with it. But again, it's a modular movie. Each movie's modular. Maybe, God forbid, there'll be another one, we don't know. Maybe it's more Megan [Fox]-centric or Sly centric or Dolph [Lundgren]-centric. You don't know. You have to change; keep your core foundation, but you have to change certain things – change it up a little bit. Because otherwise, the franchise does get a little stale. You have to make it different. You have to have that twist, that reveal. We're not gonna kill Barney off, but sometimes more is less. Sometimes less is more.
In Expend4bles, Barney Ross is featured alongside Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Easy Day (Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson) and Galan (Jacob Scipio) when the titular team goes after Rahmat (Iko Uwais) in the film’s first act, but things go all kinds of wrong. Not only does the villain escape, but she shoots down the plane that Barney is piloting.
Following up King-Templeton’s comments, Les Weldon added that while Barney might not be physically present for most of the action in Expend4bles, he is present in spirit because the surviving characters both seek revenge in his name and take down an antagonist from Barney’s past. Said Weldon,
To be fair, even though you have that kind of plot point, the Barney specter is still being carried through the whole film. It's not forgotten in the film. You know what I'm saying? So it's one of these things it's not just, 'OK, done – Act 1 done. Now, it's a whole new franchise, a whole new group of people.' It's still the Expendables and he's still hanging over it up until the end and the reveal. That's why it worked, I think. The whole movie is about avenging Barney. Every other sentence mentions Barney's name. So his essence is right the way through the movie.
More About Expend4bles
According to Kevin King-Templeton, who has spent over 25 years producing Sylvester Stallone films (staring with Cop Land in 1997), the actor/filmmaker felt like the decision for him to have a reduced role in Expend4bles was “fine.” He also made the point that the franchise could go back to having Stallone in a prominent role in the next adventure because the end of the movie reveals that he faked his death. King-Templeton added,
That's why I think even Sly was fine with it. Sly understood, 'Hey, this is still an Expendables movie. It's just, you know, a little bit different Expendables movie. But it can pivot right back to what it was before as well.'
Starring Megan Fox, Andy Garcia, Levy Tran, and Tony Jaa in addition to all of the names mentioned above, Expend4bles is now playing in theaters everywhere and placed second at the box office this past weekend.
For a look ahead at all of the films coming out between now and the end of the year, head over to our 2023 Movie Release Calendar.