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Gun control at the box office: Do stances of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis affect movie sales?

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2013

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis: Three weathered monuments of the blood-drenched action movie genre, three new movies to promote, three different responses to the post-Newtown anti-gun backlash.

In statements to the media, the ex-Governator and the suspiciously ripped Rambo sold out the Second Amendment — despite the fame and fortune each has won wreaking bloody havoc on the big screen wielding the kinds of scary, high-capacity firearms that, yawn, no sportsman needs to fell a deer.

After their comments, both of their (clairvoyantly titled?) new star vehicles — Mr. Schwarzenegger's "The Last Stand" and Mr. Stallone's "Bullet to the Head" — promptly tanked at the box office. Coincidence?

But Mr. Willis came out with both guns blazing — Yippie-ki-yay! — in support of Second Amendment rights, while flacking his latest offering, "A Good Day to Die Hard," which opens Thursday. Indeed, it's hard to imagine the wisecracking, no-bull Mr. Willis calling for gun control with a straight face while hawking tickets to his new nonstop kill ride of a shoot'em-up. Will the hang-tough messaging translate into the kinds of box-office returns that eluded his two rivals?

No, the ticket-buying public typically doesn't carry over irrelevant political grudges into its weekend movie choices. But what about when stars make the kinds of political missteps that aren't irrelevant? Mr. Stallone and Mr. Schwarzenegger are — were — after all, action-movie icons, with macho fan bases. These larger-than-life avenging heroes obviously are not supposed to be squeamish about guns, the tools of their trade. But they are supposed to be, er, straight shooters — not fork-tongued hypocrites. Above all, they never back down from a fight. In yielding to the fleeting passions of the crowd with their declarations on guns, these two erstwhile box-office titans may have subverted qualities that lie close to the core of their iconic, tough-guy appeal.

Sure, there is no shortage of other plausible factors in the flops of the "The Last Stand" and "Bullet to the Head":

Both stars are antiques — and their swashbuckling genre isn't kind to creaking relics.

Mr. Schwarzenegger was away from movies a long time, and he returns as badly damaged goods — a diminished political leader and disgraced husband.

The post-Newtown backlash may have shrunk the potential audience for screen violence.

The over-the-hill stars were working with weaker material than they were used to in their heydays, and neither film was a familiar, pre-sold package, like Mr. Willis' "Die Hard" franchise.

As always, causes are compound — but just try representing all those factors in a compact charticle, like the Gun-Rights-Stance/Box-Office-Appeal Correlator above. (Pro tip: Click "Enlarge Photo")

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