The Independent calls it "The Streep Effect" and notes that she has a Midas touch not only at the box office, but for book sales and tourism. Julie and Julia has single-handledly sent Mastering the Art of French Cooking back onto bestseller lists. (Though the Independent doesn't mention it, Child's My Life in France is selling just as briskly, as is Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.) There's also been a boom in French cooking classes and cookware sales as people set out to cook their way to a perky hybrid of Streep, Amy Adams, and Julia Child.
And that's only the most recent example! Mamma Mia! resulted in hundreds of couples flocking to marry on the Greek island of Skopelos, with flights up 13% after the movie's release. Lest you think that was just due to the jaw-dropping seaside scenery, a similar effect happened with Out of Africa. Kenya received 152,000 overseas visitors in 1985, a number that climbed to 176,000 in 1986.
Women & Hollywood broke it down even further, noting that sales of ABBA albums soared after Mamma Mia!, and that Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway hit the bestseller list for the first time in history thanks to The Hours. If the readers there are any indication, a similar surge will soon follow Roald Dahl's books thanks to her voice in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and continues to keep Karen von Blixen-Finecke's work in print.
No one seems to have looked up The Bridges of Madison County, probably because it had so much following prior to the Streep and Eastwood adaptation. But a little Googling uncovers a rather horrifying cottage industry of spin-offs and collectibles associated with the book and film, and the sales surge in 1995 was what caused it to outsell Gone with the Wind. Normally, I would be horrified by the thought of faux postcards and tie-in diaries, but now I find it a weirdly awesome example of Streep's power.
So powerful is she that she can even teach us to moderate our spending, and think twice about buying that Bridges picture book at Barnes and Noble. Reuters reported that every company featured in The Devil Wears Prada saw their stocks fall after the film came out. While analysts said it had more to do with the credit crunch than the movie, I think it's very possible that the film worked as a medieval morality tale. The 13th century had troupes of players telling them that money weighed down the soul, but we just needed Streep's Miranda. Too bad it didn't play a little earlier, eh?
That she's accomplished all of this with quiet and characteristic elegance is wonderful and remarkable, particularly since we live in a world where we're drowned out by entertainment marketing. In fact, I think people see her as a kind of refuge, and buy whatever she's touched in order to keep that moment of zen. The fact that it's such classy, smart stuff -- literature, cooking, world travel, music -- speaks to people longing for depth and complexity in their lives. Summer blockbusters have their place, but people clearly want something more than Slurpee cups and fast food toys. Let's hope Hollywood and Streep go onto develop a stronger and richer relationship of movie roles, because the world would clearly be a poorer place (yes, even if you didn't like Mamma Mia!) without her.