The Hollywood heros who refuse to act their age

Why won't Hollywood stars act their age and stop reprising the roles of their youth? Nick Hasted looks at the worst offenders

When Sylvester Stallone was arrested at Sydney Airport last year with 48 vials of the muscle-growth serum Jintropin in his baggage, the world of the ageing action star was laid bare. Watching the 61-year-old Stallone's silky, jet-black locks, bulging biceps and ham-hock forearms in Rambo is far more interesting than the moronic sadism of perhaps the worst film of the year. The arms are pumped up with the cartoon exaggeration of Pamela Anderson's breasts, and the hair recalls the wigs of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's delusional divas in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

The comparisons are apt. Great actors such as Jack Nicholson are allowed a craggy Bogartian machismo in old age. But action heroes are doomed to the undignified decline Hollywood forces on ageing actresses. The bulging physiques with which Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger muscled past older action stars in the Eighties have now, in Stallone's case at least, to be artificially maintained.

Lower down the Hollywood ladder, Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal also doggedly carry on making action movies, like punch-drunk boxers who know nothing else. Even those monuments of action cinema, Eastwood and Wayne, have not been immune. With Harrison Ford, 65, resorting to another Indiana Jones, too, here are ten superannuated superheroes.

Stallone has tried comedy, and serious acting (in James Mangold's fine Cop Land, 1997), where he acquitted himself well next to Robert De Niro). But all the public want is Rocky and Rambo. The nerve the unknown Stallone showed to insist on starring in his first, Oscar-nominated Rocky screenplay was beaten out of him long ago. Flailing attempts at variety – switching from boxing to arm-wrestling in Over the Top (1986), and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) – have ended in the spectacle of a 61-year-old with a face that looks battered by plastic surgery, and a body bloated with testosterone, machine-gunning hundreds of fiendish oriental soldiers. Stallone claims he's helping to bring down the Burmese junta. But his latest, bloodiest screen massacre is a dead end, leaving him nowhere to go.

Watch the Rambo 4 trailer.

Perhaps only George Lucas, 63, and Steven Spielberg, 61, really believe that the 65-year-old Ford remains prime action-star material. His last two films, Hollywood Homicide (2003) and Firewall (2006), saw him wearily look his age, needing propping up by younger stars. Reaching for the bullwhip instead of the bus-pass is his last chance at box-office redemption. He has insisted on bringing "the same physical action" by again performing many of his own stunts in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But Ford can act. And the world loves Indy. He might just pull it off.

Watch the 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' Trailer

Hong Kong's biggest and most durable martial arts star built his career on bone-breaking balletic stunts that he's now forced to attempt in his fifties. His big US hits, such as Rush Hour 3 (2007), have seen Chan's stunt artistry emasculated by health and safety laws anyway. "I don't want to be an action hero any more," he railed in a despairing recent interview. "I mean, how long can I continue to do that? Of course, I know what everyone expects when they go to see a Jackie Chan movie. You can't do one stunt less..." He watched his films, he confessed, and felt "embarrassed". Still he keeps going, like a B-picture version of Nureyev's last, sad act.

Brosnan was 53 when he was unceremoniously dumped as Bond for a younger man, the sort of fate usually reserved for middle-aged actresses. "It was a body-blow," he said of the phone-call that removed his action-movie credentials. He'd still be willing to come back, he intimated, like a spurned, pining lover. The eruption of Daniel Craig's chiselled 39-year-old body from the sea in Casino Royale killed that. Brosnan's sly, Bond-baiting turns as the sleazy secret service agent in The Tailor of Panama (2001), and the cold-eyed assassin who becomes a pot-bellied, sex and drink-addicted nervous wreck in The Matador (2005) suggests he may find he has better things to do.

Watch Pierce Brosnan in 'The Matador'.

He's making a Mandela biopic now. But the Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby Oscars almost didn't happen, as Clint's vanity made him churn out tawdry knock-offs of his Seventies action prime when in his seventies himself. Right before Unforgiven (1992), he was directing and co-starring with Charlie Sheen in the witless buddy-cop bomb The Rookie. The arthritic last Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool (1988), and the senile second childhood of the flop crime-movies he retreated to with Absolute Power (1997), True Crime (1999) and Blood Work (2002) – in which he directed himself still effortlessly chasing down crooks with a shotgun, aged 72 – are the real Clint, just as much as the dark late classics of which other action stars can only dream.

The Duke was a big man, and out of shape, for the last of his four decades as Hollywood's greatest action star. Ambling through Westerns was one thing. But he lumbered into the Seventies like a dinosaur with Clint-aping contemporary cop-films such as McQ (1974). Seeing this fat, toupeed sixtysomething meting out shotgun frontier-justice on hippie-strewn streets, he looked like a man out of time. He pulled things round with a graceful swansong, when finally accepting age and death, as the cancer-ridden gunslinger of The Shootist (1976).

It's almost incredible to reflect that Steven Seagal was once a major box-office star. His decline from the heights of Under Siege (1992), and co-starring with the likes of Michael Caine, has coincided with the collapse of the market for old-fashioned action stars. Like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Christopher Lambert and Dolph Lundgren, his later films always seem to end up in the DVD bargain bins. Unlike them, this 56-year-old, fat and puffy-faced, whispering non-actor exerts a strange fascination, as he wheezes through his old martial-arts moves, and expounds his Buddhist and green philosophies, in a tireless stream of not very popular movies (13 since 2003). A new book, Seagalogy, deconstructs the phenomenon.

Schwarzenegger's career may go down as the biggest con-job in Hollywood history. Recalling Ronald Reagan's political career, Schwarzenegger let himself be treated as a muscle-bound joke in the Conan films, only to sneak into a position of unstoppable power after finding his perfect role as the emotionless killing machine in The Terminator (1984). The other titles with which he defined Eighties action cinema (Predator, Commando, Raw Deal) leave no trace in the memory beyond Schwarzenegger's superhuman physique, and clunking catch-phrases Roger Moore would have rejected. By flops like End of Days (1999), the body was slower and heavier, and the non-acting, which never improved, naked. If California hadn't beckoned after Terminator 3, he would have gone back to Conan; like Stallone, stuck where he began.

Watch the 'End of Days' trailer.

Willis beat Stallone and Ford to the punch in going back to his action roots, in last year's fourth John McClane movie, Live Free or Die Hard. It was a hit, of course, following a string of aimless thrillers (who remembers Bandits, Tears of the Sun, Hart's War or Hostage?). But for Willis, more than anyone on this list, even Clint, it wouldn't have mattered if his old franchise had crashed. Though Willis can function as an action star, he is really in the tradition of Bogart and Mitchum, switching from witless beat-'em-up B-movies to mercilessly dark character acting (see The Sixth Sense, Nobody's Fool, Fast Food Nation). At 52, Willis could hang up his action hat tomorrow, and not give a damn.

This great name from Hollywood's past is a salutary lesson in why you shouldn't fight the ageing process too hard. While his friend and frequent co-star Burt Lancaster gave up his athletic pirate and Western films for character parts, climaxing in an Oscar nomination for his sad, small-time hood in Atlantic City (1980), Douglas stayed in shape to take action leads well into the Star Wars era. His last hit, Tough Guys (1986), with Lancaster, showed Hollywood's most virile actor still pumping iron and punching out street gangs at 70. Only a stroke in 1996 finally slowed him down. But no memorable roles resulted from this raging against the dying of his light. Ageing remains the toughest thing a tough guy can do.

'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' opens on 22 May. 'Rambo' is out now.

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
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

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
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
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.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most