Forget Stallone and Schwarzenegger. This year’s Cannes market unleashed a tsunami of action movies starring 21st Century tough guys like Gerard Butler, Jason Statham and Clive Owen.
The Cannes market this year had a serious injection of testosterone, namely in the shape of rugged male stars Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey, Clive Owen and Jason Statham. Every other project coming into Screen’s busy news desk during the market featured one of these four gents.
Butler has long been an independent favourite in movies like Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen, and this market he was being touted in Lionsgate’s Machine Gun Preacher in which he plays a former Hells Angel who sets up a mercenary army to rescue children from African war zones.
McConaughey, who has been a fixture in studio romcoms and action movies for some years, was back on the indie buyer radar in both Lakeshore’s The Lincoln Lawyer playing an LA defence attorney on the case of a lifetime and in Inferno’s Line Of Fire as a cop who takes on the Mafia and his colleagues to save his family.
Owen was the key selling point in action thriller Medallion as a bank robber whose daughter is kidnapped by a former accomplice. Parlay Films was selling. Owen is also the headliner in Nu Image/Millenium’s Trust as a man seeking revenge on the internet predator who assaulted his daughter, and he is teamed with Statham in The Killer Elite, another action thriller about a group of Black Ops agents tracking down a rogue group of SAS assassins. Inferno was selling.
In addition to The Killer Elite, Jason Statham is the lead in IM Global’s Safe – you guessed it, an action thriller – in which he will play a former elite agent who falls foul of the Triads, Russian mafia and corrupt New York authorities when he finds a safe-cracking combination. Statham, of course, is a market stalwart after the Transporter and Crank films, War, The Bank Job and The Expendables.
The independent financing world was also home this Cannes to Dwayne Johnson (in IM Global’s Protection), Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx (in Nu Image/Millenium’s Kane & Lynch) and the ubiquitous Nicolas Cage whose latest portfolio of action projects included Drive Angry (Nu Image/Millenium) and The Hungry Rabbit Jumps (Endgame).
It feels like 1988 when the market was dominated by high octane action thrillers featuring larger-than-life bruisers such as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme and Lundgren and companies like Carolco and Cannon cannily exploited the ancillary market hunger for action.
If the action stars these days are more grizzled and less obviously musclebound, that is a sign of the times and audience desire to see more realistically vulnerable characters. But the message in the market is clear – old style action pics revolving around pursuit and/or revenge are the order of the day. After all, what was global box office hit Taken but an old-fashioned shoot em up revenge story built around an unlikely action star in Liam Neeson?
Of course, action and name actors like Butler, McConaughey, Owen and Statham are reliable performers in today’s fragile marketplace which is demanding sure bets over dangerous over-priced arthouse projects. Hard-nosed action tends to have a long life on DVD and TV, appeals to the key teenage boy demographic as well as adults and has the potential to develop into tasty franchises, whereas comedy or drama often don’t work for foreign distributors. Put those same actors into comedy and the results are far less consistent than in thrillers. Drama meanwhile is a dirty word these days.
This influx of guy movies doesn’t bode well for artistically ambitious film-making in the international sales arena, nor for films targeted at or starring women. Having said that, one woman action machine Angelina Jolie is carrying the female action torch. The billboard for her Sony summer movie Salt – which was originally designed as a vehicle for Tom Cruise – perched majestically atop the Carlton Hotel in Cannes this year indicating that Jolie is once more challenging us to buy a female action hero, a feat she nimbly pulled off in Tomb Raider in 2001 and Wanted in 2008. Knowing Jolie, she could very well succeed, but in the reactionary independent market, these days it’s very much a man’s game.