question of the day: Do actors deserve to be well paid for appearing in successful films even if they are not the entire reason the films are successful?

Bella Swan Kristen Stewart Twilight

Forbes this week released its list of highest-paid actresses, and topping the list is Kristen Stewart, thanks to the success of the Twilight movies. Kyle Smith, the New York Post critic writing at Forbes, cries foul on Stewart’s payday:

Kristen Stewart’s Lavish Pay A Sign That Nobody In Hollywood Knows Anything

Stewart, who was a total unknown who had appeared in a few minor films before the first “Twilight” movie was released just three and a half years ago, has raked in some $34.5 million this year because the “Twilight” films are hits and she is now being paid as though she were an investor in the property, with a share of the gargantuan profits. But the saga was a smash in book form long before she became Bella, and any one of a hundred other actresses could have swooned and bared her neck as prettily as Stewart.

Except, at this point, Stewart is an investor in the property… or more accurately, she’s in a position to make nearly whatever demands she wants. For while there are likely many young actresses who could have portrayed Bella Swan in that first movie, at this point, Stewart must appear as Bella if the producers and studio want to keep fans onboard. Why, it’s almost as if Smith didn’t read Dorothy Pomerantz’s post on why Stewart is the highest-paid female actor in Hollywood at the moment:

Studios are notoriously stingy when it comes to paying young actors for the first film in a planned franchise. Forget about the $10 million they would have had to shell out to get a big name — an up-and-comer is lucky to get $800,000.

That changes dramatically when it comes to the third and fourth films in a series. Suddenly, the star becomes indispensable and the studio has to pay up. That’s why Kristen Stewart has vaulted to the top of our annual list of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood.

At this point, could anyone else play Bella Swan in Twilight? Probably not; if the studio tried to switch in another actress, fans would revolt. So for the last two Twilight films, Stewart has been able to demand an estimated $12.5 million per film, plus a share of the profits.

And good for her. Stewart may not have been why fans flocked to the first Twilight flick, but she is most certainly part of why they flocked to the sequels. And she deserves to be well compensated for that. I hate the Twilight movies (as Kyle Smith appears to), but they’re hugely successful, and if there are people raking in ridiculous dough because of their involvement, Stewart absolutely deserves to be one of them.

It’s odd that Smith chose to dump his vitriol onto Stewart, and that he buries an actually accurate point deep into his post:

[T]he highest-paid stars don’t appear in many hits. What about the biggest movies? Do they feature a lot of stars? Not really. Look at the list of this year’s most successful movies. Did people line up to see “Prometheus,” “Madagascar 3,” “The Lorax” or “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” because of the actors in them? After 15 years, Tobey Maguire is still waiting for his first non-”Spider-Man” hit, Christian Bale’s 25 years onscreen haven’t yielded a smash in which he wasn’t wearing a bat suit, and even Will Smith and Johnny Depp, who are thought to be the two most bankable stars on Earth, suffered a disappointment and an outright flop this May with “Men in Black III” and “Dark Shadows.”

He’s probably right that it’s crazy for Hollywood to pay big names like Johnny Depp and Will Smith in untried franchises. Dark Shadows is a flop and will not be profitable worldwide. Men in Black III is doing very well worldwide and doesn’t look to have been a bad investment at all… and it’s hard to see how that could have been the case without Will Smith. So it seems like a no-brainer that Will Smith should get a nice payday and/or profit sharing in the film.

But let’s give Kyle Smith the benefit of the doubt, and discuss: Do actors deserve to be well paid for appearing in successful films even if they are not the entire reason the films are successful?

Frankly, I don’t really see how this even is a question. Filmmaking is not a solitary activity, and no one person — not the director, not the screenwriter, not the novelist who wrote the book the screenwriter works from, not the stars — can be singled out as the sole reason why a film sinks or swims, either artistically or financially. Isn’t it right to, literally, spread the wealth, when there’s wealth to spread?

What do you think?

(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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