Relish The Thought: Has Brand Brought An End To The Movie Star?

Posted on Jan 31 2016 - 6:11pm by Craig Hunter

We here at ScreenRelish are firm believers of everyone being entitled to their own opinion. But, we do love a good debate. So, it’s only natural that we’ve decided, every week, to submit to you a film-related question for you to think about and mull over for as long as you please. It may be a big and philosophical question, or one that is small and trivial, but, either way, it is a chance for you to share your beliefs with fellow moviegoers, cinephiles and Relishers.


The end is nigh people…

Now, I’m not here to debate the history of Hollywood cinematic achievement, more how, in an age where brand means everything, change is now upon us. It’s a subject that’s been evolving for sometime, but I’m now a firm believer that with the definite end of the Golden Age of Hollywood – and more specifically the men and women who lead the charge right up the Naughties – big names are no longer calling the shots.

Long gone are the days when an actor committed his or her career to one specific studio. Like with anything though, there are always going to be exceptions – Clint Eastwood, for example, continues to only make/star in films for Warner Bros. and, along with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Kathryn Bigelow and J.J. Abrams, trusted and assured filmmakers such as these are always going to be given the pick of the plum jobs… and given their past and present talents, deservedly so.

However, the bulk of that is because it lessens the risk factor, particularly on a big-budget project. Why else would Michael Bay still be allowed near another film – let alone a TRANSFORMERS film? Despite being routinely mocked by critics for such brash, brainless and often offensive filmmaking, his work brings in the bucks. Why would Paramount risk a sure thing?

A movie star’s input is far more unpredictable.

Take for example IRON MAN, and Jon Favreau’s fight to have Robert Downey Jr. cast as Tony Stark. We now know it to be a piece of inspired casting, as Marvel Studios chiefs quaked in their offices at the prospect of a problematic former Brat Pack member being given the lead in their first major production. Yet, let’s be honest, would the opening weekend have made much of a difference had an unknown actor been cast? Audiences were there for IRON MAN, not Downey Jr. And certainly not at that low point of his career.

IRON MAN’s success (and arguably Marvel’s cinematic brand) hinged on the word of mouth and just how good Downey Jr. was in the role. However, for all the disharmony it would likely create amongst fan boys now, the majority would still rush to cinemas to see IRON MAN 4 even if Downey Jr. was replaced by a nobody. He’s now officially the biggest (and highest paid) movie star on the planet, but where were those fans camping out at the opening weekend of THE JUDGE?

One of the biggest superstars still working and consistently so is Tom Cruise. His international appeal means his films will rarely lose money at the worldwide box-office. However, despite some of the best reviews of his career with the excellent EDGE OF TOMORROW, and guilty pleasure JACK REACHER, both only just creeped into profit after bombing domestically. Throw in other recent disappointments like KNIGHT AND DAY (co-starring another superstar in Cameron Diaz), OBLIVION and ROCK OF AGES and Cruise’s bankability isn’t so impressive these days, and especially outside a “brand” like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

There are many more examples, and I could go on, but the rubber stamp for the end of the “movie star” era came with the arrival of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Relative unknowns Daisy Ridley and John Boyega fronting a brand – that phase again – before a blossoming cinematic career beckons. But ask yourself this: Would there be that much of a drop in EPISODE VIII earnings if Ridley and Boyega were replaced by another couple of unknowns?

Perhaps even earlier proof is evident in James Cameron’s record-breaking AVATAR. Fresh-faced Aussie Sam Worthington leading Cameron’s dazzling and divisive environmental adventure to become the world’s biggest ever film. Admittedly, the brand in this case is Cameron himself, following up and eclipsing his own iconic romance TITANIC, in addition to promising an immersive, groundbreaking 3D cinematic experience. Techniques that, we were told, would change the way technology was used in blockbuster filmmaking forever.

We’ll always have our favourite screen idols but for those making the decisions, a major screen talent is now no longer top of the agenda and in turn taking a chunk of a project’s budget. In a day and age where Youtube gives a platform to anyone to showcase their talents and video games give a player the chance to lead his or her own adventure, film studios now know that the “movie star” matters not.

Relish the thought, and let us know what you think.

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