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Action film heroes showing signs of weakness

Bruce WillisThere was a time when the name Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Willis meant legions of fans would pile into theaters to see them punch and shoot their way through any army of foes. But, it’s not been a good year for the muscle-bound actors who once kicked the living daylights out of all box office competition.

Arnold Schwarzenegger officially returned to acting in mid-January with “The Last Stand” playing a small town sheriff who must stop a drug kingpin from escaping to Mexico. Schwarzenegger had made a brief appearance in the “Expendables” movies but this was the first time he had to carry the load on his own.

Audience greeted his return to acting — after her brief break in politics — with apathy. The movie netted less than $12 million dollars domestically. Even his “Raw Deal” made more than $16 million back in 1986.

The news is even worst internationally, where Schwarzenegger has always been a big star, as the film took in only $13.5 million.

Next up was Sylvester Stallone’s “Bullet to the Head.” The man who became a box office champ with the ‘Rocky” and “Rambo” franchises could only attract $9 million in domestic sales and an additional $4 million worldwide. It’s the worst showing for him with a widely opened movie since his 2000 film “Get Carter” took in almost $15 million.

Bruce Willis has done the best of the three with “A Good Day to Die Hard” that has taken in almost $52 million with an additional take of $80 million in worldwide sales. The film is still in theaters but doesn’t look to have the appeal to give it a box office total that’s bigger than the previous film in the franchise, “Live Free or Die Hard,” that earned more than $134 million in the United States.

The obvious reason for the lackluster showings would seem to be that all three have gotten too old to carry off the everyday hero roles. The average age of the three actors is 62.

It may not just be they are aging heroes. Two younger stars of action hero films have also had recent box office troubles. Jason Statham’s “Parker” barely topped the $17 million mark and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Snitch” earned only $13 million this past weekend, coming in second behind “Identity Thief” that was in its third week of release.

The key may be that these action heroes have been eclipsed by costumed heroes. Three of the top six films in 2012 were movies based on comic book characters — “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” — that combined to take in more than $1.3 billion. That’s why this year’s big summer releases include “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “The Wolverine.”

It might be time for Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis to slip into a cape and cowl the next time they battle bad guys.

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