No more heroes any more: Are Eighties Hollywood beefcakes capable of anything else?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

There's nothing quite as unedifying as watching Eighties Hollywood beefcakes still trying to muscle in on action films

He's gotta be strong, and he's gotta be fast/ And he's gotta be fresh from the fight," implored Bonnie Tyler on the 1980s anthem "Holding Out for a Hero", and the leading men of Eighties cinema were, seemingly, all these things. They were movie icons with titanic, indestructible egos and Hollywood cinema was bursting with them: Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Patrick Swayze (R.I.P), Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, most memorably. Their "names" sold films. But what has happened to these leading men, these beefcakes with their resolute, no-nonsense heroism? Men who never feared looking ridiculous: Cruise in Days of Thunder, Stallone in Over the Top. Men (usually Arnie) who said things like "I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I'm very hungry!" (Commando). Do they lumber around together in their mansions like a set of muscled, sag-fighting Norma Desmonds wailing "I'm still big; it's the pictures that got small"? Where have all the good men gone, indeed?

Watching the DVD releases of Knight and Day (Tom Cruise's clumsy actioner), Brooklyn's Finest (Richard Gere's grim policier) and The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone's dunderheaded thug-a-thon) in the past few weeks seems to have confirmed that the Eighties' leading man's appeal is in dramatic decline. The Expendables was a bold, loud attempt by Sly to bring back the sort of brutish action hero that once sold a gazillion cinema tickets. The film fails, the action men who star in it as ruthless mercenaries – Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham (the latest charisma-free action hero), Jet Li – flop. Brooklyn's Finest was an effort by Gere (always, to be fair, a more ambitious leading man) to bring some acting credibility to his waning star brand. However, he sleepwalks through Antoine Fuqua's dismal drama about crooked, compromised coppers. Ford, similarly, tries time and time again to show his depth (Extraordinary Measures, Crossing Over; maybe Jon Favreau's upcoming sci-fi thriller Cowboys and Aliens will revive him?) – but the world remembers him as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and he doesn't seem to have the acting chops to break loose.

Cruise has proved his "acting chops" in the likes of Magnolia, Collateral and Rain Man, but even this bundle of supernova energy is fading. Quite apart from the Scientology nonsense, Cruise's choice of action film, or any kind of film (Valkyrie, Lions for Lambs), has lent him a toxic quality, and even he is perilously close to "box-office poison". His latest, Knight and Day, is more creepy than thrilling, with Cruise's morally dubious secret agent (he, unforgivably, shoots a fireman) essentially physically and mentally abusing Cameron Diaz's sweet-natured June.

The likes of Cruise, Ford, Gere and Gibson played a huge role in my childhood. I am conditioned and programmed to watch every single one of their films. I suspect the rest of the world (a younger world) isn't similarly conditioned – and they're not missing out. These tough-guy actors don't appear to be growing old with dignity, with grace. It must be tough. Think of Cruise, Gere, Harrison or Gibson and you remember them in their beautiful, bright-eyed youth – Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, Star Wars and The Year of Living Dangerously – and these potent images are so terribly powerful. Maybe we can't bear to see them grow old on screen, particularly inhabiting yet more action-man roles.

And they don't appear to be quite good enough character actors to abstain from the action flicks and risk new, more interesting careers. They rely on their shtick, their overwhelming charisma to propel them through their film work.

Better actors, but not necessarily more charismatic ones, gradually took over leading-man status during the Nineties and Noughties; the likes of Russell Crowe, the excellent Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. And the most recent, quite uninspiring ones are Christian Bale (Batman, where he mainly grunts, and Terminator Salvation, where he shouts a lot) and the insipid Sam Worthington (Avatar and Terminator Salvation).

However, the upside is that a small band of exceptional character actors are currently enjoying today's less lavish, more tight-fisted film climate: Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and James Franco (Milk). They're subtler, more complex performers, playing more ambiguous male roles.

Cruise would baulk and no doubt grin maniacally at the thought that he's too old for action-man roles – and it would be ageist and absurd (he's clearly super fit, as proved by his leaping and karate-chopping in Knight and Day) to suggest that he is. But surely it would profit him to pursue roles like the gross egotist Frank T J Mackey in Magnolia, rather than spring into another potentially calamitous dollop of Mission Impossible (the fourth one is currently filming in Dubai).

In 1997, Stallone managed to stumble (and mumble) into a decent part, as a washed-up, hard-of-hearing and bent policeman in Cop Land. It garnered huge praise, it made him more interesting, but he simply didn't persist with these types of roles. Maybe the parts simply aren't there for him? But, frankly, his humourless The Expendables escapade was unnecessary (more worryingly, they're making a second one). Stallone seemingly doesn't feel the need to change, adapt. The fading leading man's not for turning.

And then there's Gibson. How do you solve a problem like Mel? His "issues" (alcohol, ripe remarks) have been well documented, but he was always more multifaceted than Mad Max and Lethal Weapon. Gibson is obviously more interested in directing (Apocalypto was astonishing) than acting (and Hollywood appears, understandably, to be shunning him) these days, but there is his upcoming role in The Beaver (directed by Mel's pal Jodie Foster) to look forward to. He plays a troubled husband who adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating. That's more like it. Maybe Cruise and Harrison could try their hand at this type of film? Before, they too, become expendable.

'Knight and Day' and 'The Expendables' are out now on DVD/Blu-ray

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'