Friday Flix: When the Stars All Go Out
Since it launched a few months ago, I’ve only read one article from Bill Simmons’s “Grantland” website. Mostly because summer is a boring time in sports and I don’t give a crap about the Red Sox. But one article did interest me, about how there’s only one real “movie star” left in Hollywood. Any guess who it is? I’ll let you think and give you some spoiler space.
Think about it…
Think about it…
Got a guess?
OK, I think that’s about enough.
The answer is: Will Smith. This isn’t just Simmons’s theory either. It’s actually based on research of box office numbers and so forth. Will Smith is really the only one left who has a consistent track record of success.
Since Simmons steals most of his ideas from me and Mr. Pagel, it’s no surprise that I wrote about that on Gather about a year earlier, after the failure of Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz’s “Knight and Day” and Angelina Jolie’s “Salt.” More to the point was that we don’t really have any movie stars left. Every summer anymore you look at the schedule and it’s not movies driven by stars; it’s movies driven by properties: Transformers, Batman, Iron Man, Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.
No disrespect to Daniel Radcliffe or Robert Pattinson (OK, some disrespect to the latter) but you could put anyone in those roles and be successful. At least anyone who looks somewhat hawt and can act slightly better than Paris Hilton. The actors are pretty much interchangeable, though they might not think so. You didn’t go BECAUSE it was a Daniel Radcliffe movie; you went because it was a Harry Potter movie. And you didn’t go to Transformers 3 because Shia LaBeouf was in it; you went because giant robots were pounding each other to smithereens! (Or if you’re me you didn’t go at all.)
Movies like “Knight and Day” or “Larry Crowne” that try to rely on “star power” anymore wind up fizzling. Why? Because no one gives a crap about Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts or George Clooney anymore. At least not on the movie screen. We might tune into TMZ or look them up on Perez Hilton’s website or read about them in OK Magazine, but when it comes to some generic spy movie or comedy, we don’t really give a crap that they’re in it.
The majority of “stars” out there right now are really celebrities and not “movie stars.” Simmons talks a lot about Ryan Reynolds not being a movie star and he’s right. Few are going to say, “Hey, let’s go see that new Ryan Reynolds movie!” He doesn’t have that kind of clout. Maybe you’ll go buy a People or US Weekly with Reynolds on the cover to check out some nice cheesecake shots, but when it comes to parting with $10-$15 anymore, it seems people are focused more on the WHAT than the WHO. Which is why “Green Lantern” underperformed and “The Change-Up” was a dud.
Bringing it back to the beginning, why is Will Smith the only movie star left? According to Simmons’s article, it’s because Smith cracked the code to box office success. Back when he was doing “Fresh Prince” and looking to make a break into movies, he and his agent sat down and figured out box office trends. They figured out that what we really like are sci-fi action movies with creatures and a little romance. So he did “Independence Day” and “Men in Black” and the rest is history. Since then he’s ridden the wave to consistent success. (Even movies like “Wild Wild West” that weren’t very good still performed well financially.)
Simmons goes on to say that once he became a star, Smith didn’t really take any chances and that’s helped to keep him popular. And overall I’d have to agree. None of his movies have really been controversial; they’ve all been pretty much safe choices. I haven’t liked any of them since 1997, but that doesn’t matter; the rest of America (and the world) likes them enough to keep forking over their dough.
Again no disrespect, but Will Smith isn’t the most talented actor out there either. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters are the numbers and that’s where he comes up big. Contrast that to Nicole Kidman, who everyone says is a good actress and has been nominated for a few Oscars, but when you look at the numbers her movies are consistent flops. Her last moneymaker was back in 1995 with “Batman Forever” where she was the least important character.
There are other actors who are good at what they do, but are you going to watch a movie just because they’re in it? I mean would you ever say, “Hey, let’s go watch that new Paul Giamatti movie!” Probably not. This is a far cry from the 30s, 40s, and 50s when you had huge stars like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, on and on and on.
What changed? I’ll make Mr. Pagel’s day and say: Star Wars. Star Wars was a huge hit with no big stars. Harrison Ford was somewhat known and Alec Guinness was near the end of his career but that was it. Star Wars proved you didn’t need stars; you just need effects and a fun story. More and more as effects became better, the big movies rely less and less on stars to succeed.
While this is true for movies, it seems star power still matters in the book industry. In large part it’s because the industry itself creates favorable conditions for that because the already famous authors—the Stephen Kings or Dean Koontzes or John Grishams—are the ones they promote. The others are left to pretty much fend for themselves. Plus of course the industry loves giving absurd advances to “stars” and criminals for their tell-all books. So when it comes to books, the Name Game is still alive and well, though I think as the Kings, Koontzes, etc. die off (maybe not literally, but just stop putting out books) the trend will more and more become like the movie industry, where the WHAT of the book will matter more than WHO wrote it.
But if you can, do what Will Smith did and crack the code for success. Give the people what they want and they’ll love you for it.
Tune in Monday to learn how everything you know about Blogging is WRONG!!!