Can you ever be too old to be a Hollywood action movie star?

The news that Harrison Ford is returning as Indiana Jones has got many film fans excited. But can you ever be too old to be an action hero, asks Chris Bond.

Harrison Ford is still making action films into his 70s. (Photo Credit: David James).
Harrison Ford is still making action films into his 70s. (Photo Credit: David James).

WHETHER it’s Sylvester Stallone waging one-man wars in the Rambo movies, or Matt Damon’s turbo-charged fight scenes in the acclaimed Bourne series, action films have long been seen as something of a young man’s game.

There needs to be at least a whiff of believability about the on-screen action and there’s something unseemly and even faintly ridiculous about ageing stars who are past their physical peak still trying to roll with the punches.

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But it can be a difficult balancing act. Roger Moore remains many people’s favourite James Bond but he was 57 when he played 007 for the last time in A View To A Kill and quite frankly it showed.

However, times have changed and these days Hollywood’s action film stars are discovering that they have a longer shelf life than some of their predecessors.

Actors in their 60s and even 70s are now finding themselves gainfully employed in scenes of choreographed violence that were once the preserve of those half their age.

Films like The Expendables, about a group of elite mercenaries tasked with overthrowing a Latin American dictator, united grizzled veterans like Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke and has spawned a whole franchise - The Expendables 3 brought together Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford at combined age of 205.

Ford himself has been in the spotlight recently after returning to play Han Solo to great acclaim in the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga, and this week Disney confirmed that he will be reprising another of his defining roles - as archaeologist Indiana Jones.

The Hollywood legend, who first starred as the intrepid explorer in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, is teaming up director Steven Spielberg for the fifth instalment of the adventure series due to be released in 2019 - by which time Ford will be 77.

Part of the allure of the original films was all the high-octane action. But even with a stunt double doing the tricky stuff is this really feasible for a septuagenarian, even one as impressive as Harrison Ford?

Tony Earnshaw, The Yorkshire Post’s film critic, says it could succeed if the people behind the movie approach it sensibly.

“If they’re smart they will follow the route taken by Sylvester Stallone who’s kept his most iconic character [Rocky Balboa} alive by playing a supporting role in a new franchise in the movie Creed.

“He’s built his career around playing the same characters which he’s done with dignity and a degree of intelligence.

“Stallone’s going to be 70 later this year and I think he’s given up on Rambo but he looks like he’s going into his dotage playing a character that everyone knows and loves.”

This extends to Ford whose Indiana Jones character is one of the best loved in cinema history.

But Earnshaw says playing an older action hero is not without its pitfalls. “I think he was too old in the last movie [2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull} and by the time the next one comes out he’ll be heading towards 80.

“There’s no way he can be clinging on to cliffs and hanging off tanks, as the elder statesman he needs to be passing the baton on to a younger man.”

So is there a point when actors simply become too long in the tooth to keep on playing the tough guy roles?

“It depends on who you are, Charles Bronson was still mowing down bad guys with machine guns into his 70s. Action films are one of those genres that never go cold.”

Maybe there’s some truth in the adage that if you’ve got it, flaunt it. But equally, perhaps there’s wisdom in the old saying that you should always leave the audience wanting more.