Stars Vs. Blockbusters: Hollywood Might Need a Financial Adviser

Hypocrisy alert! A couple of weeks back, The Daily Beast did a story about how Hollywood studios are slashing star salaries left and right—for reference, they brought up Iron Man 2, for which Scarlett Johansson is earning a “measly” $250,000 to squeeze into latex tights as The Black Widow. It certainly makes sense: in these troubled economic times, when even major box office draws like Will Smith (Seven Pounds), Julia Roberts (Duplicity) and Tom Cruise (Valkryie) can’t pull down the grosses they used to, what are the chances of someone like Ms. Johansson earning back an overly inflated salary as the fifth lead in a summer blockbuster?

Today, in seemingly direct contrast to that logic, comes news that noted hack Eli Roth wants to make a Cloverfield-like disaster movie for the cost of $80 million dollars. And, as if that weren’t enough, Warner Brothers and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) are going ahead with a $150 million dollar adaptation of The Green Lantern, despite the fact that they don’t even have a male lead locked down yet. So let’s see if we have this straight: spending some money on bankable movie stars, bad; spending infinitely more money on crappy ideas, good.

It’s not that we think stars are underpaid—quite the opposite! A quick look at the biggest box office hits of the year finds names like Kevin James, Liam Neeson and Paul Walker in starring roles, something that proves the studios’ main point. But, at the same time, does anyone think giving Mr. Roth $80 million (to be fair, no studio has yet to back his ridiculous pitch) or spending $150 million on The Green Lantern is the path to good business? And this is all coming just a month after Warner Brothers willingly gave Zack Snyder another $100 million to flush down the drain. (Clearly they’re still counting all the money The Dark Knight made.)

We get that everyone want the next big thing—the next Dark Knight as it were—but it just seems totally egregious to throw good money after bad. You can’t preach poverty on the one hand and then spend millions of dollars like a drunken CEO. Plus, by the time The Green Lantern hits theaters in 2010, the model for what makes a hit movie could be totally different. Trends come and go, but the one thing that never goes out of style for an audience is their love of movie stars. And even if we no longer like some of the old models—Harrison Ford, we’re looking at you—there will always be new ones just around the corner—Zak Efron, perhaps. Stars are Hollywood’s renewable resource, and, no matter what, spending money on them is still less risky than an expensive flop. Just ask Watchmen.