'Popstar': Comedies continue to take chances on stars, not familiar stories

In franchise-dominated Hollywood, the comedy genre is one of the few that seems to rely on the names on the poster, not the story of the film, to attract moviegoers. 

Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures/AP
'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping' stars (from l.) Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer.

The film "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," which stars Andy Samberg, arrives in theaters on June 3 and is the newest comedy with an original story, depending on the stars on its poster to attract moviegoers. 

In "Popstar," Mr. Samberg portrays a music artist who has a lavish lifestyle but is struggling in his career after his new album is viewed as a failure. Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, the other members of the Lonely Island comedy group, also star, as do actors including Imogen Poots, Sarah Silverman, and Bill Hader. 

Mr. Taccone and Mr. Schaffer co-directed the film and the Lonely Island wrote the script for the movie. 

In a franchise-dominated Hollywood, comedy is interesting in that many original stories are used for wide-release films. While sequels are of course made from successful films, as with, for example, the "Hangover" series, many are based on stories never before seen on the screen. This can be seen with the 2015 box office hits "Trainwreck," "Spy," and "Daddy's Home" as well as the recent successes "Neighbors" and "We're the Millers." 

Because these films are based on original stories, those behind the movies rely on the names on the poster to make the films successes. And some of these actors have proven they can do so – Melissa McCarthy, who starred in "Spy," among others, and Will Ferrell, who starred in "Daddy's Home," among others, are usually viewed this way. "When married to the right material, director, and concept, there is potential for a McCarthy comedy to blow the roof off the theater," Deadline writer Anthony D'Alessandro wrote, though he noted that McCarthy's movie openings have recently decreased. 

This is interesting particularly because some critics have found that the last years in the movie business have seen a decline of star power at the box office – actors whose appearances in movies meant that the film had a good chance of doing well financially, because audiences would go to see just them rather than a concept.

"Big stars may not be worth the massive amounts of money studios are paying them," Forbes writer Dorothy Pomerantz wrote in 2012 when Tom Cruise's "Rock of Ages" and Adam Sandler's "That's My Boy" did not do well at the box office. "Sandler comes with a built-in audience, built-in marketing and built-in expectations for what each of his films will be like … but what happens when these movies start to fizzle?"

The question of whether an actor alone can bring in moviegoers continues to be asked as recently as last month, when George Clooney and Julia Roberts starred in the film "Money Monster."

"Fifteen years ago, a movie starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts would have been automatic box office gold – a guaranteed $35 million opening weekend," Gary Susman of Moviefone wrote, noting that "Monster" "opened in third place, with an estimated $15 million, and even that was better than analysts predicted."

However, Mr. Susman pointed out that if these movies don't do well, it can't all be traced back to the idea of actors not opening movies anymore. "What was overlooked [with 'Tomorrowland,' also starring Mr. Clooney, and 'Aloha,' starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone] was that neither of those movies turned out to be very good … the right star in the right role – in the right movie – can still sell tickets," he wrote. 

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