It used to be that past a certain age (let’s say 40 for men, 30 for women), Hollywood action stars were retired as being too old for the biz — and put out to pasture in the fields of drama. In the past decade, however, film studios and audiences alike have learned that it’s a shame to let such good acting talent go just because of a piddly thing like “being able to order from the senior citizens menu”, and have given aging action stars a second chance to prove their stuff. The results? Pretty good, actually — good enough that it was a breeze to come up with a list of six geriatric action heroes who still are kicking butt in movies.
1. Clint Eastwood
Then: Clint rose to fame by being the embodiment of the old time western action hero, starring in films like Ambush at Cimarron Pass (at the age of 28), A Fistful of Dollars (34) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (36). He then transitioned to detective movies as the hyper-violent Dirty Harry, playing the role from age 41 to 58.
Now: A lot of people thought Eastwood’s salad days were long gone by the time he hit his sixth decade of life, but in truth, he was just getting started. He made one of his best westerns (Unforgiven) at the age of 62, and went on to star in the following action-y roles: In the Line of Fire (63), Absolute Power (67), Space Cowboys (70) and Gran Torino (78). He isn’t so much aging at this point as he is whittling away the soft edges and leaving a steely-eyed legend.
2. Sean Connery
Then: Sean Connery already had thirty roles under his belt when he took on the role of James Bond in Dr. No at the age of 32, but for all intents and purposes, his action movie legacy began here. He played James Bond until 1971, when he turned 41, but would reprise 007 in the “unofficial” Bond movie Never Say Never Again when he was 53. Connery became a worldwide sex symbol, and would appear in other action films such as Zardoz (44), A Bridge Too Far (47), Outland (51), Highlander (56) and The Untouchables (57).
Now: Connery endured as an action star well into his 70’s, taking on parts in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (59), The Hunt For Red October (60), Medicine Man (62), The Rock (66) and Entrapment (69). His final big action role was the unfortunate League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003 at the age of 73, after which he more or less retired.
3. Sylvester Stallone
Then: Sylvester Stallone’s rise to fame as an action star uncannily mirrored the theme of his first hit film, Rocky (when he was 30 years old). Stallone went on to become one of the biggest action stars of the 80’s and 90’s, with blockbusters like Rocky III (36), First Blood (37), Rambo (39), Tango & Cash (43), Cliffhanger (46), Demolition Man (46) and Judge Dredd (49).
Now: As the calendar flipped over to the 2000’s, it looked as though Stallone was a relic of the past, just like his brand of action movies. However, he stunned audiences by reviving two of his franchises — Rocky Balboa (at the age of 60) and Rambo (62) — which got positive reviews that mentioned how in shape this geriatric star was. Stallone is set to star in this summer’s aging heroes flick The Expendables at the tender age of 64.
4. Harrison Ford
Then: A struggling actor and semi-successful carpenter, Harrison Ford attached his wagon to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in the late 70s and early 80s, and went on to star in two of the most successful franchises of all time. He rocked as Han Solo from age 35 to 41, and as Indiana Jones from ages 39 to 47. He also had roles in Blade Runner (40), Witness (42), Patriot Games (50), The Fugitive (51) and Air Force One (55).
Now: While he slowed down a bit in the 2000’s, Ford never entirely divorced himself from his action roots. He’s taken roles in K-19: The Widowmaker (60), Hollywood Homicide (61) and Firewall (64). Ford surprised a lot of folks by picking back up the whip of Indiana Jones for the fourth film at the age of 66, and while he was older in that role than Sean Connery was for the third Indy flick, Ford still handled himself like a pro. Looking forward, he’s got a part in Cowboys & Aliens, and is mulling over a fifth Indiana Jones reprise.
5. Sigourney Weaver
Then: Sigourney Weaver broke into the big time as an unlikely action hero (and survivor) in Alien at the age of 30. She went on to star in Ghostbusters (age 35), Aliens (37), Ghostbusters II (40), Alien³ (42), Alien: Resurrection (48) and Galaxy Quest (50), proving that middle-aged women are a forced to be reckoned with.
Now: Weaver never slowed down with movie-making in the 2000’s, but it looked as though her action days were long past her. That is, however, until she had a starring role in Avatar at the age of 60 (granted, most of her action sequences were as a CGI character, but still), and looks to reprise her GhostBusters role in the third installment around the time she’s 63.
6. Jackie Chan
Then: Jackie Chan started acting in movies when he was just eight years old, and by the time he was in his 20’s he was a mega martial arts star in China. Chan started to cross over to the west with roles in Cannonball Run (at the age of 27), Operation Condor 2: The Armour of the Gods (33), Crime Story (39), Legend of Drunken Master (40), Rumble in the Bronx (41), Rush Hour (44), Rush Hour 2 (47) and Shanghai Knights (49).
Now: While he’s reportedly broken almost every bone in his body doing his own stunts, Chan is taking it a bit easier but still has time to kick a bit of butt in Rush Hour 3 (53), The Forbidden Kingdom (54) and The Karate Kid (56).
Interesting article, Justin! I really enjoyed it.
How have you not mentioned RED? Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovitch and Helen Mirren as retired CIA agents reuniting to kiss ass once again! Or is it because it hasn’t been released yet. Personally? I saw one shot of Helen Mirren – one of the very few actresses with enough class to play the Queen of England – letting loose with a machine gun, and thought, “I’m there.”
I absolutely cannot wait for RED. The trailer is awesome in a box.
sorry, but i partly disagree with all the love for old action stars.
on the one hand i agree that forced retirement at 30/40 is stupid.
but on the other hand i think a continued action-career only works if the actors are willing to ‘act their age’. which does not mean they should be restricted to ‘wise old teacher whose death will provide motivation for the main character’, just that having sean connory running around at 35 mph and wooing 20-something women started being ridiculous somewhere around his 45th birthday.
aging action-heroes can be pretty cool. aging action-heroes who need wagonloads of steroids, a whig and extensive cgi-wrinkle-remover are pathetic.
if you want to send the message that old age is nothing to be ashamed of then don’t look or behave like you desperately want to be 25 again (which is not to say that you shouldn’t try to look your best)
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