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Pop-Off: being a star is fleeting

By Brendon Field
On November 5, 2012

One of the biggest and saddest realities of the movie industry is that the people we come to regard as movie stars have a much smaller lifespan on the A-List than we think they do. Because movies are finite, they have an immortalizing effect. All it takes is one great performance to turn an actor into a star, and if the movie is good enough, we'll forever attach them to that role. But often we forget how long ago that movie was made, and what the careers of our so called favorite actors have been since.
Let's go back fifteen years to 1997. Who were the biggest actors and actresses in the business? Emma Thompson, John Travolta, Kate Winslet, and Robin Williams all come to mind. And those names are still recognizable and admired; but when's the last time any of them did something notable, and I mean to the public, not the Academy. I can't think of anything within the last five years. That's not to say they aren't still around, but their careers have been reduced to voiceover roles, low budget Indies and cutaway jokes on "Family Guy." How many of you saw "Carnage," "Last Chance Harvey" or "World's Greatest Dad?"
What are the reasons behind it? A big one is age. Movie studios like younger actors, they're more marketable and they can often handle physical roles better, although I believe Liam Neeson has disproven that theory. They also want characters that are relatable to the audience, and more teenagers and young adults go the movies than older people. It's especially difficult for women, with so many of their roles revolving around romance, they're often written for a twenty five year old. There's actually a joke in the industry: unless you're name is Meryl Streep, you may as well retire at forty.
Sometimes all it takes is a couple wide release duds. This can be seen right now with Johnny Depp. Depp is still considered to be a top tier actor, but I can see him slowly making his way to the sidelines. His last big role was in the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" film four years ago. What has he done since? Some lackluster "Pirates" sequels, "Alice in Wonderland," "The Tourist" and "Dark Shadows." I'm not really fond of anything I just listed, and I know few people who are. Actor relevance is one of the few places where film quality matters just as much as ticket returns, and while Depp's films have made money, they've done little else.
That's not to say actors can't experience resurgences. "Sea of Love" threw Al Pacino back into the limelight where he remained for just over a decade. And if "Cloud Atlas" did as well at the box office as it deserved, it may have resulted in a comeback for Halle Berry, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Actors' careers may also be salvaged by venturing into writing and directing, which is why George Clooney is as famous and respectable as he is, and probably will be until the day he dies. But again, that's something that men have seen much more success in than women. Did you know Jodie Foster has directed three movies? They're all pretty good, but few people seem to care.
This begs the question, what does the future hold for the young stars of today? Will anybody be going to see pictures headed by Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman or Joseph Gordon-Levitt ten years from now? I certainly hope so because all three are highly talented. But only time will tell. 


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