There’s no question that the film industry has been changed by the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Superhero movies have taken the world by storm, especially recently. But are iconic directors right to say that Marvel’s superhero movies are really to blame for the so-called “death of the movie star?”
Legendary director Quentin Tarantino recently stirred up a storm when he claimed that movie stars don’t exist anymore. In short, he said that actors aren’t the stars in the films they’re in. Instead, the characters they play are the real stars. The most significant controversy here is his focus on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He references Captain America and Thor specifically, as he says those MCU heroes are the stars rather than Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth. But Tarantino is definitely not wrong with this take. He’s only wrong in putting the blame solely on Marvel.
The Film Industry Has Changed a Lot Over the Years
The alleged “death of the movie star” has been happening for decades. So, it’s nothing new and can’t really be blamed on something specific in today’s society. From the rise of franchises, the television renaissance, and other changes in Hollywood, there are plenty of factors leading up to where the film industry is now.
One of Hollywood’s first revolutions happened in the 1930s, known as the “Golden Era.” This time was arguably when the idea of a movie star came to fruition with household names like Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, and Joan Crawford. Similarly, the next decade showed a rise in movie studios, with eight big studios coexisting within Hollywood. These studios were Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, and RKO Radio, and a few of them faced their downfalls in the ’50s with the following advancements.
Starting with hits like I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone, television blew up. The idea that people could enjoy media from their living rooms led to the widespread use of TVs. This led to a stint in the film industry. It’s been said that this was around the time when the glamor of Hollywood disappeared. Movie executives tossed their “star system” as former A-listed ladies aged out or tragically passed like the always-exploited-and-mistreated Marilyn Monroe.
During the ’60s, TV and film were rivals, with the former thriving. Because of this, those movie studios abandoned the family-friendly vibes of the earlier generations and turned toward controversy. As sex, violence, and diversity became more normalized throughout the ’70s, there was a rise in horror and comedy in the ’80s. Household names were still prevalent during this time, with the likes of Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, and Stephen Spielberg becoming engrained in cinematic history.
The time around the ’90s and 2000s brought society a few different things, including the internet, social media, Blockbuster, and streaming services like Netflix. A lot of what became popular in this era is still seen or is at least remembered today. The internet and social media sites gave the industry a slightly larger marketing platform, and the late, great, Blockbuster arguably pioneered video sharing. Blockbuster would eventually get put out of business by the aforementioned streaming platforms.
The 2010s and on have emphasized accessibility, diversity, and popularity. An extraordinary rise in streaming is possibly the most relevant aspect of this era. It hasn’t overtaken the box office entirely, but there’s a similar relationship between cinema and streaming as there was with TV and film in the ’60s. Even actors have their spats with this. A notable example is Scarlett Johanson’s lawsuit against Disney for Black Widow being streamed on Disney+ during its theatrical run and thus risking her box office earnings. Speaking of Marvel, the 2010s also popularized movie franchises and the cinematic universe fad.
Movie Stars Don’t Have the Spotlight Anymore
Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the first person to make such statements, as even the MCU’s Anthony Mackie supported this stance years ago, stating that he is not a movie star; his character, The Falcon, is. This can mainly be attributed to the changes in cinema and society referenced above. But there’s still a relationship between the rise (and revitalization) of franchises and the “death of the movie star.”
There have been large shifts in the way people consume movies, but there’s also been a large shift in how companies produce movies. Tarantino refers to this as the “Marvel-ization of Hollywood,” and Marvel is not the only example of this phenomenon, though it’s one of the most famous of this generation. In general, there’s been a steep decline in people going to a movie theater for a specific actor. Instead, they go for the studio name attached or the franchise it’s a part of. The MCU has plenty of material that fits here, and it can be seen in the opening weekend box office profits of a lot of the movies. For example, the MCU movies with the word “Avengers” in the title — The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame — have a combined opening weekend total of over one billion dollars.
When Quentin Tarantino called out what’s happened to movie stars, he wasn’t wrong by any means. But, despite his statement’s focus on the MCU, Marvel cannot take all the blame for this. The movie industry has changed plenty over the decades, and the death of the movie star has been in the works for a long time.