Is This the Summer of Death for Movie Stars?

What's happened to America's movie stars in the summer of 2009? A slew of boldface names have opened films this summer and most of them have tanked hard. Some people are blaming Twitter, but the answer is really quite simple.

Brooks Barnes has a piece in today's New York Times pondering this very question. Barnes points out that stars such as Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell have all starred in big releases that have flopped in recent weeks, which has left studio executives scratching their heads desperately trying to figure out why the doltish masses aren't consuming what Hollywood is trying to force-feed them, just as they've been doing for years.

"The cratering of films with big stars is astounding," said Peter Guber, the former chairman of Sony Pictures who is now a producer and industry elder statesman. "These supertalented people are failing to aggregate a large audience, and everybody is looking for answers."

Mr. Guber added, "Even Johnny Depp" - starring in the drama "Public Enemies" - "didn't exactly deliver a phenomenal result." (The A-list results may be damped partly because Will Smith, a regular summer powerhouse, had no movie open this season.)

Mr. Ferrell bombed in "Land of the Lost," a $100 million comedy that sold only $49 million in tickets in North America. Ms. Roberts missed with "Duplicity," a $60 million thriller that attracted $40.6 million. "Angels & Demons" (Mr. Hanks) was soft. The same for "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" (Mr. Washington and Mr. Travolta).

"Imagine That," starring Mr. Murphy, was such a disaster that Paramount Pictures had to take a write-down. Mr. Sandler? His "Funny People" limped out of the gate and then collapsed.

Ha! Well, here's a clue as to what might be wrong: all of the films mentioned here, with the exception of Duplicity, sucked! But of course, their failure to make truckloads of cash is all the fault of modern technology.

"You look around the theater and can see the glow, not on people's faces from watching the movie, but on their chins - from the BlackBerrys and iPhones," said Mr. Guber. "They are immediately telling their friends whether it's worth their time. And the answer to that, more often than not, seems to be no."

So if the big movie star attached to a sub-par product method isn't working at the box office any longer, what's the secret to success? Make a product that's entertaining! The studio heads can sit around and bitch all they want about the internet is destroying their business because I can now blast a tweet from inside of a theater telling everyone how Funny People sucked ass, but that doesn't get to the root of the problem, which is their shitty product. On the flip side, make a movie that entertains people and then they will employ the same online tools to laud it and encourage all of their friends to go see it. You see how that works? Amazing, isn't it?

So how does Hollywood "entertain" people these days? By making films that are well-written and well-acted OR feature storylines that are too fast-moving and complex for most people to understand with massive explosions mixed in every 7 minutes or so. Either make smart films that stimulate and engage the mind or make extreme sensory stimuli films that reduce the mind to a blob of mush tucked inside of a thick skull. That's it. Like I said, it's really quite simple. Either way, just don't suck.

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