Why A-list Star Power is Not Enough

Old Hollywood

In the salad days of Old Hollywood, when the studio system ran Tinseltown, Star Power mattered more than anything else. Theater fans didn’t go to see this or that movie. They went to see the latest movie starring this or that person. And, when people didn’t know much more about a film than who was in it, that worked wonders.       

Today, not so much.

In an era when even teaser trailers are endlessly dissected and discussed online, no movie is safe from negative impressions before release. And, if a film deviates from a proven formula, the results can be financially disastrous and catastrophic for an actor’s career.

Making a “bad” movie when you are a relatively new actor can send you searching for a new career. Even established actors can crash and burn. Two prime examples, Kevin Costner, and Mel Gibson, offer a stark contrast in what can happen with the so-called passion project, when an actor puts everything into a role and thinks, suddenly, everything they will do is a success.

Costner struck gold with “Dances With Wolves” Everyone loved it, and it catapulted Costner into rarified air … so much so that he made “Waterworld” and “The Postman”. While both movies had their fans, neither was a success, costing the star and the distributor a ton of cash.

Ditto Gibson. “Braveheart” was a critical and financial success. And, though reactions were decidedly mixed, “Passion of the Christ” made ridiculous bank. Then came “Apocalypto”. For most people, not even Gibson’s yet to be tarnished name was enough to ensure success.

The latest misstep in this regard goes to two Halloween releases, the Sandra Bullock vehicle “Our Brand is Crisis” and the Bradley Cooper movie “Burnt” opened to great fanfare … and nobody showed up.

Now, on one hand you could argue the timing was terrible. Do people really want to see political dramas or passion projects when they are thinking about ghosts and zombies? Apparently not.

But the trends say it was more than timing. People are simply not going to movies for the stars anymore. They want story. They are consumers looking for a particular product, not a particular face. There are a lot of reasons for this. Overall, fewer people go to the movies less often. Streaming steals huge numbers from cinema audiences. Sure, throngs line up for “Star Wars” and “The Hunger Games”. But they also want to see “The Fault in Our Stars” or a dozen other films with no-name actors and great marketing

Some actors and studios figured this out. Many find success releasing so-called passion projects directly onto streaming platforms. Where, not that long ago, a “straight to video” release was code for “bad movie,” that dynamic changed dramatically. In today’s diluted, overlapping media marketplace, where lines are thinner and consumer demand is in the driver’s seat, even A-list actors chase the streaming dream. Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt,and  Frances McDormand show their colleagues how it’s done. Expect more to follow.

And while, in the right project, Big Names still put butts in the seats, people probably would still go to see “American Sniper” or “The Blind Side” with lesser known names in the lead role.

Bottom line, consumer tastes change, and these shifts directly drive the market more than ever before. If studios and stars don’t adjust their expectations, they too will join Bullock and Cooper playing to empty theaters all across the country.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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