Guest post by Charles Johnson
In the latest issue of Esquire, there’s a fascinating profile of Sam Worthington, the leading actor of James Cameron’s new, $300 million dollar film, Avatar. (The trailer looks downright amazing.)
Apparently, Cameron wanted the Australian actor to play the
part, but the studio opposed this casting, as they hoped that a big name actor
might draw more people to the film and help recuperate their initial
expenditure. After much discussion, Cameron got
The real question, though, is why did they think that a big name star would gross more money?
What if stars and the director are totally irrelevant? And that all that matters is the story? So are the findings of Epagogix, a British firm that uses neural networks and scanning scripts, makes a tidy sum predicting with uncanny accuracy. (You can read all about their work in Malcolm Gladwell’s article or in Ian Ayres’s book, Supercrunchers.)
So if Epagogix finds that the story, not the stars, masters most to a box office return, and they predict box office returns better than the studios, why do studios continue to insist that pretty faces are what gets people to see the movies?
If history is any indication, sci fi films tend to do well
based upon how good of a world they have created, not on the value of the
actors that are in them. Star Wars, E.T., and
The gains don't seem to be limited to sci fi. Another film, Slumdog Millionaire, grossed over $375 million worldwide on a budget of $15 million, with totally unknown actors.
So why haven't studios gotten around to realizing that star power is limited and why haven't wages for moviestars adjusted? Is there a lack of entrepreneurial studio executives?