June is set to be a good month for the Hollywood superstar. It sees the release of Behind the Candelabara (Michael Douglas and Matt Damon), After Earth (Will Smith), World War Z (Brad Pitt), Stand Up Guys (Al Pacino, Christopher Walken) and The Big Wedding (Robert De Niro) also came out 29th May. In the age of the mighty franchise movie, this is an interesting development. Recent years have seen the rise of all-conquering nerd-fodder, which I don’t mean in a pejorative sense, with series such as Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, X-Men, The Avengers, Thor and more recently Iron Man and Star Trekdominating the box office. The overwhelming trend since the turn of the century has been that the movie, not the star sells.
The Top 10 worldwide grossing movies of the last decade (2000 – 2010) have all been franchise movies. Whereas for the 90s that number was only 5.If you then consider that 3 of those were the first in the series and not necessarily intended to go on to have numerous sequels you can drop the number of franchise movies in the Top 10 for that decade to just 2. Leaving 8 standalone movies that had either major stars (Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Will Smith) or superstar directors (James Cameron, Steven Spielberg).
Time was that you attached a big star to a movie and you had a hit but Hollywood’s heavyweights have spent the last ten years wondering when they’re guaranteed status as the paragons of cool was replaced by the eternally ‘uncool’ comic book in movie form. This was inconceivable not that long ago. Remember recent Oscar-winner Ben Affleck as Daredevil (2003)? Ouch! Or everyone’s favourite twinkly-eyed baldy Billy Zane as The Phantom (1996)? Dear God NOOOO! Comic books were not just uncool but their film incarnations spelled a ‘Turkey’ for sure. However, comic books and fantasy adventures like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Twilight series were always sleeping giants and had one thing that the potentially fallible movie star can’t compete with, a dedicated audience who love the source material so deeply that, if it is converted lovingly and skilfully into a movie, they will go and see it. This was proved by the excellent original Spiderman, Peter Jackson’s adoring recreation of his beloved Middle Earth and J. K. Rowling’s intimate involvement in Harry Potter’s Hollywood makeover. Or as Twilight fans have proved five times over, even if it’s a bag of old shit the ‘Twihards’ will still bloody well see it.
So the studios, producers and directors realised that they were smashing box office records but not breaking the bank for their actors, so clearly they didn’t need to. I admit good franchise movies have been made. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are fantastic but I’d heard enough about the X-Men after one film (which I enjoyed) and plenty about bloody Iron Man after ten minutes of one film let alone three! However, their original fan base and a huge number of new converts (lost on me I must say) continue to mobilise and the money continues to roll in.
While the franchise movies have made stars of a number of their actors, including Jennifer Lawrence, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Pine and giving mouth-to-mouth to the desperately flagging career of the world’s best speed-talker Robert Downey Jr., the big boys are back in June and they mean business. The relatively slow returns of Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher (and to a much lesser extent Oblivion) may serve as a warning to the big guns of Hollywood that they still have their previously unassailable reputations intact but a return to the limelight is also an invitation for those reputations to be ruptured. However, anyone who’s met a genuine acting superstar will understand there is a ‘different’ aura surrounding them. Whether it’s something you and those around you project onto them or something innate, meeting them helps contextualise them as just being human beings but you are ineffably left with the sense that you’ve met someone unusual. You just have to watch Will Smith’s recent show-stealing turn on The Graham Norton Show to realise this. Later when he was joined by screen legend Michael Douglas even Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper struggled to make his presence felt and while it was clear he’s ‘A-List’, they were The List and while genres go out of fashion, that type of mesmerising on screen charisma never does.
The notable exception in the release schedule this coming month is the release of the new Superman movie, the highly-vaunted (in terms of expected box office receipts as well) Man of Steel. However, with so many acting heavyweights re-entering the fray maybe the world is tiring of the guy in the corner with the comic book and is ready again for Brad Pitt with a gun in his hand. Let’s wait and see
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