With Shia LaBeouf's Eagle Eye taking the top spot at the box-office this weekend it makes four-in-a-row for the actor (not counting the animated Surf's Up) and it made me wonder if the 22-year-old is our next big time actor or if it's just a case of him starring in the right film at the right time that has made his films so popular leaving the title of "The Next Big Thing" up for grabs.
Let's face it, Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were going to make big bucks no matter what, Shia had very little, if anything, to do with their success. One could make the argument that Disturbia opened during a very weak time in 2007 and that accounts for its three week box-office domination with rather modest numbers, winning that third weekend with barely over $9 million. But how about Eagle Eye opening just shy of $30 million with a $8,319 per-theater-average. Is this a sign that Shia is the big box-office draw for years to come?
Right now the big star is undoubtedly Will Smith. The man could be starring in Fecal Burger: The Movie and open with $30 million without even thinking twice. The difference between Smith and LaBeouf, however, is that Smith has blockbuster draw and Oscar draw and he manages to attract the same kind of attention to each. Smith's Hancock was hammered by critics to the tune of a 33% RottenTomatoes rating and it ended up earning $227,946,274. The fans didn't care, they wanted their Will. That's the blockbuster draw, but he was also able to bring in over $163 million for The Pursuit of Happyness as well as a second Best Actor Oscar nomination. Now that is box-office power and he is looking to do it again this year with Seven Pounds, a film he made with Gabriele Muccino who directed him to his Happyness nomination. Look for Will to be at the tops of the box again on December 18.
So I guess with this question I am asking who is the next Will Smith? Smith, in my mind, replaced Tom Cruise who was also doing the blockbuster/Oscar thing until his Scientology exploits turned off so many. Who knows, maybe Valkyrie will bring ol' Tom back, but for right now the crown belongs to Smith and it's time to look for a successor. Below is a list of eleven actors I think may have a chance of breaking the Smith-barrier... What do you think?
Emile Hirsch (23)
Emile Hirsch came to attention in 2004 playing the clichéd teenage boy role in The Girl Next Door opposite Elisha Cuthbert and he followed that up with quiet notice in Imaginary Heroes and Lords of Dogtown, but was given another shot at toplining a flick in Nick Cassavetes's Alpha Dog, which certainly was a slightly more adult role but the film itself wasn't too good. However, his star rose quickly in 2007 when Sean Penn cast him in Into the Wild and it was on Hirsch's shoulders to carry the majority of the film in-between fantastic supporting roles by Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener. His ability to "act" was proven. However, if you want to be a big star you need to put asses in the seats. This is where Hirsch's star drops slightly as his first major box-office bid was Speed Racer and it failed miserably. Hirsch is still young and he has a supporting role in the upcoming Oscar candy Milk and I would say his potential remains undecided, but he wouldn't be my first pick for "Next Big Thing."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (27)
Remember this kid when he was playing Tommy on "3rd Rock from the Sun"? Well, he is slowly building himself a little filmography and is starting to gain some attention. People liked him in Brick and The Lookout. He had a small role in Spike Lee's The Miracle at St. Anna and he will next be seen in Killshot and, of course, the biggie, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra in which he plays the Cobra Commander. He has proven he has acting chops, they aren't exactly Oscar caliber as of yet, but he is getting there and the G.I. Joe flick really could up his profile as villains are always remembered above the heroes. Will he be able to pull a Heath Ledger type performance out of his hat or is that way too much to expect?
James Franco (30)
At 30-years-old I almost didn't add Franco to the list, but in the 2008 he has transformed himself from being known for his awful role as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man films to a funny-man and he will be joining Sean Penn as well as Emile Hirsch in Milk. Franco plays Scott Smith, Harvey Milk's lover and partner in a camera shop business. Franco is setting out to prove he can make folks laugh as well as tackle serious drama, a complete reinvention if you ask me and he is already gaining some minor Oscar buzz. 30-years-old may seem old, but George Clooney was 33 when he sky-rocketed to stardom with "ER" in 1994 so I think there is still a chance for Franco.
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Sorting through scheduling conflicts, business decisions and personal "must sees" has made planning for this year's Toronto Film Festival much more difficult that previous years, but here are my most anticipated as of now.