The Expendables is a 2010 USA action thriller by Sylvester Stallone.
With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li.
August 2010 saw the release of Sylvester Stallone's 'old school'-style action movie The Expendables , which - despite getting mixed reviews from critics - made almost $275 million on its $80 million budget, and in true action movie style
quickly saw plans for a sequel being put into motion.
Ratings Creep: The Expendable R rating
Despite whatever shortcomings the film may have had, violence-wise the film was somewhat of a breath of fresh air. 'The golden age' of the 'R'-rated action movie had started to die out in the late 1990s, as Hollywood producers began to cater
their action films for the more commercially lucrative 'PG-13' teenage audience. In the early 2000s a supposed 'ratings creep' in America appeared to be allowing filmmakers to not only continue making violent action thrillers, but at the same
time avoid a more restrictive 'R' rating, and thus increasing their market and resultant profits. A study released in the summer of 2004 by Harvard University looked at Hollywood films released between 1992 and 2003 and found that:
Movies with the same rating can differ significantly in the amount and types of potentially objectionable content, and the criteria for rating movies became less stringent over the past decade.
The expendable censor
Perhaps the most popular example of ratings creep in recent times was the 'PG-13' rating given to Live Free or Die Hard (or Die Hard 4.0 as it's known in international territories). Despite a plethora of tough violence including
neck breaking, bodies being smashed into cars and a man literally getting his skin stripped from his body in a mincer, Live Free or Die Hard received a 'PG-13 ' rating. In the UK on the other hand, the film was awarded an uncut
'15'. The BBFC explained:
In common with other instalments in the [ Die Hard ] series, violence was among the key classification issues. Although there was arguably no single moment that was unprecedented at '12A', the sheer accumulation of various moments of
intense and occasionally brutal violence gave the film an overall feeling of dwelling on violence that sat uneasily below '15'.
Since James Ferman left the BBFC in 1999, the Board's policies and habits have become a lot more relaxed. Where something like a head-butt would once have been removed even from an '18'-rated film, in the 2000s the BBFC were routinely passing the
fighting technique in '12'-rated films such as The Bourne Identity and Batman Begins . But whilst 'PG-13' action films sometimes get the UK equivalent in the form of a '12A' rating, the BBFC still continue to take a stricter stance
on violence, even at the '15' level. Whereas the US has a large gap between the 'PG-13' and 'R' ratings (the latter being the hypothetical equivalent of a '17A' rating), the equivalent UK age gap covers two ratings, the '15' and the '18', and
sometimes a film's content can lie on the borderline between the two. It is this difference that lies at the heart of the censorship applied to The Expendables for its UK releases.
UK Cinema and DVD: The Expendable stabbing
The expendable DVD
Having gotten an 'R' rating in the US principally for its strong action and bloody violence , the distributors of The Expendables wanted to secure a '15' rating for the film's UK release. However, an uncut release with that rating was not
possible, and a small change had to be made to one scene before that rating could be given.
The scene in question occurs towards the end of the film. As Sandra, the heroine, is held captive and blindfolded by two thugs, they threaten to burn her with a cigarette. At the last second, the hero Barney (Sylvester Stallone) enters the room,
draws his combat knife and kills the men. The first thug has his hand sliced off before being decapitated, with Barney swiftly turning to stab the second thug in the thorax. The scene is violent but despite being brief, the BBFC would not allow
it at '15'. As they stated in 2011:
[The] scene featured [Sylvester Stallone] sadistically twisting a knife blade in a guard's neck in close-up, with accompanying sounds of bone breaking, and the sight of gushing blood. This scene dwelt on the infliction of pain and injury, and
also constituted an example of the strongest gory images that exceed '15' category allowances. Therefore, the scene was removed for the requested '15' on film, although it was restored for '18' on DVD.
In actuality, the DVD version of The Expendables is a '15', and carries the same edited version that was shown in UK cinemas. It is the Blu-ray version that is rated '18' and uncut.
Director's Cut: Expendable Violence
In December of 2011, Stallone released his Extended Director's Cut of The Expendables on Blu-ray. In a similar situation to his extended cut of Rambo , Stallone not only added extra story material but also reduced some of the violence. In
particular, Barney's slaying of the second thug in the aforementioned rescue scene is greatly reduced in length, and re-edited to remove the close-up shot of the thug's neck gushing blood. A brief rear angle is now used instead, with Barney
twisting the knife much less and withdrawing it sooner than in the theatrical cut. This Extended Cut was submitted to the BBFC, yet despite Stallone's use of new- and less graphic footage an '18' rating was still awarded. The BBFC noted:
This extended 'director's cut' of the film reinstates the footage cut from the cinema version and was therefore classified '18'.
The BBFC cuts: The essential video details
A video comparison between the uncut US version and the '15' rated UK version is featured here, followed by a look at the reworked scene from the Extended Director's Cut:
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.