As a film franchise, The Expendables has cemented its commercial standing within the action genre. Sure, criticisms directed at the overarching narrative and dialogues of certain installments have been enunciated, but one aspect cannot be denied: the series is crafted to generate hype. Featuring a spectacular ensemble cast with some of the most legendary figures of the high-octane action genre, it honors the stalwarts of the past and present.
The adrenaline-inducing franchise, much like most grandiose Hollywood productions that aim to bring to fruition star-studded endeavors, has birthed some of the most intriguing behind-the-scenes tidbits. One particular anecdote shared by Sylvester Stallone revealed how a famous action star, who’d end up starring in the franchise down the line, refused to sign up for a role in the first installment that amassed $274 million at the box office.
Jean-Claude Van Damme Turned Down The Expendables (2010)
The mission of The Expendables was to bring together the greatest action movie legends. When your overall premise focuses on a great deal of star power, you must think to involve the most significant actors associated with the subject matter, talents who are synonymous with the genre. In his quest to search for those exact figures that had shaped decades of popular culture through their action flicks, Sylvester Stallone approached The Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme. How could he not? It just made sense to have the Bloodsport alum feature in the endeavor.
Van Damme was, however, not interested.
When the Belgian martial artist was asked about it in a 2009 interview, he stated that he failed to find substance within the narrative. The Expendables was more about the “action and money” than the characters. When Van Damme inquired about his role in the flick, Stallone was unable to reply and evaded the query by citing the fighting sequences and overall profitability as the movie’s attractive points. Therefore, the Lionheart star rejected Stallone’s proposal due to a half-baked pitch and an underdeveloped role.
This was one version of the story. Sylvester Stallone‘s account of the incident is vastly different, revealing yet another reason why Van Damme was hesitant to join the ensemble.
Jean-Claude Van Damme Didn’t Want To Lose To Jet Li
According to Stallone, the reason behind JCVD’s absence in the first installment of the ensemble action-thriller franchise was due to his refusal to lose to renowned martial artist and actor, Jet Li. In the film series, Jet Li plays the role of Yin Yang, the martial arts specialist of The Expendables, a group of elite mercenaries. Following is what Stallone had envisioned for Van Damme’s character in the first film:
“I wanted to set Jean-Claude against Jet Li, but he didn’t want to lose to Jet. He didn’t think that was cool. But that’s why it would be cool; to have Jean-Claude beaten by the other man. Hey, they could have a rematch. But Steven Seagal and Van Damme, they weren’t really into our gallows humor.”
Stallone had brushed off Van Damme’s absence as his failing to resonate with the series’ humorously grim undertones. In a 2019 interview with THR, the Double Impact star denied the Rambo alum’s assertions. JCVD was simply too preoccupied with directing a film to accept the offer. Regardless, the actor would soon join the team-up action flick premise in the second installment as Jean Vilain.
At the end of the day, we can conclude that Sylvester Stallone triumphed in assembling the finest action stars for an uber-ambitious endeavor. While actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Jet Li, etc., won’t be returning for the upcoming fourth installment in the saga, we can say that The Expendables franchise, albeit momentarily, made some of our childhood dreams come true.
The Expendables trilogy is available to stream on Peacock. Meanwhile, the latest addition to the series, Expend4bles, is scheduled to be released on 22 September 2023.