Monday, December 20, 2010
The death of the Hollywood star-driven drama
James L Brooks' How Do You Know, one of the rare recent examples of a big budget spent mainly on actors, is doing very poorly at the box office, as is The Tourist, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. This is probably because they're bad films, but it makes me wonder what happened to the star-driven drama. I can think of few hit films of the recent past that compare with Brooks' previous Jack Nicholson starrers, As Good as it Gets and Terms of Endearment.
Thirty years ago, the second highest grossing film of 1981, behind the leader Raiders of the Lost Ark, was On Golden Pond, starring Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda. In 1983, the aforementioned Terms of Endearment, in which Jack Nicholson teamed with Shirley McLaine, was second behind Return of the Jedi. Dramas had been overtaken by comedies and special-effects laden blockbusters, but movies with big star casts that not only became hits but were contenders at the Oscars, retained a secure niche.
I guess there were three films in 2009 that might make that category: The Blind Side, Up In The Air and Julie and Julia, though I'm not sure if the latter two qualify since they ranked no. 38 and 34 respectively in the annual box-office standings. There hasn't been a single release of the kind I'm talking about so far this year. Nor was there in 2008, when Angelina Jolie's The Changeling was 80th, and Sean Penn's Milk 89th; or in 2007, when Johnny Depp's Sweeney Todd ended 49th, George Clooney's Michael Clayton 55th and Daniel Day Lewis's There Will be Blood 66th on the annual charts.
The last Oscar winning, box-office topping, star-led drama I can think of was A Beautiful Mind. The Academy awards are shifting to niche movies as a result of the drying out of powerful mainstream dramas. Not a happy trend for their ratings. But I wonder why Hollywood's no longer making movies of the On Golden Pond, Out of Africa, Rain Man and Dances with Wolves variety. Any thoughts?