Subject: The Hollywood A-List Movie Star
Date of Assessment: February 4, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Name recognition
Negative Buzzwords: Overpaid, overrated, overexposed
The Case: It’s a (relatively) age-old debate that we’ve read about within countless film-related news cycles; that is, “Are A-Listers Done in Hollywood?” Naturally, this question has once again pushed itself to the forefront in the face of several non-star vehicles (including The Hangover; District 9; Paranormal Activity; any successful horror movie) that have fared inexplicably well in recent years.
Meanwhile, studios remain bewildered and disconcerted that their “certain” success pairing, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, couldn’t pull in more than $66 million domestically (on a $100 million budget) for The Tourist (although the movie did quietly score $150 million overseas). Other recent power couplings have also underperformed even more drastically: Killers, starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, only made $47 million on a $75 million budget; Knight & Day, featuring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, only brought in $76 million on a $117 million budget.
Here’s a novel concept though: Cut the budgets, Hollywood.
Unfortunately, Tinsel Town simply refuses to lower their expenditures and, further, dismisses the notion that Julia Roberts’ alleged greatness isn’t enough to guarantee success for an uninteresting looking flick (Duplicity, anyone?). To those of us in the real world, this makes very little sense; for quite simply, no excuse exists for not holding stars accountable in their future vehicles for their past flops. And there’s really no need to pay the “talent” more than a few million apiece until the movie breaks even, so what else (other than explosions, insurance, and craft services) costs so damn much? The same goes for Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Matt Damon (who, until True Grit, couldn’t pay audiences to watch him in anything but Bourne). Even Brad Pitt isn’t immune to the occasional box-office stinker. Hell, these days, maybe only Will Smith and the post-rehab incarnation of Robert Downey Jr. can guarantee big box office. Screw the rest of them, and make them sweat the possibility of receiving a halfway-decent paycheck just like the rest of our recession-bound country.
It’s a rather irrefutable point that movie stars just don’t light up the celluloid screen like they used to do. Hell, even Robert De Niro ain’t Robert De Niro any longer. But despite what Vanity Fair’s list of Hollywood’s 2010 Top Earners (filled with the likes of the Twilight stars, who have enjoyed success in their prefabricated franchise) might say, the industry itself has been wringing its gold-laden hands over an epidemic of declining theater attendance, thanks to a lot more competition from television and the internet.
Well then, entertain us, why don’t you? Give us movies filled with iconic characters in well-executed, concept-driven movies. Stop paying the talent so many millions and use some of that money to develop sharp scripts instead of merely pinning down the A-listers, who have collectively let us down. All of those horrible movies mentioned above wouldn’t even have been greenlit without A-lister participation, and these actors should have insisted upon better stories and scripts, but all they saw were the fucking dollar signs.
Still, is it really fair to blame the so-called “talent” when a movie flops? Hell yes and for two reasons: (1) They’ll always claim credit for a movie’s financial success; (2) They make more money than anyone else on the movie, which should be considered not only a perk but also a risk factor. Seriously, if you or I (in our mundane, unexciting professions) ever lost several million dollars in a solitary incident, we’d immediately be fired and then considered unemployable for an indeterminable period of time. Yet movie stars are given numerous chances to prove their box-office draw until they’re forced to take the Jim Carrey route of working for union wages and then cashing in only after the movie breaks even.
The Carrey scenario is a rare tactic that certainly should become a regular occurrence because, for better or worse, the myth of the movie star has been abolished. If nothing else, this fact has been proven by a couple of (relatively) small-budget and recent MLK weekend releases. In 2008, Cloverfield stormed the box office with $80 million (and another $90 million overseas) take on a $25 million budget; in 2009, Paul Blart: Mall Cop scored $146 million on a $26 million budget. Then, there are the blockbusters that have succeeded regardless of the actors. For instance, no one saw Transformers for Shia LeBeouf (and no one watched it for the easily replaceable Megan Fox either). Something similar took place with Avatar, in which James Cameron rendered Zoe Saldana unrecognizable, and the actors themselves didn’t even matter. Really, would you put a name to Sam Worthington if he walked up to you and asked to borrow a fiver? No, you’d punch him in the face.
Prognosis: The debate over the movie star as an endangered species has been raging for years and isn’t going anywhere fast. Bottom line, overall, is that audiences are attracted most of all to a captivating premise and positive word of mouth. While I don’t have any grand, over-arching answer to today’s question, it wouldn’t hurt for movie stars to lead the fight against their own extinction by only signing on to movies that they’d actually watch. Otherwise, these stars will eventually find themselves resigned to a lower tier of pay.
Then again, let them suffer because — let’s face it — I just feel so terribly awful for Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke, who were forced (forced, I say!) to accept mere $400,000 paydays for their de minimus contributions to the most recent installment in the Iron Man franchise. The forecast calls for more of the same.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.