As I was saying, star salaries have gone through the roof, and because Hollywood no longer has a trustworthy method for developing new stars, they cough up the money. But these salaries hurt everyone, including the stars themselves.
First of all, some stars have an asking price that no one will pay unless a movie isn’t working. If a script is great, it can attract stars who are willing to act for less just for the chance to say some great dialogue. The only movies that will pay mega-stars what they demand are movies that don’t have anything else going for them. Nicole Kidman had a great year in 2002, making a smart summer thriller (The Others) and then winning an Oscar for her prestige-movie follow-up (The Hours). As a result, her price shot up. So what movies did she make in the following years? See above.
These were all troubled projects that finally got green lights by throwing money at Kidman and borrowing her magical name. But her name didn’t stay magical very long. Soon, she had a reputation as box office poison, because the only movies that could afford her were movies that couldn’t survive without her. (In the end, they couldn’t survive with her, either.)
But if you look at those posters, you’ll notice another problem as well. Where are the co-stars? This is another byproduct of mega-salaries: you may be able to afford one star, but rarely two. Some stars don’t seem to mind this situation too much, judging by their track record. Let’s look at the posters for Will Smith’s recent movies:And Russell Crowe?
It’s no accident that many of the movies pictured above were disappointments at the box office. Stars need co-stars. Look at Crowe’s A Good Year. This was a classic story: no-nonsense businessman tries to quickly take care of some family business in Provence, but he soon meets his match in the form of a bewitching beauty who offers a simpler life. Hollywood can churn this story out in its sleep. But look at that poster! If he’s met his match, where is she? This movie is a romance! If we wanted to see a romance-for-one, we could have stayed home and starred in our own version of that.
Stars need co-stars and stories need co-stars. The ultimate storytelling guru was Hegel: Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis. The story only starts when the thesis meets its antithesis. A hero has to meet his match. Smith and Crowe do themselves no favors by crowding their co-stars off the poster, even if that co-star is getting paid one-tenth as much as they are. Let the audience see two people on the poster so maybe we’ll think that the movie is actually about something.
Okay, okay, folks, enough with my negativity. This will be an ongoing series, but I’ll say some positive things for a while before I come back to it.