Movie Stars Have Become an Endangered Species

amazing spider-man 2

Summer blockbusters make studios happy, but they make stars nervous. That’s because a lizard is the real star of “Godzilla,” not an actor. And in franchises like “Captain America,” “Spider-Man” or “X-Men,” the superhero is the brand, while the casts seem interchangeable. The several tentpoles that emerged from “Pirates of the Caribbean” enhanced Johnny Depp’s salary, but the Depp brand didn’t enhance “Transcendence” or “The Lone Ranger.”

The art of managing a star’s career has become challenging in Hollywood’s New Economy. In years past, major projects could be pre-sold worldwide on star names, but distributors know they can’t be monetized to the same degree any more. Warners may pour $200 million or so into “Batman v Superman,” but its potential success won’t depend on Ben Affleck’s chemistry with Henry Cavill.

That’s why I have come to admire the aggressiveness, and unorthodoxy, with which young actors like Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen have set about building their careers. I even grudgingly respect the rampant egomania of Seth MacFarlane and James Franco. Rather than wait for roles to come along, these actors are so prolific in cobbling together their own projects that their fans don’t have time to notice the occasional missteps.

(Jason Schneider for Variety)

And there are a few: “Neighbors” is a big hit, but can’t Rogen recruit a sleek stunt double to do his sex scenes? Does MacFarlane really believe he’s the next Charlie Chaplin (Charlie also wrote, acted, directed and composed the score, as MacFarlane did in “A Million Ways to Die in the West”). In the same vein, does Franco really want to set a Guinness record for sheer ubiquity?

By contrast, Hill could easily obsess on “Jump Street” sequels, but he keeps turning up in ambitious films like “Moneyball,” “Wolf of Wall Street” or his upcoming picture about Richard Jewell, the security guard at the Olympics in Atlanta who was famously framed (Leonardo DiCaprio is again his co-star).

I also respect those stars who yearn to direct, though that is a still riskier path. Ryan Gosling found that out in Cannes where his “Lost River” got lost. Jon Favreau got clobbered by critics for directing “Cowboys & Aliens,” then made a superb new film, “Chef,” about a culinary artist’s battle with a malevolent critic. Angelina Jolie moved from her “Lara Croft” action films to directing the ambitious but box office-challenged “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” then rebounded with the idiosyncratic “Maleficent.”

Favreau’s disdain for critics is shared by other talent, including MacFarlane. “Trying to please critics is like putting on a puppet show for your parents,” the “Million Ways” director said recently. Critics, he noted, are not fueled by laughs but “by outrage.”

Then there’s Adam Sandler, arguably the most productive star in terms of generating product, but one who is so consistently hammered by critics that he won’t even talk to the print media. A.O. Scott of the New York Times, in his latest Sandler savaging, expressed shock at “the sheer audience-insulting incompetence” of his new film, “Blended.”

The best way to have the last laugh, of course, is to make a good movie. That’s what Mike Myers has done in a new documentary oddly called “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” which traces the bizarre career of the fabled manager who first repped Alice Cooper and other rock stars, then became the guru of celebrity chefs.

Myers admires odd careers. He stopped making “Austin Powers” movies more than a decade ago, and got bruised in films like “The Love Guru,” which bombed.

I would ask Myers why he’s been absent for so long — except he doesn’t talk to the media either.

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  1. ragu4u says:

    Voice overs by “STARS” in Animated Full Length Films have ruined real STAR POWER in Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong….the films are fine but why must only “STARS” do the voice overs? If a film maker feels his or her film is crap without a big name voice in it then what does THAT say about the film’s worth? There are plenty of voice over actors that are jobless because of this phenomenon. I’ll even venture to say that many of them also do impersonations when asked to and do a darned good job of it.

  2. richard says:

    For the record, Seth MacFarlane did not compose the score for his movie, as Mr.Bart states it in his article. Joel McNeely, a great and vastly underrated composed, did, and quite the great job he pulled.

  3. Newhorizon says:

    Besides being guilty of being uncreative and spending millions on recycling old movies, Hollywood and its actors have other things to compete with. CGI has endless, creative possibilities; the actors are only secondary. Then there are video games and the internet. Kids today are Snap Chatting, watching YouTube videos, and playing video games. These mediums often allow them interact with each other. To get kids into a theater is hard – especially boys. Young boys need creative movies like Toy Story, The Incredibles, Ice Age, and Super Heroes. Older boys are into survival stuff or juvenile comedies (like Adam Sandler and Jonah Hill movies.) Girls are easier to please: Frozen, Brave (lots of singing), and Romantic Comedies. But girls are busy with other stuff too. There are so many media choices out there that Hollywood has suddenly found itself up against competition. And, frankly, it’s about time. I think it’s great. Life is all about choices. Hollywood is no longer center stage, nor should it be. And then last, but not least, are the prices of movies. With many people having large, flat screen TV’s, surround sound, or all-out home theaters, where movies can be paused for bathroom breaks and refreshments are MUCH cheaper, why bother spending money on the outrageous theater prices? Hollywood needs to readjust it’s budget and hire creative thinkers. A new media age is dawning and people are holding onto their dollars. It might be time for the actors and executives at the top to take pay cuts. LOL… I know. Like that will ever happen. And because it won’t, it will be perversely amusing to watch Hollywood swirl down the drain of entertainment oblivion.

    • umm,you may have generalized a thing here. i like creative super hero stories and some “girly” movies, they just use so much stereotypes! the movies most of us love to rewatch have hidden meanings and cut scenes(but are cut for no reason other then it hits home and is relatable). and we are not that easy to please! liz out.

  4. negrump[ says:

    If Hollywood wants “Movie Stars” it needs leading men with some testosterone and leading ladies with class and grace not a bunch of self-absorbed, sexually confused, degenerates (or at least keep the screwed up private life, private) Hollywood also needs to remember that most “stars” have a “shelf life” (10-20yrs for action, 10 yrs+ for comedy) and it has been that way since Hollywood began, the John Waynes, and Clint Eastwoods are the anomalies.

  5. Jim Gant says:

    You no longer go to movie because of the “Star Power” of a an actor. There are very few of them left, and are much older now. You cant even remember the star’s names anymore under the age of fifty. They just don’t stand out anymore, looks stars of previous generations.

  6. stephen says:

    Chef was incredible. Best movie I have seen in a while.

  7. Pat says:

    If an individual is worth paying attention to, they will gain a solid following. The reality is that there are no talented, intelligent or interesting people on the scene right now. The writing is embarrassing. The productions are a joke. There aren’t even any attractive people in Hollywood anymore. All of these people have deluded themselves into the Bankers Hollywood illusion; that just because a banker is willing to invest some money in you, you must have some intrinsic value in this venue. It’s not true. Bankers want automatons in their movies. So, trust me, if you are in movies right now, you probably can’t act your way out of a paper bag. And, that includes you Meryl Streep.

  8. Not really says:

    I’d rather watch a monkey on a string than any of the “stars” this article mentions.

    It’s not that actors have been pushed aside by costumes and franchises, it’s that movie acting has gotten so bad audiences want a different kind of product altogether.

  9. Good! Too much emphasis on celebrity in any case.

  10. Annie Paper says:

    I don’t much keen on movie stars but I am really fed up of movies totally relying on comic heroes with tight suits and masks. I miss movie stars now.

  11. Smooth says:

    You sound more jealous than anything else. They have more money and prestige than you. You complain about them, but yet you’re here talking about them. They are not talking about you pal. No one is asking about you, which begs the question, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Time to get a life.

    • Pat says:

      I’d rather know more about kestrel27 than Adam Sandler. I wasn’t aware that “rich” equaled smart. But, thanks for the heads up.

  12. Corriea says:

    6/14/14 3:13a Movie Stars Endangered? John Wayne was not a Real Person
    Adam Sternberg: John Wayne was No Hero! He never served in the Military, he Played Soldiers in Movies, he was a manufactured Film character. He played fake characters on screen, his name wasn’t real, his actual name was Marion Morrison. He never failed to bloviate about his Right Nut-Wing Crap. Marion was No Hero and certainly No Idol for portraying fake Soldiers, Cowboys and the rest.

  13. Corriea says:

    6/14/14 3:02a Peter Bart Movie Stars Endangered Species?
    Actors Live and Die with the One Film and it’s Failure. Then Critics relish the Box Office drubbing a Film receives. I wouldn’t talk to the Media Jackals either

  14. Rob Ronzio says:

    Marky Mark is my hero and I would love to a his ck just like I did to Barry cadden

  15. cadavra says:

    You’re overlooking one big point, Peter. The studios themselves destroyed the star system, by 1) not mentioning the stars’ names in trailer and TV spots, and 2) shoving all the credits to the end of the film, when everyone’s headed to the exits. Go down to The Grove sometime and ask 100 kids who Sam Worthington is. Ninety will have no idea, and ten will think he’s that old dude from the car commercials. Yet he starred in the biggest-grossing movie of all time and two other blockbusters, all in the space of about 18 months.

  16. ZM says:

    How does Adam Sandler still have a career. Every year he makes a film that is terrible!

  17. annie paper says:

    So you live a life without movies and these “scum of the world”? Are you in a cult or something?

  18. Peter Walker says:

    I’d say the glory days of the movie star are gone because people want more variety in their life. I see the same happening in the fashion and restaurant industry where people once identified themselves with the logos on their clothing and thought Pizza Hut was fine dining, now not so much. I think the root cause of this is the Internet, as it exposes people to a limitless array of ideas. In such an environment, I think it’s impossible for one star to ever be as dominant as before.

  19. perhaps you have a point. however, I REALLY don’t see anyone but Bruce Campbell pulling off another role like Ash Williams…. “GIMME SOME SUGAR, BABY!”

    • JoelR says:

      Can you imagine Campbell as the wizard, in OZ: TGAP? I think he’d have pulled it off better than Franco.

  20. Movie Blockbusters are not made for actors, they are made for better actors to make good Independent Films. What is sad is how little exposure Indies really get. People who love good film will eventually see them, thank you Netflix.

  21. Not many rock stars either. Just a bunch of talentless hacks relying on post production computerization of sounds and images.

  22. machavilli says:

    To make a great film these days you have to ignore the money ( Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting yet remained focused), ignore the critics of your work whether good or bad ( Robert Redford ignored Pauline Kael kept turning in good work) & maintain complete creative control ( Woody Allen, period) in a time when it is considered unusual. People in film this decade have to fight to make great films in a period which apparently celebrate the remakes, many sequels, comics & sadly pathetic films of this day. After looking at the by the numbers man Peter Bart ( gentleman responsible for this great article) within in the film ~ the kid stays in the picture ~ one of the reasons I am studying and waiting out the decade is to turn out great pictures like he & Robert Evans did as well. Let’s hope this decade finishes out quickly because a lot of people are sick of today’s on slaughter of degrading film, to much quantity and not enough quality.

  23. icansayitnow says:

    How can something that no longer exists be endangered?

  24. Atilla Thehun says:

    So many stars; so little talent

  25. BTB says:

    You write an article about movie stars and fail to mention a word about the biggest one, Tom Cruise? Seriously? Next exit, Not Taken Seriously.

    • JoelR says:

      Cruise isn’t a big U.S. draw anymore either. I won’t mention JACK REACHER…but the excellent EDGE OF TOMORROW didn’t open as well as it should have (especially as it is probably the best summer movie so far) and got trounced by a tweener’s weepie with no stars,

  26. Leon A Davis says:

    Last night I watched the 1944 classic “Standing Room Only” with Paulette Goddard; Fred McMurray, and the great Clarence Kolb. Goddard is just a little sweetheart. Alternates between doing something stupid and something smart but in the end, gets her man. I have no idea why Hollywood has forgotten how to make movies. There’s probably not one single reason. It’s like when a big airliner crashes. It’s usually the fault of a small, uncorrected problem that causes a larger ignored problem which evolves into a huge problem for which there is no solution. Maybe it’s because America is slowly dying as well. I have no idea.

    • Sloan says:

      America is dying and not so slowly; movies died years ago when ugly untalented actors starred in hopelessly boring and vile movies about…..nothing.

      Who wants to see uglies like Jonah Hill and oh, the ugliest of them all, Ben Stiller, in movies? Whatever happened to romance in movies, uplifting themes, good acting, good directing….good camera work?

  27. 12Hydro says:

    Most, er some of those working as actors in Hollywood have what it takes; however, the common approach to stardom is unfortunately posing and plastic surgery.
    Today’s practicor’s of the craft suffer dearly from the complete lack of good writing. Endangered? Yes, but not their fault.

  28. charsolo says:

    i’d rather look at a still pic of garbo than watch any so-called stars of today in 3D

  29. i got a glimpse into casting process, the people who cast films now are on the same level as most of the writers, no talent and no talent to recognize talent

  30. Jim says:

    Myers didn’t “stop” making Austin Powers movies. He gained a reputation as a loose cannon (to put it mildly, bat sh*( insane according to some friends of mine)-most notably after torpedoing “Dieter” as it was going to pre-production. Cat In The Hat was at best a mild success and his “come back” the Love God failed-badly. If no one’s going to fund/back your projects, you..ummm do your own?

  31. Matt says:

    Will Smith was a movie star. Emphases on WAS. Leo Dicaprio still is, but how long can he hold on? Cruise can only get huge returns on the Mission Impossible films, but doesn’t it makes sense he would eventually run out of steam? How long could he remain a huge draw? Tom Hanks is at that point. With Hollywood’s desire to build franchises actual stars are not needed. it’s all about the brand.

  32. Dave Mowers says:

    Are artists still relevant? That is what you are asking the public but with movie prices reaching 8, 9, 12, 14 and even as high as $20.00 a ticket the cost of going to movies is becoming a barrier to success at the box office while the salaries are stratospheric along with the animation and effects costs and as the majority of Americans get poorer every year due to rampant government-created inflation via Federal Reserve loan programs for the rich and the next, as well as all future, generation(s) see their chance of even achieving the American Dream, let alone success in life, rapidly withering away; you ponder whether or not these issues transfer to success in Hollywood?


    Seriously, you, the writer and all of America’s wealthy, the politicians and Hollywood are disconnected entirely from what is happening because your ilk are supported by a socialist monetary policy that WHOLLY benefits just you…

    ..And Hollywood wonders why they cannot make money in the U.S. anymore? The trifecta of bad business decisions; declining incomes, retracting market share, increasing costs. I would say the actors staying true to their art are at least being true to themselves.

  33. obsidian53 says:

    The TV, movies, books and such are simply not worth the money to see or read.
    Reruns of reruns of reruns shows I saw as a child now handed to adults as NEW!
    The actors and actresses more concerned with their image and saving the environment or politics as opposed to entertaining and making people watch.
    All delivered with some moralistic, political message dreamed up by people who have no concept of reality as the rest of the nation knows it.
    Money is all they have and feeling guilt they become pompous blow hards thinking just because they were in a movie that makes them geniuses who can solve the worlds and the nations problems.
    Hollywood? We are sick of you.
    Your old, your TV and movies are old.
    My Grandson asked me after we watched one movie, Paw Paw what is a lone ranger?
    I said it was a radio program back in 1933 that became a TV show.
    He said 1933? That’s almost a hundred years ago!
    That’s old worn out and stupid.
    I agreed.
    Hiyo silver and away.

  34. dan hesko says:

    I do not think there has been a ‘true movie star’ in Hollywood for years.

    • KC says:

      The studio system protected its stars; their lives were carefully scripted. Today between the internet, paparazzi, twitter, etc., the mystery is gone. They have become “ordinary folks” about whom we know far too much.

  35. Don says:

    Leonardo Dicaprio is the last movie star.

  36. peter says:

    Who is Mike Meyers?

  37. Hairy Arse says:

    I think in large part it’s to do with risk — as in none happening. Like corporate America who won’t invest in America – celebs won’t take risks. Too much worry about how they might look, too many handlers calling the shots, too much worry about the Twittersphere. They’re afraid to make their own decisions, afraid to lose it all… just like so much of modern American society. BORING!!!

  38. USSAmerican says:

    The formula leading up to this story is a simple one…Hollywood actors lose touch with reality = general public losing their touch with Hollywood actors.

    I believe people already have too much drama in their lives. Most are looking for something that can help them feel more grounded.

  39. Ken Puck says:

    John Wayne: “Ya know yer gonna miss me when I’m gone, pilgrim”

  40. Nathan Bedford Forrest says:

    Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill have absolutely no acting talent whatsoever. Their movies are stupid, cliched, encourage grown men to act like children, and have no deeper meaning.

    Seth MacFarlane stopped being funny along with Family Guy in 2003.

    And James Franco hasn’t been in a good movie since Spider Man 3.

    3/10 this article sucks.

  41. Mauser says:

    Rightly said

  42. Laconicus says:

    The masculine stars of old were often veterans or had otherwise been seasoned by life experience, but now Hollywood spits on everything that makes a man masculine, so no masculine man in his right mind would go within 100 miles of that place. The same thing could be happening with writers.

  43. Mark Miller says:

    Oh and the public is demanding more Shia LeBoueff films.

  44. Mr Happy Man says:

    The biggest challenge to stars is that they need to find a way stay in the limelight. There are so many celebrities today that it is hard for the average Mary or Joe to know them all. With probably literally thousands of “famous” people alive today, how do you really define famous? In other words, how can they stay ahead of the competition, all their fellow celebrities, especially in a rapidly changing, youth-obsessed culture, where the “hot” (a word overused these days) celebrity can suddenly become culturally obsolete, “old” even, within less than a couple of years?
    With regards to movies, we need to ask ourselves the following: Have they been negatively impacted by the new forms of entertainment – such as streaming and video games – to the degree that television negatively impacted movies during the 1950s? I don’t see any negative impact along that scale. There are some things that technology can’t yet replicate, such as middle-budget, seriously-themed movies with talented actors/actresses. But the fact that studios are still making expensive blockbusters with lots of effects shows that people still want to see these things, so the adverse impact that newer forms of entertainment have on movies appears to be minimized.

  45. Kenmandu says:

    A natural superhero for Peter to play would be “Bartman” who single handedly
    Destroyed Chicago.

  46. As far as I’m concerned, a star’s propensity to elaborate on their extremists political views will cause me to think whether or not I will give my hard earned money to their work. Keep the mouth shut and I will not know to stay home when deciding to go to the movie or not.

  47. Jaye says:

    Well, Hollywood began to suck right after they replaced real men with men who look like they never got out of adolescence and women who look more manly than the adolescence looking man she is starring across from. Then the writers don’t have any talent anymore.

    • Most of the males in movies these days strike me as androgynous-as if they could perform in the nude and no one would even notice because they don’t have genitals.

    • kenmandu says:

      Only extremist to right-wing whackos who don’t believe in freedom of speech just propaganda.

    • Kenmandu says:

      Only extremist to right-wing whackos who don’t believe in freedom of speech just propaganda.

      • A.B Prosper says:

        Freedom of speech means you can make the film you want without government interference, It doesn’t mean anyone has to pay for it or pay attention to it.

        The reason for the lack of stars is pretty simple, its a new world with new demography and tons of choices. Its harder for the star power to accumulate in a world with video games, the Internet , NetFlix , and the hundreds of other choices we all now have.

        Also maybe the now 1/2 non White young people want something different. The market at least here in California is not “a bunch if white people, either TV or movie” but is intensely diverse in race, culture and age and the same old stars are not going to cut it. Better I think to have more stars tailored for the group. Hispanics don’t like Tom Cruise? Find someone they do like and make movies (like say Fast And Furious) they like and so on. Old White people don’t like the new younger stars? dig out someone they do and so on. Embrace the change and make it happen. Or not. Up to Hollywood.

  48. David K says:

    Well, they’re already getting sick of effects driven and superhero crap in China, and most adults in the US have gravitated toward quality TV rather than running out to see movies, how long before the rest of the world catches up?
    I think we’ll see a return to the adult drama. I remember when CBS films tried it, but they have to be good films-that’s where CBS blew it.

  49. rbblum says:

    Hollywood Stars are an endangered species? Most understandable upon comparing and contrasting the Hollywood participants of the Golden Years to the contemporary wanna-bee and has-beens.

  50. Ormandy says:

    Kennandu not Ormandy said that

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