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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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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 the-numbers.com, 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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She was pretty good in Malice and very good in To Die For. She was a much better actress back then when she was still hungry, wanted to be respected as an actress and not just as Tom Cruise Stepford Wife. Why is it the last few years she has been speaking like Marilyn Monore? The soft whisper? She didn't speak like that before. I'll admit I would never again go to a movies and pay to see her. Not worth it. I can see her on cable and even then I don't stay very long on the film....but I will watch Malice & To Die For if I happend to flip through the channels because both films were good as was she. And...I'm sure people are going to give me grief about this, but her forehead is so frozen & pale you could show a movie on it. She was NOT that fair in the 90s. Her face doesn't move and I know alot of actresses are getting botox, etc. but Nic has no facial expressions anymore.

Nicole Kidman has never been nor will she ever be a movie star. She's a completely unsympathic actress that the general audience simply cannot connect with on an emotional level. Very cold.

The fact that she's had such a long and varied career, truly one to be envied, is a testament to her strong representation and handlers. I mean, she's starred in expensive bomb after expensive bomb and she still has a good career options. Truly perplexing. Other actresses and actors would not be so fortunate and would be starring in a TV show by now.

Hmm, a man writes a column about how women can't be movie stars, and his proof is the circular logic that when a male star and a female star are in a hit movie, it is the man and not the woman who is responsible for the film's success. I guess it is a man's world, since this bs is not only accepted but put in the LA Times. You admit that Kidman was in hugely successful movies like "Moulin Rouge," "The Others," "Cold Mountain," "Bewitched" and "The Interpreter." But then, without any evidence, you attribute the success of these films to her male co-stars. How do you know? Did people really see Moulin Rouge for that scottish guy? You say Sean Penn carried the Interpreter- I'm sorry but I watched that movie and I didn't even remember Sean Penn was in it, but I certainly remember Kidman. She was the interpreter after all. And yes, I did go to see Bewitched because Kidman was in it, although I was ultimately disappointed in the movie. Listen, I'm no fanatical Kidman fan- I could care less about her statute in Hollywood. But I have a problem with people putting sexist opinions in the form of facts. You have no evidence that Moulin Rouge or Bewitched or The Interpreter would have been as successful without Kidman- thats just your own hunch and I really don't know why the LA Times publishes baseless hunches.

I just don't understand what the critics are saying about this movie, I wanted to see it on Monday and the cinema was full I had to go back yesterday and the cinema was almost full then as well. Nobody was walking out booing the film, I enjoyed it and it looked like everyone else did too.
I think it is lazy of jurnalist to blame Nicole, it seams to be the fashionable thing to do.

Is Nicole Kidman a Movie Star? If the criteria is that producers pay her millions of dollars to star in their movies, then she's a Movie Star. If the sycophantic entertainment tv shows repeat to us often enough that she is a Movie Star, then some of us will believe she is a Movie Star. If the example set forth by Bette Davis who fought for roles in which she could move an audience to see her character change in a story arc that was compelling and inspiring, then, hmm, maybe Nicole Kidman is not a Movie Star. Is she a Movie Star beauty like Lana Turner, or a mysterious entity like Greta Garbo? The former, yeah, the latter, nope. Like her Chanel No. 5 ads, she is the same image in her movies from the first frame to denoument, with all the panache of a silken performance that disappears when the auditorium lights take us from our revery back to reality. I guess that's being a Movie Star, too, just not the kind I go out and spend any money to see.

This is the type of commentary we get when a writer with nothing to say tries to manufacture a story to justify his job during a recession. Who cares, Mr. Goldstein?

Kidman is a magnificent actress. Hollywood is infatuated with attributing success or failure to one person - and thats just childish.

"Australia" is an amazing film. And yes, I'm biased.

Kidman is a magnificent actress. Hollywood is infatuated with attributing success or failure to one person - and thats just childish.

"Australia" is an amazing film. And yes, I'm biased.

What bugs me the most about her acting is her inability to deliver an American accent, even after all these years.
She cannot pronounce her vowels correctly, unlike her fellow countrywomen Cate Blanchett and Naomi Watts who speak "American" perfectly.
Notice that she has never received an Academy Award nomination for a performance where she had to deliver an American accent; she has a British accent in both Moulin Rouge and the Hours.

Nicole Kidman was wonderful. I am about to cancel my subscription to the latimes for the terrible review that Patrick Goldstein gave to the new movie with Nicole and Hugh. Fritz Johnson

 
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