EXCLUSIVE: In a crushing blow to fans of The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone has washed his hands of the franchise. He has withdrawn from taking part in the fourth installment, even though, sources said, it would have meant the biggest upfront payday in his career at north of $20 million. The reason? He and Nu Image/Millennium chief Avi Lerner could not find common ground on a new director, on the script and on certain qualitative elements of the film. That went right down to the selection of the CGI house to handle visual effects. The franchise has used Lerner’s own VFX house, Nu Boyana in Bulgaria.
Sources said that Stallone — who set a high bar for himself reprising Rocky Balboa with Michael B Jordan and director Ryan Coogler in Creed — was concerned about potentially underwhelming results of another franchise with which he is indelibly linked. Stallone wrote the first script with Dave Callaham, co-wrote all the sequels, and directed the first film. But knowledgeable sources said that Expendables team leader Barney Ross has led his last mission.
One who knows the dynamic of the long Stallone-Lerner relationship suggested they often disagree and eventually work it out over a couple of cigars, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen this time. Lerner acknowledged the differences he has had with Stallone, but wasn’t willing to concede a divorce just yet. “We’ve got disagreements with Sly, but we’ve had them for over a year and a half,” he told Deadline. “Right now, each one has an opinion. We agreed on 95% of things, but there are certain things in production we don’t agree on. I don’t think it’s over, but write whatever you want. In my opinion, it’s not dead.”
It is unclear how Stallone’s exit impacts the film or its beefcake action hero cast. The last film co-starred action stalwarts Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and added Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes and Ronda Rousey. Stallone has no shortage of films he can do, and he’s looking to team on something with Jackie Chan, I hear.