But Jennifer Aniston is a celebrity, and if the Age of the Movie Star is over, the Age of the Celebrity isn’t going anywhere. The numbers on these lists almost seem like mathematical proof of William Goldman’s oft-quoted adage that, in Hollywood, “nobody knows anything”; if there’s no such thing as a sure bet, then let’s keep making the same bets we’ve been placing for years, writing giant checks to Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise like it’s 1998 or something.
Or over-betting on the next big thing, mistranslating Middle America’s urgent desire to see Channing Tatum in his underwear to paying him $60 million for the year (#2 on the Forbes list, second only to Robert Downey Jr.), only to watch their money go up in flames when White House Down tanked — in the same season when presumably “sure thing” actors like Johnny Depp and Will Smith were brutally notified that their names couldn’t open a movie either.
So if movie stars are irrelevant, what does make a movie a success these days? The answer is elsewhere on the Forbes countdowns: with Kristen Stewart (#3 on the actress list), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (#5 on the actor list), and Robert Downey Jr. (#1 on the actor list). None of them are foolproof “movie stars,” and if you don’t believe me, ask the producers of Adventureland, Snitch, and The Soloist. But they were smart (or lucky) enough to attach themselves to franchises, and that’s what’s reflected in those numbers — not loyalty to Stewart, Johnson, and Downey, but to Twilight and The Fast and the Furious and Iron Man. As the movie star fades, the “brand” will become that much more of a driver of what movies are financed. And that may be even more depressing.