Wednesday, April 13, 2011
What’s the Matter With Hollywood, Part 4: The Star System is Broken
American movies were studio driven until the mid-‘60s, then briefly director-driven until 1980, then star-driven ever since. Some blame this “star system” for everything that has gone wrong. That’s a little extreme; some great movies have been made along with the bad. But our problem now is that we seem to be entering another transition, because the star system is breaking down and nothing is rising to replace it.
The lack of bankable stars has its roots in some of the problems I’ve been talking about: Movies take so long to get made that imaginary stars are created who never actually catch fire.
It used to be that a star had to play minor roles until the public decided that they liked this person and demanded to see more of them, which is a great way to create a real star. There are still a few stars who get to do that: Amy Adams blew audiences away in Junebug so she got more roles. Emily Blunt stole The Devil Loves Prada, so she got more roles. But with movies now being cast years and years in advance, and with star salaries skyrocketing so quickly, that process frequently gets short-circuited.
Two of the biggest fizzles of would-be superstars in recent years were Colin Farrell and Eric Bana. Both were cast as the lead in five or six tentpole movies only to see every single one flop. Audiences just weren’t embracing them. But at least those two had each starred in minor movies that impressed some critics (Tigerland and Chopper) before Hollywood prematurely anointed them as superstars. Now things have gotten even crazier: Now we have Sam Worthington. Worthington came out of nowhere in 2006 to win an open audition for Avatar, which was clearly going to be a huge movie, three years down the line. In Hollywood’s mind, that made him a bankable star, even though American audiences had never met him. So he got to make two other tentpole movies while waiting for Avatar to finish its effects. Those movies (Terminator 4 and the remake of Clash of the Titans) earned him bad reviews just as Avatar was finally being released, so the promotion for Avatar rarely mentioned him. Even though it was the biggest hit of all time, he got none of the credit.
The irony here is that Worthington actually did a fine job in Avatar (I thought so, anyway). It could have been the foundation of a decent career, if he hadn’t already worn out his welcome. Hollywood needs to go back to letting the public pick our own stars.