The decline of the HollywoodstarAfter a series of expensive flops thissummer, executives are wondering if itstime for a new business modelBY DANNY BRIERLEYHollywood executives are scratching their heads and re-evaluatingtheir biggest stars after dismal box-office returns from a series ofsummer flicks that have failed to deliver.The traditional formula of films starring A-listers that can be reliedon to fill cinemas and suck in profits has not worked this year,causing executives to re-assess the worth of big-name features.Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta,Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell areamong the stars whose films did not attract the audiencesexpected. Even the dependable Johnny Depp in Public Enemies didnot deliver the phenomenal result its makers had hoped for.Those stars could normally expect to command pay packets of £15m per film. But the paydeals are likely to be trimmed significantly after a disappointing season that is normallyregarded as the most profitable part of the cinema calendar.Peter Guber, a former chairman of Sony Pictures, said, "These super-talented people arefailing to aggregate a large audience, and everybody is looking for answers." Farrells Land ofthe Lost cost £60m to produce but made only £30m in sales in the US. Duplicity, a thrillerstarring Roberts, cost £36m and made £25m.Experts say the move away from big-star vehicles has been under way for years. The threebiggest films in America so far this year have been Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Upand Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, this film has grossedmore than £500m so far.The decline in the attraction of some actors has been blamed in part on the rise in homeentertainment options and the inability of stars to stand out from the crowd. And theincrease in the use of social networking websites via mobile telephones during screenings issaid to have played a role.
Unflattering comments posted on Twitter are being blamed in part for disappointing returns."You look around the [cinema] and can see the glow, not on peoples faces from watching themovie, but on their chins – from the BlackBerries and iPhones," Mr Guber said.Several of the stars who have performed in unsuccessful films this year have worked tooinfrequently to hang on to their fans. Others, like Ferrell, are said tobe wearing their routinetoo thin. "Stars will always be important but the industry is definitely seeing atransformation in their ability to open movies," Marc Shmuger, the chairman of UniversalPictures, said last month.Studios are unlikely to give up on their stars, but they are beginning to cut costs by reducingleading actors multimillion-dollar pay packets in a series of public bargaining spats.There is still one film that the money men are banking on. Quentin Tarantinos InglouriousBasterds, starring Brad Pitt, is expected to do well in the US, despite some unflatteringreviews and question marks over the directors ability to reproduce another hit as spectacularas Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction or the Kill Bill trilogy.Services that track consumer interest in films predict it will sell between £15m to £20m overits three-day opening, this weekend. Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company built thefilms marketing entirely around Pitt, said his pulling power was not in question. "Brad Pitt isa super-superstar at the apex of his popularity and he is a large part of why people want tosee this movie," he said.