Star Power – can an A-lister make or break a movie?

Star Power – can an A-lister make or break a movie?

Can one actor make all the difference? Tim Bustin thinks there's more to a film's success than simple star power.

Despite Tom Hanks bringing a new sensitive depth to the symbologist character Robert Langdon, Inferno bombed at box offices worldwide. The fact the film had the same creative team behind preceding The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and starred A-listers Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones, simply couldn’t transcend the fudged story adaptation. Audiences simply weren’t interested in following Langdon’s journey any longer. 

Great actors are in bad movies all the time; that’s just the luck of the draw. A great actor can elevate a good movie; Good Will Hunting needed a Robin Williams for that blend of comedy, tragedy and quick-qitted improvisation. But the real question is whether a great actor can elevate a truly bad movie? Without Ben Affleck’s grounded performance in Batman V Superman there’d be no armour left for critics to chip away at, nothing for fans to cling to. Perhaps talent makes a talentless movie bearable, like Billy Crudup’s soft voice caressing you as the two and a half hours of Watchmen batters you down.

The promise of a big name in an unknown film is candy picked up only by die-hard fans of the actor in question. Audiences aren’t fools; we know A-listers are sometimes cast in roles that they’re good but not perfect in, where they do their job but don’t bring something special. Studio’s occasional response is what I like to call the Zoolander 2 effect: throw in more celebrity cameos than jokes and hope it works. (Spoilers: It often doesn't) But then again, The Expendables and Fast and Furious are fun simply for the novelty of seeing big stars exchange cheesy one-liners and macho handshakes.

From this summer alone there’s been a dozen or so snoozers that A-list names couldn’t save – Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Independence Day: Resurgence, Storks, The Magnificent Seven – but it’s certainly not impossible. A film contains so many more aspects than the actors we see and follow on screen, from writers and directors, to the hair and make-up specialist or the mic operators. To make a movie good they all need to do their job and it’s rare for an actor, who is only one, admittedly large, cog in the machine, to save the whole package. So give Tom Hanks a break. And maybe a hair cut while you're at it, too. 

Tim Bustin