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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bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Apr 07, 2010 11:21am

Did Technicolor kill movie stars? Did Dolby Surroundsound kill movie stars? Did digital projectors?

3D is just a new technological upgrade. There’s no cause and effect here.

There’s downward pressure on movie stars’ pay, but that won’t kill them. Might be good for them, in fact. Nowhere is it written that movie stars must be paid $20 million per movie.

Wed, Apr 07, 2010 12:20pm

I agree with frizzy… there have always been movie stars because certain faces sell movies. People went to see the Blind Side (shit though it was) because of Sandra Bullock. They’ll see J-Lo and Jennifer Aniston’s obnoxious artificial insemination vomcoms because Aniston and J-Lo are in them.

If anything is really squeezing the $20 million salary, it’s the financial meltdown.

Wed, Apr 07, 2010 1:56pm

The salaries of movie stars (and people big in the movie, music and sports areas in general) are pretty disgusting anyway. I can’t say that I’m sad that $20 million a move is going out of fashion. Can we start on the football players and their tens of thousands of pounds per week salaries next?

Nevin ":-)"
Wed, Apr 07, 2010 3:33pm

I don’t see movies because they are in 3D; rather, if I’m going to go see a movie, I’m willing to go and pay a little more to see the 3D version. Same reason I go to an Imax movie, or a THX-certified theatre.

Even w/o 3D, Avatar would still be a great visual experience.

Heck, the author disproves his own point: Hangover, Star Trek and Transformers 2 were not released in 3D, were they?

Wed, Apr 07, 2010 5:49pm

The idea of a movie star that can guarantee a big opening has been slowly dieing for years.

Wed, Apr 07, 2010 6:22pm

Yeah, 3-D is not the issue. Once all big budget movies are 3-D, it won’t even be a factor anymore, like color.

People like certain kinds of movies, and will see those kinds of movies more than certain actors. Actors who prospered most are ones who stuck with certain kinds of movies. When an actor makes too big a switch, fans will not always follow. Then again, I’ve always thought actors (and athletes, and models, and business execs) were over paid. I mean, after a person makes more than a million a year, what is really the point? I could never imagine how people, especially actors and athletes, actually make all that money and then go broke? How dumb are they, really?

Then again, I’ve long thought that if wasn’t for peacock display and paying for kids, your “average man” could actually be happy on $25,000 a year. You get a small apartment, a big entertainment system, a gym membership, and a vehicle of some sort, and most of men’s non-sexual needs are meet. Some of us would need a library card and a cafe for chess, cards, D&D or something like that.

But I also think it makes sense for a lot of movies to move to smaller screens. The only movies you really need to see on the big screen are ones that depend upon visual impact, like SF/F and action films, and not even all of those. As long as we find ways to pay the artists, the screen size isn’t important to me.

Wed, Apr 07, 2010 8:44pm

honestly, how many “stars” these days are actually GOOD at their craft? And how many more are famous for being famous, or hot, or scandelous. I say, it’s about time we got back to the idea of casting the best person for a role, rather than the best person for the marquee

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Apr 07, 2010 11:17pm

I understand your sentiment, but there never was a time like that to return to.

Thu, Apr 08, 2010 11:31am

This is not new; I remember years ago an article that pointed out that star power does nothing to help a movie’s box office (with the exception of comedic stars like Jim Carrey or Eddie Murphy). Star power helps a movie get made, but it’s no guarantee of success and never was.

Fri, Apr 09, 2010 12:14am

I think the only thing 3D is gonna kill is 3D. The backlash will start slow, such as with Clash of the Titans, but it’ll reach a point where the novelty has worn off and people are tired of having to wear those goofy glasses. I’m already there, myself.

Fri, Apr 09, 2010 11:34am

Newbs.. I think you’re wrong about that. I think bad, gimmicky 3D will die off. Like any cheap parlour trick, we’ll tire extraordinarily quickly of objects occasionally lunging out of the screen at us…. But good, highly polished 3D like Avatar’s, which enhances the reality of the movie and helps to create the illusion will absolutely thrive.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Fri, Apr 09, 2010 5:54pm

I think you’re wrong about the overall effectiveness of even Avatar-level 3D. Perhaps you’ve not heard of the phenomenon known in some interweb circles as the “Avatar h3Dache”. The unnatural eye movements 3D technology forces aren’t going to go away – the screen itself will continue to be a flat surface. Deep, rather than shallow, focusing may help, but won’t completely alleviate this problem for a large number of film-goers.

Meanwhile, the value of stars in selling a movie isn’t going to go away for any technology short of a freakin’ holodeck. And even then…