The Fall Guy and Challengers | The resurgence of the modern movie star

Fall Guy Challengers movie stars
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Challengers and The Fall Guy prove that the movie star is still alive – and can make a huge difference to a film’s success. A few thoughts…

The movie star is dead. Or at least our idea of stardom may have drastically changed. After streaming has become a credible rival to cinemas, it’s not so much star power that necessarily gets people to spend their hard-earned money on a movie ticket. Sure, the Swifties ran to the cinemas to watch The Eras Tour, but Taylor Swift is hardly a movie star, despite her turn in Cats. 

Ana De Armas blames social media for the lack of movie stars. “I feel like the new generations don’t have that concept, because of social media,” de Armas told Vanity Fair in 2023. “There is so much information out there and oversharing. The concept of a movie star is someone untouchable you only see onscreen. That mystery is gone. For the most part, we’ve done that to ourselves – nobody’s keeping anything from anyone anymore.”

She’s not alone in claiming that movie stars simply don’t exist anymore. Jennifer Aniston spoke to Allure about the state of stardom. “I feel like it’s dying. There are no more movie stars. There’s no more glamour,” Aniston said, in a response to a text that claimed that Aniston’s kind of movie stardom is “not achievable today”, calling her “a silent-film star among a generation of TikTok dipshits.”

It’s true, to an extent. You don’t really get stars like Fred Astaire or Marlon Brando anymore, not to mention Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. The mystique and allure has been stripped away by social media and viral marketing tactics. There’s not as big of a gap between us and them; the new aim is to make actors more relatable, more human. 

Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch
Seven Year Itch.

Allow me to dive into the academic side of stardom for just a moment. A bloke called Richard Dyer wrote extensively about stardom and argued that our experience of watching a film depended on how we saw the film’s stars. The stars themselves were heavily constructed ideals, controlled by film studios in the olden days when studios “owned” their stars who were contracted to work for specific studios. 

We’ve thankfully moved on from the days of such contracts, but the idea of stardom has also changed. Stardom relies heavily on escapism; we’re living life vicariously through the movie stars who embody all the attributes we wish to have. Who doesn’t want to be young, beautiful and successful, the hero or heroine? 

Many have also blamed the rise of franchise films, especially superhero films, as the reason for movie stardom dying a slow death. “Anthony Mackie isn’t a movie star; The Falcon is a movie star,” Anthony Mackie said in a video that went viral. “And that’s what’s weird. It used to be, with Tom Cruise and Will Smith and Stallone and Schwarzenegger, when you went to the movies, you went to go see the Stallone movie; you went to go see the Schwarzenegger movie. Now you go see X-Men. So, the evolution of the superhero has meant the death of the movie star,”

The Fall Guy
Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy. Credit: Universal Pictures

However, two films released within a week of each other make a compelling case that movie stardom is still alive and well. Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers is now in cinemas and David Leitsch’s The Fall Guy will be playing at your nearest multiplex from Friday. Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist star in the former and Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling light up the screen in the latter. 

There hasn’t exactly been a drought of Gosling, Blunt or Zendaya recently. Gosling set the internet on fire with his scene-stealing work as Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Blunt featured in Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning Oppenheimer. The two have spent The Fall Guy press tour playfully playing into the “Barbenheimer” dynamic.

Zendaya, meanwhile, starred alongside Timothée Chalamet – himself an excellent example of a modern movie star –  in Dune Part Two and, rather unexpectedly, became the heart and soul of the film. Chalamet also came off of the success of Wonka, which featured him playing the titular chocolatier. Wonka grossed over $600 million worldwide while Dune Part Two has just grossed $700 million

Challengers may not reach the financial highs of those films, but it did debut at the top of the UK box office. Not only that, but if you log on to X, it’s the number one, – or dare I say, the only – film people are talking about. It’s currently THE film to see; if you haven’t seen it, you’re out of the loop on the hottest cultural trend since last year’s Barbie

challengers trailer zendaya
Challengers. Credit: Warner Bros

Arguably, each of the aforementioned films is benefiting hugely from their stars. The Fall Guy, which is deliriously entertaining, would not work nearly as well with a different set of actors as the co-leads. Challengers is contestably Zendaya’s film and relies on her star power to sell the film’s sexuality and her character Tashi’s arc. 

Then there’s Tom Cruise. When all else fails, trust in Cruise. The Top Gun star is perhaps our best, most reliable example of a true movie star. His career has endured a global health pandemic, couch jumping, unwise words about antidepressants and a controversial church. Yet, we all flocked to cinemas to watch War Of The Worlds, Top Gun: Maverick (dubbed by Steven Spielberg as the film that saved cinemas) and the Mission Impossible films, because Cruise has that undeniable charisma that transcends his personal life. 

Gosling has it, too. Whether he’s letting it loose as Ken, biting on a toothpick while stomping some skulls in Drive or jumping on a moving vehicle as stuntman Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, we’re lapping up Gosling’s unique acting abilities. There’s a fine balance in disappearing into your role enough to allow the audience to believe what you’re selling while still reminding them that you’re the reason they bought the ticket. 

Top Gun Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Cruise, Gosling and Blunt are rarely, if ever, active on social media. In fact, Blunt and Gosling aren’t on Instagram and Cruise only shares a photo every six months or so, mostly to promote his projects. Only Zendaya shares some of her everyday life now and then. She shared a photo of her getting ready for an awards ceremony on Instagram, and there’s the occasional snap with her partner Tom Holland. 

Sure, true movie stars are a rarity now that streaming has become more prominent, but they will never entirely disappear. Our ideas of stars might change and stretch, but nothing will ever quite replace their unique appeal. 

Challengers is in cinemas now. The Fall Guy is in cinemas on the 3rd May. 

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