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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

question of the day: Will 3D kill movie stars?

Patrick Goldstein at The Big Picture is wondering whether 3D spells doom for The Movie Star, for the idea that a big-name actor can open a movie and that the studios can sell a movie almost exclusively on the basis of who is appearing in it:

Put yourself in the position of a studio executive, staring at your profit-and-loss statement, as you ponder what movies to greenlight for your 2012 slate. Even before “Avatar,” you were eager to avoid making pictures with movie stars, since most of the recent mega-hits (i.e., “Hangover,” “Star Trek” and “Transformers 2”) had triumphed without any true movie stars while scads of movie-star vehicles had crashed and burned, notable examples being “Land of the Lost,” “State of Play,” “The Taking of Pelham 123” and “Imagine That.”

[I]t’s no longer a level playing field. You don’t need George Clooney or Leonardo DiCaprio to make “Cowboys and Aliens” or “Spider-Man 4” or “Happy Feet 2” or any of the other 3-D vehicles making their way through the system. In fact, why spend any money on a movie star when the vast majority of 3-D films already have their own built-in marketing hooks?

“If the business is bifurcating into small, under $30-million films largely financed by outside money and the big 3-D visual effects-driven studio tentpoles and franchises, where does that leave movie stars — it leaves them in the lurch,” said one studio chieftain who asked to remain anonymous, saying he didn’t want to field a tsunami of grumpy phone calls from agents and managers already unhappy about seeing most of their clients taking huge pay cuts over the past year.

As Goldstein notes, Movie Stars were already on their way out, even before Avatar. I suspect the studios have always only just barely tolerated their highest-paid employees as a necessary evil: No one wanted to pay Jim Carrey $20 million for a movie, except that if that meant an extra $40 million in box office, an exec would hold his nose and sign the check. Merely making a decent profit has never been enough for Hollywood (or for most big American corporations, in fact): it has to make a frakkin’ enormous profit. Clearly, Hollywood was always looking for a chance to chuck those eight-figure salaries. And now it can.

As I’ve said before, small films are probably going to disappear from the multiplexes entirely, except for (maybe) brief arthouse runs: any movie that won’t geek out the Comic Con crowd will go straight to on-demand, DVD, streaming, and other small-screen, at-home options. (I’m not necessarily putting down the big, loud, geeky movies that can be sold at Comic Con. I love those movies… when they’re good, of course.) And I think some of those early small-screen features will be sold on the basis of the names attached to them: When Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio debut their new film together on PPV, it’ll be huge because of their names.

But that’s not quite the same thing as being a Movie Star, I suppose.

What do you think? Will 3D kill movie stars? Are movie stars already dead? Or are they just resting for a while?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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