Hollywood Star Russian Roulette

The Nineties marked a decade in which star power ruled Hollywood. Names like Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Mel Gibson meant money in the bank. High-profile star vehicles met Box Office returns that validated five figure pay checks. But at the turn of the century, the box office game changed dramatically. Instead of relying on big-name stars, Hollywood studios banked on franchises such as Harry Potter, Spider-Man, National Treasure and The Twilight Saga for its box office revenue. Very few actors like Will Smith or Adam Sandler have maintained their ability to draw audiences.

As the current marketplace moves toward making a quick buck on adapting literary series or revamping established franchises, the Hollywood studios are making a rare move with their Summer 2010 film schedule commencing May 7th. With the exception of films like The A-Team, Sex In the City 2 and Prince of Persia, the major studies are flooding the theatres with a variety of hopeful Star vehicles. It’s a move which might be costly considering the declining revenue of Hollywood star vehicles.

But studios refuse to flinch. 20th Century Fox are depending on names such as Diaz and Cruise to launch its June Action Blockbuster Knight and Day, while risking on nostalgic reboots such as The A-Team starring Bradley Cooper and Predators, starring Adrien Brody. Columbia Pictures is rolling out films headlined by the likes of Roberts, Sandler, Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Angelina Jolie. Warner Bros. has Leonardo DiCaprio and Drew Barrymore; Universal has Russell Crowe, Matt Damon and Michael Cera; DreamWorks has Steve Carrell, while Paramount is putting all its chips into Iron Man 2 and M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (the film is omitting the televisions series’ suffix).

Most, if not all, of the listed stars have headlined films that have out grossed 100 Million dollars in the past, but are now coming off times of drought. Diaz hasn’t opened a number one film since the Charlie’s Angels sequel in 2003. Ashton Kutcher is coming off the success of Valentine’s Day, but that remains a bright spot in a mostly mediocre career. Julia Roberts hasn’t had a successful starring film in a decade worth’s time and audiences obviously prefer Jason Bourne to Matt Damon. Before Shutter Island, DiCaprio failed to launch Revolutionary Road and Body of Lies. Valkarie and Lions for Lambs proved to be Cruise’s lowest grossing films since Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut.

The dropping currency of the Hollywood Star is alarming considering that the second sequel to Cats & Dogs has a higher probability of making bank then the majority of the star vehicles released this summer. The younger demographic are easier to please and they also draw in their parents as well. Taking demographics into perspectives, the teenage male demo (the demographic which drives the industry) are less attentive nowadays to the Hollywood star systems and depend more on films that seem more culturally relevant. The term ‘Fanboy’ has driven much of the buzz surrounding Hollywood summer blockbusters, despite failures like Watchmen.

Everything ends up kind of relative in the end, however. Films like Wanted grew successful due to the popularity of Jolie and did, in fact, start a franchise. Other sequels, such as ones to Mr and Mrs. Smith and The Proposal, almost made it to the screen.

After already successfully releasing Alice In Wonderland, Walt Disney Studios (owned by Buena Vista Distributions) is taking a chance with releasing two possible franchise starters. Throw in the buzz surrounding Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, films which do not center on their stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Nicholas Cage, the company is willing to give both productions and both stars the benefit of the doubt. I guess it is much easier having faith in projects after releasing the highest grossing film of the year so far.