Sylvester Stallone has spoken out about the film classification of Expendables 3, citing it as the reason for the film’s critical and commercial failing.
Speaking to CraveOnline, Sly called the film’s 12A classification – or PG-13 in America – a “horrible miscalculation on everyone’s part in trying to reach a wider audience.” He said that the rating diminished the violence that audiences had come to expect from the franchise, and that he was certain it wouldn’t happen again.
Considering the history of the trilogy, and its preoccupation with violence as a tool to display masculine strength, there may be something to Mr. Stallone’s comments. The first Expendables film, rated 18 in the UK, made over $270 million worldwide, while Expendables 2, which was rated down to a 15, made more than three times its original budget in worldwide box office sales. However, the third in the franchise – released this year – made only £206 million back from a budget of $90 million. Something about the film put audiences off, and a 12A rating could certainly have contributed.
According to the BBFC, which decides the rating of a film released in the UK, a 12A film allows moderate violence as long as it is not dwelled upon. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood, but occasional gory moments are allowed if they are justified by the context in which they appear.
Within the context of a franchise that sees a team of international mercenaries take on dictators, terrorists and arms dealers, violence could be expected. However, between the awe-inspiring levels of violence in 2010’s Expendables and the latest in the franchise, this has certainly been toned down. If the main draw of Stallone’s films is the violence featured in them, as his comments seem to suggest, then he may be right in suggesting that reaching out to a wider audience was a mistake.
However, other factors may have added to the film’s performance, such as a leaked copy of the film surfacing online three weeks before it opened, which was reportedly seen by 2.2 million people. According to Lionsgate, which made the film, the pirated copy had a significant financial impact on the filmmakers, costing them millions of pounds in the UK alone.
Having said that, a film’s success or failure rests on its quality, meaning that the film itself may be to blame, not for its rating as Sylvester suggests, but for its content. Obviously this is shaped somewhat by the fact that it was a 12A, but other issues remain despite this, particularly within the narrative.
The first and second Expendables films reveled in the fact that so many action greats were united on screen: Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Rourke and more. Arriving at Expendables 3, the decision was made to almost actively go against this draw by introducing a new team of young recruits. To many audiences, what made Expendables 1 and 2 worth watching was seeing the stars of decades of action films all together in one film, so when a new team of relatively unknown figures were brought in to bolster the ranks, the franchise lost what made it unique.
So while Sylvester Stallone may certainly have a point when he says that the film was damaged by its lower rating, it would not be fair to say that it was the only issue affecting its reception. Let’s hope that Expendables 4, which Mr. Stallone says will return to its R-rated roots, delivers.