Earlier this year, Bruce Willis retired from acting after revealing his battle with aphasia, a medical condition that impacts a person’s speech patterns.
The announcement didn’t stop the flow of Willis projects in the pipeline, though.
“Wire Room” hit theaters in September and “Paradise City,” which teams him with screen legend John Travolta, is set for a November release.
We’re still waiting on three “Detective Knight” films with Willis playing the title character and a thriller dubbed “Die Like Lovers,” all completed before his announcement.
That’s on top of Willis’ 2022 release list, which includes “Wrong Place,” “White Elephant,” “Vendetta,” “Corrective Measures,” “A Day to Die,” “Gasoline Alley,” and “Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.”
They all have plenty in common: They’re action-packed, low-budget vehicles that draw little love from critics and let Willis shoot his scenes quickly and go. And each benefits from Willis’ star presence and fan base, commercially speaking.
And none will have a fraction of the cache he earned from “Die Hard,” “Pulp Fiction,” or “The Sixth Sense.”
Now, there’s another Hollywood icon who may be ready to take his place.
Mel Gibson’s A-list status collapsed in 2006 when video emerged of him shouting anti-Semitic slurs at police officers following a drunken driving arrest. More ugly headlines followed, including audio of the “Braveheart” star admitting to hitting his then-girlfriend.
Gibson stepped away from the spotlight, returning years later in a series of indie films that let him slowly build back his industry goodwill.
He eventually snagged a prominent directorial project, 2016’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” a critical and commercial success which earned him an Oscar nomination. He didn’t win, but enough of the industry forgave him for his ugly past.
He’s currently directing and starring in the fifth film in the “Lethal Weapon” franchise and may helm the sequel to his box office sensation “The Passion of the Christ.”
Yet he’s suddenly one of Hollywood’s busiest stars in the Willis mold. He’s cranking out action films with smaller budgets that typically go straight to VOD (Video on Demand).
This year alone Gibson has eight feature films to his credit. Most traditional movie stars may have two or three films per year, at best. Stars like Denzel Washington work at a more leisurely pace, taking care to pick the best projects for their skill set.
Not Gibson. And only one has big studio packaging – “Father Stu” featuring Mark Wahlberg.
Most of the Gibson projects feel like films Willis might have considered had he kept on working. They’re genre films, brimming with action, intrigue and mayhem, and Gibson now often plays supporting players despite his Hollywood pedigree.
Take “Hot Seat,” the story of a talented hacker (“Entourage” alum Kevin Dillon) trapped to an explosives-laden chair. Gibson co-stars as a bomb squad cop trying to save the hacker.
Or “Bandit,” which follows a smooth criminal (Josh Duhamel) forced to collaborate with a gangster (Gibson) to support his new love (Elisha Cuthbert).
Why would iconic stars like Willis and Gibson wallow in the B-movie muck in the first place?
Well, it’s a gig, for starters. These projects often pay well considering the tiny work load in question.
And, given Hollywood’s youth obsession, steady work into one’s 60s and beyond isn’t insignificant. Willis is 67, while Gibson turns 67 in January 2023.
Other established talent, like 58-year-old Nicolas Cage, similarly grab B-movie projects to keep busy and fatten their wallets. Cage famously did so, in part, after getting collared by the IRS.
“When I was doing four movies a year, back to back to back, I still had to find something in them to be able to give it my all … They didn’t work, all of them. Some of them were terrific, like ‘Mandy,’ but some of them didn’t work. But I never phoned it in. So if there was a misconception, it was that. That I was just doing it and not caring. I was caring.”
For Willis, his busy pace may have been to secure money for his family knowing his medical condition would soon prevent him from working.
Movie stars no longer sell tickets as they once did, witness star-laded bombs like the recent “Amsterdam.” Their names still matter on the international market, where many of these B-movies blossom, financially speaking.
They also help elevate lesser-known titles with names like “Bandit” and “Wire Room.”
There’s another difference between Willis’ late-career choices and the path Gibson may be following. Critics routinely noticed Willis phoning in his performances, citing the lack of enthusiasm he brought to these minor roles.
His health deterioration may be to blame here but given his past work it proved impossible not to compare and contrast.
That’s not the case with Gibson. Here’s FilmThreat’s take on “Hot Seat” and what the “Max Max” star brings to the indie thriller.
“But really, acting-wise, it is Gibson who enlivens the proceedings. His constant viewing of everything as a chess game feels natural to the character, and the actor is clearly having fun with the fast-talking, smartest guy in the room part. Gibson is as charming as ever and proves what made him a superstar.”
Variety called the actor’s “Panama” – The Mel Gibson Movie of the Month Club – but couldn’t deny the star’s screen presence against a younger colleague, “Yellowstone’s” Cole Hauser.
“Trouble is, Hauser can barely hold up his share of the bargain whenever he’s on screen opposite Gibson, even when the latter tones down, slightly, his propensity for wild-eyed, crazy-vibes scenery-chewing.”
Show business isn’t just a catch phrase. The term reveals the unglamorous side of Hollywood, and the cold realities even the best stars often face. The screen legacies of Willis, Gibson and Cage are just more proof of that truth.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.