m 7 Star studies: text, pleasure, identity
DOI link for m 7 Star studies: text, pleasure, identity
m 7 Star studies: text, pleasure, identity book
In December 2005 readers of the UK film magazine Empire voted Tom Cruise the ‘biggest film star of all time’. The following year Cruise emerged from Premiere magazine’s list of the most powerful people in Hollywood as ‘the most powerful actor in the world’ (Premiere, June 2006). This was due in significant part to his role in the box-office success of War of the Worlds (2005) which grossed in excess of half a billion dollars and earned Cruise a reported $100,000,000 through his contract’s lucrative back-end deal. Moreover, the release of Mission: Impossible III (2006) the following year extended to seven Cruise’s run of consecutive films which grossed in excess of $100 million in domestic ticket sales, took the franchise’s global earnings past the $1.4 billion mark and earned Cruise more than $250 million in the process (see Hansen 2000; Gray 2006). Indeed, to date the films in which Cruise has starred have grossed approaching $7 billion at the box office alone, made Cruise one of the most recognisable people in the world, and led industry analysts to claim that he is ‘the most bankable star of the last twenty years’, ‘the safest bet’ in the film industry, and ‘one of the most powerful – and richest – forces in Hollywood’ (see Shepatin 2008; Epstein 2007). How, then, do we understand such claims and what models of stardom might they imply? In the case of the Empire poll, does the idea of the ‘biggest film star’ mean the ‘best’ film star, the most popular star, or that Cruise is the most accomplished actor currently working? Alternatively, does it mean that audiences have consistently enjoyed the films in which Cruise stars, or that the action-adventure genre that he is often associated with is a hit with readers of the magazine? Moreover, are either the billiondollar profits generated by the films in which Cruise features or the multi-million dollar salaries he commands for appearing in those films any reliable index of his value as a star? In other words, is ‘starpower’ simply reducible to economic influence, to, say, Cruise’s ability to get films ‘green-lit’ simply by attaching his name to the project? The answers to such questions become further vexed when we take into account the fact that the readers of the same magazine who voted Cruise the ‘biggest star of all time’ also named him the world’s most irritating star (Empire, December 2005). Indeed, despite Cruise’s evident box-office success since the release of Top Gun in 1986, in August 2006 Paramount Pictures decided to end their fourteen-year contract with him, declaring that the negative publicity generated by news of his ‘bizarre’ offscreen behaviour ‘had cost the company between $100m and $150m in lost ticket sales’ (Burkeman 2006: 1). In the period since then none of Cruise’s movies have managed to break the $100-million mark in domestic receipts, with Lion for Lambs (2007) barely returning $15 million, less than half of the film’s budget. Cruise’s most recent film, Knight and Day (2010), in which he stars alongside one of Hollywood’s leading female stars, Cameron Diaz, did gross over $76 million at the US box office, but this was not only significantly less than its $117 million budget, but, as Nick Roddick points out, the film took three weeks to reach what the animated film Despicable Me (2010) did in a single weekend (see Roddick 2010). And what of female stars? For if Cruise is the highest ranked actor at number 13 on Premiere’s ‘power list’, then what are we to make of the observation that the highest ranked actress, and for that matter the highest ranked woman, Reese Witherspoon, only manages number 29? Diaz herself is ranked at number 37 on the 2006 list, but makes it to number 12 on The Numbers’ 2008 ‘box office power’ model and, at number 60, is ranked as the fourth most powerful actress behind Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston on Forbes’ 2010 ‘Celebrity 100’ list. In discussing this kind of discrepancy, a situation in which female stars such as Diaz dominate magazine covers and publicity circuits but are dominated by men in terms of their influence and status.