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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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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 CuarĂ³n, 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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A plea to Warner Brothers. Please shoot (or render) all these movies in real 3-D, and not the crappy-looking, post-process, fake version. It may be cheaper to send a 2D movie file to India for conversion (rather than to originate on set), but it really looks awful and will kill the goose. You may be able to fool the audience one or twice, but no more.

What the hell? Spoiler alert on the use of Downey's character in Gravity please.


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