Big Stars Don’t Equal Big Boxoffice

I’ve been saying for some time now that having a big “A” list name in a movie does not draw people to the theatre like it used to. Many have argued with me, and some of them make some solid and great arguments (but I’m still right).

An article was in the New York Times that I read today thanks to a reader pointing me to it. It basically says what I’ve been saying all along… only with more intelligence than I seem to be able to muster:

Yet, if you ask economists and other academics that study the movie industry, Mr. Redstone’s decision (to let Tom Cruise go) was, in financial terms, spot on. The best reason to get rid of Mr. Cruise or, for that matter, Mel Gibson, or Lindsay Lohan, is not their occasional aberrant behavior. They, like most marquee names in Hollywood, are simply not worth the expense.

Mr. Eliashberg (a professor of marketing, operations and information management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) is part of a growing cadre of academics studying how movies are made, financed and distributed. Most are finding that the studio’s assumption that big stars will increase a movie’s bottom line is simply wrong.

“There is no statistical correlation between stars and success,” said S. Abraham Ravid, a professor of economics and finance at Rutgers University, who, in a 1999 study of almost 200 films released between 1991 and 1993, found that once one considered other factors influencing the success of a film, a star had no impact on its rate of return.

The article is actually a fascinating one that if you have a few minutes you should read over. The article ends by saying that the only efects stars have is maybe a few extra people in the first day or 2 of a movie being opened.

Oh… and they say there is one other reason Studio Execs like to hire big stars for their films:

Mr. Ravid, the Rutgers professor, suggests that stars serve as insurance for executives who fear they could be fired for green-lighting a flop. “If they hire Julia Roberts and the film flops, they can say ‘Well, who knew?’ ”

Too funny. You can read the whole article here.

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27 thoughts on “Big Stars Don’t Equal Big Boxoffice

  1. Wow. This is enlightening. I think this guy is spot on. But it didn’t always used to be this way right?

    I’m a kid from the 70’s and 80’s, and I remember going to the movies with friends to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie or a Sly Stallone movie or a movie with Al Pacino in it, etc.

    There was definitely a time when we went to the movies because of who was in it.

    What happened to changed this? Any ideas?

  2. you have to take into account that depp made that role what it is. the character was not written with the mannerisms that deep played it with. that was entirely his doing…he also came up with the look…the screenplay had him as a rather straight character…a rogue but depp created the sparrow that has made these films hits so i find it hard to believ that the film would have been as successful without depp.

    It is a hard srgument to get into because he did star in it and it was hit. we will never know whatthe other outcome would have been..

    I mean would x men have been as good if dougray scott had played wolverine??

    who can say…hugh jackman was awesome but it could have been an entirely different result if scott hadn;t had been forced off the film due to mission impossible 2.

    does anyone think anybody could have played ace ventura and made it a hit?

    could any actor have played john mclane in die hard?

    who can say…..

    I don;t even know what said of the argument i am on..I guess I am kind of in the middle….I think some actors do bring people tot he film just because they are in it….as I mentioned before adam long as he is playing to hsi strengths…same with jim carrey….he does drama not a smany people show put him in a comedy and even garbage like dick and jane make 100 mill….

    comedians should almost bein their own league though in terms of being a draw as they say dramar is easy comey is hard and if you are not a funny person or blessed with a great gift for timing you won;t be able to cary a comedy. I think it is unfair that comedians very rarely get nominated for best actor let alone win anything as funny is hard…

    the thing is though as much as I think depp is responsible for pirates success (all of it..i really do..he makes those films what they are) that doesn’t mean he is a big draw by himself….he is a big draw as jack sparrow and should be finanacially compensated for that role but rememeber secret window came out jyst after the first pirates and hardly busted blocks……

    but when an actor is in a big hit film it also shows studios that people are prepared to watch that actor so the feel more comfortable greenlighting a big film with that actors attached.

    I guess I see it both ways…it s case by case thing…

    I got lost in my own argument then sorry

  3. John Empire Strikes Back was the lowest grossing of all the Star Wars films and that was a SEQUAL to one of the most revered film of all time.

    POTC 1 did open at #1 at 46,630,690 dollars and was up to 133 million by week 2. That’s fairly impressive since it was released on July 9 after stiff July 4 competition.

    Big names stars and GGI= Big box office revenue I don’t need to say it again.

  4. Big stars drawing huge paychecks is often a negative draw for me. I’d rather see a movie with a less well-known cast, an excellent script, and good direction.

  5. It’s amazing that audiences actually think that there is a stone-cold draw to a movie these days. Back in the early days of movies it might have been true, heavyweight actors bringing audiences in from all over, because they were the only draw available. Audiences were relying on them to be good so they could enjoy a good drama, comedy etc. I’m talking about Cary Grant, and so on. And with the odd exception of certain directors drawing audiences, Hitchcock, it was the actors in those days

    Nowadays we have all kinds of new reasons to draw us to movies, like special effects, great action set-peices, great twists, complex art styles, all kinds of stuff, that simply wasn’t there before, because it hadn’t evolved enough. Today is the most exciting time to make movies because a) anything is possible b) see a. It’s enough. So people should stop worrying about grabbing all these great actors, leaving a half-baked script to play with. They should focus on making an absolute belter of a story and that should be it.

    Shit i gotta make shorter posts.

  6. Agreed.

    I was careful in what I said, “emjoyed the first” and “went to the second” meaning that they didnt go to the first one based on Mr. Depp, but certainly that was the case for the second one.

    Maybe its not the stars that are bankable, but the characters they create, hence the difference when it comes to sequels. People went to PotC in droves for Capt. Jack Sparrow, people will go see yet another Lethal Weapon for Riggs and Murtaugh etc.


  7. Hey Nord,

    I see what you’re saying… but the thing is, by saying:

    “the majority of people enjoyed the first one and went to the second one simply based on Johnny’s performance.”

    That’s making a major assumption that had another actor played the role, it wouldn’t have been as good, or maybe even better. There’s just nothing to base that on. And remember… POTC 1 didn’t open well… so Johnny’s name didn’t get people to the theater. Word of mouth did and it hung around in the top 10 for like 9 weeks… and it was never #1.

    But as I said in my first comment, I concede the point that names do mean a lot more in sequels.

  8. Agree and disagree.

    I see what you are saying about sequels, obviously you cant replace a main star, but at the same time, it should be noted that the majority of people enjoyed the first one and went to the second one simply based on Johnny’s performance.

    There are still bankable stars, just fewer than there used to be. Dumber and Dumberer is an example, you put Jim Carrey back in that role and the film would have made butt loads more. Or Evan Almighty, if not for the 40 year old Virgin I think it would have been a straigt-to-dvd release. But again, I guess thats all sequel territory, but there is a point in there somewhere I have to think…


  9. The Defense of Superman Returns revenue has got to stop
    The film did not flop nor is it a major triumph for Warner Brothers. For is price tag it has been disappointing.

    GODZILLA $379,014,294 worldwide on a 130 million dollar budget.

    X-MEN United $407,557,613 worldwide on a 110 million dollar budget.

    SPIDER-MAN $821,708,551 worldwide on a $139 million dollar budget.

    INDEPENDENCE DAY $816,969,268 worldwide on a 75 million dollar budget

    THE MATRIX RELOADED $738,599,701 worldwide on a 150 million dollar budget

    WAR OF THE WORLDS $591,739,379 worldwide on a 132 million dollar budget

    THE INCREDIBLES $631,436,092 worldwide on a 92 million doll or budget

    Their are too many to list I have to stop.

    SUPERMAN RETURNS $368,559,823 on a whopping 270 million dollar budget. The most expensive film ever produced. I’ll take away the 60 million for supposed past attempts to make this film. And still at a 210 million dollar budget it’s still the most expensive film ever produced.(POTC 2 surpassed it at 225 but lived up to expectations as it has already taken in $964,462,316 WOW and will cross the billion dolor mark soon.) The international take $173,000,000 is less than the domestic take. The last time I saw that type of discrepancy from a big budget film was The Hulk and we can all agree that The Hulk was a failure. That tells me the international community wasn’t too fond of the new man of steel either. This film would not be so critiqued if it wan;t so fucking expensive.

    It’s time to face reality and stop defending this film.

  10. It’s hard to remember the last time I went to a theater, or rented a DVD, because of who was in a movie. And when I do it’s seldomly because it’s a megastar, but rather someone who I admire, but don’t get to see that often.

    The most recent example was Lost City. I went to that movie because I have so much respect for Andy Garcia, and wanted to support his directorial debut. It turned out to be a movie I completely enjoyed.

    So I might go to see a movie because Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, Hugh Laurie, Scott Glenn, Amanda Plummer, Tom Berringer, Jodie Foster or William H Macy is in it, because I like their work. Conversely, I would be less likely to go see a movie with Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, or Ben Afleck, because I haven’t been that impressed with them. I couldn’t be dragged to a Jennifer Lopez movie.

  11. yeah they say they want to make a sequel and they expect to make a sequel but they have not said they definitely are.
    There is no greenlight. and until there is there is no sequel. I am not saying there won’t be but at this stage there isn’t.
    I loved the film myself but I don’t care what anyone says…it is impossible for this film to have broken even or made money yet based on its budget and what it has taken in at the theatres.

    It will eventually with dvd etc but so far it is impossible and unless I was given warners documentation to prove otherwise everythiung else is spin….

    as for this article i think it is acase by caswe thing because for example people go to see adam sandler films pretty much for him.
    put someone else in his place and those films would bomb. he is a draw and an important one for studios as his films are relatively cheap and they make a bundle. He deserves a goosd piece of the action as he pretty much delivers 100 mill hit films over and over again …and these are films that are not exactly works of art he is a draw like him or not.

    there are some actors who will draw a pretty consistent crowd….just not as many as before.

  12. Plus, its still got DVD to go.
    It will do well over 400 mil after DVD.

    Warners has too much invested in this franchise to let it die after one movie. We will get a sequel. Whether Bryan will be back or not, I dont know. I know Horn has said “Of course we want Bryan back”
    and Bryan wants to do the sequel at this point but like you said, that all depends.

  13. it hasn’t made 200 million domestic though.

    it has fell just short….

    370 worldwide would be great if the film hadn’t cost close to 300 million to make….

    but if the film was a definite clear cut hit there would not be all this umming and aahing about the sequel….it still hasnt recieved a greenlight…I have a feeling we will get a sequel but i also have a feeling singer will walk. I reckon that warners put too many restrictions on him this time around and he’ll walk…

    I wish he would go and do a smalled usual suspects type film before he embarks on a another huge film…..i would like to see him work with a tiny budget and do something more real world based

  14. Hehe… the final quote about Julia Roberts reminds me of the saying in Information Technology circles that, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM (equipment)”.

    …meaning essentially the same as your Julia Roberts quote. Upper management knew and trusted the IBM name. They could do no wrong. If it failed, it must have been for some other reason.

  15. What would “Rocky” and “Rambo” be without Stallone? “Rush Hour” without Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan? None of those sequels would be made without their stars, OR they would go straight to video and not make big money.

    I think Will Ferrell is a draw for a certain crowd, although he’s a negative draw for me.

    On the other hand, I completely agree with the sentiment of your post. I am tired of seeing the same people in movies. There comes a point where, unless they’re especially good, they detract from the role by being so familiar. A great screenplay with a bunch of competent, but relatively unknown, actors is very special when everything works.

    Some actors draw me. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Frank Whaley. I’ll go and see anything that they’re in. Some actors also are so perfect for a particular role that they can make a difference, especially in book adaptations, I think, where there is a popular choice for a particular actor to star in the role. It doesn’t happen very often, though.

  16. It was a great article. I actually think the Arthur De Vany quote is the most relevant to the crux of the argument. In fact (forgive the self-promotion) here’s what I wrote a couple days ago:

    After all, as Arthur De Vany told the Times, “Movies with stars are successful not because of the star, but because the star chooses projects that people tend to like.” That makes sense, no? As Frances McDormand put it, “Movie stars have careers. Actors work, and then they don’t work, and then they work again.” Movie stars, ipso facto, care about whether their films are widely viewed, so they choose projects they think will be popular. They have careers to think about. Well, if they’re gambling with educated guesses, just like everyone else at the studio, should we be surprised that they often succeed? But that means it ain’t them that done it.

    That last sentence is a bit muddled, but what I meant was, it’s not their very presence that makes their movies succeed.

    The implication is also that focusing on opening weekends instead of long term grosses is good for big name actors and bad for … well, everyone else. If that’s the only point at which they significantly impact earnings, then focusing there benefits them at the expense of others associated with the project. As long as Variety obsesses over Biggest Opening Weekend Ever, then, this trend is likely to continue.

  17. I like how the article lumps in Lohan as if she’s a star.

    I can count about 15- 20 A list actor in Hollywood right now. These actor and actresses can open a film and carry it if the film is good. Deniro, Nicholson, and the likes are not A-list actors. They are great actors but they can’t carry movies anymore. Too many people lump actor’s like these in the A-list category. The problem is there actor’s are getting aid way TOO MUCH.

    About that last quote: They should know that Julia Roberts is one of the safest box-office draws in film history.

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