What the Hell Happened to Movie Stars?

Jeffthewildman wonders where all the big movie stars went.

Yeah, it’s a shame that Ginger Grant can’t pack em in at tho box office anymore!

Nope, not that movie star.

I mean movie stars in general. There was a time when a number of things would draw people to a movie. It was a recognizable brand name. The story looked interesting. It was a recognizable brand name. The director was well-respected. It was a recognizable brand name. It was a popular series. It was a recognizable brand name.

And there were the stars of those movies.

Be it Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Warren Beatty, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Meg Ryan or anyone featured in the WTHH series, movie stars have been one of the key elements of getting butts in seats.

That era however, seems to have come to an end.

So of course, the question is raised: what the hell happened?

A few things actually.

1: Movies have become less star-driven and more brand-centric.

There ae obvious examples of this (Marvel movies, Disney movies, DC Comics, Transformers, Fast And Furious, etc). While many of these franchises have recognizable names (Robert Downey Jr, Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, etc) those names are not what draws audiences to them. It’s brand loyalty. You eat at McDonald’s/Wendy’s/Taco Bell because you know what you’re gonna get. Same with these franchises.

2: Older stars are losing their popularity.

In the 80s, the aforementioned Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were kings of the box office (along with also-rans like Seagal and Van Damme). But chnages in both Hollywood and the real world rendered them obsolete.

Outside of the realm of action, there are other examples. After having his career revived by Quentin Tarantino, John Travolta was a box office draw for most of the 90s and a while in the 2000s. Today, most of his movies go directly to video. Between 1994 and 1999, Jim Carrey was a guaranteed draw, Today, his box office success is pretty hit and miss.

Even Mr. Guarantee, Tom Cruise has hit a rough patch as of late. His late few efforts have underperformed at the box office.

A few of the more recent box office draws have started moving in other directions. When Ben Affleck and George Clooney began to sense that their time on the A-list might be coming to an end, they started following in Eastwood and Redford’s footsteps and shifting towards directing.

3: Newer stars are not the same draws.

There are new stars emerging all the time. And casting them in movies is often a help both artistically and in getting some people to come see the movies.

But they aren’t major draws the way the likes of Cruise was.

Older ones like Matt Damon and Brad Pitt have followings. But they’re not the huge ones they once had. Some of them, Russell Crowe comes to mind, are more character actors than A-listers. The likes of Tom Hardy and Oscar Isaac, while they have dedicated fans, are also more character actor types than major draws. Mad Max Fury Road was a huge success and deservedly so. But Hardy wasn’t the main draw.

There are a couple who might still have enough drawing power (Leonardo Dicaprio and Ryan Gosling come to mind). But there aren’t as many as there were two decades ago.

Of course, having well-known actors in a movie can still be good for the bottom line of the movie. A recognizable name like Bradley Cooper will likely draw more people than a name like Joe Schmoe. But even his name on the poster is no guarantee of success. American Sniper was a smash. Aloha bombed.

Some people say that the era of the movie star is over. Not quite. There are still movie stars. But the days of them as draws for big movies has passed for the reasons noted above. That’s what the hell happened.


Posted on July 30, 2017, in Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. A star alone is no guarantee a movie will be any good. Clark Gable had a lot of flops. So did Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman, etc. The only real box office draw was Elvis Presley. People would go see his pictures no matter how awful they were.


    • I agree. Jimmy Stewart was the only reason “Rope” was watchable. Everyone else was either annoying or stupid. Even though Stewart headlined the film, it was a big box office bomb. Stewart later admitted he regretted being in the movie.


      • daffystardust

        I’m going to have to disagree with you about Stewart in Rope. I never got the feeling that he fully understood the kind of movie he was in. Farley Granger, on the other hand, understood the material thoroughly even though he’s not ultimately as gifted an actor as Stewart is overall.

        Rope has its faults, but Hitchcock still shows off that he has strong control over visual storytelling and how to manipulate the audience. It’s surely not on the level of something like Vertigo or Psycho, but worth a look anyway.


        • That was also my impression when I watched Rope a few years back—Stewart seemed very uncomfortable at times, while Granger and John Dall were more effective.


  2. The first one defintley applies to Marvel. No matter what the movie is, you know it’s gonna be a box office smash. I like Marvel movies as much as the next girl, but I’m not the only one who thinks the box office results are all too predictable. Plus, Chris Evans (Captain America) has had a desire to retire from acting once his Marvel contract is up, but the success of Marvel movies have prevented him from doing so.

    Some movie stars have also taken other interests as well. Look at Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy directs TV shows and writes travel books, and acting is not his first priority anymore. Some movie stars have left the industry to pursue their other interests full time. Phoebe Cates now runs a boutique in NYC. Even though I miss seeing Phoebe in movies, I’m glad she has found something else that makes her happy.


  3. You could make an argument that Spielberg and Lucas had quite a bit to do with the decline of the importance of stars, by achieving enormous box office successes, repeatedly, with films that did not feature major stars. Spielberg built Jaws around two character actors and one up-and-comer, and then Lucas went him one step better by casting near-unknowns as the leads in Star Wars.


  4. Even directors are starting to feel the pinch by now. Sure, Tarantino is still a draw. Apparently, so is Christopher Nolan. But then, what? What big-name directors do we have right now whose name alone brings the numbers?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeffthewildman

      True. Even ones like Spielberg, Scorsese and Eastwood are no longer a guarantee. Ones like Fincher, Linklater, Boyle and Paul Thomas Anderson have followings. But they’re not major draws.


  5. I wonder if social media and the erosion of the movie star “mystique” has anything to do with the decline of the big movie stars?


  6. Hi everyone. Stopped by because after the Emmys this year, I had the exact same question as the title to this article. What in the world has happened to movie stars, to the entertainment world? Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman team up for some dynamite TV. No stigma attached anymore from going back to TV from movies as there used to be. Netflix original series no longer are looked down on and are thought to have quality programming. Then move over HBO now there’s hulu. The list goes on and on. It seems that the lines between stage, screen, big screen, etc. have gotten blurred and it’s either happened recently or it’s been moving in that direction for years and I’ve been slow to notice (probably the latter eh) What does it all mean? I think it’s great news actually. More artists can find work on a wider variety of projects reaching more people. More creative outlets are quite simply a win win for the artists and the audiences.


    • I think this has been a slowly developing trend and I think it’s a good one. We’re living in a Golden Age of television which has resulted in second careers for a lot of actors (and especially actresses) who otherwise would have had trouble finding work. Now they are getting better parts than they ever got in movies. That’s great. I do wish movies were better than they are though.

      Liked by 1 person

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