The Chicken Little sentiment of the day is that Angelina Jolie’s passing on Gravity – the incredibly cool-sounding sci-fi flick from Alfonso Cuaron – could possibly sink the ship. After all, Warners is sending $80 million up into orbit, and the film rests almost solely on the shoulders of the female lead.
Who could be worth that kind of money?
That question and the concept that any actor’s refusal could possibly sink a production would have mattered five years ago, but we’re past the point where actors matter all that much anymore. I’ll grant that Salt made over $100 million domestic, and it was done on Jolie’s shoulders. Yes, she has the capability of creating large numbers.
But to think that the sky is falling just because she declined is foolish, and here’s why.
Jolie Isn’t a Sure Thing Anyway
Salt was a minor hit, but it wasn’t a nuclear explosion of cash for the studio. Plus, her track record isn’t exactly proof that her involvement would matter. Did the fans go to see her when they bumped Wanted over $100 million, or was it the comic book or the concept? Did the fans go to see her when they sent Mr. and Mrs. Smith north of the mark, or was it Brad Pitt, or the combination? Her last film before Salt to truly carry as her own was Changeling, and that wasn’t exactly a cash cow.
She sells tabloids, but that doesn’t mean she’s the end all of film headliners. Especially in a world where headliners matter less and less. It’s fun to think that she’s a massive sales presence, and it probably sells more papers to think that way, but she’s not (in the same way that nobody is anymore).
Alfonso Cuaron Will Help Sell It
Cuaron isn’t box office gold either – barring his stint into big franchise land – but his credibility cash-wise has done nothing but grow. From his first indie offerings to Children of Men, he’s more than tripled his box office take, and it couldn’t hurt to have “From the Director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” on the trailers.
There are Other Actresses Out There
Even if Jolie was a massive box office sensation, there are other actresses that can put butts into seats and probably do a better job acting. Not all of these names fulfill that second feature, but the point is that the production has options. They’ve been talking to Scarlett Johansson and Blake Lively – both of whom already have solid recognition. In fact, Lively will probably have more after The Green Lantern next summer. Not to mention Rachel McAdams, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman or up-and-comers like Zoe Saldana and Carey Mulligan. The last two wouldn’t draw nearly as much as Jolie, granted, but Bullock has arguably better bankability right now.
I realize that the concept of talent has no bearing on this situation because it’s all about whether or not the film will flounder without Jolie, but giving Cuaron a talent (and not a name) is a better bet toward winning the weekend.
Warners is a Smart Studio
The number one reason why this film isn’t in dire straights is because Warners isn’t dumb. They couldn’t get the most recognizable face on the planet to star in their mid-to-high budget sci-fi flick? Who cares?
This is the same studio that let Jody Hill and Seth Rogen run rampant all over a mall. It’s also the same studio that gave $35 million to Todd Phillips to do whatever he wanted and reaped the benefits of The Hangover. Sure, $80 million is in that weird range where it’s no longer safe, but it’s not a $250 million comic book movie. Yes, science fiction is a tougher sell than a comedy where a baby gets hit in the face. That doesn’t mean the risk here isn’t worth taking (or that it’s much of risk without Jolie anyway).
Even if there is, Warners is a studio that’s taking chances right now and winning big off them. They’ll find another actress that they like, and that Cuaron falls for, and they’ll make the movie together. By the time it comes out, no one will even remember Jolie was up for the role. Plus, it’s clear from their list of possible stars that scratching Jolie’s name off the sheet didn’t leave a blank page.
In conclusion, the movie will be made. If it doesn’t, it won’t be simply because a semi-blockbusting name like Jolie turned it down. It’s a miracle that any movie gets made at all, but there are elements here that are far more enticing than her name on a billboard. There are options out there, and Warners is smart enough to know what they are and to go after them.
In other words, Gravity will still be in place when this all blows over.