We just waved g'bye to the end of another year, and as we did, the Quigley Publishing Company released their annual list of Hollywood's top money-making stars. But wait -- it's not a list based on box office success. Every year Quigley polls theater owners about which stars pull in the most revenue for their theaters. The big winner for 2009 was Sandra Bullock, whose top spot was matched with news that she is the only actress "to have a film marketed with her name solely above the title (i.e. based on her star power alone, and not a franchise or tentpole picture) pass the $200 million mark in domestic gross."
Alongside the news of the increasing power of Bullock's name, the Quigley achievement seems notable -- like something we should all raise a glass to, even if it is, as Melissa Silverstein notes: "a sad testament to how far we have to go." But if you look back over the history of Quigley Top Tens, a rather surprising trend emerges -- female star power is not how it once was, when you go by Quigley's numbers. While many sites might note that Bullock is the first woman to grab the top spot since Julia Roberts in 1999, it's simply more of the lesser same, an achievement that doesn't begin to compare to those that came before it.
When the Quigley list started all the way back in 1932, it was led by the Canadian, Oscar-winning actress Marie Dressler. Not a male actor. In fact, in the Top Five, there was only one male name in the bunch -- Charles Farrell. Janet Gaynor had the number two spot, Joan Crawford was three, and Greta Garbo was five. While more men like Clark Gable and Will Rogers rounded out the list, the Ten boasted half men and half women. That was almost EIGHTY years ago.
In 1933, it got even better. Dressler was still on top, and while only Janet Graynor held on to a spot in the Top Five, the full list boasted six actresses. 1934 offered six actresses as well, and the rest of the lists in the '30s held at least four. Just to make this decade even more notable -- Shirley Temple earned four back-to-back top spots, before falling to fifth place in 1939.
Female star power waned in the 1940s, but there was one actress who not only showed up for ten consecutive years (1942-1952), but also earned the top female moneymaker distinction for eight of those years -- Betty Grable. In the '50s, things remained slow with no solid actress star power until 1959 -- the year that kicked off Doris Day's reign. After coming in fourth that year, Day grabbed the top spot four out of 5 years from 1960-1964.
As the sixties swam into the seventies, however, female star power really waned, and -- in fact -- would have been practically nonexistent if it wasn't for Barbra Streisand, who enjoyed ten spots on the list between 1969 and 1980. By the eighties, there was one last push of true female star power, our last four-actress list coming in 1981 with Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Bo Derek, and Goldie Hawn. (The most we've gotten since has been three, which last happened in 2003 with Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, and Renee Zellweger.)
This year, we have two. Sandra has the number one spot, while Meryl Streep grabbed seven. Behold our distressingly minimal success. Of course, the Hollywood system isn't as it used to be. There was a time when a studio grabbed onto a star and milked him or her for all that they were worth, which certainly comes into play when talking about Temple, Grable, and Day. But regardless, there's a distinct, palpable decline in female star power as far as Quigley polling is concerned.
We're used to celebrating female achievements and applauding advancements for women in cinema, but this just isn't the case here. Even Bullock's $200 million mark gross could probably face competition if inflation was taken into account and the rest of Hollywood's actresses came into play.
It's sad to see that the '30s offered so much equality in star power, and boasted Number One actresses six out of the list's first eight years, yet here we are in 2010, noting that Sandra Bullock is the first woman to top the list since 1999. In almost 80 years, we've seen nothing but a decline in female star power.
Jumping into 2010, I would prefer to be looking forward, but in this case, it's time to look back.