Recession-Era Hollywood: Unknowns Replacing A-Listers at the B.O.

With Hollywood in belt-tightening mode, spurred on by the recession, competition from videogames and the Web, declining DVD sales and fewer licensing deals with TV networks, studios are increasingly turning away from high-priced A-listers. Helping that cause is the surprising success of recent films with unknown actors, Reuters reports.

With such films as The HangoverDistrict 9 and Paranormal Activity cashing in at the box office even without marquee names, insiders say A-listers are having trouble with $15 million salary demands and gross profit participation deals. Instead, they’re being asked to take less money upfront and greater compensation only if a film breaks even.

A prime example of story trumping stars and soaring production costs is Summit’s relatively low-budget ($50 million) New Moon. Before the original Twilight made $384 million at the global box office in 2008, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were hardly a blip on the radar. Today, online ticket sellers report New Moon is one of their highest pre-sale movies of all time and those young actors are among the most famous faces in the world.

Franchises often begin with unknown actors, but as the popularity of the films takes root, production budgets relax and actor, producer and other salaries typically soar, Reuters notes.

Instead, Summit has positioned Twilight as a franchise for the recession era by keeping the pressure on costs for New Moon, and Hollywood producers are praising them for it.

“Good for them, they are really keeping the costs down. It is unusual,” Lauren Shuler Donner told Reuters.

Similarly, by shooting the next two Twilight movies together, Summit kept the cost of the third film, Eclipse, at around $60 million, one source said.

“Nobody says that a big wonderful movie needs to be expensive, it’s just that that’s been the trend, and perhaps the trend is misguided,” University of Southern California cinema professor Jason E. Squire, told Reuters.