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Business Week: "Female Stars Don't Boost Ticket Sales"

from businessweek.com

JULY 10, 2006

BusinessWeek.com attempted to assess female stars, but validated one of Hollywood's darkest secrets: Women stars don't necessarily help boost ticket sales. Certainly, some actresses are sure things at the box office, especially Julia Roberts. But Roberts and Angelina Jolie have been virtual no-shows since 2004, headlining only one movie apiece as both started families. And some other major actresses had wildly uneven years: Reese Witherspoon helped turn Walk the Line into a huge hit last year, but didn't do much for Just Like Heaven. The best of the group may well be Jennifer Anniston, who is riding a hot streak with her current film The Break Up and in 2004 starred with Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly, which grossed $87.9 million on a $42 million budget. However, Anniston's other two films during the same period, Rumor Has It and Derailed, either lost money or were break-even propositions. With a sample of films this uneven, BusinessWeek decided instead to sit back and watch their coming performances.

As for some other Hollywood big money players, next on the list were Tom Cruise and Will Smith, who both posted a 53% return on investment for films they've starred in since 2004. (Sandler, by the way, chalks up a 16.8% return for the four films he has starred in over that period, including a projected $110 million box office for Click.)

Among other major actors with hefty returns on investment: Tom Hanks, who showed a return of 43% for the his three films since 2004, which included the mega-hit The Da Vinci Code, and The Terminal, where his box-office draw helped make a ho-hum film with a $60 million budget into a $218.7 million worldwide hit. Hanks just edged Ben Stiller, with a 41% rate of return for the five films he has starred in over that same three-year period, including the low-budget blockbuster Dodgeball, cheapies like Along Came Polly, and the outsized hit Meet the Fockers.

EXPENSIVE EFFECTS. The rankings may well validate the lofty status that Hollywood affords some of its Grade A stars, like Cruise, who commands $20 million or more in salary and a cut of the profits. But it also says a great deal about the kinds of film projects that they choose to create for these biggies. Cruise and Smith share the top spot in large part because of the gigantic special effects and other expenses that go with their films, making them into mega-events with well over $100 million price tags. Cruises' last film, Mission Impossible III, cost $150 million to produce and another $50 million or so to promote. Same for Smith's 2004 flick, I, Robot, which cost $120 million to make.

But the films in which they star in also sell well overseas, where a growing percentage of Hollywood's revenues are now generated. I, Robot sold $347 million worth of tickets worldwide, on top of millions of DVDs in both the U.S. and abroad. When Cruise made War of the Worlds, sales more than doubled overseas and totaled $588.9 million worldwide, according to imdb.com, in no small measure because Cruise shared the film's top billing with director Steven Spielberg. Another ROI finalist, Brad Pitt, had a 30% return on equity for his three films since 2004, which included the sexy shoot-em-up Mr. & Mrs. Smith. That film doubled its $186.3 million U.S. take in large part because of the steamy romance between Pitt and co-star Angelina Jolie.

By contrast, actors like Perry and Sandler, who stars mostly in comedies, rarely get the huge boost from sales in overseas markets, which have traditionally been less receptive to U.S.-style humor. Sandler's film 50 First Dates sold about half the amount of tickets overseas that it sold in the U.S., where it was a $120.7 million blockbuster on a $75 million budget. (Of course, credit his co-star Drew Barrymore, whose name certainly didn't hurt the film.)

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