January 09, 2016

After Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, The Hemsworths, Where Are The Men Of The Movies?


When the first Twilight film premiered in Sydney in 2008, the opening night screening had overtones of the Beatlemania that erupted around the Fab Four’s tour of Australia decades before. Teenage girls and young, well-dressed women dominated the audience. While they weren’t dissolving in tears or passing out as the Beatles’ fans did back in 1964, there was a similar release of pent-up emotion as newly minted screen heart-throb Robert Pattinson made his debut as Edward Cullen.

Cullen is the 108-year-old vampire who will always seem 17, and looking pale and aloof with his James Dean quiff and those transgressively pointy teeth, Pattinson didn’t have to do much to get a reaction from his infatuated fans. I still vividly remember the collective scream that went up when the model minority vampire — he and his otherworldly kin drink the blood of animals rather than humans — removed his sunglasses. This apparently shriek-worthy act revealed Cullen’s unnaturally bright brown eyes, set above cheek bones so high you could bungee jump from them

As is well known, the Twilight franchise is a lucrative Hollywood vampire romance based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling novels. Running to five films, the series has grossed more than $US3 billion internationally. At one point, it saw Pattinson become the biggest drawcard for young female cinemagoers since a baby-faced Leonardo di Caprio stopped Kate Winslet’s troubled society girl jumping off the aft deck in Titanic.


But for the British actor, who was just 22 when the first Twilight film was released, this adoration has not translated into long-term leading man status. Outside the franchise, he has appeared in mostly art-house films (The Rover, Maps to the Stars) without coming close to reprising the fame he enjoyed as the vampire who falls for the sullen, mildly alienated teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Indeed, a recent article published on The Vulture website revealed that male respondents to the site’s e-polls were “utterly repulsed’’ by actors (like Pattinson and Zac Efron) who had vaulted to stardom in franchises aimed at young, predominantly female audiences.

Some of those hostile respondents may have been trolls. Nevertheless, Pattinson’s sharp detour into the auteur scene highlights a puzzling 21st-century trend: Hollywood’s inability to produce a new generation of young male superstars (especially homegrown stars), even though the industry relies heavily on the same male demographic for its largest box office returns.

George. Tom. Brad. Denzel. Leonardo. In their mega buck-earning heyday, these leading men combined chiselled good looks with empathy and star power — a quality at once hard to pin down and palpable — whether they were playing a cocky navy jet pilot (Cruise in Top Gun) or mashing up a bleached blonde surfer look with androgynous thigh-high leather boots (Pitt in Troy).

Di Caprio was just 22 when he (reluctantly at first) signed up for Titanic, which was released in 1997 and became the highest-grossing film to that point. Cruise was 24 when he starred as a maverick pilot in Top Gun, which, against expectations, became the biggest earning film of 1986. A 27-year-old Pitt was sporting a cowboy hat when he flaunted his toned, shirtless torso in front of an appreciative female global audience, in his breakthrough role in 1991’s Thelma & Louise.

In contrast, in the US today, there is talk of a drought of leading men under 40 (combined with unease at the invasion of British and Australian actors showing the Yanks how it’s done). In July, The Atlantic published an article titled “The Decline of the American Actor’’, which asked why “the under-40s generation of leading men in the US is struggling’’.

The Vulture website concurred that in contrast to the proliferation of young female stars (Jennifer Lawrence, Saoirse Ronan, Bel Powley, Elle Fanning) in recent or forthcoming movies, “it’s starting to feel like we’re in the middle of a pretty severe young-actor drought’’. The site conducted a survey of Oscar nominees aged 25 or under from the past decade, and discovered a stark gender imbalance — in favour of actresses. While 15 young women, including Emma Stone, Lawrence and Keira Knightley, received Academy Award nominations between 2005 and 2014, only three young men achieved this. Two of them (Ryan Gosling and our own Heath Ledger) were non-Americans.

Writer Kyle Buchanan commented: “Over the last decade, Hollywood has failed to grow a new crop of young leading men like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling, all of whom were Oscar-nominated for 25-and-under roles that helped establish them as the standard-bearers of their generation.’’ He concluded: “It’s clearly a boom time for acclaimed ingenues, but young men aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.’’

Of course, the dominance of actresses aged under 25 in Oscar nominations also reflects the paucity of decent roles for older women. Make no mistake: Although younger women are having a reasonable run in the film colony (especially in franchise and ensemble action movies), the time-honoured Hollywood trad­ition of hitching a fresh-faced beauty to an actor who could pass for her favourite uncle, shows no sign of fading. In the 2011 action film Unknown, Liam Neeson, then in his late 50s, was married to 33-year-old January Jones. Two years on, in Third Person, the hyperactive Irish sexagenarian was paired with 29-year-old Olivia Wilde. As one blogger wryly noted, that’s virtually a full January Jones between them.

While Hollywood’s distaste for middle-aged actresses is almost a given, the shortage of young, bankable male stars seems surprising, counterintuitive even. So what is fuelling this trend? 

Two-time Oscar winner Michael Douglas reckons there is a “crisis in young American actors right now”. 


The Hollywood veteran has said a younger generation of Americans obsessed with social media and self-image have ceded coveted roles to non-Americans, including Australians. “Everyone’s much more image conscious than they are (passionate) about actually playing the part,” Douglas said in an interview with Britain’s The Independent newspaper earlier this year. While the British “take their training seriously’’, Australian actors were in favour because of their overt masculinity. “In the US,’’ said Douglas, “we have this relatively asexual or unisex area with sensitive young men, and we don’t have many Channing Tatums or Chris Pratts, while the Aussies do. It’s a phenomenon.”

Douglas was surely referring to Australian brothers Chris and Liam Hemsworth, rising Hollywood stars and alumni of local soaps Home and Away and Neighbours respectively, who are the epitome of beefy masculinity. 

In fact, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was so muscular, you could see his biceps through his armour, while in the just-released In the Heart of the Sea the bearish blond plays a hunter — a recklessly driven seaman — who ends up being hunted by a gigantic, vengeful whale. (This film tells the story that reportedly inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.) The actor’s younger brother, Liam, portrays one of Lawrence’s love interests in the Hunger Games franchise, and manages to upstage his romantic rival (American Josh Hutcherson) throughout.

Hollywood’s fading affair with its local gen Y actors has also been attributed to structural factors: big-budget films are marketed increasingly at global audiences and animated by dazzling special effects and stunts that cross cultures more readily than wildly overpaid caucasian leading men. Hollywood producer and director Brett Ratner has said: “Movie stars are no longer really driving cinema … now it’s about the intellectual property and the idea.’’

Another factor is the growing realisation that stars’ importance to the box office bottom line has been exaggerated in the past. In a 2013 BBC story headlined “Fifty shades of bland: Hollywood’s leading man shortage’’, Toby Miller, author of Global Hollywood 2, said: “The research shows that the impact of stars on the success of Hollywood motion pictures has always been exaggerated by publicists, agents and studio heads.’’ However, Miller disagreed with the idea America was facing a dearth of leading men. He pointed out that while “we have less faith in bankable stars opening movies who are young’’, there was still an “array of young men who are given chances in good roles’’.

Nevertheless, box office statistics strongly suggest computer-generated special effects may be the true stars of contemporary, mass market cinema. According to the website Box Office Mojo, of the 10 top grossing films worldwide to date, three are children’s movies, while the remaining six are action adventures or sci-fi stories powered by hi-tech movie magic. (The top five are, in order, Avatar, Titanic, Jurassic World, Marvel’s The Avengers and Furious 7. The latter film is typical of the new pecking order: it features a multicultural ensemble cast and high-octane stunts including supercar drivers parachuting out of a plane while still behind the wheels of their souped-up vehicles.)

The crop of Hollywood films being released around Christmas provides further evidence of the dominance of middle-aged male actors, from Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in family comedy Daddy’s Home to Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro (appearing alongside Lawrence) in Joy, another family comedy about a woman who builds an unlikely business dynasty.


On the other hand, one of the year’s most ­eagerly awaited releases, Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opened earlier this month, may have bucked the trend. While old hands Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher return to the epic space saga, 23-year-old newcomer John Boyega features in a lead role alongside the equally youthful Daisy Ridley. Boyega (who plays a reformed stormtrooper) becomes the first black man in the series to wield a light sabre. Still, there is a catch — he and Ridley are Brits, which will only compound anxieties about the inability of the nation that invented the global film industry to supply a new generation of homegrown leading men.


Virtually everywhere you look in film, network and cable TV drama there are British actors pretending to be Americans. Among them are Rupert Friend and Damian Lewis in Homeland, Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead and Tom Hardy in the recent films Inception, Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises. Writing in The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty says the outsourcing of roles to non-American actors may have peaked with the civil rights film Selma, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, his wife Coretta Scott King, governor George Wallace and president Johnson were all played by Brits. 

African American director Spike Lee says it’s all about the rigorous theatrical training UK actors receive. “Oh yeah, I mean as a director, you don’t care where somebody is from,” he says. “You want talented people. It’s evident to me that this ‘black Brit invasion’ is spurred on by the great craft that these actors have.’’

The fact that so many British and Australian actors who have international film careers (Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Geoffrey Rush, Hugh Jackman, Hardy, Toni Collette) are theatre-trained is telling. Grappling with the classics, especially Shakespeare, forces actors to hone their technique like little else. And without a body or stunt double in sight, live theatre is often more exposing for actors than film work.


 Many actors willingly humiliate themselves on stage night after night — sitting on a toilet, undies around their ankles; simulating sex with a bunch of flowers; lying trussed up in their Y-fronts for an entire act. At a time when many young people post flattering photographs of themselves online on an almost daily basis, this rigorous, even brutal training surely results in performers prepared to give an egoless, committed turn in front of the footlights or the cameras.

As definitions of masculinity become more fluid, another problem, as Douglas indirectly suggested, is that the studios may be anointing the wrong candidates as their emerging leading men. By turns awkward, inscrutable and devious, Jesse Eisenberg convinced as a young Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, a role which garnered him an Oscar nomination. But could the 32-year-old New York native carry a romantic film or swords-and-sandals epic? It’s doubtful.

Another young American actor, Adam Driver, has been described, optimistically, as representing a new breed of leading man. Driver played a deeply unlikable romantic lead in cable drama Girls and an unlikely Lothario figure in the quirky independent feature Frances Ha (he has also landed a role as a villain in Star Wars). He may have been nominated for three Emmys for his Girls role, but there is little to love about Driver’s character, Adam Sackler, or the actor’s performance — Sackler is a former alcoholic who lives off family money, neglects his girlfriend, is obsessed with demeaning sex and seems to commit a date rape. This actor, seemingly, is a charisma-free zone.

He is not conventionally handsome or empathetic, yet Newsweek recently described him as “the hipster Don Draper’’. This desperate comparison only serves to highlight the lack of younger American actors who could emulate Jon Hamm’s dark yet unmistakeable appeal.

The tendency to misread actors’ sex appeal can also be seen in The Hunger Games finale, Mockingjay Part 2, released last month. The dystopian series based on Suzanne Collins’s best-­selling young adult novels involves a well-documented love triangle.

When lead character Katniss (Lawrence) isn’t taking down dictators and killer mutts with her miraculously accurate bow and arrow, she must decide which of two would-be boyfriends to hook up with: Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is her hunting partner and fellow rebel, while Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta is like Katniss, a Hunger Games survivor. The trouble with this scenario is that (spoiler alert here) Peeta, the man she ultimately chooses, is played by an actor with whom Lawrence has no detectable on-screen chemistry.

In the final film, Peeta seems defeated, worn out and in almost constant need of rescuing (to be fair, he has been brainwashed by the forces of evil). In contrast, Hemsworth’s Gale is all blazing blue eyes and towering dependability — as he has been for most of the series. This character was once publicly whipped for protecting an elderly woman from a sadistic peacekeeper.

As the credits roll, Hutcherson, whose performance is bland at best, gets higher billing than Hemsworth. Call me biased, but it is the 25-year-old Aussie who seems the natural partner for The Hunger Games’ often-broken but flinty heroine, who happens to be played by Hollywood’s highest-paid actress. This is another case of dire miscasting, in an era when few young men are being called on to anchor big-budget movies.

By Rosemary Neill

With many thanks to The Australian


Clint Eastwood's Latest Biopic - Sully


Daniel Day-Lewis Receives A Knighthood

Burt Bacharach Brings Back The Hits: From Marlene Dietrich to Glastonbury

How Sergio Leone’s Westerns Changed Cinema

Top 10 Movie Twists of All Time

 Oscar Winners 2016: The Full List 

Tina Turner: What’s Age Got To Do With It? 

Sylvester Stallone: Not Feeling Old!

Michael Douglas: The Hemsworth Brothers And Hugh Jackman Are Hollywood Gold 

Hedy Lamarr - Beauty And Brains in Abundance

"Rush" - An Under-rated Ron Howard Movie

Charlie Chaplin: The Birth Of The Tramp

Carlos Gardel And The Tango In Movies

The 100 Most Iconic Movie Lines of All Time

The Importance of Costume in Films: Some Iconic Images of our Culture

Hollywood Costume Exhibit In Los Angeles

Biopics Now Focus On Key Moments Rather Than A Whole Life 

Some Biopic Actors And Their Real-Life Counterparts

Edith Piaf: In search of La Vie en Rose 

Is "Gone with the Wind" America’s Strangest Film? 

A Look at a Legend: Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor Quotes

Top 10 Best Actress Oscar Winners Ever? 

10 Historically Inaccurate Movies

Robert Mitchum: Film Noir Legend 

Clint Eastwood - A True "Renaissance Man" - Updated

John Wayne 7th Most Popular Star - Still!

How Marlon Brando Almost Missed His Defining Role

A Look at a Legend: Elizabeth Taylor

Top 10 Best Actress Oscar Winners Ever?

The Book Every Movie Lover Should Own:David Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film

Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films

Paul Newman - Hollywood Legend 

Rita Hayworth - The Dancing Queen

Orry-Kelly:The untold story Of A Hollywood legend - "Women He's Undressed" Review

Top 10 Movie Sets Ever Built

A Look at a Legend: Rita Hayworth

Maggie Smith: Michael Coveney’s Biography 

Dolly Parton: A Biography Movie And A Time Capsule For Her 100th Birthday

Temple Grandin

Woman in Gold: Another Biopic For Dame Helen Mirren  

Loretta Lynn 

The Best Movies of 2015

Sophia Loren Quotes 

The Man Behind the Most Iconic Movie Posters of the ’80s and ’90s

George Lucas Defends Greedo Shooting Han First

The 100 Most Iconic Movie Lines of All Time

The Importance of Costume in Films: Some Iconic Images of our Culture

Hollywood Costume Exhibit In Los Angeles

Benedict Cumberbatch And Eddie Redmayne: The Changing Face Of Hollywood 

Frank Sinatra: 100 Years of Great Music - December 12th

 Star Wars Veterans Ford, Fisher and Hamill Return For New Film

The 10 Greatest Movie Sequels Of All Time 

Star Wars Lightsabers Finally Invented - Almost! 

Researchers Have Created Glasses-free 3D Holograms Using Graphene

Hans Solo's 'Chewie, We're Home' Teaser Trailer For New Star Wars Film Delights Fans 

The 10 Greatest Movie Sequels Of All Time

Star Wars: How The Science Is Actually Real

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Carrie Fisher on return of Leia

Alfred Hitchcock: Mysteries Of The Master Of Suspense

Televison 2016: Some Shows We Can Expect To See

How Groucho Marx Invented Modern Comedy

Marilyn Monroe: Fashioning The Myth And The Reality

Gregory Peck: Hollywood Legend 

A History Of Mick Jagger On Film

Florence Foster Jenkins: Meryl Streep's Latest Biopic

Citizen Kane: Orson Welles’s Masterpiece, As A 1941 NYT Critic Saw It

"The Man Who Knew Infinity" Review - Jeremy Irons And Dev Patel

New Book: Mom In The Movies By Richard Corliss

The 100 Greatest American Films

Loving Vincent: The World's First Fully Painted Film 

Dean Martin: 99 Years Of His Music and Movies

The Lasting Legacy Of The Good, The Bad And the Ugly

Are These The Top 10 Songs Named After Famous People?

Marilyn Monroe: Her Secret Diary

The Rolling Stones: A New Movie About The Making of 'Exile on Main Street'

Famous Blondes, From Monroe and Novak To Bardot And Basinger 

Gene Wilder: Master Of Comedy

10 Historical Movies That Mostly Get It Right

Long-Lost Peter Sellers Films Found In Rubbish Skip

Are These The Top 10 Comedy Actors of All Time?