The impact of celebrities on film, television, brands, and products has long been debated in the entertainment industry. Assistant Professor Kyle Maclean wants to end the debate by examining whether A-list actors really make a hit.
“There has always been the question of whether a producer should hire a big-name star for $100,000 versus $1 million, and if it’s worth it?” he said.
According to Maclean, previous research suggests films with big stars often do generate higher revenues than those with lesser-known actors, but that the two – celebrities and revenues – haven’t been directly linked. For example, it is possible that well-known actors simply have better access to good scripts, which leads them to roles in top-grossing films and higher salaries.
The Blockbuster Strategy
Maclean’s research looks at the “Blockbuster Strategy,” which considers high production value, large-scale marketing campaigns, and well-known actors to evaluate success in the film industry. He wanted to understand how well-known actors affect revenues – if at all. Rather than measuring the impact of movie stars, he took to Broadway.
“I looked at Broadway because each night it’s the same script and same budget, but you have actors going in and out so you can actually determine their influence on the show,” he said.
First Maclean needed to determine what it means to be a star and how to measure stardom.
“We used IMDbPro (online database of film information) because it provides you with a ranking of stardom based on user clicks,” he said. “Using historical data helped us to measure stardom at the time of their Broadway appearance.”
Maclean’s research found big-name actors do increase revenues, but also typically cost more to hire, meaning there is no gain on a week-to-week basis.
“This is the Econ-101 example,” he said. “If someone has human capital, they’ll charge you more for it, so we didn’t see a benefit to hiring stars in Broadway.”
He also found Broadway shows didn’t sustain long term when their marketing focused on a specific star because of the reliance on a single person.
“Without a star, there was a much greater chance of a show finding big, long-term success, some for more than 20 years,” he said.
For now, Maclean said he doesn’t expect to see work decline for well-known actors. In future research, he’ll look more in-depth at their cost to fully understand their value.