Many action movie fans are thrilled to see their favorite action movie stars from the 80s and 90s team up in The Expendables 2. To coincide with the release of the first film in 2010, we previously assembled an All-Female Team of Expendables – but we wanted to go one step further this time around by putting together a list of characters from the “old school” action era with actors who have passed away, but were intimidating back in their day.
This list – which we have dubbed The Classic Expendables – brings together a baker’s dozen of classic action stars from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Each of these actors – with one exception – have all starred in some kind of action role prior to 1970.
On the following pages you will find their Expendable Bio, listing why we think they are qualified to be on our Classic Expendables team.
Died – 1977
Replaces – Scott Atkins
Stephen Boyd played a number of small action roles in films such as Hell in Korea (1956), The Beasts of Marseilles (1957), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Genghis Khan (1965) and The Bravados (1958).
It was his role as Messala in the epic action-drama Ben-Hur (1959) that pushed Boyd into the international action spotlight.
Boyd would continue playing great action roles in movies and TV until he died of a heart attack at the age of 45.
Died – 1980
Replaces – Liam Hemsworth
Steve McQueen was the star of many action films – The Great Escape (1963), Hell is for Heroes (1962), Nevada Smith (1966), and The Great St. Louis Robbery (1959).
It was his role as Frank Bullitt – a tough as nails San Francisco cop – in the action-thriller Bullitt that is the most memorable to fans of the actor.
He was known primarily for two things: doing many of his own stunts, and being a pain to work with – he often turned down roles based solely on who received top billing.
McQueen would go on to star in many more great films such as The Towering Inferno, Le Mans, On Any Sunday, The Getaway and The Hunter before passing away at the age of 50.
Died – 2006
Replaces – Yu Nan
It’s hard to find any female action stars that made films before 1970 so we had to make an exception for this entry, but we think our selection deserves recognition.
Tamara Dobson didn’t have many action roles in her career. She played a minor role in the action-comedy Fuzz (1972), a reoccurring role in the children’s action TV series Jason of Star Command (1979-1981) and a role as the evil prison kingpin “Duchess” in the women-in-prison exploitation film Chained Heat (1983).
It’s her role as the Bond-inspired secret agent/model Cleopatra Jones that really set her apart in the female action field. Dressed in the latest fashion and usually walking around in a pair of platform high heels (she was already 6 foot 3 inches tall!) Cleo kicked evil’s ass in two blaxpoitation action films – Cleopatra Jones and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold.
Dobson quit acting after starring in the TV movie Amazons (1984) . She passed away at the age of 59.
Died – 1981
Replaces – Randy Couture
William Holden was a journeyman actor whose career spanned over 50 years. He was a versatile actor starring in a wide range of films ranging from comedies, musicals and dramas to of course, action.
His best known pre-70s action roles include The Devil’s Brigade (1968), The 7th Dawn (1964), The Horse Soldiers (1959), Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). It was his role as Pike Bishop in the western-action film The Wild Bunch that really stands out.
Holden was nominated for three Oscars but only won one for his performance in the 1953 action-thriller Stalag 17. He also won an Emmy in 1974 for his role on the TV series The Blue Knight. He continued making films right up until the day he died at the age of 63.
Died – 1994
Replaces – Terry Crews
Woody Strode didn’t start off as an actor – he was a successful athlete in college competing in both football and the decathlon. In 1941 he had his first minor role in the war film Sundown, then went on to play other minor roles in various films such as the pirate film Caribbean (1952), the sword-and-sandal drama Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) and the war film Pork Chop Hill (1953).
It was his role as the Ethiopian gladiator Draba in the epic film Spartacus that got him nominated as Best Supporting Actor for the Golden Globes.
Strode would go on to make dozens of action and drama films late into his life. His last film – The Quick and the Dead – was released in 1995 – one year after he passed away at the age of 80.
Died – 1985
Replaces – Dolph Lundgren
A Russian immigrant, Yul Brynner became known for his roles in westerns and dramas, but he started off playing minor roles in various TV shows for the first part of his career. He exploded onto the major Hollywood scene after winning an Oscar for Best Actor in the 1956 musical The King and I.
He participated in action-war films such as The Buccaneer (1958), Escape from Zahrain (1962), Kings of the Sun (1963), Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964), and The Long Duel (1967). But it was his role as gunslinger with a conscience Chris Larabee Adams in The Magnificent Seven that really stands out.
Brynner would go on to make films into the 80s, but later switched to a Broadway production of The King and I – it’s said he performed as “The King” over 4,000 times – until his death at the age of 65.
Died – 1989
Replaces – Jean-Claude Van Damme
Lee Van Cleef was no stranger to playing villains in westerns and action films, having portrayed them in films such as High Noon (1952), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance (1962) and The Bravados (1958).
Possibly his most iconic performance came as Colonel Douglas Mortimer in the last two films of the Dollars Trilogy: For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
Van Cleef had a productive career having starred in over 170 films and TV shows. He would go on to play roles in other iconic action films like Escape from New York and The Octagon. He worked right up until a heart attack took his life at the age of 64.
Died – 1973
Replaces – Jet Li
There is really only one choice for when it comes to classic martial arts actors and that is Bruce Lee. He played several roles on the television shows Longstreet (1971), as Kato in The Green Hornet (1966) and a few crossover episodes of Batman (1966).
His on-screen performance – both acting and martial arts – as Cheng in Fists of Fury (1971) is fantastic, but it was his performance as Lee in the action film Enter the Dragon (1973) that really set his Hollywood legacy.
Lee would ultimately have a very brief career in Hollywood as he died shortly after finishing filming of Enter the Dragon at the young age of 32.
Died – 2008
Replaces – Jason Statham
Charlton Heston was a man’s man among actors. He battled Indians in Pony Express (1953) and Arrowhead (1953), Mexican drug lords in Touch of Evil (1958), pirates in The Buccaneer (1958), humanoid apes in Planet of the Apes (1968) and even carnivorous ants in The Naked Jungle (1954).
However, it was his work in Ben-Hur (1959) as the prince-turned-slave Judah Ben-Hur that won him the Oscar for Best Actor. To go along with his numerous other awards and nominations throughout his career, Heston was also given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild in 1972.
Heston worked as an actor well into his golden years, making films and TV shows until he died at the age of 84.
Died – 1994
Replaces – Bruce Willis
George Peppard is usually best remembered for his iconic role on the hit 80s television series The A-Team, but before that he had a very successful big screen film career. His breakout role came opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but he also cultivated a great action movie career in films such as Pork Chop Hill (1959), Operation Crossbow (1965), Rough Night in Jericho (1967) and The Blue Max (1966).
It made sense for him to star in How the West was Won (1962) as Zeb Rawlings – a young man who enlists in the Union Army during the Civil War – as Peppard himself enlisted in the Marines at the age of 19.
Peppard continued making war-style films throughout his career until he lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 65.
Died – 2002
Replaces – Arnold Schwarzenegger
James Coburn made his career acting in mostly war films and westerns. Since his debut in the western Ride Lonesome (1959), his name and voice have been synonymous with the “tough guy” image. Action films such as, The Magnificent Seven (1960), Hell is for Heroes (1962), The Great Escape (1963), and Hard Contract (1969) only helped to fuel that idea with action movie fans.
Though he would eventually win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his performance in Affliction, it was his role as Derek Flint in Our Man Flint (1966) and the sequel In Like Flint (1967) that many consider his most memorable.
Coburn would continue to his tough guy persona in many TV show and movie appearance right up to the year he died at the age of 74.
Died – 2003
Replaces – Chuck Norris
Fact: Charles Bronson was Chuck Norris before Chuck Norris was Chuck Norris. The weathered-looking Polish/Lithuanian actor was such a legendary badass that he once claimed during an interview of losing his virginity at age 6.
He was often cast as a western gunfighter or a tough-as-nails detective chasing down bad guys – and his motive was usually revenge. He has had memorable roles in films such as Vera Cruz (1954), Apache (1954), Run of the Arrow (1957), The Magnificent Seven (1963), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Machine-Gun Kelly (1958) and Battle of the Bulge (1965).
Arguably one of his best roles was the mouth-organ playing gunslinger Harmonica in the epic western film Once Upon the Time in the West (1968). He would go on to create iconic characters like Paul Kersey in four Death Wish (1974) movies and Paul Fein in the A Family of Cops (1997) series.
He may have been born Charles Bruchinski but he died a legend to millions of action movie fans at the age of 81.
Died – 1979
Replaces – Sylvester Stallone
There have been many classic action stars over course of Hollywood’s history but none were more impressive or qualified to lead a group of Classic Expendables than the “Duke” himself – John Wayne.
He started his career as a stuntman and eventually got his big screen break in the epic western The Big Trail (1930) – but solidified himself as a major bankable star in Stagecoach (1939). It’s almost impossible to choose his best action role, as he starred in more than 170 films throughout his career.
Flying Tigers (1942), The Searchers (1956), Rio Bravo (1959), They Were Expendable (1945), Red River (1948), The Fighting Kentuckian (1949), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), The Alamo (1960) and Rio Grande (1950) are just a few of his most popular films among fans.
He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor only three times, but finally won in 1969 for his iconic role as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.
Wayne’s final film was The Shootist in 1976 and he would die three years later at the age of 72.
While there are plenty of other classic action stars we could have mentioned, here again are our picks for a team of Classic Expendables:
- Stephen Boyd
- Steve McQueen
- Tamara Dobson
- William Holden
- Woody Strode
- Yul Brynner
- Lee Van Cleef
- Bruce Lee
- Charlton Heston
- George Peppard
- James Coburn
- Charles Bronson
- John Wayne
It’s too bad action movie fans will never get a chance to see this team in action because we think they would be incredible together.
Who would you add to your team? The only qualifications are they be deceased and should have made an action film before 1970.
Follow me on Twitter –@MoviePaul– and tell me your choices.