Movie stars are a vital part of the Hollywood landscape. Without them, it would be almost impossible for certain films to catch on with audiences. Any movie fan has his or her list of favourite actors and actresses and most of the time, the names on that list will include the big A-list stars that we love so much.
The last couple of years, I’ve noticed articles online lamenting the end of the movie star and highlighting the fact that there are very few (or none at all) new movie stars. Whenever a guy like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, or Michael Fassbender is attached to a project, the term “rising star” is frequently used, but there aren’t many pundits who would consider them to be legitimate box office draws.
Eventually, the movie studios are going to have to find a remedy for this issue, but for the time being it’s not a large concern. While there are certainly talented actors more than capable of becoming reliable leads, there’s no pressure for them to become them now.
Here are a few reasons why…
3. There Are So Many Already
Perhaps the main reason why the new guys have had such a hard time becoming big stars is the fact that there is already a full roster of leading talent currently working in Hollywood. Names like DiCaprio, Damon, Pitt, Bale, Clooney, Hanks, and Jackman have been on the top of film posters for years and there’s no sign of that stopping any time soon. One look at the film slate for 2013, including several of the ones I highlighted in my 15 Films You Need to See in 2013 article, proves this.
Leo was in The Great Gatsby and he’ll show up in The Wolf of Wall Street. Pitt fights in World War Z and has a supporting role in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor (which stars Fassbender in the lead role). Damon and Clooney both have two films to carry; the former headlines the original sci-fi flick Elysium, the latter co-stars in Gravity while they both play parts in Clooney’s own Monuments Men. Christian Bale will most likely be at the front of the ensemble cast for American Hustle. Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips and Hugh Jackman has a new Wolverine movie as well as Prisoners.
The common denominator there is that established actors are getting the roles in awards contenders and blockbusters. As long as these guys are willing to act (Pitt has hinted at retirement in recent years), directors and executives will find a way to fit them in a movie because the star presence of a DiCaprio or Clooney can help give a smaller awards contender long legs at the box office. This brings me to my next point…
2. They’re Only Needed for Certain Projects
Usually, a summer blockbuster does not need a huge star to become financially successful. There are exceptions to this rule (Inception, Elysium), but for the most part brand names do the heavy lifting during that time. 2009′s Star Trek made a lot of money without having any big names. Man of Steel stars relatively unknown Henry Cavill as Superman. Christian Bale may be a star now, but he was not when he was cast as Bruce Wayne for Batman Begins. This large chunk of the film calendar is not dependent on star power to draw people in, allowing the producers some leeway with who they cast.
My point is, movie stars are primarily needed to help give the Oscar contenders mainstream appeal. Martin Scorsese’s most commercially successful pictures have been the ones with DiCaprio as the star. Do you think Up in the Air would have made over $80 million in the U.S. if it wasn’t for Clooney? The big actors are essentially brand names for smaller dramas that most people otherwise would not be interested in.
The problem is, there’s only a handful of these types of projects that come out each year and studios – especially the major ones – are going to offer established stars the leading roles. This makes it easier to market the film to a general audience (particularly if it is not directed by a well-known filmmaker). It’s more likely casual moviegoers will be more excited for “the Brad Pitt movie” than “that one movie with a neat premise but stars some dude I don’t know.”
Since a movie star is really only a necessity for this specific type of project, it makes it difficult for a rising star to force his way in there. Actors such as Gordon-Levitt and Hardy have made names for themselves (albeit, in supporting roles) by appearing in Christopher Nolan summer films Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. This is an easy way to raise your profile, but it raises concerns about your actual marketability in terms of leading a film. Last year, Gordon-Levitt got his first real shot to headline a movie in Looper and that was only a marginal box office success. Hardy didn’t have much luck with Lawless despite becoming well-known for Bane. Maybe the tide will eventually turn in their favor, but for now it’s a struggle.
1. Directors Are Movie Stars Too
Sometimes, the success of a movie depends not on who’s in it, but who’s making it. Directors and producers can be some of the most powerful stars in the film business, as the most famous ones have the ability to make any project they desire (for better or worse).
It doesn’t matter who stars in the next Steven Spielberg film. People will go see it because it’s a Spielberg film. I would not necessarily call Matthew McConaughey a big time box office draw, but Warner Bros. and Paramount won’t bat an eye that he’s headlining Interstellar because that’s Christopher Nolan’s next film. Ben Affleck doesn’t have to star in his next movie because his name as a filmmaker carries so much clout, something like Argo can make over $230 million worldwide.
Directing and producing credits are used in marketing materials all the time. Sometimes, THEY are the stars that will entice people instead of the actors. Highlighting a director’s involvement with a certain movie can be extremely beneficial. If a famous director is calling the shots, a studio could opt to bypass a huge movie star salary and focus the budget on other things (since the director will be the big draw).
Hollywood today is populated by several talented directors who can generate interest in an upcoming film. Spielberg, Nolan, Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, David O. Russell, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron are all filmmakers who (in my opinion) can get people excited about a movie just by having their name attached. Because there’s such a large number of talented directors out there (with other names such as Neill Blomkamp and Bennett Miller looking to raise their profiles this year), it lessens the demand for new acting movie stars since there are so many directors who can operate as a star in their own right.