When news broke recently that Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen were joining the cast of the new Indiana Jones film, reaction was swift. Oh yeah, there’s a new Indiana Jones coming.
You could be forgiven for forgetting. The still-untitled Indiana Jones V has been in development hell for more than a decade. Back in 2011, director Steven Spielberg said he was just waiting for word from franchise owner George Lucas, telling Entertainment Weekly: “We already have agreed on the genre of the fifth movie. We already have a concept in mind.”
But the following year, Disney bought Lucasfilm lock, stock and boulder. Then in March of 2016 it was announced that Indiana Jones would be returning to the screen on July 19, 2019. That eventually got pushed back a year. Then another. And another. It’s now set to open on July 29, 2022. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones famously quipped: “It’s not the years; it’s the mileage.” But maybe it’s the years too.
This isn’t even the first time we’ve seen the story of Indiana Jones and the Very Long Delay. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (a.k.a. Indy IV) premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2008, 19 years after the previous chapter, and after many years of speculation and false starts.
Even then there were whispered jokes about Harrison Ford, who had just turned 65, being too old to play the action hero. After all, Sean Connery had been just 59 when he played Indy’s doddery dad in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Also, that title!)
If Indiana Jones and the Whatever MacGuffin He’s After does open on its appointed date – and it’s worth remembering that cameras haven’t even started rolling yet on production – then its star will have just celebrated his 80th birthday two weeks before the premiere. All of which raises the question: When is it time to hang up the bullwhip and fedora?
There’s no simple answer. Action heroes have been skewing older and older ever since their heyday in the 1980s, with many of those ’80s icons leading the charge. Arnold Schwarzenegger was 36 when he played a robot from the future in 1984’s Terminator. Now 73, he recently reprised the role in 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate, and is said to be working on a sequel to Conan the Destroyer, also from 1984.
The gold standard for the genre has to be Clint Eastwood, who turns 91 this May
It’s also worth noting that 63-year-old Linda Hamilton reprised her role as Sarah Connor in Dark Fate, 35 years after her first appearance as the character. And while I’m not urging Sigourney Weaver to tackle any more aliens at the age of 71, I’ve no doubt she’d be more than up to the task.
Sylvester Stallone, a year older than Schwarzenegger, has kept his career going with numerous reprisals of Rocky (from 1976) and Rambo (1982), and he’s rumoured to be making his fourth appearance as Barney Ross in The Expendables 4, an aging-action-hero series that is itself now more than 10 years old.
Tom Cruise is a relative baby, turning 59 this summer. He made his first Mission: Impossible movie at the age of 34 in 1996, having already found fame as a hotshot fighter pilot in Top Gun a decade earlier. He’s now filming M:I 7 and 8 back-to-back. You may recall a clip of him losin’ it at crewmembers who were breaking COVID protocols, back in December.
Add to those Missions his role in Top Gun: Maverick – originally slated for a summer 2019 release, then delayed by production issues and the pandemic, it’s now opening in November — as well as a rumoured sequel to the 2014 sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow, and a planned trip to film on the International Space Station — and Cruise seems to be keeping his action-hero bona fides up to date.
There are also heroes for whom action is a second career, or even a retirement hobby. Liam Neeson had a bit of fighting under his belt (Rob Roy in 1995, The Phantom Menace in 1999) when he played Bryan Mills in 2008’s Taken, but that film propelled him into a host of you-messed-with-the-wrong-guy roles, including two sequels and a lot of knockoffs, most recently The Marksman, where he delivers a young Mexican refugee from a murderous cartel. He’ll be 69 this summer.
But the gold standard for the genre has to be Clint Eastwood, who turns 91 this May. He’s been in action hero mode of one kind or another in every decade since the ’50s, including in Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Dirty Harry (1971), Sudden Impact (1983), In the Line of Fire (1993), Space Cowboys (2000) and The Mule (2018).
That last one is worth mentioning for the fact that that Eastwood directs himself in the movie, and gives himself not one but two scenes in which he sneaks off with some ladies for a three-way. Granted, one of the encounters is implied — maybe they’re just in a hotel room playing pinochle — but it does feel like the filmmaker is trying a little too hard to prove he’s still got it.
And he’s still not slowing down. When I watched The Marksman recently, its similarities to a “late Eastwood role” had me curious what the nonagenarian was up to these days. Sure enough, he’s busy filming (and starring in!) Cry Macho, a neo-western based on the 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash, about a former rodeo star tasked with transporting a man’s son away from his alcoholic mother.
Eastwood tried to make the movie back in the 1980s but it fell through. The screenplay then rattled around Hollywood for decades, at one point coming close to being made with Schwarzenegger in the lead role. In a 2003 interview about the chance of the movie coming together after the then-governor of California ended his time in office, a producer noted: “He’ll find a third act in his movie career if that’s what he wants.” And possibly a fourth.
Occasionally, an action hero will grow old before his time. Case in point: the first Lethal Weapon movie from 1987, in which Mel Gibson (future ageing action star of The Expendables 3) plays the brash young cop opposite Danny “too old for this sh-t” Glover. Gibson’s age at the time: 31. Glover? Merely 40. He’s been too old for this sh-t for more than 30 years!
All of which takes us back to Ford, not quite 40 when he first played Indiana Jones. The actor, while far from frail, has had some high-profile accidents in recent years, including being knocked to the ground by a heavy door while filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2014. A year later, a plane he was flying suffered engine failure, and he made an emergency landing on a golf course. Both incidents resulted in broken bones.
But Ford remains in good shape. An article in CinemaBlend last year recalled that he did much of his own stunt work in last year’s The Call of the Wild, tiring out both half-his-age co-star Dan Stevens (with whom he had a fight scene) and stunt coordinator Charles Croughwell, who was there to offer whatever assistance Ford needed — not much, as it turned out.
There is also a sense, in movies as in life, that the wisdom of age can trump the energy of youth. In a cheeky poll that is the mainstay of British journalism, 2,000 adults were asked recently which celebrity would be best suited to deal with an alien invasion. Topping the list: Schwarzenegger, closely followed by Will Smith, practically a baby at 52. Also in the top 10: Bruce Willis (66), Cruise, Weaver and … Sir David Attenborough, the 94-year-old natural historian. Maybe he could narrate the resistance?
Ford placed No. 6 in the poll. So here’s a cautiously optimistic tip of the fedora to Indiana Jones Part Five. As long as the story doesn’t overtax what a healthy senior citizen could do — please, no more surviving-a-nuclear-explosion-in-a-fridge — then audiences should be willing to accept Indy back for one last (we mean it this time) crusade.