Actors Shouldn’t Try to Sell Movies

By  · Published on July 7th, 2016

Let’s leave it to the marketing experts, shall we?

For more than a century, actors have been used to sell movies. They’ve been a draw for audiences who favor their appearance and maybe also their talent. But it’s never been their job to directly market their films personally. Yes, their faces adorn the posters, and they make the talk show rounds and do red carpet interviews, but that’s all for pageantry. Stars aren’t expected to be experts on the quality of movies. They can discuss their craft and performances all they want, but not the big picture.

Especially sight unseen.

Bryan Cranston is the latest actor to make a premature claim about a movie he’s starring in, and it’s reinforcing my belief that actors shouldn’t speak to the integrity of a home they’re merely furnishing. To be fair to Cranston, a comment he made to The Hufffington Post about Power Rangers has been blown out of proportion by the media because it seemed as if he compared the movie, in which he’s playing the character Zordon, to The Dark Knight, though that wasn’t really the case. Here is what he said:

“I wasn’t really high on it until I talked to the producer and read the script and talked to the director. After that I went, ‘This is different.’” He continued, “This is as different a reimagining as the ‘Batman’ television series as it became the ‘Batman’ movie series. You can’t compare those two, and nor can you compare this movie version of the ‘Power Rangers’ to that television series. It’s unrecognizable for the most part. There are tenets of the folklore that you hold onto for sure, but the inspiration is different, and the sensibility of it, and the approach to the film making is completely different.”

All Cranston really meant was that Power Rangers is a reimagined take on the mighty morphin’ superheroes and is not going to be silly like the TV show. Just as Tim Burton’s Batman movies weren’t silly like the Batman TV show. And same with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. When asked, expectedly, about Power Rangers’ similarity with the latter, he presumptively clarifies that it probably won’t be that dark in tone. It will very likely still be primarily for kids, or at least teenagers since it’s about teenagers.

Now the buzz is that he said Power Rangers is going to be like The Dark Knight, and because nobody pays attention to details beneath headlines, that means a lot of fans of both properties now anticipate something of a certain quality and, despite his comment, tone. And that’s a lot of weight on Power Rangers’ shoulders. And on the shoulders of Elizabeth Banks, who plays the villain, Rita Repulsa. Although principal shooting is completed, Cranston surely hasn’t seen much of what will be the final product. Nobody has.

Plenty of actors have made similar claims about their movies in the past, hoping to hype the release, maybe sometimes urged by the studios because obviously the media pays attention to what stars say. And it’s almost always with an unfair comparison. Matthew Modine likening Nolan’s direction of The Dark Knight Rises to Stanley Kubrick. Mark Ruffalo referencing Midnight Run when talking about Thor: Ragnarok. Cranston himself being quoted as seemingly equating Godzilla with Jaws. It happens all the time.

And Michael Fassbender now has us anticipating that Assassin’s Creed will be on par with The Matrix. Well, Empire magazine is mostly responsible for that. But Fassbender is one of that video game adaptation’s producers, so he has a little more credibility when it comes to discussing its quality. Or at least he has more authority with which to speak to its value as a whole. However, when he says Alien: Covenant looks like Blade Runner, at least in its design, who knows how much he can be trusted?

The only reason to take note of Cranston’s comments on Power Rangers is to consider his reason for signing on to the movie. He admits he was skeptical of the idea until he became convinced by what the script (currently credited to six people, including Max Landis) and director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) informed him about how different it will be. When Cranston was cast, the movie suddenly seemed like it could be good, but only based on our assumption that the actor knows what he’s doing.

Actors don’t always know what they’re doing. A great actor joining the cast of something like Power Rangers or X-Men: Apocalypse or anything we’re otherwise not interested in doesn’t mean the movie will be good. It might make us more interested in seeing it because of our usual enjoyment in watching that actor’s work as an actor, but that’s it. There are too many times where such a star has tried to convince us the clearly bad franchise installment they’ve been cast in is not just a paycheck role for them and therefore is worth seeing.

Why Movie Stars Still Exist Despite Their Lack of Box Office Appeal

There are also too many times where a smart, talented actor proves to have terrible judgment in choosing roles. Sean Connery actually retired because he had passed on The Lord of the Rings and maybe The Matrix but then thought The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be a big success. Some actors just need to work with good agents and let them determine proper career choices, just as all actors need to let the true movie marketers handle the selling of a movie. And maybe the film makers can take part in that, too.

Actors can still participate in the promotional process in ways they can do well. Appear on a late night talk show and do skits and tell funny anecdotes around a minimal amount of mention of the premise and set up of a clip for whatever movie they’re there to push. They can briefly explain their character and their portrayal of that character. But talking too much about the movies is a bad idea, one step above the very worst offense an actor can do to publicize their movie, which is addressed in the piece linked below.

Actors Shouldn’t Promote Their Movies In Character

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.