So why hasn't the biggest pure action star of his generation eventually found his way to bigger and better things? Call it bad timing, or the misfortune of being a star in the wrong era. Just as George Reeves became a television star at just the wrong time (after the studio contract era but before the 'playing against type is cool' era), Jason Statham is an action star in a time when pure action pictures are all-but extinct. He is a B-movie action star in an age where A-movie action pictures more or less don’t get made anymore. In the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger could move from B-movies like The Running Man, Raw Deal, Red Heat, and Commando to more A-level features like Predator and finally Total Recall in 1990. Steven Seagal could go from Hard to Kill or Marked For Death to something like Under Siege. But big-budget, R-rated, non-fantasy action pictures are more-or-less extinct in the post-Columbine era. As I've noted before (HERE), the post-Columbine crackdown on marketing to younger audiences have all-but completely put the kibosh on big-budget, R-rated action pictures. There really isn’t a bigger, more ‘mainstream’ action vehicle for Statham to graduate to. Studios don't make A-level action thrillers anymore.
Today the ‘stars of tomorrow’ get their PG-13 sci-fi/fantasy/comic book franchise, which is something that Statham is arguably not suited for and/or already too old to do (since the studios generally want a younger guy who can do 2-3 sequels before he’s 40). Unfortunately, the kind of action films Statham is ‘stuck’ doing, due to their general B-movie vibe, practically scream ‘rent me’ for all except the most hardcore action junkies (I say this as someone who saw and enjoyed The Mechanic in a theater). Short version, Statham is stuck forever doing Out For Justice because studios no longer make Under Siege. If he truly desires 'bigger and better' (and who is to say he's the least bit unhappy about his relatively long career and aforementioned typecasting?), he has little choice but to try more pure thrillers like The Bank Job (easily his best film) or take supporting roles in other people's big-budget vehicles (be they genre fare or aforementioned fantasy spectacles). For better or for worse, Jason Statham is the undisputed king of a genre that no longer has an upper level to aspire to. The kind of films that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or even Steven Seagal into megastars no longer exist. We can debate whether or not that is a tragedy. But it will be interesting to see what Jason Statham does now that he has reached his potential in the genre that made him an icon.