Movie stars and box office bombs

Is there any evidence that a movie star in a movie can guarantee a financial success? My theory is that no movie ever is successful just from those people who say eg “I must see 13 Days becuase Kevin Costner is in it.”
The most successful movies of all time Star Wars, Harry Potter, LOTR, Jurassic Park do not contain $20 million dollar stars. And if they do the person became a star after the movie became big. Not vice versa. Think here Di Caprio (Titanic) Harrison Ford (Star Wars).
For every $20 million dollar star there are box office bombs.

How good a movie is will effect its shelf life–and that will most directly effect its profit margin. But the star attraction will determine how many people show up on opening day. If you had the same film about a tornado destroying a town, same director, same special effects, etc. but one version stars Angelina Jolie in a bikini while the other has Sissy Spacek in a trenchcoat, more people are going to show up for the former.

Sure the stars have bombs. That’s because Hollywood knows their names will draw people in and are willing to take a chance that this particular film will do so, too. The names definitely bring in people, but word of mouth can negate it.

Remember: early on, Hollywood refused to name who the actors were, fearful that they would demand more money. But they discovered that a particular actor could bring in much more money for a film, so they began to promote them (the first of these is usually credited to Florence Lawrence, “the Biograph Girl”).

It’s no different today. A movie starring Will Smith is going to get a bigger opening than Don Cheedle in the same role. And since the opening weekend is crucial, it’s an additional reason to put a star in the role. People who like the actor will go to see it – at least until the word of mouth comes in.

This is more true today than it was a few years ago.

It’s rather obvious that stars can add a huge amount of box office revenue to a film.

Probably the most dramatic example is The Golden Child, the 1986 Eddie Murphy vehicle, which took in over $100 million worldwide at the box office. The movie’s story was unknown to the market, there were no other names attached to it that would have been known to the general audience, and the film itself was appalling. Basically, Eddie Murphy was the only reason people went to see it; his name alone was probably worth $50 million or more. If a B-list actor replaces Murphy, that movie would have sunk without a trace after $14 million and three painful weekends.

Eddie Murphy is about the worst example you could have picked. The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Best Defense. Vampire in Brooklyn. I Spy. All of these were commercial flops.
I love Eddie Murphy and have seen most of his movies but he in no way can guarantee the movie will even break even.
As for Will Smith-anyone seen Bagger Vance. No. Nobody did.

Eddie Murphy in 1986, coming off several years of being Saturday Night Live’s biggest star, 48 Hours, a smah hit HBO special, Beverly Hills Cop and being voted the 2nd most admired person in America by 18-24 year olds, is a far cry from Eddie Murphy ten years later.

I know that and you know that. My point is that movie studios obviously do not. Take a look at the salary history of these movie stars. The movie studios pay them $20 million when they 5 years past their main hits. Will Smith was paid $10m for Bagger Vance.
And they pay them huge salaries for movies which are almost bound to fail or at most break even.
Tom Cruise was paid $20m for Eyes Wide Shut. That seemed a big gamble on a movie like that.

They did regarding Eddie Murphy in 1986, which is what’s under discussion.

I will interject that 80s Eddie Murphy was probably one the most bankable stars on the planet, and the upcoming “Norbit” with his brother Charles co-scripting the story sounds funny as hell.

The Golden Child is a great doog film. (IMHO)

Bankable stars don’t become bankable overnight and don’t lose their bankability overnight. A single failure may be due to any number of causes. And movies are made well before they are released, in many cases, so it can take several movies for the fact that a star has lost his or her mojo to become absolute. When that does happen, studios are quick to pull away the money. Eddie Murray is an example of that. So is John Travolta. Or Sly Stallone. Or dozens of others. (Any movie star that goes to tv is one, a cynic might say.)

Nobody really knows ahead of time which movies are “almost bound to fail or at most break even.” Audiences surprise the studios all the time.

Besides, American box office grosses are next to meaningless for determining profitability. Movies make money on foreign sales, DVD sales and rentals, cable and tv sales, and a hundred other revenue streams. Only a tiny minority of movies ever fail in the long term. The studios always make their money back on stars’ salaries. (The modern practice of giving them large chunks of the box office gross is a different and undoubtedly stupider move, but that practice won’t spread beyond a few names.)

The right star in the right vehicle CAN be a huge draw. The problem is…

  1. Studios often assume that, If Joe Schmeaux starred in Movie X, and Movie X made 200 million bucks, the public will surely flock to see the next movie with Joe Schmeaux in it. But that’s a bad assumption. MAYBE the public will flock to see him if he makes another movie very much like Movie X, and plays another character very much like the hero of Movie X. It doesn’t follow that people will flock to see him play a different character type in a different genre. Example: Patrick Swayze starred in the mega-hits “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost.” He proceeded to make a series of action-oriented movies that flopped miserably. He didn’t seem to grasp that his appeal was to women, not to men. The female fans who loved him wanted to see him in romantic roles, NOT beating up rednecks in “Roadhouse.”

  2. Will Smith was a relative nobody when he starred in “Independence Day,” just as Harrison Ford was a relative nobody when he starred in “Star Wars,” and Roy Scheider was a relative nobody when he starred in “Jaws.” All three actors were perfectly fine in their roles, but NOBODY went to see those movies because of Smith, Ford or Scheider. So, for the sake of argument, if “V for Vendetta” rakes in 300 million bucks, it would be foolish for someone to offer Hugo Weaving a small fortune to star in a different movie. Weaving may be fine, but he’s NOT the reason the film will or won’t become a blockbuster.

  3. I think directors are more likely to have loyal followings than actors are. When people heard that Steven Spielberg was making “Jurassic Park,” they probably said to themselves immediately, “I can’t wait to see that!” No knock on Sam Neil or Laura Dern, but they were incidental to the film’s success. Spielberg could have given the roles to practically ANY actor and actress, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Spielberg, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Woody Allen, and a few others can count on a certain hard core of fans who’ll come to their movies no matter who’s in the cast.