Can true movie stars exist in 2023?

Between social media and Hollywood churning out content, Zahra Hanif looks at the erosion of the concept of 'movie star'

Zahra Hanif
26th April 2023
Image from Twitter @VogueFrance
The clear cut definition of a ‘movie star’ would be an actor or actress that has starred in a few big films. But realistically, the term holds a lot more weight to it.

In a much more cultural sense, a movie star is a household name, a powerhouse who can sell out a cinema room by simply having their name attached to a movie poster. Or at least, was. Whether there are still actors or actresses that can draw in mass attention on their own - separate from a franchise -  in 2023 is widely debated, but even if there are, it’s nothing compared to the significance of the movie star that we’ve seen historically. 

The combination of movies being churned out at an unprecedented rate, and the social media appearance of our once beloved stars seems to have diluted their presence in the modern world. Viewers are simply overwhelmed - even bored, of those that they once adored. Julia Roberts this, Brad Pitt that - we’ve seen them a hundred times in a hundred different roles, turn it over. Their once major influence has been lost to societal exhaustion. 

Why not stick to what you know and love, rather than wasting two hours of your life watching a sub-par new independent release? 

The overproduction of films also means that audiences are less willing to branch out and watch original concept movies, no matter whose name is attached to them. They’d rather stick with a familiar franchise, such as Fast & Furious, or anything MCU. There’s endless films out at Odeon this week, and hundreds of new titles routinely being added to the likes of Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+ - why not stick to what you know and love, rather than wasting two hours of your life watching a sub-par new independent release? 

The rise of social media has also somewhat deglamorized the ones that we once worshipped. Take Leo DiCaprio for example. Once everyone’s favourite 90s heartthrob, guaranteed buzz for your film, a safe bet for a multimillion blockbuster. Now, thanks to Twitter, his reputation lies in the fact that he won’t date 26 year olds (see: ‘Leo’s Law’). Once, these people were entirely inaccessible to us, perhaps part of the charm lay in their mystique. But now, we can see them day-to-day, whether that be through a tweet or an Instagram Story - there’s just no excitement left in imagining what their world’s like. We’re bored. 

Dangerous idolisation in consequently formed parasocial relationships

So, the question arises: is this for better or for worse? Many would argue that the demise of the movie star is a cultural tragedy, but I would have to disagree. When we allow famous people a kind of untouchable status, this makes room for dangerous idolisation in consequently formed parasocial relationships. Glorifying an actor or actress for anything beyond the work that they put out for us to see is irrational, given that we know so little about them - no matter how many interviews you might watch or articles you might read about their personal life, you will likely never even have a conversation with them, let alone know their true character. 

However, the cultural loss still remains in the fact that the majority of audiences are lost on original concepts, or any kind of independent cinema. While I disagree with any blind affixation with an individual in the way that movie stars were glamorised, they did have their pros in that they were able to draw viewers into something new, now cult classics. Think Die Hard or Pretty Woman. It seems that Hollywood’s concern is now elevating products, i.e. profitable franchises, over people. So, movie stars have their pros and cons. Or, had.

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AUTHOR: Zahra Hanif
English literature student :)

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