In case the group photo isn't enough, The Expendables poster spells it out with a rundown of action hero names: Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Couture, Austin, Crews, Rourke, Willis. The iron men of action, convened to whoop ass. Who cares what the plot is when there's the promise of a two-hour adrenaline-fest with guys whose likes we'll never see again?
In an industry where stars don't really die, they just get another chin-tuck, screen characters and franchises all too often aren't allowed to go gentle into that good night. But every now and then, that's OK. We're all for letting a beloved character (or concept) take a final bow.
10. Space Cowboys (2000)
It doesn't hold water at any level, the idea that four test pilots — who in the '50s missed their shot at being astronauts — are now being called out of retirement to fix a wayward Russian satellite. But this is Clint Eastwood
's show. Backed up by Tommy Lee Jones
, Donald Sutherland
, and James Garner
, Clint pays tribute not only to the guys who defined "The Right Stuff" but also to '60s and '70s screen actors, giving than all one last grasp at glory.
9. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
After all the mad scientists and diabolical villains Vincent Price
has portrayed, leave it to Tim Burton
to sum up the actor's career in a characteristically macabre but moving note. Here, Price's mad inventor is also gentle and magical, wanting to free poor Edward of his bladed appendages. The scientist may die before he can exchange metal for flesh, but not before the actor's eternal appeal has been nailed by the director who regarded him as a spiritual mentor.
8. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
When a cataclysm in the Klingon home system offers the opportunity for peace between the warrior empire and the United Federation of Planets, James T. Kirk (William Shatner
), the man most deeply immersed and personally invested in the war, steps in. With him come the starship Enterprise crew, including Spock (Leonard Nimoy
), Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley
), and Scotty (James Doohan
). While getting mankind to lay down arms, they demonstrate a readiness to yield their place in space, both to the Next Generation of interstellar adventurers and to newer, more imposing menaces.
7. All That Jazz (1979)
In All That Jazz
, Roy Scheider
is Joe Gideon, inspired choreographer, driven director, and inveterate womanizer, a guy who not coincidentally resembles director Bob Fosse
in all his strengths and foibles. When Gideon suffers a massive, stress-induced coronary, he envisions his life staged as an epic musical featuring Fosse stalwarts Ben Vereen
and Ann Reinking
. At the time, it played as the director's wry acknowledgement of his own weaknesses. Then Fosse died of a heart attack in 1987, leaving one hell of a knowing epitaph.
6. JCVD (2008)
All those ass-kickings, weapon-wieldings, and awe-inspiring splits would wear on any action star, even Jean-Claude Van Damme
. The "Muscle from Brussels" is on home turf, playing himself, an out-of-work actor whose personal life has gone to shit and whose bank account is a cruel joke. When he heads to the post office to claim a wire transfer, he stumbles into a hostage situation and has to prove his innocence and worth. As fate would have it, the movie was the real JCVD's only critically acclaimed role.
5. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
took the chameleon-like reputation of actor Heath Ledger
— who died while Imaginarium
was not halfway through its shoot — and made it literal, having the actor's mysterious carny barker step through a magical mirror and turn into Johnny Depp
, Colin Farrell
, and Jude Law
. It was a practical gambit from a director who needed those transformations to rescue his movie. It also paid off, not only complementing the movie's premise, but also immortalizing a screen presence whose loss can never be fully estimated.
4. Rocky Balboa (2006)
Now much older, a little wiser, and nowhere near as jingoistic, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone
) knows the odds are against him when he steps into the ring for a long-shot charity match against rising star Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver
). But this is Rocky
. And there's more at stake than just bragging rights — for example, the love of his long-estranged son (Milo Ventimiglia
). Plus, how could Stallone refuse an opportunity to wash away the stink of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
3. The Shootist (1976)
Director Don Siegel
kicks this off with a montage that, within the fiction of the movie, is supposed show us the history of legendary gunslinger J. B. Books (John Wayne
). In reality, it's a collection of black-and-white clips from Wayne's career. Turns out the juxtaposition is fitting — the character Books is dying of cancer and has to face the fact that there's no real place for his lot in the just-born 20th century. Meanwhile, the real-life Wayne uses this final role to bow out, making way for a newer, quite different, brand of screen icon.
2. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Plastic is eternal, an especially agonizing fact for the living toys of the flagship Pixar series. With Andy (John Morris
) heading off to college, Woody (Tom Hanks
), Buzz (Tim Allen
), Jessie (Joan Cusack
), and the other toys decide to save themselves from the indefinite limbo of attic storage by maneuvering their way into a day care center. Bad call. The kids there treat them like a velociraptor tearing into choice stegosaurus hock. Escape is clearly in the offing. And when they succeed, the toys discover a truth that also holds for humans: What matters is being where you're wanted and loved.
1. Knight and Day (2010)
must finally have felt the stress of all those decades of cockiness. Knight and Day
seems an attempt to bid a fond, self-knowing farewell to the patented Cruise hero, and what a farewell it is: Superspy Roy Miller is the boldest, swaggeringest, Cruisiest character the actor has ever portrayed, a guy who apparently can extricate himself — and travelling companion Cameron Diaz
— from any predicament with sheer confidence. If this is, in fact, Cruise's hero swan song, at least he's going out (big surprise) grinning.