Quentin Tarantino can come across as a bit gruff at times.
He and a group of famous directors — mostly old and mostly male — are pretty pissed off about the state of movie culture in 2022. The thing that really pisses them off is Marvel’s dominance, with Disney’s comic book movies being synonymous with every intellectual. . real estate driven blockbuster franchise.
Think DC, Star Wars, Godzilla vs Kong, Fast and Furious, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and more.
The likes of Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and Francis Ford Coppola feel that the existence of franchises influences what gets and what doesn’t get the green light in Hollywood.
And they’re not wrong – although some of their more caustic views on superhero movies that don’t tell real stories are a bit superficial.
Intellectual Property (IP) has taken over theatrical releases and it’s happened in tandem with the rise of streaming making it so much easier for the public to stay home and hit play instead of splurging and spending at least $50 for two tickets, more if you want snacks and drinks and had to pay for parking or an Uber.
Many moviegoers will only make that effort for a “tentpole” or “event” movie, such as an Avengers movie or perhaps the next installment of Indiana Jones. Or a children’s film like the umpteenth Despicable Me.
No doubt those brands are bigger than all the actors in them. And that’s what Tarantino’s latest post is aimed at.
He told the 2 bears, 1 cave podcast: “Part of the Marvelization of Hollywood is you have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters. But they are not movie stars. Right?
“Captain America is the star. Or Thor is the star. I mean, I’m not the first to say that. I think that’s been said countless times, but it’s like, you know, it’s these franchise characters who become stars.
Tarantino is right. Evans might be a big star. Chris Hemsworth is arguably a huge star. But they are not movie stars as the term has been understood for nearly a century.
They are not movie stars as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett were and most still are movie stars.
Audiences don’t flock to the next Thor movie because it’s a Hemsworth movie, they go because it’s a Thor movie. Same with Evans. The god of thunder and the sexiest man in the world don’t sell movie tickets, they sell streaming subscriptions. For better or worse, that’s a measure of success in 2022.
Marvel is the brand, it’s the attraction. Evans and Hemsworth don’t. Even if Jolie, Blanchett, Michael Douglas, and Christian Bale are in a Marvel movie, they’re no bigger than the MCU. The public did not go Ant man because of Douglas. They didn’t go Thor: Love and Thunder because of Bale.
But viewers will absolutely watch a movie for Hemsworth if it’s streaming at home. That’s why Netflix is so embedded in the Hemsworth business and gets the actor $20 million for it Extraction 2. It’s why The gray man all those hours added up.
Actors like Hemsworth, Evans, Chris Pratt, Tom Holland and Millie Bobby Brown, who have been catapulted to stardom by major franchises, are catnip to a streaming viewer. At home on streaming, it doesn’t matter as much what the movie is as the fact that they’re in it.
The barrier to entry is so much lower. You’re already paying for the subscription, or you might be willing to sign up for a free trial (or cheap membership) to watch that new Adam Sandler movie you’ve been hearing about.
It takes about two minutes and you don’t even have to get off your couch.
Compare that with Ticket to paradise, a mediocre rom-com with a predictable, prosaic plot. What it was didn’t matter, what did was the combined star power of Clooney and Roberts in a genre that doesn’t challenge. Ticket to paradise earned $158 million.
That’s no small feat for those three out of four Hollywood Chrises, or Brown of Holland. If it were 20 years earlier, they would be bona fide movie stars, but the machine doesn’t make them anymore.
And for people like Hemsworth, they smartly understand that when it comes to their personal brand, the public and the big paychecks are on streaming. You wouldn’t begrudge them those choices.
Even the latest wave of new movie stars — the people who push you to pay for a movie ticket regardless of the movie, like Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, and Charlize Theron — gained their status nearly two decades ago.
The tectonic shifts in the industry and public behavior led to the end of the old order.
But Tarantino is wrong in attributing the movie star’s demise to Marvel’s influence. It has just as much to do with the rise of streaming, which has fueled the choices studios make in what they do and don’t fund, and what they do and don’t market.
The explosion of home entertainment choices — and at reasonable prices — has changed what audiences do and don’t leave their homes for. Cinema has become almost a premium experience and the average moviegoer in Australia sees fewer than five films a year.
The economic imperative for studios is to put their money into franchises with built-in audiences, whose brands are bigger than one person.
Fans don’t go to the Fast and Furious because they want to see Vin Diesel wax lyrical about family, they go because they always want bizarre chases and spectacles. And they know that’s exactly what they’re going to get, it’s a given. So they know what they are paying for. And it will easily survive the death of a clue, just like Paul Walker’s.
The convergence of franchise dominance and streaming is also leading to the chicken and egg thing.
Did audiences first stop going to mid-budget comedies in the cinemas and are they therefore now the domain of streaming? Or did audiences realize there were great comedies on streaming and didn’t see the point in paying for them in the cinemas?
You’re much more likely to find the likes of Sandler, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston, Amy Poehler, and Reese Witherspoon on a streaming service than in the cinema.
Does that mean we’re out of movie stars? It’s not that black and white. People like Pitt and Keanu Reeves are still around.
And there’s a front of young talent, including Florence Pugh and Timothee Chalamet who sell tickets regardless of the project, but their ability to seat bums hasn’t spanned several generations yet. They appeal to their devoted peers, but not yet their grandparents.
There are also those names that don’t fit in so easily. Someone like Margot Robbie, who is undeniably a star and still works exclusively on the silver screen. Or Emma Stone, Anya Taylor-Joy and Saoirse Ronan.
But their names alone are not enough. It must be a combination of name and project. David O. Russells Amsterdam, a star-studded comedy starring Robbie, Bale, Robert De Niro and a dozen other names, was one of the biggest box office flops of the year. It is about to lose up to $100 million.
Robbie and her compatriots are not in the same position as her colleagues of 30 years earlier. Like IP does now.
It didn’t even matter that the new one Lord of the Rings series had no “stars” because Middle Earth is what matters.
That shift has its benefits, it’s given studios coverage to cast actors with lower profiles and from more diverse backgrounds, because the strength of the brand is plenty. People like Simu Liu, Chadwick Boseman, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Sonequa Martin-Green.
The culture has changed and you can rarely go back. Marvel may not have killed the movie star, but it sure is the movie star now. Tarantino is at least half right.