LONDON — A quick look at the list of past Golden Globe winners seems to indicate that the voting members of the Foreign Press have a certain fondness for quintessential American movie stars. This brings up an inter-esting question: Which contemporary U.S. stars are winning the popularity contests and selling the film magazines abroad?
Young, Yank, and preferably male, that’s the general rule in Europe if you want a star cover to sell your maga-zine on the newsstands.
The face of a U.S. star is likely to sell plenty more copies than the no less comely features of a Euro actor, even in the Euro’s native land. A young star will outsell an older one, even if the veteran is more famous and carries more box office clout. And a tie-in with a recent/current release certainly won’t harm sales, though it’s not essential.
However, even leaving aside differing local tastes across Europe, there are no hard-and-fast rules: Each population, every star, every release is a new ballgame, and no one has all the answers.
“We thought Travolta on one of our covers would be a sure thing,” says Deborah Brown, picture editor of Empire, the U.K.’s top-selling movie monthly (circulation: 160,790). “Hot star, career on a roll, great movie (“Pulp Fiction”), but he just didn’t shift the copies. Whereas Pamela Anderson: We thought, ‘Crap film (‘Barb Wire’), can’t act, and it wasn’t even a hot, sexy shot, just head-and-shoulders. But that issue sold really well, presumably on guy appeal.”
However, the big turn-off nowadays is nudity. “Eroticism sells, of course, but not nudity,” notes Helmut Fiebig, editor-in-chief of Hamburg-based Cinema (circulation: 200,000). “You can’t sell movie magazines with mere sex any more: The public just isn’t interested.”
Most male Empire readers, Brown reckons, have no trouble identifying with male actors. “Tom Cruise always sells well,” she says. “Some stars are too old now, like Kevin Costner, he never rates a cover shot these days. With Sharon Stone, though, age hardly matters. She still hasn’t lost it.”
In general, “Empire” goes for the big U.S. names. “We’ll show British stars when it’s appropriate,” Brown says. “We did feature Ewan McGregor (“Trainspotting”), but sales weren’t good. For January, we’ve got Kate Winslet: British actress, British films (“Jude,” “Hamlet”), but she’s hot now in the States. So we’ll see.”
The French, with Europe’s only full-fledged movie industry, can dance to their own tune — partly. “Our covers are split about 50-50 between American and French stars,” says Jean-Pierre Lavoignat, editor-in-chief of the monthly Studio (circulation: 96,550). “Very rarely British; Daniel Day-Lewis is maybe the sole exception.”
The main difference between American and French stars is that the former can sell magazines regardless of what film they’re in, notes Lavoignat. “Not so French actors. Gerard Depardieu in ‘Cyrano,’ Daniel Auteuil in ‘Manon of the Spring’ — great. But either of them in something by (arthouse director) Maurice Pialat, forget it.”
These days, Studio’s readership is pretty evenly split between the sexes; five years ago, male readers predominated. “But a sexy young star like Brad Pitt appeals equally to both sexes,” adds Lavoignat. “French stars on the whole are older, that’s just the way they breed them, but age doesn’t hurt sales.”
A current release tie-in is far from necessary in France. “We’ve already featured George Clooney, even though the ‘Batman’ film he’s in hasn’t come out yet,” Lavoignat observes, “That issue sold fine. In fact, our most successful recent issue had cover pictures that were over 30 years old! We found some unpublished shots of Bardot, and the public just lapped them up.”
Earlier this year, for a special issue on French cinema, Studio offered its readers three different covers. One showed Alain Delon and Olivier Martinez; another teamed Emmanuelle Beart with Juliette Binoche; and the last featured the cast of 1993 comedy smash hit “Les Visiteurs.” So which sold best? “They all did!” Lavoignat crows.
In Germany, which has a weaker local industry and has only recently begun to re-establish a local star system, Yank faces far outsell their local counterparts. “We haven’t had a German star on the cover for over a year,” says Cinema’s Fiebig. “Though with the German film market getting strong again, that may change. Til Schweiger (star of comedy “Der bewegte Mann,” or “Maybe…Maybe Not”) would be a distinct possibility.”
However, admits Fiebig, “It’s all so dependent on getting the right art, something with action or movement. In March, we featured Bruce Willis in an unusual shot and that sold well. So did Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, but a lot of that was down to the sheer hype around the movie. The same with Tom Cruise in ‘Mission: Impossible.’
“For the current issue, we considered Hugh Grant or Mel Gibson, but we couldn’t find ideal photo material for ei-ther of them. We found an interesting shot of Cameron Diaz, so went with that, even though she’s not a big star yet.”
Carlo Dansi, editor-in-chief of Milan-based film monthly Ciak! (circulation: 111,000), says that “although 50% of our readers are male, we have far more men than women on our covers. Of course, we have some women, but we have to be very cautious about it. We’re only featuring Madonna, for example, because she’s in ‘Evita.’ ”
For Dansi, it’s a problem of visibility, not necessarily star power: “We want to stand out on the newsstands, and a woman on the front makes us look like just another women’s magazine. Male actors say ‘cinema’ much more clearly than female ones.”
Especially if they’re American. “U.S. actors invariably outsell Italian ones. We once tried Ugo Tognazzi, but sales were very disappointing. Sometimes, we don’t even feature an actor at all. With ‘Twister’ we just showed the tor-nado, and it didn’t hurt our sales one little bit.”
It’s the same story in Spain. “American stars always sell more copies than Spanish stars,” says Carmen Tierz, picture editor of Barcelona-based movie monthly Imagenes de Actualidad (circulation: 38,000). “The only Spanish star we’ve used was Antonio Banderas, but then he’s hot in the States.”
Spanish readers also show a clear preference for male mugs over female ones, with few surprises among the hot fa-vorites. “The cover stars that have sold best for us,” says Tierz, “have been Brad Pitt, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Ar-nold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. We very rarely use actresses at all, although recently we had a front cover of Sandra Bullock, and the sales were good.”