April 8, 2011

CAREERS AT STAKE: Russell Brand, Movie Star?

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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Each Friday we will take a look at who has something big riding on the upcoming weekend.  It could be an actor, a director, a studio executive, a marketing team, or even a studio itself.  Today in this inaugural edition of Careers at Stake we examine Russell Brand, who is being asked to open Arthur, his first movie in a leading role. 

Before we begin, let me say I am not a fan of Russell Brand.  I mean really not a fan.  Annoying, cloying and obnoxious are adjectives that come to mind when I think of Brand.  And this assessment comes from one of the biggest Anglophiles on the planet.  I must say, I feel uncomfortable criticizing Brand after reading his bio.  The abuse, the incredibly sad health problems of his mum, the eating disorder, the addictions, and on and on.  However, what many find charming I still find repellent. 

Nonetheless, I will try to be objective and look at his box office career to date.  In April 2008 he burst upon the American movie scene with a supporting role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, followed by more supporting roles in Bedtime Stories (December 2008) and Get Him to the Greek (June 2010).  Throw in voiceover work in Despicable Me (July 2010) and Hop (now playing, of course) and he has amassed an impressive body of work very quickly. 

Admittedly, it looks even more impressive when we total up the box office.  The three live action comedies above total $234 million in domestic box office, $175 million in international box office, and $105 million in home video — for a grand total of $515 million.  Brand’s agent would probably say, “Count up all the movies!”  If we did, the worldwide box office and home video would be north of $1.2 billion.  But the fairest yardstick is probably the live action total – so let’s say he is associated with half a billion dollars. 

So you are probably thinking, there goes your argument you old fart.  Normally, I would agree.  The one thing you learn in research is to respect the audience and their choices.  Like it or not, the audience is always right in this business.  But wait, are these really his movies?  It isn’t fair to say these were his movies, as he wasn’t asked to carry them.  He merely appeared in them. 

Today, however, he is being asked to open Arthur and remake and refresh a classic role made famous by Dudley Moore.  This is as good a test as we could ask for.  We can no longer say he just chose good projects or lucked into commercial on-screen success.  Brand will own the success or failure of Arthur.  If the movie opens in the $15 million range, as predicted yesterday, he will be in a safe zone – not a huge breakout success but not a failure.  But if the film swings $5 million in either direction (about 600,000 paying customers), Brand can claim the mantle of movie star legitimately or slouch back to supporting role status.  600,000 people will decide his fate.  Even I can feel sorry for the cruelty of those numbers.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment and get the conversation started.

About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.