ByMatt Kranis, writer at Creators.co
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis
Matt Kranis

Actress Brie Larson is reportedly the front-runner to play Captain Marvel, potentially adding another top talent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Assuming Larson accepts the role, she'd be the latest in a string of A-listers to hop on the franchise bandwagon. Stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson et al have all joined lucrative franchises — superhero or otherwise — fueling Hollywood's love affair with cinematic universes and series with major star power.

More and more A-listers are joining tentpole franchise productions, and while they might seem like the only option for the industry's top talent it's a trend fueled by changes in the Hollywood business model and shifts in how fans and studios view stars.

Hollywood's Making Fewer Movies

Franchises are a major draw for big name actors because Hollywood's biggest studios are making fewer films. According to analyst Doug Creutz:

"The market appears to be condensing into fewer, but bigger, hits."

Traditionally, studios have used their tentpole releases to fund smaller budget projects throughout the year, but in today's world, the big tentpole movies — typically franchise features — just fund further installments in the series or the birth of new cinematic universes. And the success of those tentpoles can seriously effect a studio's future output. For example, consider the underperformance of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film had a budget of over $300 million, meaning that it had to draw massive ticket sales just to break even. But the movie fell short of box office expectations, and as the latest in a string of underperformers from Warner Bros., has pushed studio heads to consider releasing fewer films per year.

Actors can always turn to the indie film world to find work, but studios need star power to draw audiences to their features. If franchise movies are now Hollywood's go-to releases, then A-list actors are always going to be up for those projects.

A Need To Stay Relevant

Will Smith as Deadshot in "Suicide Squad."
Will Smith as Deadshot in "Suicide Squad."

A movie star's bankability relies on remaining a household name. Not all actors are interested in being stars, but for those that are, that means being in the biggest, buzziest films possible. Lucky for them, franchise movies are practically news machines. Fans are always on the lookout for any bit of news, whether that be casting announcements, plot rumors, on-set photos or just a spoilery tidbit of information. And when those announcements come out, the star's name is almost always attached, building buzz around the project and the performer.

Plenty of franchise stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Will Smith and Michael Fassbender have made time to star in prestige dramas or indie fare, but they're famous because of their big budget film appearances. Lawrence is a movie star because of The Hunger Games, not Winter's Bone. Franchises may be a major time commitment for actors, but in the end they allow stars to stretch their creative muscles in lower budget films without the fear that those appearances will damage their careers or relegate them to obscurity.

Franchises Launch Unknown Actors To Stardom

Still from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Still from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Franchise appearances are solid choices for the already famous, but they're even better bets for unknown actors. In the past, it typically took performers a while to become big stars, amassing small roles in bigger films before going on to lead their own features. But today, an appearance in a big budget superhero movie or sci-fi franchise can launch an actor to instant stardom.

Few fans knew who actors like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega or Oscar Isaac were before Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but now they're practically household names. Chris Pratt was known as lovable goofball Andy Dwyer on NBC's Parks and Recreation, but after starring turns in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, has become one of Hollywood's most in-demand actors. Similarly, performers like Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans have become international superstars after joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A strong franchise appearance can take a total nobody and launch them to Hollywood's elite level of stardom.

Do Franchises Destroy Movie Stars?

The right combination of well-known performers will almost always draw audiences to a movie. But the proliferation of franchises means that known properties and brands reign supreme. As critic David Ehrlich put it:

"The brand is helped by the actors, but the actors are bound to the brand."

Unknown actors may be launched into the spotlight by franchise appearances, but that won't always translate to name recognition. Instead, they become the face of an iconic character.

Still from "Captain America: Civil War."
Still from "Captain America: Civil War."

In a way, that notion completely destroys the idea of the movie star. But in reality, it means newer actors have to rethink how they treat stardom. Hollywood's new A-listers have to work in reverse; instead of building their careers toward stardom, they're launched into the spotlight and must figure out how to maintain notoriety and gain artistic respect. They have to leverage their recognition to gain the sorts of awards-worthy roles that acclaimed actors crave, ensuring their creative legacies live on and they aren't just "that dude from the superhero movie."

Franchises aren't the only option for Hollywood's top talent, but they've certainly shifted the way we think of movie stars and how actors manage their careers. For known talent, franchises are a great way to maintain recognition and provide the sort of career stability that allows the freedom to pursue more artistic projects. And for unknown talent, a franchise appearance can open the doors to lasting stardom. Only one thing remains certain — as long as studios continue to produce massive franchises, big names will continue to star in them.

Which big stars do you want to see launch their own franchise? Let us know in the comments below.

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