This week, Liam Neeson can be seen in “Non Stop,” the latest
in a surprisingly active career as an action star. While Neeson has a history peppered with prestige films here and there, make no mistake, his most recent resumé consists of kicking ass and taking names. What no one mentions is that Neeson, who is soon
scheduled to show up in a third “Taken” film, is actually a spectacular 61
years old, which is impressive considering the leaping, punching, and growling
he’s done in recent years. Have you seen your parents lately? They can barely
open the door and hoodies terrify them.
Neeson, however, isn’t the first: there’s a legion of cinematic legends who merely used 60 as a guidepost, not an excuse to hang it up. Neeson has famously said he’ll keep doing this until they ask him not to, and that’s a philosophy that’s been followed by a number of stars. Hell, some of them became “Expendables.”
Here are a few actors who looked at 60, spat in its face,
and continued to play badass action roles.
His Career Pre-60: Charles Bronson is one of the hardest men in show business history. Spending his youth in the coal mines, Bronson later served in World War II, following his service by taking up acting. Soon, he became the weathered face of a number of classics, popping up in “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “Once Upon A Time In The West.” Eventually he became one of the era’s most in-demand leading men, bringing his badass bonafides to “Mr. Majestyk,” “Hard Times” and “Death Wish.”
At 60: Bronson starred in “Death Hunt,” pitting him against another all-timer in Lee Marvin. Bronson played an elderly trapper in the Alaskan wilderness who finds himself locked in a battle of philosophies with a Canadian Mountie seeking justice for the murder of an abusive trapper. The film is noted for being a taut two-hander, and Bronson’s taciturn silence serves his character well. It’s one of the rare action films where both men at odds have distinctly respectable ideals, as Marvin and his team delve deep into the snow to find their prey, despite Bronson’s survivalist consistently having the upper hand.
After 60: Bronson almost seemed as if he was just getting started. He spent the 1980s continuing to kick ass, starring in “Ten To Midnight,” “Murphy’s Law” and “Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects,” movies which placed a gun in Bronson’s hand and a guilty perp on the other end of the barrel. The pictures had declined in quality, but Bronson had just gotten more dangerous with age. He also continued the “Death Wish” series, to the point where “Death Wish 5: The Face of Death” would be his final big screen film at the age of 73.
His Career Pre-60: For a long time, Eastwood was a cowboy
day-player who filled in backgrounds behind stars. Soon, however, he would
become Hollywood shorthand for a man’s man, becoming the face of the “Fistful
Of Dollars” trilogy, the star of “High Plains Drifter” and “The Outlaw Josey
Wales,” and the iconic vigilante cop “Dirty Harry.”
At 60: Eastwood got behind the camera for “The Rookie” as a tough cop mentoring hotshot Charlie Sheen. While Clint would do several action films after this, “The Rookie” is his last hurrah as far as physically-intensive parts, as Clint is frequently in motion throwing haymakers and making daring turns during car chases. “The Rookie” feels like a comic book at times, with Clint and Sheen cracking wise and nailing the bad guys, and it’s maybe the silliest post-60 film on his resume, but it’s great fun for the lowered expectations set, a serviceable actioner where Eastwood effectively passes the baton to Sheen.
After 60: Eastwood became an Oscar winner for his very last
western, the classic “Unforgiven.” Beyond that, he would stay on both sides of
the gun in “In The Line Of Fire,” “A Perfect World,” “Absolute Power” and
“Blood Work.” At 78, he was still a formidable presence to make “Gran Torino”
more than just a movie about a cranky old man.
His Career Pre-60: Stallone rose to fame as the Italian Stallion, achieving immortality as “Rocky,” using the underdog sports story to launch an unmatched career in action films. With the exception of “First Blood” and “Nighthawks,” the films weren’t too sharp, but Stallone’s sloppy mush-mouthed charisma allowed him to be larger-than-life, even when he played against type in the underrated “Cop Land.”
At 60: Stallone had to wade through a sea of direct-to-DVD offerings in order to finally secure the low budget financing for “Rocky Balboa,” his sixth effort as the character. Stallone The Action Hero had long erased Stallone The Director and Stallone The Writer to the point where it was a surprise the sixty year old could pull off triple duty. As Rocky, Stallone is slipping on a warm coat, and this is easily his most touching, low-key performance. “Rocky Balboa” is ultimately more of a motivational speech than a movie, but it’s admirable that at sixty, Stallone got sick of taking no for an answer and got the film out, grossing $155 million.
After 60: Emboldened by the success of “Rocky Balboa,”
Stallone jumped at the chance to return to the world of leading men, uniting
the shiniest action stars of yesterday by kick-starting “The Expendables” as a
franchise, where Stallone would rub shoulders with legends like Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris.
Ultimately “Bullet To The Head” and “Escape Plan” didn’t move the needle, but
Stallone remains in improbable action hero shape, ready to impress once again
in this summer’s “The Expendables 3.”