Humphrey Bogart used to say you weren't a star until they could spell your name in Karachi, and while there's nothing tricky about the order of the letters in Daniel Craig's name I'm not sure if people in Karachi spell his name D-a-n-i-e-l or J-a-m-e-s-B-o-n-d. That’s my long winded way of asking, “Is Craig a movie star or are his movies the stars?”
He has all the attributes of a movie star. He's good looking, the camera loves him, and Del Monte Foods once launched an ice pop molded in his image but I’m not sure if people say, “Man, I gotta see the new Daniel Craig movie,” as much as they pronounce, “Man, I gotta see Insert Iconic Title Here.”
But, you say, millions of people flock to see some of his movies. That must mean he’s a movie star, right? Well, no, not exactly.
In recent years Craig’s biggest successes have been in films that almost sell themselves. He’s a great James Bond, perhaps the most interesting of the Connery replacements, but he can’t rightly lay claim to the Bond box offices grosses. Who can? Bond, James Bond. That’s who. It’s a recognizable brand no matter who is on the poster.
It is a fact that Craig can hold the lead in a movie. He’s a powerful presence with acting chops to spare — he’s earned good reviews for serious movies like Love is the Devil, Elizabeth, The Mother, and Enduring Love and praise for his work in bigger Hollywood pictures — but being a good actor is just one element of being a movie star.
Box office grosses are important to maintaining status as a movie star, but I’m talking about something more ephemeral, something that has nothing to do with dollars and cents but lots to do with sense and sensibility.
A movie star should be bigger than the movie or character they are playing. Years ago people went to see John Wayne movies regardless of title or content. Wayne was a movie star, an actor who transcended his characters, filling the screen with his, well Wayne-ness.
There aren’t that many performers these days who can create that kind of excitement on the strength of their name alone. Tom Cruise used to inspire lineups. No more. Julia Roberts, ditto. Jim Carrey, not so much. They are big stars, but their time as movie stars, quote, unquote, is over. Will Smith and Johnny Depp are movie stars (although I wish Johnny would make Captain Jack walk the plank and move on). Their movies are events, not simply because of premise, but because they came to work with their indefinable movie star-ness in hand.
Craig has four movies set for release in 2011, which is a pretty movie star thing to do, but none of them could be described as “a Daniel Craig movie.”
This weekend Cowboys & Aliens looks primed to do well on the strength of a catchy trailer and cool premise. December’s double hit of The Adventures of Tintin and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are both franchises waiting to happen and Dream House, a psychological drama directed by Jim Sheridan which has been sitting on the shelf for over a year, has zero buzz.
It’s that last movie, set for release in September, which proves my point. His other movie releases this year are hotly anticipated high profile pictures based on popular preexisting material—a graphic novel, a beloved comic series, and a cultural phenomenon. Dream House stands alone as the film which will rise or fall based on Craig’s star power, and yet it has almost no public awareness.
John Wayne never released a film that had zero public awareness, and if Craig was an honest-to-goodness movie star, he wouldn’t either.