Why 'Game of Thrones' Actors Get More Movie Roles Than 'Walking Dead' Stars

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Lena Headey, Aidan Gillen

Four players from HBO's drama have booked high-profile film projects, while the AMC show's players tend to land, if anything, more obscure roles

This story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are two of the hottest genre shows on TV, but only one seems to be launching its stars onto the big screen.

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Already this fall, four players from HBO's fantasy epic have booked gigs in much-anticipated film projects: Carice van Houten, who plays priestess Melisandre, will portray German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl in the Jesse Owens biopic Race. Aiden Gillen will make the jump from his Machiavellian character Littlefinger to outright villainy in The Maze Runner Chapter II: The Scorch Trials, playing the YA franchise's big bad in the greenlighted Fox sequel. And Lannister father-daughter duo Charles Dance and Lena Headey are part of another literary adaptation, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The Thrones quartet joins Peter Dinklage, who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the male lead in April's hit comedy The Other Woman; and Emilia Clarke, who recently wrapped Terminator: Genisys.

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Meanwhile, there has been a relative dearth of castings from AMC's fellow watercooler favorite. Despite the show's massive success over four seasons (season five premieres Oct. 12), series star Andrew Lincoln hasn't been in a feature since 2010's Made in Dagenham. Other than this year's sci-fi indie I Origins, Steven Yeun mostly has stuck to TV appearances between seasons. And the films that the Dead survivors do shoot tend to be more obscure, such as series favorite Norman Reedus' résumé of low-budget thrillers. (Reedus and Chandler Riggs each recently wrapped separate features from microbudget king Jason Blum.)

The mostly European Thrones cast is more appealing to U.S. studio executives and audiences, says a casting director who has worked with actors from both shows: "They have a fresh feel." Even veteran actors have benefited from Thrones' exoticizing effect. Dance briefly was on Hollywood's radar in the early '90s with Alien 3 and The Last Action Hero before returning to his native England. Now, in addition to Zombies, he's in Dracula Untold and the upcoming Stalin-era thriller Child 44, opposite Tom Hardy. "These parts are making the actors be seen in a new light," says the casting director.

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Market research firm E-Poll found that both programs have equally high appeal ratings, but CEO Gerry Philpott says Thrones has the edge because it is "produced more like a feature with rich colors, sets and costumes, and most of all, [the characters] are made to be extremely attractive and sexy." On the contrary, says Philpott: "When you're being chased by a dead person, it's hard to make them look as appealing."

That might be why Walking Dead actors' prospects seem to brighten after their characters perish on the show. Former series regular Jon Bernthal was in The Wolf of Wall Street and will appear opposite Brad Pitt in Columbia's World War II drama Fury, while Sarah Wayne Callies just landed the female lead in Carlton Cuse's USA alien drama pilot, Colony.

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