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An Abridged Guide to Every Expendables Movie So Far

Photo: EX4 Productions

The elite mercenaries known as the Expendables are back for another round of action, performed with maximum exertion and minimal character arcs. The latest installment, Expend4bles, is the proposed launch of a new trilogy that will allegedly push the team in a new direction. But of course, it’s hard to fully appreciate the new without looking back on the old, which, if The Expendables movies had a theme, would be the best candidate. While none of these movies are complicated in terms of plot, they do tend to run together a bit. So, we’ve broken down all the info you need to know as the team undertakes their latest bullet-spewing and blood-soaked mission.

The Expendables (2010) - Dir. Sylvester Stallone

Photo: Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection/�Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Team: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and Tool (Mickey Rourke).

The Antagonists: James Munroe (Eric Roberts), General Garza (David Zayas), and Paine (Steve Austin)

What Happens?  Barney Ross, leader of the New Orleans–based team of mercenaries called the Expendables, is approached by CIA operative Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) with an assignment to overthrow dictator General Garza on the island of Vilena in the Gulf of Mexico. This assignment has already been turned down by Ross’s rival, Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who expresses suspicions about Church’s motives.

Ross and his BFF Lee Christmas go on a secret recon mission and discover that not only are the conditions in Vilena terrible in the way only white filmmakers “very concerned” about the border crisis can conceive, but Garza is also just a puppet for an ex-CIA agent named James Munroe, who is using the island for his drug-trade operation. Church wants the Expendables to take out Garza to save the U.S. the embarrassment. On the island, Ross meets Garza’s daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itié) who pleads for aid for her people. But Ross is like, “Nah, we’re not heroes,” and then he and Christmas hightail it out of there after firebombing Garza’s army, which does not help Sandra in the least.

Back in the Big Easy, a conflicted Ross has a heart-to-heart with Tool, who delivers a rambling, semi-intelligible monologue about losing their soul as a result of the job. So Ross decides to go back and save Sandra. But on his way to the airfield, Ross, accompanied by Yin Yang, is ambushed by Gunner Jensen, a former Expendable who was fired because of his alcoholism and extreme methods (never mind that all of the Expendables’ methods are extreme) and is now working for Munroe. Ross and Yin Yang survive the attack and Jensen gets his ass handed to him. Despite Ross’s insistence that he has to save Sandra alone, the Expendables never let a brother go to war solo, and they all head to Vilena.

On the island, there’s a lot of grunting, explosions, gunfire, and one-liners as the Expendables take down Garza’s army, save Sandra, and kill Munroe and his muscle, Paine. In the end, Ross gives his pay to Sandra so she can help her people, and he hangs onto his soul. Back in New Orleans, Gunner is given a second chance and welcomed back into the Expendables, and it’s smiles and shots all around.

Do Any Expendables Die? Not a single one.

Fun fact: Kurt Russell was originally offered the role of Mr. Church, but his agent responded that he wasn’t interested in ensemble roles. Russell would go on to play a similar role, Mr. Nobody, in the ensemble film, Furious 7, five years later.

The Expendables 2 (2012) - Dir. Simon West

Photo: Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection/�Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Team: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Booker (Chuck Norris), Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), Maggie (Yu Nan), Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), and Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

The Antagonists: Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Hector (Scott Adkins)

What Happens? Mr. Church is back with another assignment for the Expendables. This time he needs them to locate secret cargo from a crashed airplane in Albania. And he sends along technical expert Maggie Chan, who doesn’t just know computer stuff — she can fight, to the amazement of all the Expendables, despite the fact she’s a woman! None of them can decide whether they want to sleep with her or respect her, because again, as the film takes great pains to remind us, she’s a real live, human woman with thoughts, feelings, and agency. Sign of the times.

In Albania, the team recovers the secret cargo, a computer, and then gets ambushed by the international arms dealer and subtly named Jean Vilain, who makes a big show of roundhouse kicking a knife into Billy the Kid’s chest, just when he was about to retire and reunite with his girlfriend. The team is devastated because Billy was the best of them, though they only knew him for about 20 minutes. Vilain makes off with the computer, which contains the location of five tons of plutonium, abandoned after the Cold War.

The Expendables track the computer’s signal to an abandoned military base in Bulgaria, where they are once again ambushed by Vilain’s men. But this time, Booker randomly strides out of a cloud of smoke to save them, nods knowingly to Chuck Norris jokes, and reminds everyone that he works alone.

The Expendables track Vilain down to a nearby village where he is using the residents as slave labor. They don’t like it. So with the help of Church and Trench, who show up just in time, the Expendables free the villagers and take on Vilain’s army. More grunting, gunfire, explosions, and one-liners. Ross takes on Vilain mano-a-mano and stabs him dead. And with that, the day is saved, and the Expendables drink to Billy the Kid’s memory.

Do Any Expendables Die? RIP, Billy the Kid.

Fun Fact: Jean-Claude Van Damme had previously been offered a role in the first Expendables movie, presumably as a member of the team, but he turned it down after disagreeing with the direction of the story.

The Expendables 3 (2014) - Dir. Patrick Hughes

Photo: Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection/�Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Team: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Galgo (Antonio Banderas), Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), Smilee (Kellan Lutz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), Thorn (Glen Powell), Mars (Victor Ortiz), Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), and Max Drummer (Harrison Ford)

The Antagonists: Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson)

What Happens? The Expendables break former member Doctor Death out of prison so he can help them stop a shipment of bombs headed to a warlord in Somalia. While intercepting the bombs, Ross discovers the arms dealer is none other than Conrad Stonebanks, the co-founder of the Expendables, whom Ross thought he killed decades ago. This is the first time Stonebanks has been mentioned in any of the movies, but there’s history and bad blood between him and Ross. Stonebanks shoots Hale Caesar to make clear that bad blood is still boiling. With Caesar on life support, Ross is contacted by CIA operative Max Drummer, who notes Church is “out of the picture,” and tasks him with taking down Stonebanks.

Ross accepts but decides this mission is too dangerous for his team, so he disbands the Expendables. Alongside former Expendable Bonaparte, Ross recruits a younger, more energetic team of Expendables, consisting of Smilee, Thorn, Mars, and Luna. Now if Stonebanks is supposedly too dangerous for the seasoned veterans who made up the Expendables, what are a bunch of fresh-faced kids going to do? Not much, it turns out, but they do exchange quips and marvel over the fact that Luna (another woman!) can fight.

Ross and his new team manage to capture Stonebanks in Bucharest. But surprise, surprise, just like Joker, Loki, Khan, Silva, and every blockbuster villain during this era, he wanted to be caught. With the aid of a GPS tracker, Stonebanks’s men rescue him and capture the new team, while Ross escapes.

Now, faced with no other option, Ross turns to Trench, Drummer, Galgo, and his old team of Expendables to take down Stonebanks and rescue the new kids at a military base in Azmenistan. Both the new and old members work together to take out Stonebanks’s men, while Ross faces Stonebanks man-to-man in a sweaty battle of Republicans in which Ross kills his former partner and escapes with the team.

The Expendables reunite at a bar in New Orleans, and Hale Caesar has miraculously healed just in time to join them. Ross and Christmas wistfully look at the new recruits, knowing the future of the Expendables is in good hands while the recruits perform a god-awful karaoke version of Neil Young’s “Old Man.”

Do Any Expendables Die? Nope. The series has still not lived up to its name.

Fun fact: Jackie Chan, Nic Cage, and Milla Jovovich were all in negotiations to appear in this third installment but all three dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.

Expend4bles (2023) - Dir. Scott Waugh

Photo: Lionsgate/EX4 Productions, Inc. 2022

The Team: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Galan (Jacob Scipio) Easy Day (50 Cent), Lash (Levy Tran), Decha (Tony Jaa), and Gina (Megan Fox).

The Antagonists: Surato Rahmat (Iko Uwais)

What Happens? (Spoilers ahead for the new film.) Barney Ross goes to check in on his BFF Lee Christmas who’s in the middle of a domestic spat with girlfriend and Expendables member, Gina. We never learn what the two are fighting about but Gina yells a lot and throws a wine glass and Ross and Christmas share a few laughs about women being crazy. But it turns out Ross isn’t just there for a house visit. He needs Christmas’s help to win back his lucky ring that he lost thumb wrestling a guy named Jumbo Shrimp at a bar last night when he was drunk. So they head over to the bar, meet Jumbo Shrimp and his crew. Christmas beats the hell out of these guys who really didn’t do anything but insist upon the rules of the thumb wrestling contest. This whole excursion becomes important later.

With his ring back, Ross gathers the Expendables together, which includes new recruit Easy Day, and Galan, son of Antonio Banderas’s Galgo. Their latest assignment from CIA operative Marsh (Andy Garcia) is to track down Suarto Rahmat, yet another arms dealer who has gotten his hands on nuclear warheads in Libya. But Rahmat is only one piece of the puzzle, as he’s working for the mysterious Ocelot, whom Ross has been searching for for 25 years.

In Libya, the team faces off against Rahmat’s army of mercenaries. Ross covers the team from the air in his plane but is shot down. Christmas tries to save Ross instead of going after Rahmat, but he’s too late. Ross’s plane crashes. Barney Ross is dead. There’s a charred corpse with his lucky ring as proof. Christmas is devastated, and we can tell because he’s just as stone-faced as he always is.

At Barney’s memorial service, Marsh expels Christmas from the Expendables for trying to save Barney instead of going after Rahmat. So who’s the new leader of the Expendables? Gina! So progressive, right? And not only does Gina get to lead the team, she’s also brought along her friend, Lash. That’s right — two female Expendables! In one movie! Gina and Lash never say a single word to each other over the course of the film, but it’s the thought that counts.

Marsh sends the team, sans Christmas, to intercept an aircraft-carrier ship in the Black Sea where Rahmat plans to detonate the nuclear warheads at the Russian border and start World War III for his master Ocelot. The Expendables are quickly captured on the ship. But luckily for them, Christmas put a tracker on the knife he gave Gina. He teams up with former Expendable Decha, and the two take a speed boat out to the ship and free their teammates.

Once freed, the Expendables fight off wave after wave of Rahmat’s army of mercenaries, until finally Christmas faces off against Rahmat and kills him with an axe. But the nuclear device is set to go off, and only one person has the kill switch: Ocelot. Momentum builds like there’s going to be some big reveal, maybe another leading man of yesteryear pulling strings from behind the scenes. But no, it’s just Andy Garcia’s Marsh. He challenges Christmas to a hand-to-hand fight. Why would Marsh have sent the Expendables to intercept Rahmat in the first place? How does a CIA operative get rich from starting WWIII? There’s no time to consider such things because bullets rain down from the sky and chop Marsh into bloody pieces just before his big fight with Statham. The smoke clears, and we glimpse a helicopter piloted by none other than Barney! Ross gives Christmas a lift just before the nuke goes off in the ocean. WWIII has been avoided.

Back in New Orleans, the team reunites, and Christmas and Gina reconcile. Barney explains that he knew Marsh was Ocelot and had to fake his death to draw him out. So who was the burned body on the plane? Jumbo Shrimp. A flashback shows the still-alive Jumbo Shrimp strapped into the pilot’s seat of the plane, screaming as it goes down. That’s right, Ross brutally orchestrates the death of a man whose only crime was winning Barney’s ring in a thumb wrestling match, after already having Christmas beat him unconscious. The Expendables all laugh dementedly and Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” cue the credits.

Do Any Expendables Die? Nope. They’re really starting to push their luck.

Fun fact: During Expend4bles lengthy preproduction phase, Stallone wanted Clint Eastwood to join the fourth film. Stallone also wanted to bring legendary actor Jack Nicholson out of retirement to play the villain, and according to Stallone Jack was interested back in 2014, they just didn’t call him early enough.

An Abridged Guide to Every Expendables Movie So Far