Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stars: Building an Expectation & Working Together

The other day I mentioned that the big successful films didn't necessarily come with the most typical list of stars. People like Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Kristen Stuart, Bradley Cooper, and Chris Pine played lead roles in last years top films.

One of the reasons I think we've such a steep decline in stars having a following is because many film celebrities have, for whatever reason, have such a diverse range of performances. As a result people are easily disappointed if they see a certain movie because they like the star, especially if they don't have a diverse pallet.

I consider Angelina Jolie won of those "true stars" of today. Someone who critics and US weekly both talk about. And yet, who can say "I love everything that Angelina Jolie does?" Think about the films she's done in the past decade alone. Crowd pleasures like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, heavy true life dramas like A Mighty Heart, over budget bust like Alexander, action films like Tomb Radar, Wanted, Gone in 60 Seconds, indie films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, not to mention heavy emotional period piece Changeling, and then throw Beowulf into the mix and a ton of animated voice work.

Angelina's mix of films is so diverse, she makes it hard for her name on a poster to say anything about the quality and type of film you will be viewing.

That makes me think of some actors who are stars who have been a little more consistent. I was thinking about someone like Leonardo DiCaprio. Granted his films are not all huge box office explosions, but I think people know what to expect when they see DiCaprio's name on the poster. It helps that he works largely with one director these days (Martin Scorsese). But the pairing of a director and actor creates a consistency and expectation. Films like Gangs of New York may not be your taste. But when you see the pairing of Scorsese and DiCaprio there is a feeling of what you might be getting into...a heavy actor centered drama with larger than life settings, high drama, and some violence and shouting. So if you know that's what you want you see The Departed, The Aviator, and Shutter Island. I'm interested to see how Shutter Island's box office plays out this weekend.

I think pairings of directors, and similar actors is good for the movie going public. I think the unpredictability of films keeps some people away from the movie theaters. At the potential cost of around $10 a ticket, do you really want to walk into a bust? And if you are worried about a bust, the biggest way to be disappointed is to see a film just because it stars Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, or Cameron Diaz.

I appreciate seeing stars take on new roles that show a higher degree of dramatism or take on independent roles or work outside of their cookie cutter personas.

But I think the long term result of that is that despite the respect people might have for your acting skills, in terms of bankability your name looses value.

This seems bad for the Hollywood elite, but it seems good for smaller actors, and maybe for films themselves. It opens up the possibility for directors to cast the right actors, not the most famous ones. It's because of that change that J.J. Abrams was free to cast Chris Pine as Captain Kirk instead of having the pressure of casting Matt Damon in the role.

And it's all because of our skepticism that the top box office films will also be sequels or projects that don't need big names to achieve. It's also why products with clear expectations (Pixar Films or Tyler Perry Films, for example) pick up more theater viewers at every turn. The people that like these products can no what to expect.

1 comment:

Andrew K. said...

Insightful post. I agree with you on most everything. Spot on about Angie. Love her diversity, but it's a mixed bag sometime. Leo is generally consistent (as is Cate B, minus Indiana Jones...yikes).

BUT DON'T rank Julia with Robin Williams. Other than America's Sweethearts (horrid) she's fairly a good way/