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Box Office: Gerard Butler Is A Movie Star If The Price Is Right

Category: Misc./General Career News
Article Date: January 31, 2018 | Publication: Forbes | Author: Scott Mendelson
Source: Forbes

Posted by: admin

To my surprise, Den of Thieves is not quite a straight-up Heat knockoff. If anything, it attempts to be a crime thriller in the style of a more old-fashioned heist caper that has an opening sequence of grim violence tacked on for commercial interests. Without going into details, much of the third act concerns a discreet heist that wouldn’t be out of place in the happy-go-lucky Logan Lucky and the final action sequence emphasizes tension over copious carnage. That’s not to say it’s a particularly good movie, but it’s not boring and Gerard Butler chews the scenery (and food found at a crime scene) like the B-level movie star he is.

Yes, in relative terms, Gerard Butler has become something of a low-rent movie star. His last three action movies, Gods of Egypt, Geostorm and Den of Thieves have notched $13 million-$15 million opening weekends sans any IP. And London Has Fallen opened with $22m just under two years ago, which was an understandable step down from the $30m debut of Olympus Has Fallen just under five years ago. Now you’ll notice that the hit movies are the ones that didn’t cost $120m-$140m to produce. The Has Fallen films cost $70m and $60m respectively while Den of Thieves was a $30m production acquired by STX.

After a post-300 period where Hollywood tried to make Gerard Butler into a macho romantic leading man (Jennifer Aniston’s The Bounty Hunter, and Katherine Heigl’s The Ugly Truth were hits, but Jessica Biel’s Playing for Keeps was not), he embraced his destiny as a grindhouse action star. This is the opposite of what happened with Patrick Swayze, who was huge as a romantic, female gaze-friendly icon in Dirty Dancing and Ghost but got pigeon-holed in B-movie action flicks like Road House and Next of Kin. If Swayze was a lover, not a fighter, then Butler is a fighter who has stopped trying to be a lover.

And in a world without many newer action stars (there’s a reason why Stallone can still do his thing in his 70s), and Hollywood less willing to give the likes of Ruby Rose or Lewis Tan their own action movie vehicles, Butler joins the likes of Jason Statham, Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson as a genuine B-movie action star. And when the budget matches the probable box office trajectory, his price is right. There is still a place for modern movie stardom if the budget matches the ambition.

Comedy stars like Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy and (fingers crossed) Tiffany Haddish can open a movie based on star power and the promise of star-driven laughs sans franchise or IP at least partially because those films tend to be relatively cheap. Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc.'s Get Hard was a $40 million production, so its $33m debut was a big win right out of the gate. New Line and WB's Tammy cost $22m, so its $100m worldwide gross made it a hit. Conversely, Sony's Ghostbusters ($266m) performed on the level of a high-grossing McCarthy vehicle, but it cost $144m to produce, so it was a whiff.

Butler can’t justify a mega-budget picture like Warner Bros.' Geostorm (which still grossed $212 million worldwide) or Lionsgate's Gods of Egypt (which earned $150m worldwide) because those movies are too bloody expensive. But in grindhouse fare like Den of Thieves or London Has Fallen, where a $15m-$20m debut is an unqualified win, he is worth his top billing because a $15m debut means more for a $30m picture than a $130m picture. Sure, you can argue that investors were hoping that Butler would be a glorified added-value element in the big-budget fantasy actioners, but that’s a dangerous game and one that backfired in an era where every week offers another big-budget CGI-drenched action fantasy.

It's the same story with Chris Hemsworth, whose $30 million 12 Strong is going to be more profitable than any of his other non-Thor vehicles partially because it cost a lot less than Blackhat ($70m) or In the Heart of the Sea ($100m). Whether he “opened” 12 Strong (as opposed to the film’s value as a nationalistic post-9/11 war melodrama), Hemsworth’s name on the marquee is worthwhile because the budget doesn’t demand that he carry a franchise or a megabucks fantasy on his shoulders. Most of the movie stars of old had to open legal thrillers, cop dramas, romantic comedies and grounded action movies.

The mid-1980s/early 1990s movies that made Tom Cruise into a star were $15 million-$45 million multiplex studio programmers. That includes Top Gun which cost just $15m in 1986, or just $5m less than Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop II in 1987. A $20m action comedy like Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn’s Bird on a Wire was a huge hit at $138m worldwide. When a big budget movie is $40m and you can expect post-debut legs, movie stardom is possible and real. But when your big movies cost $150m, and you have conditioned audiences to want movie stars as marquee characters, well it’s not entirely Chris Pine’s fault that Walt Disney’s The Finest Hours couldn’t justify an $80m budget.

Yes, budgets went up in the 1990s to where a big-budget movie cost $60 million-$100 million. But marketing costs were still comparatively kept in check because it wasn’t yet all about the opening Fri-Sun frame. Moreover, the upswing in budgets coincided with overseas expansion, a healthy post-theatrical life (the DVD boom was just around the corner) and a domestic expansion that brought surround sound, stadium seating and multiplexes into areas that were accustomed to so-called shoebox theaters. And, of course, before VOD and HDTVs changed viewing habits, folks still went to the movies just to go to the movies, giving more dramas or small-scale vehicles a chance to find an audience.

Gerard Butler is a prototypical movie star for an age when many movies have just gotten too big for star power. It’s a concept or brand-first industry, where Captain America is a movie star but Chris Evans is thrilled when Gifted gets to $25 million domestic and where a $10m debut for Christian Bale’s Hostiles is a relative win. Butler’s movies can be counted upon to open over/under $15m in North America. So the key is making sure that they are cheap enough for that to be an unqualified win. True movie stardom exists either at the right price or when your movie star (like Dwayne Johnson) is merely one key piece of an already compelling package.


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