Last week, after Deadpool broke box-office records for R-Rated movies and firmly established itself as a new franchise, I playfully tweeted something to the effect of, “Suck it, Bill Simmons,” in reference to an article he wrote on Grantland a few years ago positing that Ryan Reynolds was the latest failure in Hollywood’s attempt to manufacture a movie star. Someone on Twitter, however, was quick to suggest that Simmons wasn’t wrong — that Reynolds still couldn’t open a non-franchise movie on his own.
The question is: Can anyone?
Yes. Sure. Leonardo DiCaprio can. He was the only guy to star in one of the top 20 box-office hits last year that wasn’t based on a pre-existing property (or came from Pixar). Jennifer Lawrence can still probably open a movie on her own (although, Joy put a damper on her successful streak). Melissa McCarthy, Amy Schumer, and Will Ferrell can also bring in a lot of box-office dollars based on their names in comedy, but as for blockbuster movie stars? Not even Tom Cruise could put up huge numbers with the incredible Edge of Tomorrow; George Clooney bombed with Tomorrowland; Will Smith has fallen out of favor; and Brad Pitt doesn’t really even try, content to make mid-budget movies expected to be modest hits, like Fury. Dwayne Johnson might also succeed one out of every three tries.
It’s not that “movie stars” don’t exist anymore. It’s just that the term has been redefined. Now, a “movie star” is someone who can launch — or even sustain — a franchise. Robert Downey, Jr. launched Iron Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so he can make 100 The Judges and maintain his status as a “movie star.” Chris Hemsworth may be the Taylor Kitsch of 2015 (with Blackhat and In the Heart of the Sea) and he’s still a movie star as long as he continues to play Thor. Chris Pratt can pencil in “movie star” for the next decade thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Next week’s Eddie the Eagle can fall on its ass much the same way that Pan did, and it won’t tarnish Hugh Jackman’s movie-star status because he’s Wolverine, even when he’s no longer Wolverine. Daniel Radcliffe can’t open a goddamn can of beans, but he’s got another four or five years of failures before we stop considering him a “movie star,” at least until he comes back as the father of a child in another generation of Hogwarts students and is considered a movie star, again.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if Ryan Reynolds can open a movie outside of Deadpool. He opened Deadpool. He’s got a sequel on the way. What happens between now and the next Deadpool movie is irrelevant. Reynolds is currently attached to three other movies, including a film called Criminal that comes out in April, and none of them look like the kinds of films that would even break $50 million at the box office, or even $30 million. But it doesn’t matter, because as long as Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool, he’s a “movie star” in the way that we define movie stars in 2016.
So suck it, Bill Simmons.