Movie stars have a strange place in Hollywood. They are the face that audiences rely on to trust that a movie is worthy of their time. But some fear that the era of movie stars is reaching an end, and a new study that has been going around the film community makes me wonder if the iconic status of movie stardom is over or, at least, evolved into something else.

National Research Group, the analysis firm that specializes in entertainment and tech, commissioned a survey asking movie watchers and consumers to name five actors that would make them go watch a movie in a theater. The question wasn't "Who are your favorite stars?" or "Who do you think are the biggest movie stars today?" The question asked was simple and pointed: "Who do you most want to watch in theaters?" 

In an industry where studios are debating whether they should take the financial risk of releasing in theaters, studio executives have to question if the film's stars are bankable. While actors like Jenna Ortega, Zendaya, Tom Holland, and Timothée Chalametare all huge stars, we have to ask if they can draw in a big enough audience. I would say yes, but when I asked my parents, their response is, "Who is that, again?"

So, what kinds of actors do audiences actually want to see? NRG's study and its Top 100 Actors list to its studio clients, who reported this list to Matthew Belloni at Puck, reveals the answer.

Top_gun_maverick_flights'Top Gun: Maverick'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Who Do Audiences Want to See in those Blockbuster Movies?

According to NRG's study, the top 20 actors (in order of their ranking) include:

  1. Tom Cruise
  2. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
  3. Tom Hanks
  4. Brad Pitt
  5. Denzel Washington
  6. Julia Roberts
  7. Will Smith
  8. Leonardo DiCaprio
  9. Johnny Depp
  10. Kevin Hart
  11. Keanu Reeves
  12. Sandra Bullock
  13. Ryan Reynolds
  14. Adam Sandler
  15. Harrison Ford
  16. George Clooney
  17. Robert Downey, Jr.
  18. Angelina Jolie
  19. Morgan Freeman
  20. Chris Hemsworth

While we know everyone on this list, it is strange that everyone here is from another decade. The average age of this lot is 57.5 years old, with only four of them in their 40s. Both Morgan Freeman and Harrison Ford are in their 80s. Where are the current young movie stars like Michael B. Jordan, Jennifer Lawrence, Margot Robbie, and Tom Holland? Where are the stars that define the new decade of cinema?

It seems that the appeal for a theatrical release comes from two ideas: familiarity and nostalgia.

A_good_personMorgan Freeman as Daniel and Florence Pugh as Allison in 'A Good Person'Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Watching movies and prestigious TV at home has become the norm, with Sunday nights becoming dominated by HBO hits like White Lotus, The Last of Us, and Succession. Outside of those big hit TV shows, the monoculture around film is barely breathing. As Belloni says, "If theatrical hits represent the monoculture, and the monoculture is dead, then the stars who connote theaters are necessarily the old stars."

The younger generation isn't completely absent from NRG's study, but the numbers are still bleak.

Ortega, Holland, Zendaya, and Chalamet are under 30 years old and made the Top 100 Actors list, but that's it. Only 4% of the movie stars that matter in theaters are under 30. Are young actors too new for audiences to be familiar with, or are these actors appearing in so many different projects across multiple platforms that audiences don't consider them to be traditional movie stars?

Then again, what is a traditional movie star these days?

Jenna-ortega-xJenna Ortega as Lorraine Day in 'X'Credit: A24

Why Does This Matter to You and Studios?

NRG's study was conducted for studios to know which stars in Hollywood are safe bets to go with when casting for a potentially big blockbuster movie. If you want audiences to come and watch the movie in theaters, then cast anyone from the Top 20. In short: studios are going to trust the data when they want to make a profit.

Here is where the problem lies. If a studio is making a big-budget movie starring Florance Pugh, who didn't make the Top 100 Actors list, the studio might start to worry about the film's success if it were to get a theatrical release. Who would see the film? Sure, you and I would, but is that enough to justify the budget to make the film?

If a studio wants to make a rom-com with actors under 30 who have that appeal to a large audience, then the pool is extremely limited with four people to choose from.

Zendaya-duneZendaya as Chani in 'Dune: Part One'Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Blockbusters and movie stars seem to no longer be in the same conversation. Instead, they are two separate entities that don't need each other to succeed, even if they do help support each other from time to time. Today's big hits come from a story's character and the arc the character has to go on through their journey. Great characters that are played by good actors and a great story seem to triumph over movie stardom.

Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. Some studios might take a while to notice this trend since they are hyperfocused on numbers over creative endeavors, but great writing and direction will always get audiences to fill those theater seats.

Let us know what actor gets you to go watch a movie in theaters in the comments below!

Source: Puck