A-list stars ignored at box office

HOLLYWOOD — The stars are not twinkling bright this summer.

Hollywood’s movie studios, hopeful that marquee-name actors would push their summer box-office receipts to record levels, are finding that the heavyweights aren’t winning over audiences like they used to.

With all but a couple of big-budget films already opened, the summer of 2009 is shaping up to be one of the worst on record for Hollywood’s A-list talent.

The studios stocked this summer’s release schedule with “star vehicles,” including “Land of the Lost” with Will Ferrell, “Year One” featuring Jack Black, “Imagine That” with Eddie Murphy, and Denzel Washington and John Travolta in a remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123.” But rather than igniting ticket sales, the star-studded movies have under-performed dramatically.

The brightest stars of the lucrative popcorn season — which typically accounts for about 40 percent of annual ticket sales — instead have turned out to be mostly movies with no-name actors — or no actors at all.

So far, the summer’s most profitable film has been the Warner Bros. surprise hit “The Hangover,” a $35-million-budget R-rated comedy about a bachelor party in Las Vegas that boasts not a single household-name actor but has reached $183 million in U.S. ticket sales since its June 5 opening and is expected to exceed $200 million.

Other summer hits like J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” and Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” showcase eye-popping visual effects along with up-and-coming talent.

And, the highest-grossing summer movie so far? Walt Disney Co.’s “Up,” the Pixar-animated movie starring the voice of … Ed Asner.

The studios, which for years have banked on richly paid stars to open movies, are witnessing a new reality: Even the most reliable actors can be trumped by what Hollywood executives like to call “high concepts” (a bachelor party gone awry), movies based on brand-name products (Hasbro’s Transformers toys) and reinvented franchises (not your father’s “Star Trek”).

Even before the summer movie season began in earnest on Memorial Day weekend, there were flashing yellow lights that older audiences were shunning more serious fare despite the stature of the lead actor.

Universal’s recent releases, “State of Play” starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, and “Duplicity” with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts (who not long ago was Hollywood’s most celebrated female star), both bombed, as did Universal-DreamWorks’ “The Soloist,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.

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