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Nicole Kidman: Movie star or box-office loser?

KidmanWhen I wrote about "Australia" the other day, I said, somewhat flippantly, that the movie "once again proves that Nicole Kidman is many things, but not a movie star." 20th Century Fox, in fact, is selling the film largely as a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza, not as a Kidman-Hugh Jackman picture. I've been getting a lot of flak from readers, especially loyal Australians, who been posting comments defending Kidman's movie stardom and, well, basically saying I'm an idiot.

Fair enough. But who's right? Is she a star or isn't she? First, let's define our terms. In the movie business, being a star isn't about being a recognizable celebrity. If that were true, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan would be getting $15 million a picture. Being a star is not about being a great actress, either, or Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett would be getting $15 million a picture. (For the record, Kidman has given many fine performances, going all the way back to "To Die For." She can be a formidable presence on screen.) Being a movie star is about a very simple equation: Do people pay money on opening weekend to see you in a movie? Movie marketers want actors whose presence in a picture makes rank and file moviegoers say: Oh, my God, I want to see that movie.

By that standard, Kidman doesn't fit the bill. In fact, there are shockingly few female stars of any stature that fulfill that equation. I called a couple of movie marketers to ask if I was being unfair to Kidman. Their answer: No. As one marketer cannily noted, "If someone moves a Will Smith film onto one of your [release] dates, you panic. If someone moves a Nicole Kidman movie onto your date, you shrug. She's just not a real commercial force." Or as another marketer put it: "She's an actress, not a movie star. There's a big difference."

You can see for yourself by checking out her track record at, one of the more reliable box-office websites. It reveals that Kidman has had several distinct chapters in her career, only one relatively brief one where you could say she was a genuine star.

Period One: The Tom-Cruise Era. In the early-mid 1990s, she was an intriguing new screen luminary, but her only big hits--"Days of Thunder" and "Batman Forever"--were summer action movies carried by Cruise or "Batman's" Kilmer and Co.

Period Two: 2001-05. This is the era that established Kidman as a recognizable commodity. She appeared in a series of international hits, notably "Moulin Rouge," "The Others," "Cold Mountain," "Bewitched" and "The Interpreter." But marketing experts say none of these movies was solely propelled by her star wattage. "The Others," for example, was a genre thriller sold on its concept, not its star. "The Interpreter" had Sean Penn, who could've carried the film with almost any actress. Ditto for "Bewitched," which was as much Will Ferrell's movie as Kidman's film.

Period Three: 2006-08. As far as Kidman is concerned, it's the Ice Age, with flops like "Fur" and "The Invasion." Kidman was a supporting presence in "The Golden Compass," but marketers say that movie did well overseas because of its concept, not its costars. At best, Kidman has helped elevate genre material (as she did in "The Others") or delivered a strong performance (as she did in "Cold Mountain" and "The Hours"), But it's hard to say she drove fans to the theaters, as Will Smith does--or Julia Roberts did in her heyday.

What's really depressing is that when you ask marketing execs to name the actresses that do earn their keep, you're usually met with silence. There are always caveats: Meryl Streep in the right role, as with "Mamma Mia!" Angelina Jolie, who can put some extra oomph in a genre film like "Wanted." Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock in the right kind of comedy. In today's Hollywood, it's a lot easier to build a career as a respected actress than as a box-office icon. Whether you're Nicole Kidman or anyone else, it's a man's, man's, man's world.

Photo of Nicole Kidman in "Australia" by James Fisher / 20th Century Fox

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It is a man's man's man's world. ANd in that sense, Nicole Kidman still lives up to being called a movie star.

Remember, most of her recent films are big bad suckers, which, except for The Invasion, made a decent amount of money. The :"flop" tag is just because so much more is expected of her, which is totally unfair.

I'm sure that if Nicole chose flashier roles, she'd definitely hit the bull's eye too. It's justthath er choices always lean on the ratehr eccentric.

And why is it that Nicole is the only one blamed for the flops. There were guys in those films too and Hollywood just doesnt have the balls to say that this time, it's the boys who mightve made a big mistake.

And if all else fails, Nicole is still backed up by the Ulmer scale, the 2nd highest actress in it, actually.

Nicole kidman is not a actor I would get excited about , if she happened to be in a support role with some of the actors I enjoy watching in movies that is diffrerent ,the problem is too many of the hollywood actresses over 35 start looking to pulled out ,meaning they are spending too much time in there plastic surgeons offices ,and they spoil their looks, they lose the original appeal that made them popular,But there are lots of people in the world, & Hollywood should find some fresh faces,and there are lots of people such as Judy Dench and Meryl steep who are great in chararter roles,I cannot see a lot of these forever yound actors around when they are 60

As an Australian, can I say that Nicole Kidman is widely recognised in Australia as a dud actress. Any Australian who says otherwise is just being patriotic. But have a look at the Australian websites which are talking about the movie 'Australia'. Most people are bagging the movie and Nicole's acting ability. May I apologise in advance to all Americans on behalf of all Australians for this terrible movie. Many Australians are boycotting it as it falsely portrays us as being racists.

The women who could be movie stars are on TV, which is where women are going to go to see other women in leading roles. Of course, TV is continuing drama, where one gets to see many sides of a character as a series unfolds, and films are one-offs tending toward the plot-driven. The gender roles men and women prefer to see in the movies tend toward babes and hunks. Hunks tend to drive the story more than babes. I guess what I'm saying is that women's preferences enter into this; it isn't necessarily a case of keepin' the wimmen down.

Think I'll go watch "The Lady Eve"...

paoiekins -
I have to agree totally with you about why does she get the blame for a movie considered a "flop," "failure," or "not living up to expectations. There are bankable male stars in almost all of her films that should be drawing in theater goers. They don't. I loved Australia, but can certainly see why some critics did not. Was it her fault? No. It was Lurhman's. The editing on the film is horrendous. But so many seem to blame her for everything wrong with the film. She seems to have a polarizing effect: You love her or your hate her. Personally I love her. I think her film choices when you look at her body of work are amazing. I loved her in Practical Magic, The Others, the Hours, Moulin Rouge. I was totally blown away by her performance in Birth. This has to be one of the greatest performances of the decade. Same with Margot at the Wedding. But these were not films that people flocked to for whatever reason.
I just keep remembering Katherine Hepburn had a lot of the same criticism. Now she is an icon, a movie star, a legend! I think the same will hold true with Nicole.

You and the Hollywood marketing machine have rules and labels that Kidman doesn't conform to. It doesn't seem, based on her film choices, that she even wants to fit into your rules. Whose problem is this? Sounds like yours.

What really makes a star and who really is a star? THAT is the question here. We all know who Hollywood has made a star but WE know they are not really a star.
I saw the movie 'Australia' and it blew me away, it is awesome and one of the best movies that I have ever seen, and years down the road it will be known as one of the greatest movies ever! Hugh Jackman commands the screen as well as the pint sized star whose name escapes me, but Nicole Kidman plays an important role throughout the movie and personally, I think that she is at her best when the camera hits her at the right angle and in the right light, rather than her acting, and her voice; but then again look above in this commentary and like I said, we know who is a 'star', Nicole Kidman is not all of that, Hugh Jackman is on his way, and I am not surprised that the movie is being billed as a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza because that is what it is AN EXTRAVAGANZA! Boy is it!

Nicole Kidman is not a star, I admit. Not like Will Smith or... Will Smith. But aside from Will Smith who is a star?
No one goes and sees a movie based soley on Tom Cruise being in it. M.I.3 was a bust and so too will be that Nazi movie.
Maybe Angelina Jolie can fits your definition of stardom but the reality is she is just north of being a porn star, we go for her lips and body, not her incredible acting talent.
Nicole Kidman has been giving solid performances since Malice in 1993, where with a little help from Bill Pullman she carried the film.
Nicole Kidman is much like a sexy Jodie Foster. No Jodie Foster movie is going to break box office records but they are all going to be great movies and do reasonably well. Fur failed because of poor marketing, not poor casting.
And Moulin Rouge, which you barely mentioned in your article was propelled by her star power and became a huge hit. No one knew Baz Luhrmann before MR. Sure he had done Romeo + Juliet but no one knew him.
Nicole Kidman doesn't burn as brightly as some starlets but she will keep on burning for years to come.

Also Jim Carrey drew audiences to Batman Forever not Val Kilmer.

In many ways, "Australia" is the most ambitious single motion picture ever attempted. Luhrmann states what it is to be an Australian: what it means. No one has ever used a single motion picture for such a purpose! Most nations have relied on epic poetry to define who they were: The Iliad for the Greeks, the Aeneid for the Romans, La Chanson de Roland for the French, Niebelungelied for the Germans, Beowulf or the King Arthur Legends for the English.

Thus, what Luhrmann needed wasn't so much actors as classical archetypes: Kidman for the overcivilized Englishwoman and Jackman for the resourceful man of the Outback. But they are good actors too, and that helps. Blaming Kidman for not selling "Australia" kind of misses the point. It's like blaming Helen of Troy for not selling the Parthenon.

I think a movie star is a little more than someone who can open a film (even in cold hard Hollywood). If that's the criteria, then isn't there only one true movie star in America? Will Smith? He's the only star who has consistently opened his last five or six films. I would put Nicole Kidman in the movie star camp. She's managed to build up a pretty interesting body of work in a mostly big-budget studio career.

(Not to get all old-school Hollywood, but this reminds me a little of Katharine Hepburn being labeled box-office poison. I'm pretty sure she was a movie star.)

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