Pitt & Smith’s Last Stand: A Changing of the Guard for Hollywoods Action Heroes?

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The axes and blunt objects had been polished for Pitt when zombie thriller World War Z was being voted as a floater even before it hit cinemas. With a financial plan rumored to be in excess of $400m including marketing, it was being shadowed as this year’s John Carter. When the sci-fi adventure took a dive like a Russian hockey player last summer, Disney boss Rich Ross resigned from his position; the film apparently lost $200m. The concern was that Pitt’s name unaided could not sell the picture. In the end, the opening weekend saw the Pitt film take home more than $60m at the American box office and $117m worldwide. The dire pre-release predictions meant that what were in modern blockbuster terms quite ordinary numbers were painted as a success, with suggestions there might be a sequel.

On face value, the numerical figures looked great for Pitt, but they did not quite masquerade the new reality in Hollywood that views star-vehicle blockbusters as a risky commodity. Monsters University, a computer generated animation film from Pixar, beat World War Z to top spot in the box office. Other movies released this year with production costs in the $200m budget range, such as Man of Steel and Iron Man, opened with weekends garnering well over $100m in the United States alone. The diverse critical reaction of the zombie thriller could also see the WWZ box office plummet in the way that Man of Steel stumbled in its second week. For now, Mr. Pitt has at least avoided the box-office curse that infected his colleagues earlier this 2013.

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It seems absurd to talk about the ex- Fresh Prince star having to reconstruct his castle because After Earthonly” took $27m on its opening weekend. But to film trade magazine Variety it was a flop. There were abundant reasons why, none of which looks good for Mr. Smith. It most certainly didn’t help that he was partnered with filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan to make  this glum sci-fi thriller, in which Smith’s son Jaden is alone on screen fighting poorly rendered CG creatures for most of the film.

Furthermore, most (if not all) of Shyamalns films has flopped and the fact that Sci-Fi/Action is not his main wheelhouse should scare you alone as a financier. Since the 1996 release of Independence Day, every Smith summer movie has debuted at No 1 at the U.S box office. But After Earth came third, behind Fast and Furious 6, on its second week of release and, even more astonishingly, Now You See Me, a heist movie starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo. The number is also bad when comparing like with like. Of Smith’s previous films, the gross is more in line with his low-budgeted dramas such as The Pursuit of Happyness than blockbuster titles Men in Black and Hancock. All this alludes to why financiers believing there is no advantage in paying Smith big cheddar points for the Independence Day sequel.

In addition to the above mentioned, both Pitt and Smith included their next of kin in some way shape or form in their recent films. Smith had his son (Jaden Smith) take second in command in After Earth which seemed to be a bit of a turn off to most movie goers as nepotism most often does. Pitt in World War Z had his son cast as one of the zombies who gets shot in the film (it’s a minor role-but still a role).

Shamelessly casting next of kin in movies is something to be expected from someone like Kevin Costner (See The Postman), not from these two action heroes (sorry Kevin). This whole career move reminds me of how the legendary 80’s singer Eddie Money conducts himself these days by showcasing his daughter Jessie Money at all his haphazard shows(he can still play that saxophone), or how Billy Ray Cyrus pulls the strings on Miley’s career.

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Eddie Money & daughter Jessie Money on Fox and Friends All American Concert Series

With all that said, we may be witnessing a changing of the guard in Hollywood’s main heroes.

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