Movies stars have had a tough year with less films being made and falling earnings; now the success of film such as The Hangover, which used a lesser known cast, suggests that star power is losing its pull with younger audiences.
As the holiday season rolls on in the US, a number of movie stars will be under scrutiny for their drawing power at the box office. Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker are the names on which Sony’s Did You Hear About The Morgans? was built; Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin headline It’s Complicated at Universal; and George Clooney is front and centre on Paramount’s Up In The Air.
But 2009 was not a good year for film stars, who are already faced with a drop in the volume of production, a reduction in salaries and the end of first-dollar gross deals.
Did anyone really flock to Star Trek for Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto?
Looking at all the hit movies of the year, it’s clear that very few were dependent on their actors for box-office success. Did anyone really flock to Star Trek for Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto? Or to Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen for Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox? Was John Cusack the reason audiences had to see 2012?
The Hangover, District 9, Paranormal Activity, Up and Where The Wild Things Are were all clever movies marketed to audiences with the concept as star. Likewise Avatar, the year’s final blockbuster which employs newcomer Sam Worthington to share the screen with CG characters.
In fact, many stars were just not working their past magic on audiences.
Bruce Willis (Surrogates), Eddie Murphy (Imagine That), Adam Sandler (Funny People), Julia Roberts (Duplicity) and even Denzel Washington (The Taking OfPelham 123) suffered flops which threw question marks over their continued value.
Of course some still worked. Sandra Bullock was back at the top with two blockbuster hits. Katherine Heigl, Streep (Julie & Julia), Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn and Tom Hanks also drove films to big openings.
But do you really need to hire a star when you can get away with a very good actor? Take Taken, the French-produced thriller starring Liam Neeson and released domestically by Fox. The film opened on $24.7m in January and nobody could say that Neeson was the driving factor in that opening. Neeson is one of cinema’s best actors but it was the concept - revenge of a father for the kidnapping of his child - that turned on audiences everywhere and Fox and EuropaCorp managed to transmit that concept to audiences in their marketing. Would the movie have opened bigger or grossed more than it did had Tom Cruise been in it? Perhaps not.
Besides, blockbusters these days are moulding their own stars from the ground up. LaBeouf has become a name on the back of Transformers, likewise Robert Pattinson and his cohorts from Twilight and the three comic leads from The Hangover. These movies don’t need to enlist big costly names (and all their baggage) to reach their core teen audience who are largely oblivious to ageing A-listers such as John Travolta, Robin Williams and Harrison Ford.
Movie stars aren’t entirely out of fashion yet, but producers don’t require them to drive younger audiences to the product. They simply mean less than they used to. And who knows, maybe Avatar will confirm that a new age of digital movie stars is finally upon us.