Arts Issue: Established actors draw multi-generational audiences

April 10, 2014

courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Household-name actors are usually celebrities who have had careers spanning several decades. These performers bridge generational gaps between parents and children, and their performances are recognized by diverse demographics.

This widespread popularity draws huge crowds to the box office and most likely affects an actor’s choice of projects.

Arguably the most prominent example of this type of actor is America’s darling Tom Hanks. A respected actor, Hanks is incredibly gifted when it comes to attracting an audience. From his early days in “Big” to his Oscar-winning performance in “Forrest Gump,” from the heart-wrenching “Saving Private Ryan” all the way to his involvement in the children’s classic “Toy Story” trilogy, Hanks makes it difficult for audiences to decide on a favorite Tom Hanks film.

Hanks’ box office draw is definitely a factor of his huge fan base. He often seems to choose films that would not be successful starring any other actor. The recent “Captain Phillips,” for example, tells a story that would not necessarily attract many audience members. Yet, thanks to Hanks’ participation, the film was immediately shot into the public’s view, even gaining quite a bit of Oscar buzz.

While Hanks uses his powers of celebrity to great effect, some actors are not as lucky. Certain famous actors begin to fall off the map late in their careers, failing to appeal to a younger generation of viewers. Therefore, they work on movies that they believe will appeal to said new audience, rather than being satisfied with their loyal fans.

Will Smith falls into this category. Up until the disastrous “After Earth,” Smith was a highly diverse actor with a giant fan base because of a hit TV show and some pretty incredible films —  “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Men in Black” and “Ali” to name a few.

Unfortunately, Smith is no longer playing to his strengths, especially now that, in his middle age, he takes time to promote the careers of his children. Actors should be challenged to go outside their comfort zones, but as of late, Smith is solely focused on sequels to his slightly successful action films.

Is Smith’s decline due to a generation gap and loss of audience? Perhaps Smith fell off the radar during his nearly three-year break from acting. His career choices since then have played to what he seems to believe the majority of audiences want — another sequel to “Men in Black” or a science fiction film starring his son Jaden alongside him.

Smith’s choices go to show that some actors compromise their cinematic integrity when attempting to regain bygone fame. Yet other actors, like Tom Hanks, are constantly at work, never suffering from a dwindling audience thanks to undeniable talent and the undying admiration that comes with being an industry darling.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 print edition. Laura Wolford is a staff writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

Print Friendly