Mr. De Vany and W. David Walls, an economist at the University of
Calgary, took those factors into account. Looking across a sample of
more than 2,000 movies exhibited between 1985 and 1996, they found that
only seven actors and actresses – Tom Hanks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jodie Foster, Jim Carrey, Barbra Streisand and Robin Williams – had a positive impact on the box office, mostly in the first few weeks of a film’s release.
In the same study, two directors, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone also pushed up a movie’s revenue. But Winona Ryder, Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer
were associated with a smaller box-office revenue. No other star had
any statistically significant impact at all. So what are stars for? By
helping a movie open – attracting lots of people in to see a movie in
the first few days before the buzz about whether it’s good or bad is
widely known – stars can set a floor for revenues, said Mr. De Vany.
Here is the full story, on the new economics of cinema.
I am a bit closer to an efficient markets view on this question. Stars don’t matter much per se. But many stars — or their agents — are good at picking the right movies to star in. Other more critical inputs, including good scripts and marketing expenditures, follow these stars around. The value of the star drops out of the regression, but the star was still the key certifier to get the quality put into the movie in the first place.