Sunday, May 24, 2009

Box Office Poison

"Tom Hanks is over!" So insisted many before the box office returns of his latest film. "Tom Cruise is finished!" argued those foolishly enough to suck up to Sumner Redstone. Sumner's the idiot, Tom's got the career. But there are performers with problems. (Julia Roberts has a problem and Team Julia is working on addressing it.) And, worse, there are performers whom the audience no longer cares for. Below are performers who ended the 90s as certified stars and yet now struggle to sell tickets.

1) George Clooney.

The TV actor was once so magical onscreen he could take even trash like Batman & Robin and turn it into a money maker. Money makers were his speciality due to the fact that he actually starred in very few bona fide blockbusters. 2000 offered promise for George this decade as he finally -- six films after Batman & Robin -- had another film make at least $100,000 million. Sadly, he wasn't the lead. He was the co-lead (with Mark Wahlberg, The Perfect Storm). Since then, no Clooney film has cracked the $100,000 million mark. He has a cameo role in the Spy Kids franchise and he's part of the Oceans' ensemble. But not since Batman & Robin has he demonstrated he can carry a film. He's tried to carry eleven films this decade. None became a blockbuster. The best came in above $60 million US gross -- something to brag about . . . in 1986. Even his most recent film, teaming him with Ocean's co-star Brad Pitt and a huge ensemble, failed to bring in the ticket buyers (it just squeaked by $60 million). This decade, Clooney's repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot deliver an audience and he's ten years older than he was in 1999 so, as a dream boat, he's more than a bit frayed at the edges. In the process, he's become the most over-exposed and under-liked actor in the country.

2) Susan Sarandon.

The Sarandon appears to have spent this decade proving all of Pauline Kael's many critiques of her 'acting.' Sarandon's acting career actually ended with the cheesy, pulp film The Client, in 1994. What followed were "First Lady Of The Screen" roles which so sapped the audience's good will that by the time Sarandon finally returned to one of the tough cookie roles (1998's Twilight) which originally gave her career life (Thelma & Louise, Bull Durham, White Palace), ticket buyers didn't give a damn. She teamed up with Julia Roberts for the love story Stepmom in 1998 and the box office ($91 million) wrongly suggested she had a career. Her film career officially ended with the previews of 2004's Alfie where audience members wondered (a) why she was fat onscreen and (b) why her breasts sagged so? When those comments pop up from an audience seeing what is, for all intents and purposes, "a woman's film," there's a problem. And a number of shots were edited out of the eventually released film but audiences could still watch Susan attempt to strut around appearing sexy when the cameras captured something very, very different. No live action film that she's been the lead, the co-lead or the third lead in this decade has even managed to squeak to $60 million -- two failed to even bring in one million at the box office.

3) Mel Gibson.

Gibson is 54 but looks 64 and that's only one of the many roadblocks for one of the 90s most bankable male stars. At this rate, is there any group that will pay to see him? Some in the LGBT community (wrongly) believed GLAAD when they did their 90s He's-not-a-homophobe! dance. Today, the world knows better and the LGBT community and Catholics and Jews are only some of the many potential ticket buying segments he's offended. On the verge of a nasty divorce which will either find him splitting more than half the community property or having some of the worst stories leak to the press, Gibson's a time bomb for any studio. Few want to be left holding the bag if some disclosures are made. Though known for action pix, 2000 found him in his then-highest grossing film, Nancy Meyers' What Women Want, co-starring Helen Hunt. Even with a lot of careful camera work, it was obvious the days of pretty were fading fast for Mel. With the looks shot to hell (booze will do that) and the acting never developed beyond teen soap opera level, Gibson would be a risk. When you add in his attacks on Jewish people (including during his drunken arrest), his attacks on the Catholic Church and the loss of the only thing some used to point to ("At least he's stay married to the same woman! That says something about him!"), Jodie Foster's homophobic platonic pal appears unaware that his day has passed.

4) Jodie Foster.

In 1997, Jodie finally carried a film to the $100 million mark that she could call her own. Silence of the Lambs was as much Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Demme's vehicle as it was her own, Maverick was a piece of trash that was also carried by Mel Gibson. 1997 found her in a summer blockbuster, Contact, which grossed $100 million in the US. She followed it up with one of her many disasters (this one was Anna and the King) but found her footing at the start of the decade when she became a last minute replacement for an injured Nicole Kidman in 2002's Panic Room. $5 million short of $100 million, it would be her highest grosser for the decade. As the decade progressed, she became dead onscreen, one wooden performance after another. "Jodie With A Gun!" tried to tease the studio for The Brave One but the audience didn't give a damn about watching Jodie give a sexless performance in what appeared to be a sexless homage to Terry Gross ($37 million). Even returning to children's films (last year's Nim's Island) didn't help (adjust the gross for Freaky Friday at today's ticket prices and Nim's Island proved she couldn't regain the children either). Today's audience knows her best from the vicious spoofs of her on Family Guy where she's forever farting and always coming on to women. If Jodie had gotten honest about her sexuality would she still come off so cold onscreen? No one knows but what is known is that it's become the worst kept secret and is now a public joke. She could say, "I don't talk about my personal life." Except for the fact that when the rumors really got traction, she showed up in various women's magazines proclaiming that she taught Scott Baio to kiss. Can an actress make a career out of playing widows, the dateless and/or women whose partners are never on camera? We can't think of anyone who has but the allegedly smart Foster keeps thinking she can. Of all the people on this list, Jodie's the only one who could save her own career in an instant. All it would take is her getting her performance out of the head and back into the body. Otherwise? Greer Garson managed to be a sexless box office attraction from roughly 1939 to 1951. But that came to end.

5) Orlando Bloom.

One of the most glaring faults of this decade has been the inability of films to create any new stars. Your comedy stars either got their start in films before this decade or on TV. No actress emerged in the 00s as a major bankable star due to films (Anne Hathaway, tremendously talented, would be the closet thing and her best box office is as a co-lead). But no actor was pimped harder by a studio than Orlando Bloom whom New Line would whisper was the only "good looking" young actor in the Lord of the Rings films. He got publicity. And once upon a time, so did Mark Hamill. We know how this story ends even if the studios haven't caught on. Appearing in the Pirates franchise confused the issue but an examination of any film he has to carry demonstrates that he can't and that the actor New Line thought was "good looking" has a face made for stage work. Kingdom of Heaven, Ned Kelly, Elizabethtown, Haven, The Calcium Kid . . . How many disasters can a faded piece of not-all-that eye candy command before the studios catch on? The refusal to cast him in last year's Twilight indicates that they already have figured out he's a 'teen idol' in the same way Anthony Perkins was.
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