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When the obituary of the bankable star is finally written, 2010 will be cited as the year that the patient began circling the drain, with "The Tourist" being mentioned as the film that pushed it into the intensive care unit.
Dating back to Johnny Depp's 1984 debut in "Nightmare on Elm Street," his and Angelina Jolie's films have combined to bring in more than $3.8 billion But this past weekend, the duo co-starred for the first time, taking in a measly $17 million, finished second behind "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader," the third film in a fast-fading franchise. Five years ago, such results would've been unthinkable; now, it's just par for the course.
"The Tourist" isn't a bad film, in fact it's fairly entertaining. Depp's pretty funny, Venice looks great, it should appeal to woman and men equally, it's rated PG-13 and it was the only new movie in wide release other than "Dawn Treader." Yet it still tanked.
So what's going on? Ask a studio exec and he/she will launch into a turretic barking of phrases like "home video" and "piracy" and "The Chinese!" But that's only a small part of it. Look at the top 10 grossing films of 2010:
We've got five sequels, four animated films, two remakes, and exactly one film from an original script featuring an A-List actor, "Inception."
Not even "Inception" is something folks like Jolie and Depp should pin their hopes on, because the success of that film was not really driven by Leonardo DiCaprio fans. Director Chris Nolan of "Dark Knight" fame was just as much a draw as Leo, to say nothing of a masterful buzz campaign, the sheer spectacle of it all, and great word of mouth
In addition to Depp and Jolie, Tom Cruise ("Knight & Day"), Russell Crowe ("Robin Hood"), Julia Roberts ("Eat Pray Love"), Nic Cage ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice"), Denzel Washington ("Unstoppable"), Harrison Ford ("Morning Glory") and John Travolta ("From Paris With Love") all rolled out box office stinkers this year. Our corporate cousins at Universal will tell you that "Robin Hood" took in more than $300 million globally, but don't think for a minute a whole room full of execs didn't throw up in their mouths when it topped out at $105 million domestically.
Even Matt Damon, one of the most well-liked and career-conscious actors in Hollywood unveiled his third and fourth duds in a row, "Green Zone" and "Hereafter." Combined with "Invictus" and "The Informant!," they failed to crack $150 million total. This is not an environment where banking on star power is guaranteed to reap many benefits.
There are other factors at work here, of course, like the "long tail" effect and the plummeting costs of film technology which is making it easier for people outside the system, like "Monsters" director Gareth Edwards, to make great films.
Of course in the long run, this will only be bad for A-List actors, while ultimately proving to be a boon to studios. Actors are the one major expense in a film's budget that's negotiable, and once everyone realizes that Angelina Jolie simply isn't worth $20 million off your film's bottom line, she's gonna have to start thinking seriously about working for half her normal payday.
And if none of this is enough to make your average movie star nervous, remember that George Lucas is planning to digitize all of you.