Posts Tagged ‘Will Smith’

Frenzy on the Wall: Who’s the Biggest Star in the World (Right Now)?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

William Goldman is one of the greatest screenwriters of all-time, but he was also a fantastic essayist and one of the most insightful minds when it came to writing about films. His collection of essays, The Big Picture, has been read so many times by me that the pages are starting to break free from the binding. But one of the questions he came back to was: who is the biggest star in the world right now? Almost every year during the ’90s, he tried his best to answer that very question.

For whatever reason, Goldman’s not writing (or at least not publishing) his essays about film and I decided that I would try to answer the question as we wind down the year 2010.  Just like Goldman, I won’t use a ton of numbers or charts and graphs, but I’ll present my evidence as best as I can.

Last year, I think the answer would have been a bit easier.  James Cameron was clearly the biggest star in the world in 2009 and it wasn’t even close. The man released his first film in twelve years and just happened to make a movie that broke every box office record imaginable. It is now clear that any year in which Cameron releases a film, he will be the biggest star in that year. One could make a case that he’s the biggest star of this current year since Avatar raked in most of its dough after the calendar flipped to 2010, but by the time this year ends, I don’t think he’ll still be on anyone’s mind.

As for those in front of the camera, it would be easy to name folks like George Clooney or Brad Pitt. Up in the Air and Inglourious Basterds were hits both critically and commercially and it’s reasonable to expect every film to which one of these handsome men is attached will at least make its money back.  People will go to the movies specifically because they hear the names “Clooney” or “Pitt” and that’s becoming increasingly rarer.

If you need evidence of this, check out this weekend’s grosses for The American.  It was the number one film of the weekend, despite the fact that Clooney was the only actor anybody heard of and despite the fact that it’s a deliberately-paced film that most American audiences would usually find dull.  I doubt it’ll have strong legs next weekend, when word of mouth spreads, but the bottom line is that Clooney put butts in seats this weekend. Audiences in this country feel comfortable with Pitt and Clooney, that they will deliver the goods in projects that are worthy of their time and money.
Johnny Depp might want in on this conversation.

I personally think he’s fading as an actor I trust, but Alice in Wonderland still made a ton of money. Although, I don’t know how much if it is Depp and how much of it is Burton and how much of it is the recognizable brand.  Depp certainly didn’t help Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus get  seen by very many people, and while Public Enemies did okay, it didn’t do as well as expected in a cushy Independence Day slot.  The Tourist will be a good test for him, where he’s paired with one of the top female stars out there.

Speaking of Angelina Jolie, could she be the biggest star in the world? She’s certainly one of the most recognizable faces, gracing the covers of magazines on newsstands around the globe. She was the only major draw in Salt and that film has grossed over a hundred million dollars at the box office. Jolie and action is a formula for success, as she had already proved with Wanted. Unfortunately, put her in a serious drama – even one she’s excellent in, like Changeling – and audiences turn away.

Speaking of Clint Eastwood, I must make mention of him because I think he was on William Goldman’s list every single year he made it. And the weird thing is that you could probably still put him somewhere on the list. The guy has been a commodity for about forty years already and has shown no signs of slowing, releasing a film every single year. When he actually gets in front of the camera, (a rare sight these days) people tend to show up, even if it’s something as dumb as Gran Torino.

Box office gross of the aforementioned film: nearly 150 million bucks and Eastwood was the only draw. Dude is nearly eighty and he still gets audiences to come out. His next film, Hereafter, reunites him with Invictus star Matt Damon and comes out in the fall.

Matt Damon, you say? Why yes, I did. I’d love to put him somewhere on this list, but the truth of the matter is that while he’s a recognizable face and name and he gives any film he stars in the air of respectability…he’s not quite in the running for biggest movie star status. The Bourne films were cash-cows, of course, but the truth of the matter is that he’s too much of a damned artist to be a movie star.

He’s the kind of guy who gains forty pounds to star in a Soderbergh film, the kind of guy who brings subtlety to his pitch-perfect performance in The Good Shepherd (one of my favorite performances of the last twenty years). He’s the kind of guy who will take time out of his schedule to film cameos in Soderbergh’s Che or Coppola’s Youth Without Youth. He doesn’t seem especially motivated by money or fame; instead it seems his one big desire is to work with as many great directors as possible.

The guy has worked with Scorsese, Coppola, Soderbergh, Minghella, Van Sant, Gilliam, Redford, Eastwood, and has a film coming up with the Coen Brothers. He might be one of the finest popular actors of his generation, but he’s not one of its biggest movie stars.

Damon also worked with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan and Spielberg used to be a staple on this list. You could always put him on it because he’s easily the most famous film director in the history of motion pictures. If you ask any bozo off the street to name a film director, they’ll definitely be able to mention Steven Spielberg. Unfortunately the man hasn’t released a film since Munich (What Indiana Jones film? I keep telling you, it doesn’t exist!).

He’s got a couple of projects on the horizon, including War Horse and Tintin, but I can’t put him anywhere near the top until he finally makes that damned Abraham Lincoln movie. Or, you know, if War Horse is brilliant and makes a ton of money. But he deserves a place on this list, even as just a producer.  Hell, every Transformers movie is a gigantic hit and he’s one of the men responsible for it.

How about the star of that hit franchise? No, not Michael Bay or Optimus Prime, but Shia LaBeouf. He’s only 24 years old and he’s the lead actor in a franchise that has grossed a kajillion dollars (he was also in that Spielberg movie that doesn’t exist and grossed a lot of money). But, come on, we know people weren’t going to the theater for a chance to see LaBeouf. And while Disturbia was a decent-sized hit, Eagle Eye was a disappointment. We’ll see how he does with the Wall Street sequel, but even if it’s a huge success, it probably won’t be due to him. He might be the biggest star in the world in five to ten years, but he’s not there yet.

There’s no natural transition to this one, so I’m going to try not to snap my neck with this segue: Will Smith! What about Big Willie? He’s still getting jiggy with audiences, whether it’s in the atrocious Hancock or the even more atrocious Seven Pounds. It’s actually an amazing testament to his star power that the latter film managed to gross seventy million dollars, despite its subject matter.

I mean, that’s not an easy film to sell and basically they marketed it as “Will Smith…in a movie!” Nobody had any clue what it was about, but the promise of Will Smith drew people in. That’s pretty impressive. But he’s been absent from screens for two years now and Men in Black III isn’t coming out until 2012, so he’s taking a break from his throne.

No, Jaden Smith isn’t where I’m going next.

I don’t know who to blame or  praise for the success of Twilight, so I can’t really put any of those kids or filmmakers on here. I’ll chalk that one up to “phenomenon” and move on.   Same goes for the much better Harry Potter films.

Leonardo DiCaprio? He’s the star of one of the most talked-about movies of the year, Inception, which will end up with around 300 million bucks in the bank. Not too shabby. He’s also Scorsese’s favorite actor and DiCaprio has helped turn Scorsese into a legitimate box office favorite. Or maybe it was the other way around? Unfortunately, he couldn’t help turn Revolutionary Road or Body of Lies into hits.

In the right project, DiCaprio is gold. And Inception might have been more about Christopher Nolan than DiCaprio. I think his turn as the title character in Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic will probably garner some awards buzz, but we’ll see if he can take it to the top of the box office.

Adam Sandler was the answer to this question for a while. But that was back when his movies cost nothing to make and grossed insane sums of money. Now the movies cost more, he costs more and he can’t even guarantee a hit when he’s working with Judd Apatow. Grown Ups grossed about $160 million, but it definitely cost quite a bit to make and market. He’s near the top of the list, but it seems he’s veering closer towards modern-day Eddie Murphy family-movie territory. And that’s a hit or miss world to live in.

Okay, enough beating around the bush, the answer to the biggest movie star in the world? Well, who could it be other than Sandra Bullock? She’s gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week despite the fact that she’s got nothing to promote and she wasn’t even interviewed. She starred in two massive hits last year, got an Oscar and could get anything greenlit immediately. She was the star of 2009 and is the biggest movie star to grace a cinema screen right now.

But that’s not the answer. She might be the biggest actor in the world, but the biggest movie star right now (and I would argue, for the last decade) is very simple…


Name me another company, actor, director, etc. in the history of cinema that has never made a film that bombed either critically or commercially. You can’t do it. (Okay, maybe John Cazale?) Every year, Pixar releases a film that grosses a ton of money and tops critics lists. This year, they put out Toy Story 3 and it grossed over 400 million dollars. I don’t think any movie star on the planet can guarantee you half that. Well, except for Pixar.  I’m putting the over/under on the next five Pixar releases at 250 million and I’ll take the over.  I’ll win every time.

Without a doubt, the biggest movie star in the world is Pixar. And it’s not even close.

Robert Downey Jr. is Headed to Jail for Six Months

Wednesday, December 10th, 1997

Nothing is sadder than watching someone who has it all throwing it away.
Sources inside the Scorsese camp say that despite taking a public position that it wouldn’t allow the Chinese to influence its release of Kundun, Disney is planning on pulling the film after four weeks and not spending much in its Oscar promotion. Of course, it’s possible that the studio just isn’t enthusiastic about the film. People angered by the lack of a distributor for the new Lolita tend to blame the sexual politics and forget that R-rated sex-themed films don’t do much box office.
Speed Racer is back on track at Warner Bros. with Alfonso Cuaron, who has the current-day version of Great Expectations on tap, at the helm. The expectations aren’t that great, with budget cutting becoming the primary factor in generating a green light on the film. So much for the CG Chim Chim.
Tori Spelling continues to warp reality. In Scream 2, she appears as the butt of a joke from the original film (Neve Campbell‘s Sydney jokes that Tori would play her in the movie — and in this one, she does) and now she plays a college student who’s kidnapped by mistake. The bad guys were looking for the daughter of a millionaire and they get a chemically unstable Tori.
George Clooney has left the West. The Wild Wild West. The project, which stars Will Smith as the heroic Jim West just wasn’t fitting Clooney’s image of himself as Artemus Gordon. Or something like that. All I know is that Clooney, Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld are some of the easiest-going people in Hollywood, at least interpersonally. Something really interesting must have happened. But more importantly, who will play the evil little person, Dr. Miguelito Loveless?
Don’t forget, I’m always open to e-mail.

The March Of The Superhero Movie Continues

Thursday, December 4th, 1997

This time, it’s Will Smith starring as The Mark, the hero of an original script from comic book superstar Rob Liefeld, which he created specifically for Smith. Liefeld’s comic characters, Avengelyne and Badrock, are both on the New Line schedule, but guess which of his three projects will likely make it to the soundstage first? Hint: It’s the one with the superstar attached. In other comic book news, Harry Knowles is reporting that Nicolas Cage confirmed to a fan he met in a video store that Superman Reborn is still a firm “go” project. Apparently, Cage has one of the biggest comic book collections around, so this is more than an acting job. The latest rumored meeting for the role of Lois Lane? Sandra Bullock.

Turnabout’s fair play. After recommending a read of a good Variety feature, here’s a really stupid one about the “demise of sequels.” Variety writer Andrew Hinde engages in the kind of simple-minded clich�-building that has made entertainment journalism such a weird profession. As evidence of the end of sequels, Hinde sights Speed 2, Batman & Robin and Alien 3. Problem is, all three of his examples were terrible movies! He sights the failure of Alien: Resurrection by comparing its first weekend to sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. But, though Alien 4 was soft, MK:A will be a big profit center for New Line, probably prompting a third sequel that will again drop the budget and the overall quality. And it will probably make money as well. When Scream 2 opens to massive business, look for the articles about the success of the horror genre and the return of the pulp sequel, using MK:A as a positive example. Don’t y’all love show business?
After pushing the boundries of political correctness with Half-Baked, a comic romp through the life of a pothead, comic-turned-actor, Dave Chappelle (Men In Tights/The Nutty Professor), is playing the race card with a comic flair in Rufus. The project from DreamWorks is, I believe, the first slavery comedy. The laughs, of course, come from the fact that the slave gets the better of the master. Ever the trend-setter and flush with the success of its TV-to-screen hits such as McHale’s Navy, Universal is prepping the comedy version of their Schindler’s List, called Schindler’s Grocery List, about a wacky, cannabalistic Nazi who gets sick from undercooked … no. Not really.
Matt Bailey, from Ohio State University, offered up “Alien Dog Craps on Box Office” as a reaction to a wacky movie headline idea. Yes, your e-mail can make you a star too.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett

Tuesday, November 25th, 1997

My favorite Hollywood couple has gone ahead an killed the wabbit. Jada Pinkett will be doing the heavy lifting and Will Smith will be handing out cigars for the next seven or eight months before the birth of a bouncing baby. News of their impending nuptials took Hollywood by surprise November 13th, as the couple has made their feeling that paperwork was a low priority in their personal bliss well known. So, it’s no surprise that they found their motivation when the tab turned pink. Or was that blue?
In other mating news, New York’s tabloids are reporting that Val Kilmer is sniffing around Mira Sorvino as they shoot their new project, Sight Unseen. It’s about a man (Kilmer) whose world changes when his sight is restored after being blind his entire life. Mira is the love interest. Hmmm, a woman who’s deciding between Quentin Tarantino and Val Kilmer. And he’s the character that was previously blind? Maybe Mira is just trying to make Paulie a grandparent. The last co-star to reportedly do the Winnebago Mambo with Val, the married Elizabeth Shue, got preggers shortly after finishing The Saint. And before that, it was Bat-rumors about Nicole Kidman, who shortly thereafter got a baby delivered Fed Ex. Wouldn’t a baby Tarantino be fun? “You think I’m full of s***? You must think so, cause you’re changing my diaper!”
TriStar has picked up Providence from 21-year-old writer Josh Schwartz. The film is described by The Hollywood Reporter as “the story of two high schoolers who fall in love during their senior year but tragically realize that they are going to part when they leave for different colleges.” Other hot new and original projects soon expected to hit the studios: From 73-year-old Jack Wacky, Relief, the story of two seniors who discover bran and tragically realize they are out of toilet paper. From 44-year-old Gina Fallone, Bankrupt, the story of a couple who have to pay for their children’s college education and tragically realize that it’s really expensive. And finally, Worthless, the story of studio executives who tragically realize they’ve run out of good ideas.
This week, Box Office Preview will run on Wednesday due to the long weekend. So e-mail your predictions to me early so I can have some crow to go with my turkey on Thanksgiving night.

Sondra Locke Finally Settles Lawsuit

Thursday, October 23rd, 1997

Sondra Locke‘s finally settled her lawsuit against Warner Bros. that claimed the studio bilked her out of a three-picture deal because of former beau, Clint Eastwood‘s influence rather than because of the uniquely worthless Ratboy, the first film in the deal. So what does she do? A nasty tell-all book! Oooooh! Just check out these amazing morsels! Eastwood didn’t know who Barbara Walters was! Oooh! Aaah! Clint liked the much-younger Locke to call him Daddy! Oooh! Aaah! Eastwood started whispering after noticing that it worked for Marilyn Monroe! Who the hell is she kidding?! O.J. spent two years on trial for murder, Chrisitian Slater‘s biting the women that Marv Albert is missing, Robert Downey Jr. is waking up in Baby Bear’s bed and the President of The United States is releasing information about his penis in press conferences! If Clint didn’t have sex with Burt Reynolds and that stupid orangutan while holding up a 7-11 with a bazooka, who’s going to notice?!
Starship Troopers‘ star-on-the-rise, Casper Van Dien, is about to go native as Tarzan for Warner Bros. Tarzan Jungle Warrior. Van Dien follows superstars Christopher Lambert and Miles O’Keefe in the role. Did I say superstars? I meant guys who clean bars.
Jon Peters, who has produced a grand total of zero hits since Batman and he and his partner Peter Guber teamed up to lose billions for Sony, has decided repetition is the most likely formula for hitmaking. First, he set up the feature version of The Wild Wild West starring Will Smith. Then there’s Superman Reborn, except with a wild-eyed lunatic (Nicolas Cage) as the Man Of Steel. Now he’s ready to move on from old TV shows and comic books to classic films with The Trail, a remake of the 1956 John Ford classic, The Searchers, except it’s set in space! What’s next? A remake of Peters’ Bonfire of the Vanities with funny jokes and a comprehensible plot?
Do you have any bad ideas for worse remakes? Email me.