It has become noticeable over the past two decades that franchises themselves are becoming more and more important over which person stars in them. This is largely due to a blurring effect that modern media has created. Back 30 years ago, you really only had 3 outlets for mainstream entertainment: movie theaters, a few television channels, and radio/tapes and records. Now we’ve got dozens to choose from: hundreds of television channels, online shows, iTunes, Netflix, videogames, satellite radio, podcasts, blogs, YouTube, etc.
With all these new media outlets, it has accelerated the blurring effect tenfold. All of these outlets have increased the number of films and shows we watch greatly, and it becomes more difficult to make profit off of unknown films and franchises. There were fewer mediums for us to sort through in previous decades. The further back you go in film history, the sharper the memory will likely be for the masses. This enhances brand recognition and is leading to all those ridiculous remakes, reboots, and sequels that often have no business being made. If a film has a name the audience instantly recognizes, then it will add a lot of financial security to that film project.
While the Hollywood blockbuster has been around since the 70s, they were still looking for the next big star to always create big franchises rather than have a star serve an already created franchise as they do today. With the exception of the comedy genre, this has lead to a decline in star power and more about franchise power and making it all the more likelythat an actor will never move beyond their original blockbuster.
Take a look at the cast of The Expendables 2; most of these action stars are in their 50s to early 70s. They mostly got their big break in the 80s, and the young actionstar that was given to us was Liam Hemsworth, a person certainly not known for being an action star. Since 2000, there hasn’t really been a true action star that has emerged that wasn’t largely present in at least the 90s, and even then the genre seemed to be on the decline. Most action films these days seem to be overshadowed by either the science fiction, superhero, or fantasy genres instead of playing the genre straight.
But even ignoring the action genre, these new stars have had a hard time establishing themselves as a household name that everyone in America and especially the world can name. Michael Fassbender and Joseph Gordon-Levitt seem to be getting the closest to this point with great film after great film, and even appearing in many action films, they don’t seem to be common household names outside those familiar with the film industry. They can recognize what characters they’ve played and what films they’ve appeared in, but that seems to be the limit to the casual filmgoer.
There has really been no one who has entered the film industry since the 2000s who has achieved a Will Smith level of fame. This seems particularly ironic due to the fact that this is now the age in television and entertainment where you can become famous for really doing nothing.