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The Expendables: Heroes today. Legends forever.

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The ExpendablesThe tagline for Sylvester Stallone’s new movie, The Expendables — “Heroes today. Legends forever” — will mean a lot to fans old enough to remember going to theaters and seeing the films that made the majority of the cast action movie legends in the first place.

But what about today’s young action movie fans, the ones who think Christian Bale and Tobey Maguire are action heroes because they look good in a padded costume and have plenty of post-production trickery (not to mention stunt  men) to make them look heroic on the silver screen. Does that audience appreciate why it’s so cool to watch a 64-year-old guy like Stallone kicking bad-guy ass on the big screen?

To give new fans a better appreciation of why these guys deserve the label of action movie legend, here is a quick list of some films that the stars of The Expendables made back when they were the box office studs who would become legends.

Sylvester Stallone (64 years old).

Stallone in First Blood
First Blood made Stallone into an action hero
He won an Oscar nomination for his acting in Rocky, but if you want to really watch Sly in awesome action movie mode then watch First Blood, the first of the Rambo movies. The action is first rate, and much more believable that the cartoon antics of the second and third movie in the series. Stallone’s performance as a troubled veteran who gets pushed too far is strong, too.

Mickey Rourke (58 years old).

Although he’s on a bit of a career role these days, thanks to strong performances in Iron Man 2 and The Wrestler, to get a real sense of why Mickey Rourke rocks watch him in The Pope of Greenwich Village. It may not be an ‘action movie,’ per se, but the film spotlights just how cool a character Rourke is on screen. Seeing him as a young, handsome and much smaller version of the muscular man he is today is shocking. As a bonus, you get to see The Expendables bad guy Roberts (54 years old) as Rourke’s skinny young punk buddy.

Jet Li (47 years old).

Martial arts legend Jet Li is a relative newcomer to mainstream American movie audiences, although Hong Kong action fans have been watching his high kicking style of fighting for years. His excellence as a fighter often overshadows the fact that Jet Li is also a good actor. To see him excel in both action and drama, watch the epic movie Hero, the story of how one man (Li) defeated a trio of assassins who plan to assassinate a powerful warlord in pre-unified China.

Jason Statham (38 years old).

While certainly not ‘old’ by most standards, Jason Statham is reaching that cinematic age where a lot of less-fit action movie actors have to start looking for roles that don’t require them to do too much heavy lifting. Statham’s love key personality and high energy fighting skills have never been better showcased than in the frantic film Crank, the Speed-like story of a man with a bomb in his chest that will explode if his heart rate drops too much. It’s a silly idea, sure, but Statham makes it believable.

The Expendables opens in theaters nationwide Friday, August 13.