I finally got around to seeing *Amistad, *starring Morgan Freeman.


The main character was a slave named Sengbe Pieh, wonderfully played by Djimon Hounsou. There were other significant actors, but the role of Sengbe Pieh was the center of the film. Morgan Freeman got top billing . . . but I think he had maybe 1 or 2 short lines. He was basically furniture. I don’t think I even heard the name of his character, yet even Wiki puts him at the top of the cast listing. Tivo too.

It should be noted that Djimon Hounsou is an impressive actor with two Oscar nominations. I guess you have to actually win an Oscar to get top billing, regardless of the importance of your role.

Note that Djimon Hounsou’s nominations came after Amistad, as did Morgan Freeman’s win (although he had already been nominated at the time this movie was released). And I think normally they give top billing to the best known actors, not the ones with the most prominent roles.

It’s common to give the actor with the most public recognition top billing. It helps sell the movie. Sometimes the reverse happens. Bruce Willis wasn’t mentioned by name in the original marketing of Die Hard. He was considered box office poison at the time. Top billing is often based on contract negotiations and marketing, and not simply given to the actor playing the protaganist.

Hounsou was good as Maximus’s buddy in Gladiator, too. Don’t think I’ve seen him in any other movies, and didn’t realize he’s been nominated for two Oscars!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djimon_Hounsou

Sadly, Morgan Freeman pulls in the audience.

Although, if I had a say in it, I think Anthony Hopkins would have been a bigger draw.

I remember a radio host dismissing a caller who mentioned Bruce Willis’s role in Pulp Fiction. He hung up on the guy with a dismissive “Duh… Bruce Willis wasn’t in Pulp Fiction!” :smack:

For much the same reason that Morgan Freeman probably got paid ten times what Djimon Hounsou did. Because he’s a bigger star.

Billing is important in Hollywood, and Freeman was the bigger name. More importantly, if he was billed lower, producers would try to pay him less for his roles, saying that “Look at Amistad. You weren’t billed as the star. I’m not going to pay a star’s fee for someone who’s not a star.”

Since Freeman got star billing in other films, it would have possibly hurt his career if he accepted something less.

He may have taken less money in exchange for the top billing also. Everyone involved plays this to their advantage. Top billing is certainly not limited to the actor playing the lead role.

Didn’t Marlon Brando get top billing for Superman (the 1978 movie)?

Christopher Reeve didn’t get top billing in a Superman movie until Superman III!

For the first movie, as you correctly point out, it was:
[li]Marlon Brando[/li][li]Gene Hackman[/li][li]Christopher Reeve[/li][/ul]
For the second movie it was:
[li]Gene Hackman[/li][li]Christopher Reeve[/li][/ul]

Watch Blood Diamond. I have not seen everything he is in, but that is the best movie I’ve seen him in. He pretty much drives the whole story. Good movie, too.

He not only got top billing, he got before the movie title appears billing! That’s still a big deal today. For a major motion picture in the 70s (especially with such a small role) this was as big as you can get (other than the couple *million *he also got paid for it!)