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Where have all the Hollywood superstars gone?

George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon
Warner Bros. Entertainment

This article began as a review of the Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow.” Easy enough. But when I went to look up some numbers, I was surprised at his recent box-office totals and decided to compare them to the other “A-List” movie stars in Hollywood. What I found out is that we may have to reassess how we classify our biggest movie stars.

Qualifications:

  1. Considering how much it costs to produce and market a big Hollywood flick, and the fact that we’re grading on the A-list curve, setting the standard at $100 million dollars isn’t being unreasonable.
  2. While deciding a time frame, five years seemed too short and ten too long. So...seven it is.
  3. We’re not counting voice acting. Have you ever explained to your five-year-old that their favorite cartoon character isn’t real and is really voiced by a famous actor? No, because they don’t care and you’re not a horrible person.
  4. Franchises will be taken into consideration, but only the first film averaged in. A true A-lister is one who can carry their appeal and money-making ability with them to whichever films they choose to make. It’s much harder to make $100 million dollars with a stand-alone film then with franchises that bring an audience regardless of who's starring.
  5. The actor in question must be one of the leads in the film.

The main reason this topic comes up is because I felt that “Edge of Tomorrow” was one of the better action flicks released in the past few years. While it did have a “Groundhog Day” vibe to it, the filmmakers managed to find some very interesting ways to incorporate the usefulness of a recurring day in a war setting against seemingly invincible alien foes. While the task seems grim, they also inject a good amount of humor and bring us to the precipice of an authentic feeling love story without nudging us over the edge into a cavern of banalities.

All this being said, “Edge of Tomorrow” is Tom Cruise’s most expensive project yet, with a production budget of $178 million dollars, and to date has only made back $96 million domestically. Luckily it fared better overseas, but these are supposed to be OUR movie stars...Hollywood is here, right?

In the past seven years Tom Cruise has scored one film that meets our criteria, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” which is part of a franchise. The other seven films he's starred in only average out to $68 Million although that low number is partially due to the weak showing of “Lions for Lambs.” You might think that’s not bad, but compare it to the earnings prior. In the previous 15 years he had 10 out of 14 films make over $100 Million!

So why do we still consider Tom Cruise one of our biggest stars? And who else do we consider our biggest stars? When I asked for others opinions they basically came up with the usual suspects: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, Bruce Willis, Matt Damon, and Sandra Bullock.

Well, I crunched the numbers and got some unexpected results:

Johnny Depp: Under our criteria I had to exclude the last two films featuring Jack Sparrow as well as Depp’s voice work in “Rango”. Without those two films, Depp had just one out of nine films reach the $100 Million mark (“Alice in Wonderland”) giving his films an average of $85 Million. If you take out Alice, it drops considerably to $53 Million. Not the numbers one would expect from an A-Lister

Brad Pitt: Not counting his voice work in “Megamind” or “Happy Feet 2”, Mr. Pitt’s had three out of nine films earn $100 Million (“Word War Z”; “Inglourious Basterds”; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). His average - $77 Million, which is close, but not quite close enough.

George Clooney: How about Brad’s BFF? Well, he’s only had one out of ten films earn over $100 Million and that one was “Gravity.” You could say that he was a lead character, but that film was all Sandra Bullock. If you replaced him and his 15 minutes or so of film time with any other notable actor, it wouldn’t have mattered a bit. His average is $73 million—but if you exclude “Gravity” it plummets to $49 Million; nowhere close to our target.

Matt Damon: The third of the “Ocean’s” trio is a big budget star right? Actually, over the past seven years Damon has just one film out of 12 reach our mark (“True Grit”), with an average of just $55 Million at the box office.

I mean, COME ON GUYS! Jonah Hill’s sitting at a $79 Million dollar average with 5/12 films rising above the $100 Million dollar barrier. Do we even know who are biggest stars are anymore? Or do we just take our cues from gossip magazines and the E! channel?

Bruce Willis: Nowhere near the ballpark. One out of eight films earned $100 Million and it was “The Expendables” which was going to make that money whether he appeared in it or not. Even with it included he only averages $43 Million—the worst on our list.

What’s also a bit surprising is that our top actresses seem to have a stronger box-office draw than the men.

Angelina Jolie: Three out of six films reached $100 Million and her average is $92 Million, which isn’t quite at the bar, but it’s becoming obvious that we’ll have to lower that bar a bit in today’s cinema.

Jennifer Aniston: One of the few stars on this list without having appeared in any franchises and she still manages to draw a $64 Million average with four of her 10 films eclipsing the $100 Million dollar mark. That’s star power right there.

Sandra Bullock: Now, if you were to average out the earnings of all of her films, the number would be quite low, but over the past seven years Ms. Bullock has been on fire. Out of seven films, four earned over $100 Million—that’s over half! Her average…$133 Million damn dollars. That is by far the largest average of these “A-listers.”

So either we have no clue who our biggest Hollywood stars are or there’s simply so many great actors and actresses working today that any tiered system of ranking is nearly impossible. It’s also difficult to tell due to the prevalence of so many franchises. Jennifer Lawrence has a huge average, but if you take out the “X-Men” films and the “Hunger Games” series, she only has a handful left to observe. Hopefully this "over-saturation" of talent just leads to better quality films overall as well as more friendly debates over our favorite actors and films.