Actors who left or nearly starred in The Expendables Franchise

“The Expendables” is a movie franchise that has featured some of the biggest action stars of the past few decades. Showing off bombastic performances by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Dolph Lundgren, “The Expendables” has also seen a bunch of appearances from Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke, Wesley Snipes, Liam Hemsworth, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as Terry Crews, WWE Hall of Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and UFC icon Randy Couture. With such a star-studded cast, it should come as no surprise that the franchise is well-loved by action fans.

The Expendables franchise has gathered together some of the greatest action stars, but several of them exited the series as it evolved. The Expendables lineup has changed many times through the series, but which actors decided to step away? Sylvester Stallone has always had good luck when it comes to crafting franchises for himself. With The Expendables movies, he hit upon the simple (but ingenious) notion of gathering together action stars from different eras and pairing them for one movie. Throughout the first three outings, Stallone put together an impressive ensemble of stars, though some notable names – like Jackie Chan, Kurt Russell or Donnie Yen – ended up passing. The Expendables 4 will break away from the action icon formula, opting for names like Megan Fox and 50 Cent.

Expendables 4 will also mark a passing of the guard. Stallone stepped back from the sequel creatively, while his character Barney will play a much smaller role. Jason Statham‘s Christmas will instead step up as the new franchise lead, though the door is presumably open for Stallone to make future appearances. If Expendables 5 (which needs Arnie back) does happen, it would be odd not to see Barney turn up. That said, it wouldn’t be the first time in the saga’s history a major character didn’t return either, as several co-stars passed on planned repeat appearances.

Mickey Rourke played a small but key role in The Expendables as Tool, who finds jobs for the titular team. Tool ended up being the unexpected heart of the film, as his monologue involving his failure to save a suicidal woman inspires Barney to do the right thing. Rourke was set to return for Expendables 2 also, where his character would have returned to the field – only to get killed during a mission. Rourke backed out to star in Seven Psychopaths instead, though he later quit that project too after clashing with the director. Tool’s Expendables 2 role was later rewritten and became Liam Hemsworth‘s ill-fated sniper Billy The Kid.

Bruce Willis (Mr. Church)

The original Expendables featured the long-awaited union of Stallone, Arnie and Bruce Willis on the big screen. Willis played Mr. Church in the first two outings, a menacing CIA agent who recruits Barney’s team for dangerous missions. Church got more involved in the action for Expendables 2, but while the character was set to return for the third movie, Willis eventually passed. It was reported at the time that Willis demanded $4 million for four days of work, and passed on an offer of $3 million. Stallone seemingly confirmed this at the time, tweeting “GREEDY AND LAZY … A SURE FORMULA FOR CAREER FAILURE.”

” It sure seems like Stallone had some choice words for his former co-star. Willis has never responded to anything said about him during the creation of “The Expendables 3,” nor has he addressed the controversy surrounding his actions.

While Stallone didn’t mention Willis by name, the tweet was seen as a jab at his former co-star. The Expendables 3 replaced Bruce Willis with Harrison Ford’s Drummer, who states in his opening scene that “Church is out of the picture.” Had Willis returned, it’s likely his role would have mirrored that of Drummer in the final film, who recruits Barney to chase after Mel Gibson’s arms dealer. Sadly, Willis would later retire from acting in 2022 after being diagnosed with the brain disorder aphasia; in 2023, his family announced his condition had progressed and he had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

Terry Crews (Hale Caesar)

Many actors were considered for the Hale Caesar role in The Expendables, including Wesley Snipes and 50 Cent. While Caesar was never a major character, Terry Crews brought a genuine charisma to the part. The character was set to die in Expendables 3 – which almost cast Jack Nicholson – but Crews “begged” Stallone to keep the character alive. Crews eventually left the franchise, claiming producer Avi Lerner tried to pressure him into dropping a sexual assault case against WME producer Adam Venit. Crews had alleged Venit groped him during a 2016 party, and vowed not to return for The Expendables 4 after Lerner’s call.

Jean-Claude Van Damme

As part of the action hero ensemble that The Expendables was, The Muscles from Brussels was approached by Stallone. It is not entirely clear who Van Damme would have portrayed in The Expendables, but due to Van Damme not finding the story compelling, he ultimately declined Stallone’s offer. It would end up being a moot point within two years, with Van Damme joining The Expendables 2 as the villainous Jean-Vilain, which also re-united him with his frequent on-screen co-stars Scott Adkins and Dolph Lundgren.

Wesley Snipes

The part of The Expendables mini-canon wielding Hale Caesar was initially written for Wesley Snipes. Due to his tax-related issues at the time that precluded him from leaving the United States, Snipes had to turn down the role. Snipes would subsequently be seen in The Expendables 3 as Doc Death, making a meta-joke on his real-life tax conviction after being rescued by his teammates, Stallone’s Demolition Man co-star Wesley Snipes saying, as Doc Death, that his was imprisoned due to “tax evasion”.

Steven Seagal

While The Expendables was being put together, Steven Seagal was also approached about making a cameo appearance in the ensemble action movie. Seagal declined, owing to a rift with series producer Avi Lerner.

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Stevie Flavio
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