A genuine movie star is a genuine movie star for two reasons. 1) Over the years, they have earned enormous public goodwill. 2) The public trusts them to pick good projects. So even when they stray from their comfort zone, we still show up. This is how action-superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to turn the romantic comedy “Twins” into a smash in 1988. The same goes for Harrison Ford with “Working Girl” (1988) and the courtroom thriller “Presumed Innocent” (1990).
Despite all fervent belief to the contrary, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are not movie stars. Were they, their Christmas release “Passengers” (which I mostly enjoyed) would not have tanked over the long holiday weekend. The romantic sci-fi adventure was predicted to enter Monday with a $55 million haul. Instead Sony’s $140 million to $175 million (estimated production budget plus advertising) tentpole pulled in only around half that.
This is disastrous, especially for a studio still reeling from that terrible “Ghostbusters” reboot.
The movie was sold primarily on the duo’s starpower and also had everything else supposedly going for it, most especially a choice release date on the Wednesday before Christmas, one of the best times of the year. The story is also what’s known as high-concept and boasts a blockbuster budget with blockbuster special effects.
So what went wrong? Some are blaming the lashing it took from “triggered” critics. This makes no sense, though, when you realize how many Big Movies are critic-proof.
Pratt is likable enough, he’s just not well enough known yet to branch out in this way. The public would see pretty much anyone starring in the hit movies he’s anchored, “Jurassic World” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Which isn’t to say he is not very good in them and could not one day become the next Harrison Ford. Also in his favor is the fact that he seems to be a legitimately decent guy.
Overall, this is just more proof that Hollywood has boxed itself into a creative corner…
Lawrence’s problem is the exact opposite. Six-years ago J-Law become Hollywood’s new It Girl after the release of 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” and deservedly so. She was superb carrying one of the best movies to come out that year. Afterwards, she won an Oscar nomination and entry into two important franchises: “X-Men” and “The Hunger Games.” Her career hit the red-zone. She even helped turn two dramas — “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) and “American Hustle” (2013) — into huge hits and won the Oscar for the former.
In other words, her Diva-ish elitism cost her the goodwill of the audience, and her choices lost our trust.
Overall, this is just more proof that Hollywood has boxed itself into a creative corner, one where only known brands (from Legos to sequels, prequels, reboots) and no-brainer franchise films are the only worthwhile gamble. Worse, they are always a huge gamble.
You need movie stars to guarantee anything outside of that confined safe space, and when too many actors today spend too much time exposing their ignorance and arrogance with attacks against broad swaths of their customer-base for political reasons, what’s the point?
If bad choices can cost an Arnold his crown, who does Jennifer Lawrence think she is?
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC