With Hollywood hooked on aging leading men, whatever happened to the heroes?
Dirty old men
As Harrison Ford dusts off his whip - and charisma - for his latest turn as Indiana Jones, he'll doubtless be glad to hear that he's just topped a poll of the greatest action heroes. Now 65 years old, it's been 19 years since Ford last played Dr Henry Jones and a quarter of a century since he was Han Solo in Star Wars, yet he's seemingly still unrivalled in the action hero stakes. But he's not the only codger to make the list. He shares the top spot with Bruce Willis (53), who reprised his role as sweaty vigilante John McClane in Die Hard 4 only last year, while Arnold Schwarzenegger (60) comes in third for his monosyllabic turns in such films as Terminator, Predator and erm, Jingle All The Way.
The survey of 3,000 misty-eyed moviegoers also saluted Sylvester Stallone (61), who has recently wheeled both Rambo and Rocky out of their respective retirement homes, the young-at-heart (ie ponytailed) Steven Seagal (57) and everyone's favourite shouty drunk, Mel Gibson (52). Kathryn Jacob, chief executive of Pearl & Dean, which conducted the survey, is pleased as punch with the findings. "It seems I'm not alone in preferring the older breed of action hero... The fact that Bruce and Harrison can still attract cinemagoers in their millions is testament to their pulling power."
Setting aside the peculiar notion of geriatric pulling power ("Have you seen my new bus pass? It entitles me to free travel after 9am…") Ms Jacob's statement is troubling because it shamelessly cosies up to an enduring Hollywood myth: namely that the oldies are the goodies (a mindset which also accounts for its rampant remake culture). Yes, Ford cut a dash in his heyday but, seriously, step aside granddad - besides, Last of the Summer Wine's on in a minute.
Seventy-seven year old Sean Connery, who was conspicuous by his absence from the Pearl & Dean survey, turned down an offer to rehash his role as Indiana's father. This was an uncharacteristically temperate decision. Connery hasn't always been so restrained, as anyone who's seen his final Bond film, 1983's Never Say Never Again, will testify. At a not exactly sprightly 53, he spends the movie waddling around the Bahamas flaunting his leathery "physique" and bearing down on Kim Basinger. It's a dirty job but, apparently, Connery had to do it. As if this wasn't disturbing enough, the decrepit lothario then went on to make (presumably myopic) eyes at Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment at the ripe age of 69.
Current Bond incumbent Daniel Craig is the epitome of a modern day hero. Rugged? Check. Handsome? Check. Looks good in swimming trunks? Oh yes. And unlike Roger Moore, he's never had to wear a girdle to get through a fight scene. His contemporaries Matt Damon, Colin Farrell and Will Smith have also turned their hand to the action genre to satisfyingly robust effect. So why does Hollywood persist in churning out sequels starring prehistoric heroes? And how come Ford et al are still perceived to be potent champions among men rather than oversexed pensioners? Perhaps because the movie industry is run by old men: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the team behind Indiana Jones, have a combined age of 125 and are more than happy to perpetuate the twilight-years fantasy that age is no barrier - for men at least. Yes, you may have more hair on your back than your head, they coo, but you've still got it, you tiger.
The saddest thing is that it's true. If you're famous, that is. Tactfully overlooking Harrison and Calista (and the 22 years between them), there's Bruce Willis. He's so bald he can't even work the silver haired fox angle, yet he dates a lingerie model 24 years his junior. Willis currently has two action films in production, both of which will no doubt involve innumerable shots of him running around in a tight fitting, grubby wifebeater. Much like he did in the first Die Hard 20 years ago.
Old habits also die hard. Jack Nicholson (71) retains his roguish lady-killer rep and has five kids by four women to prove it. And his partner in crime Warren Beatty, also 71, prides himself on his womanising ways, once saying: "My notion of a wife at forty is that a man should be able to change her, like a bank note, for two twenties." Classy? Not so much. Hollywood's attitude reflects society's double standards decreeing that men ripen like a fine wine as they get older (and then become executive producers) while women just get old. The number of female actors over 50 still considered sex symbols could be counted on one hand. There's Helen Mirren, and, well, actually there's just Helen Mirren really. Although the likes of Susan Sarandon and Glenn Close are worthy of honourable mention, they're still considered "women of a certain age" and obliged to keep their clothes on. You can bet no movie mogul will be asking Angelina Jolie to pull on Lara Croft's hot pants 20 years from now.
Surely we shouldn't still be clinging to a bygone era when men were men and women were either madonnas or whores? The outdated image of the chauvinist tough guy who battles the Nazis/Ruskies/Japanese/terrorists (delete as appropriate) with one hand and woos damsels with the other doesn't make sense in contemporary culture where women wear the trousers too. And yet Hollywood, the embarrassing uncle who insists on "busting some moves" and then goosing the bridesmaids, persists in indulging the fantasies of old men who really should know better. Tina Turner once suggested we don't need another hero. She was wrong.
Helen Jennings writes for Touch, Eyemazing, Oyster, and the BBC