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The Death of the Star

Nice teeth. But we're going to have to let you go.

Two movies. Both monster movies. One has a huge star. Maybe the biggest star in the world. In addition to a megastar in the lead, it has a megastar director. The biggest director in the world.

The other movie's got no one you've heard of.

The star vehicle had a summer release. Humongous publicity and marketing. The other movie opened toward the end of January, a dead time in theaters.

So, which movie opened bigger? War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg? Or Cloverfield, starring Mike (who?) Vogel and directed by Matt (um...) Reeves?

takes the prize, 69 million to 65 million, in round numbers. War of the Worlds cost 5 times as much to make. 5 times! And given the gigantic slice of the gross taken by Tom Cruise to "open" the movie, to lend his "star power," there's no doubt at all that Cloverfield will make a much higher profit.

Who made Cloverfield? JJ Abrams. The Lost guy. A TV guy. You know who director Matt Reeves is? The guy who directed Felicity.

The movie star is dead. Dead. A corpse. Jim Carey, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe, George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Will Farrell? They don't pay their own way. They are money losers. They are a drag on a movie. Concept is king. When will Hollywood figure this out?

Well, part of Hollywood, the TV part, already has. Who the hell was James Gandolfini ten years ago? Not a star, that's for sure. TV has figured out that we long ago stopped watching "stars" and started watching concepts. There was no major star attached to Sopranos, Lost, CSI, Desperate Housewives, 24 or Grey's Anatomy. What those shows had was concept.

There were two major stars -- Kelsey Grammr and Patricia Heaton -- attached to the Fox sitcom Back to You, and you know what? No one gave a damn. Lesson taught yet again, to the slow few in TV.

Concept. Writing. Directing. Acting.

Stars? Not so much.

In this day and age, a studio executive who writes a 20 million dollar check and signs over a piece of the back end to any actor -- any so-called star -- is a damned fool. Period. Not only is the movie star not a guarantee of success, he is a destructive presence, a drag, a loser. Make the sign of the "L" on Tom Cruise's forhead: he is a waste of money.

Top ten grossing pictures in 2007? In descending order: SpiderMan 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean Yet Again, One More Harry Potter, I Am Legend, The Bourne Ultimatum, 300, National Treasure Book of Secrets and Ratatouille.

How many of those are, by any stretch, the result of star power? One: I Am Legend. Six are "pre-sold" sequels, none of which relied primarily on a then-established star in the first round. 300 was made for very little, starred no one, and had a 70 million opening. Transformers starred some toys, and opened at 70 million before racking up better than 300 million is b.o. Ratatouille starred a rat. It opened with just under 47 million and broke 200 million domestic. A cartoon rat.

Mike Meyers isn't the "star" of Shrek. You know who the star of Shrek is? Shrek. Shia LeBeouf isn't the "star" of Transformers. Optimus Prime is the star of Transformers. Johnny Depp's contribution to Pirates is not his star power, it's his acting talent. Pay him for his phenomenal acting, but don't pay him as a star to open your movie.

Look at the 2007 hits another way, and you have two comic books, two cartoons, a theme park ride, a kid's book and a toy. Concepts. Not stars. Concepts. And who creates concepts? Who came up with the concepts that made all this lovely box office possible? Two kid's book writers, (Shrek and Harry,) a toy maker, (Transformers,) a Disneyland imagineer, (Pirates,) a graphic novelist, (300.) A science fiction writer, (I Am Legend.) And of course, Stan Lee, (Spiderman.)

Not a star in the mix. The stars were utterly irrelevant. The actors were important, but the stars were irrelevant or worse. You know who really mattered? The writers and the directors.
More often than not, as in War of the Worlds, stars just got in the way and killed the bottom line.

It's way past time for the movie end of Hollywood to figure out what the TV end learned long ago: concept stars, not movie stars. Something to remember as we see rumors that the writers may be coming back soon.

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“The Death of the Star”

  1. Blogger Hallq Says:

    The star/talent distinction is a little puzzling... when I first say Johnny Depp in your list of people without star power, I was like, "hey, a lot of people I know will see a Johnny Depp movie just because it's Johnny Depp"--though I of course think of it in terms of talent. The idea of star power separated from talent has always been a little weird, the only thing surprising about it is it managed to be a dominant concept for so long.

  2. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    I think it's the question of whether an actor is being hired to do, or to be. To act, or to be a star. In the jargon, as I understand it, a star "opens" a movie, which is to say he ensures good first-weekend b.o. Actual acting ability is irrelevant to that.

  3. Blogger Icepick Says:

    Nice teeth.

    Are you sure about that?