Everyone has one. Or is one.

Just got through looking at this piece of Onion A.V. snark and reminding myself why I don’t read stuff like this more often. Internet lists are the lowest form of life. The title is the sole setup (“Unbreakable: 18 film stars impervious to box-office flops”) and the rest of the article goes on to name actors that one presumes one or more of the five writers feels isn’t worthy of their ongoing successes.

It switches seamlessly between criticizing the actors for being in flops, to being in movies the article writers just didn’t like, to not following career paths the writers feel they should, to never deserving success in the first place. This allows them to keep up an unrelenting stream of disdain without ever having to say anything of merit.

For example, it might be interesting to ask if any screen actor had an unbroken string of successes through their whole career. Certainly not Jimmy Stewart. (It’s A Wonderful Life, his first post-War film, was a flop. Maybe he should have just crawled into a hole.) Cary Grant? He made some real stinkers in between Hitch films, and he retired twice. John Wayne? Inconceivable.

They also get to make unfounded suppositions. Like, the success of the film The Break-Up was due to Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn’s romance at the time. Apparently they had access to the moviegoers’ exit polls where people admitted going to see the movie just because they’d read something in the tabloids about Aniston and Vaughn. (That must be why Gigli flopped: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were never in the tabloids when that movie came out.)

For sheer sloppiness, they throw around “bankable” and “big box-office attraction”–both of which refer to an ability to draw tickets–not what sort of salaries they command. And yet the whole premise of the article is that these people aren’t bankable and are (presumably) overpaid.

Forbes did a similar article bang-for-the-buck stars which, while stupid for a number of reasons, at least backed up its premise with some solid facts. Not surprisingly, they came up with different and contradictory results. Brad Pitt movies return $24 for each dollar he is paid. Jennifer Aniston, $17. Angelina Jolie, $15. Sandra Bullock, $13. Nicole Kidman, $8 (before Golden Compass, ouch).

So about the only one they agree on is Nicole Kidman. And, frankly, an $8-to-$1 return would be considered pretty good in most businesses. Except of course there are all the other production costs, but that just reveals the stupidity of the whole premise: Popular actors can ignite good movies that might not otherwise be seen, or push so-so movies into profitability, and they can power home rentals/sales even for bad movies. They can’t save a movie that no one wants to see (and that’s independent of quality).

I’ve never seen Angelina Jolie in a good movie. She won me over as an actress with her portrayal of Lara Croft–I can’t think of a modern (or maybe any) actress who could pull off the insouciant adventurer without seeming ditzy, plastic or otherwise as lifeless as the computer character is. (Well, okay, Helen Mirren or Judi Dench could do it, but I don’t think they’d fit into the costume, and that’s high company to be associated with anyway.)

Just because I’m not lining up to see The Good Shepherd doesn’t mean that’s her fault. I’d like to see her in a good movie, really! I’m sure if I did see Shepherd, I wouldn’t think, “Man, Jolie is awful.” But you know, if I did think that, I’d probably know how I felt going in, and would just avoid the movie in the first place.

Keanu Reeves, for example. People hate this guy, apparently. But he was perfect for The Matrix movies, and adequate in a lot of his other roles, and most people concede that while simultaneously arguing that it doesn’t take much talent. Let’s accept that premise; the follow-up has to be something like “So what?” Don’t like it? Don’t go see it. But don’t go see him–don’t give the guy your money, for crying out loud, while simultaneously bemoaning the taste of those who go see him.

For myself, I have a low tolerance of Nicholas Cage. I don’t begrudge him his success, and I enjoyed him in Peggy Sue Got Married and Moonstruck. Odd films he was appropriately odd in. And, hell, Raising Arizona! Great! But somewhere in the early ‘90s, it wore thin. So I’ve seen only a few of his movies since, mostly on cable.

Actors do what they do. A great many have one character they use for all their roles, like John Wayne or Owen Wilson. Some have a little more range. Some have a lot of range. But except for the occasional star who’s just phoning it in–something that doesn’t happen all that often, and certainly not very frequently for any particular star, given how fast bankability declines–most of them acquit themselves in fairly predictable fashions.

If big-budget big-star movies are tanking today, it’s really not the actors’ fault. But just as most people are probably not all that aware of the the producer, director and writer’s impact on a film, most internet articles on the subject are going to be predictably shallow.

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