I was just watching the new Blu-Ray of George Cukor's A Star Is Born (1954), in which James Mason plays the biggest star in Hollywood. Then I caught a bit of news about how Tom Cruise's new movie Knight and Day -- which I enjoyed, just by the way -- isn't doing so well. And it got met thinking. Who is the biggest star in Hollywood today? Not too long ago, the answer would have been Tom Cruise, but that's just not the case anymore. Sadly, he seems to have alienated about 95% of his fan club with his weird couch-relatd antics from a couple of years back.

Checking out Box Office Mojo, I found a helpful list of movie stars ranked in order of their total box office gross. Tom Hanks is #1 at the moment, but I'm not sure I'd consider him the biggest star. The two Da Vinci Code movies were just awful, and his last really good movie was all the way back in 2002, Catch Me If You Can, and in that one he took a back seat to Leonardo DiCaprio. In other words, his films make money, but does he have enthusiastic fans?
Another major factor comes into play when stars become involved in huge, moneymaking franchises. For example, Tom Hanks has three successful Toy Story movies on his resume, but no one goes to see those movies specifically to hear the voice of Tom Hanks. They go because of the franchise itself. Similarly, Eddie Murphy, believe it or not, is #2 on the list, and that's thanks to his four Shrek movies. Harrison Ford is #3, with three Star Wars movies and four Indiana Jones movies. Get this: the ultra-dull Orlando Bloom is at #16, for starring in three Lord of the Rings movies and three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The highest-ranking female on the list is Cameron Diaz (#10), also with four Shrek movies. Julia Roberts is next at #12, but she hasn't had a big solo hit since Erin Brockovich (2000).

I think we have a good sense of which of these folks is a genuine, name-above-the-title movie star with a pure, raw box office appeal. Cruise is one of them, or at least he used to be. His last big hit was War of the Worlds in 2005. (He's currently #5 on the all-time list.) Bruce Willis (#8) hasn't been in a big hit or even a good movie in a while, Live Free or Die Hard notwithstanding. You'd have to go all the way back to The Sixth Sense (1999), and I'm not exactly sure that Willis was the reason for that movie's success.

Will Smith is a genuine star, capable of bringing comedy to his role as action star, and then mixing it up with some genuine performances. He has had several big hits in a row (Hitch, I Am Legend, Hancock, etc.) plus an Oscar nomination for an acclaimed hit (The Pursuit of Happyness). Unfortunately, he left off with a total dud, Seven Pounds, a year and a half ago, and he has nothing coming up for a while. Will people embrace him again, or will he have to start from scratch?

I think Johnny Depp (#11) still has some goodwill, but he's no longer exciting. The second and third Pirates movies were huge hits but were quite bad, and his last few collaborations with Tim Burton have begun to feel stale, even to die-hard fans. In other words, our most dependable guys have recently begun to feel not-so-dependable. And, sorry folks, Leonardo DiCaprio is at #62, George Clooney is at #79, and Russell Crowe is all the way down at #132.

I have two suggestions. Brad Pitt (#28) still feels like an exciting and interesting option. He keeps getting better and keeps appearing in more and more daring projects (Babel, Jesse James, Burn After Reading, etc.) as well as big hits (the Ocean's films, Troy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglourious Basterds, etc.) And then there's Robert Downey Jr. (#47) who seems vibrant and unstoppable, but who is also on the verge of getting stuck in too many franchises, i.e. Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, not to mention that the mood around Iron Man 2 is one of disappointment.

But here's what I fear has happened; we are no longer in the age of movie stars. We are in the age of franchises. People go to the movies because of a brand name or a product line rather than the draw of an interesting and charismatic person. It's more of the mallification of America. Frankly, I love my movie stars and I hope that there will always be some of them around, even if they're not as big as they once were.

Your opinions, readers? Who is the biggest movie star today? Are there any?