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Paging John Wayne: Hollywood's Leading Men Can't Lead Audiences into Seats

Paging John Wayne: Hollywood's Leading Men Can't Lead Audiences into Seats

What do some of the summer’s biggest flops have in common? They all feature leading men who were supposed to put fannies in the seats.

Will Smith (After Earth)

Channing Tatum (White House Down)

Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger)

Recent male-led releases like The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and 2 Guns (Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington) aren’t flops. They are just raking in much less money than anticipated.

The New Republic offers a wealth of quasi-answers with an uncomfortable bottom line. Audiences simply aren’t sold on the current male A-listers.

This isn’t solely a crisis about profits; it’s a cultural identity crisis. We go to the movies to see heroes doing heroic things, unlike the small screen, where the episodic nature of television has given way to the rise of the anti-hero. The emphasis on actors being able to singlehandedly, swaggeringly “open” or “carry”  or “rescue” a movie seems like an extension of that wish. And now movie stars, like sports and political figures before them, have let us down.

Hollywood’s rush to placate the foreign market makes sense on an economic level, but the article suggests that U.S. viewers still decide who will be the next male movie stars.

While some newer stars test unexpectedly well overseas (Kevin James is apparently quite popular in Germany), as one industry insider told Vulture, “Foreign buyers buy ‘yesterday,'” -i.e., established stars, like Bruce Willis. “They don’t buy ‘tomorrow.'” In other words, the taste-making onus still falls on Americans, who can’t seem to agree on what it is we want from male movie stars.

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