Is there any movie Warner Bros. won't make in 3-D?
The way I see it, there's a new movie star in Hollywood. He doesn't have an entourage. He doesn't demand a big percentage of the grosses. And he doesn't go on Oprah to promote his movie and jump on the couch.
He (or she, if you like) is 3-D. If you have a big tent-pole movie with loads of special effects, battles in outer space or giant marauding robots -- or even a scrum of teenage British schoolmates -- you can make it in 3-D and spare yourself all those movie-star moments, like the noisy calls from Ari Emanuel, demanding a few extra goodies in his stars' perk package.
As I've written before, studios have been increasingly eager to avoid paying top-dollar salaries to movie stars, but the 3-D juggernaut, which is rewriting the box-office record books as we speak, has simply sped up the onslaught of big visual spectaculars, either shot in 3-D or converted in post-production, which rarely need the presence of a big-ticket movie star.
There's no better example of this migration away from movie star-driven films to 3-D extravaganzas than the upcoming lineup of tent-pole movies at Warner Bros. At ShoWest earlier this year, studio chief Alan Horn boasted that the studio would be making -- count 'em -- nine 3-D movies next year. The studio has never officially laid out its slate of movies, but after getting a little inside help from a couple of Warners studio executives, I've pieced together that list of 3-D films.
What makes the list especially striking is that it includes only two films that could be anchored by bona fide movie stars, with a third film that has a movie star in a smallish role. This is a huge sea change for Warners, which has always been the studio most eager to make movie-star-driven films. As recently as 2006, Warners made 10 films that were built around or featured prominent movie stars. But a quick look at the studio's 2011 lineup of tent-pole films shows a dramatic cutback, with 3-D frequently taking the starring role.
I don't want to overstate my case. Even back in 2006, the studio made a few costly films that didn't rely on stars, notably "V for Vendetta" and "Superman Returns," which were sold on the wow-factor of their effects, as well as "Happy Feet," a family film that was built around eye-catching animation and an easily understood story line (although, of course, it also relied on well-known actors to voice its characters). And presumably Warners will still populate its 2011 slate with a few actor-driven films.
But when it comes to the big popcorn movies, highly paid actors are few and far between. Here's a quick glimpse at how much things have changed. (Note that some of the 2011 3-D movies are still in development and haven't been cast as of yet):
2006 -- The movie star films:
"Firewall": Harrison Ford
"16 Blocks": Bruce Willis
"Poseidon": Kurt Russell
"The Lake House": Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock
"Wicker Man": Nicolas Cage
"Lucky You": Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana
"The Departed": Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
"The Fountain": Hugh Jackman
"The Good German:" George Clooney and Cate Blanchett
"Blood Diamond:" Leonardo DiCaprio
2011 -- The 3-D films:
"Sucker Punch": An action fantasy directed by Zach Snyder. No big names in the cast.
"Friday the 13th": A sequel to the successful 2009 reboot of the series. It's still in development, complicated by the fact that it is a co-production with Paramount. If it is made, it will feature up-and-coming actors, but no stars.
"Green Lantern": Inspired by the popular DC comics superhero, this action-adventure film features Ryan Reynolds, who recently played second banana to Sandra Bullock in "The Proposal."
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two": Need we say more? It's a must-see for the Potter crowd, but its young actors have yet to establish themselves outside of Hogwarts.
"Journey to the Center of the Earth 2": The studio is still trying to pin down a new director, but Brendan Fraser -- who is considered a movie star, at least in this genre -- will return for the sequel.
"Gravity": Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, this is being billed as an ultra-cool space thriller, with Robert Downey Jr. in the starring role (although people who've read the script say his character is only in about a third of the actual movie).
"Happy Feet 2": The family adventure film returns in 3-D, directed once again by George Miller. The only stars on hand will be the actors who'll voice the animated penguin characters.
"Dark Shadows": Tim Burton returns to his roots with a fantasy film based on the 1960s-era gothic TV soap opera that was a big favorite show for both Burton and Johnny Depp, who is slated to play the lead role of Barnabas Collins, a 200-year-old vampire.
"Jack the Giant Killer": Directed by Bryan Singer, this is billed as another cool fantasy thriller, with spectacular-looking 3-D giants, but the lead role will go to an up-and-coming young actor, not a star.
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