The New Hollywood System: Breaking Down the Current Definition of a Movie Star

 Fabrizio Maltese

Instead of an "A-list," the faces of today's franchises are measured in buzz -- with top dollar now a $10 million payday, half the old standard.

Michael Fassbender, who seemed to be at the top of the new A-list in the wake of Shame and X-Men: First Class, has become less of a sure thing since Prometheus, but he remains one of the few names that foreign financiers get excited about -- and they're willing to sink $15 million-plus into a project with his attachment. "International sales are hugely driven by the star power in a movie," says Mark Gill, president of Millennium Films. "If you don't have $100 million worth of special effects, you've got to have some reason for people to go -- and that's the stars." (Others on that internationally viable shortlist include James McAvoy, Robert Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe, Carey Mulligan, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis.)

Hardy, who's definitely on the hot list, scored big with The Dark Knight Rises and Inception but has yet to deliver a blockbuster on his name alone. And Chris Pine, who soared with 2009's Star Trek, disappointed with This Means War and crashed with People Like Us, making insiders unsure of his cachet. (The success of 2010's Unstoppable is attributed to Denzel Washington.) Franchises seem to be his sweet spot: He's assuming the Jack Ryan mantle in Paramount's reboot of the Tom Clancy hero.

With few of these actors able to open movies, they've stopped being the biggest, most crucial cog in the machine. Marvel has only underlined that. Insiders gripe that not only does Marvel pay its stars low- to mid-six figures for their debut films (with the exception of Robert Downey Jr., who delivered before Marvel Studios became a mega-brand), it also signs them to multipicture pacts that require playing their character across a host of titles. Hence Hemsworth is committed to two Thor sequels, an Avengers follow-up and at least one other Marvel venture before he is free. Of course, he will renegotiate his contract along the way, but Marvel likely will never pay him, or Captain America's Chris Evans, the kind of money Tatum and Lawrence are getting.

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And even if he gets that elsewhere, he's now in a business where you're only as good as your last film, as Taylor Kitsch learned the hard way when Disney's John Carter and Universal's Battleship -- each of which cost about $250 million -- flopped back-to-back.

Perhaps the very idea of being a star has become outmoded, at least as it once was conceived -- a mysterious creature who lived in a realm apart from the rest of us who would appear once every year or two, then vanish. Social media and tabloid ubiquity have helped to bring these stars down to earth -- with such megawatt veterans as Will Smith and Washington among the rare exceptions.

As Tory Metzger, who was one of Cruise's agents for 16 years at CAA, puts it, "Being bigger than life was extremely important in the past, but I'm not sure that's so important anymore."

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