Is the Hollywood Movie Star Dead?

Land of the Lost

A Reuters piece that’s been making the rounds this weekend speculates that Hollywood may be thinking twice about banking on A-list celebrities in the future. The piece points to recent low-budget and star-free fare like The Hangover, District 9, and Paranormal Activity that each went on to be wildly successful, and contrasts them with big-budget, star-studded flops like A Christmas Carol, Land of the Lost, and Funny People. The overall lesson seems to be that star-power doesn’t have nearly the draw that it used to, and that budgets aren’t much of a factor for audiences either.

But of course, I don’t really think this is news to most of us. While some may bemoan the tastes of general audiences when they overwhelmingly support movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I don’t think they did so for hunky Shia LaBeouf. Instead, they were probably looking to revisit the magic from the first film–which, let’s face it, was far better than it had any right to be. (Or the simpler answer, they just wanted to see things blow up.)

In any case, it was the quality of the concept of Transformers 2 (magic revisited and/or ‘splosions) that most likely led audiences showing up in droves, and not stars. You could apply a similar logic to The Hangover and its ilk mentioned above. I’d like to believe that audiences are smarter than we give them credit for—or at the very least, most can tell when studios are pushing crap on them. And sometimes they completely surprise us, just look at how well Inglourious Basterds performed.

Pronouncements of the movie star disappearing are nothing new—it’s simply something that always tends to come up after a wave of high-profile flops. I think there will always be room for stars, the lesson we need to learn is how to use them.  As the Reuters piece mentions, studios are looking to scale back on large up front salaries for big stars, and instead asking them to bank on potentially greater rewards if the film breaks even. And if some stars want to remain big-salary hogs who care more about a paycheck than their work, then perhaps it is time for them to step down.

Ultimately, the success of these lower budget features is a good thing for cinema. It makes studios less uneasy about moving forward with low budget features, and opens the doors for innovative new projects down the line. And after all, releasing several smaller features instead of relying on returns from a few big-budget films is a much safer bet for them as well.

Discuss: Do you think studios are wise to start relying less on big-name stars to make films successful? Are we losing some of the “magic” of Hollywood? And what do you think about the success of lower budget films in the past few years?

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