The "little black book" that's next to every studio executive's palm pilot--the real scoop on Hollywood's top 200 stars.
Who's hot? Who's not? Who can green-light any project that they want? Who's begging for scraps? For years the film industry's elite have looked to James Ulmer's Hollywood Hot List to measure who was really worth a multimillion-dollar payday and who should be pasture-bound. Ulmer's star power rankings can change a star's salary--or even whether or not he or she gets a role. An actor's star power includes:
-Bankability: How the actor's name alone guarantees a sale up front in today's global marketplace.
-Career management: How well has the actor chosen roles to maximize career potential?
-Willingness to travel and promote: How cooperative is the actor in promoting projects?
-Professionalism: How reliable is the actor to work with, both on and off the set?
-Inside Dirt: The truth about what it's like to work with the top 200 actors worldwide.
-Box office bait: Who the actor has worked for and how much the project made.
Ulmer's information is culled from those who work closely with the stars--their agents, co-stars, movie producers, directors, distributors, and personal assistants. The opinions of those in the know and the dollars a star can earn measure the true value of the actors in Hollywood. Find out who owns Tinseltown, who's just renting, and who's being evicted.
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About the Author
James Ulmer is the founder and executive producer of The Ulmer Scale as well as senior analyst and writer at Creative Planet.
James Ulmer is the founder and executive producer of The Ulmer Scale as well as senior analyst and writer at Creative Planet, and the author of James Ulmer's Hollywood Hot List.
Read an Excerpt
Hollywood Hot List
The Complete Guide to Star Ranking
By James Ulmer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 James Ulmer
All rights reserved.
Star power is a little like real estate: If you're Julia Roberts or one of the two Toms, you own Hollywood. If you're John Travolta or Brad Pitt or anyone else on the A list, you've bought a hefty chunk. Everyone else is just renting.
In Hollywood, a star's value rises or falls depending on where he or she is in the pecking order of power. It's all about location, location, location.
It's a small tribe that makes up the top ranks of this pecking order — about two hundred elite, powerful stars. For the past several years, that tribe has been pegged to a comprehensive power list provided annually for Hollywood powerbrokers by my company, The Ulmer Scale (www.ulmerscale.com). Ranking the star power of the world's top actors, the lineup tracks the meteoric rise of a Leo or a Matt as closely as it flaunts the decline of an aging action guy like Sly or a cooling screen-steamer like Demi.
The buzz starts early in the year: Who's on the list and who's off? Did Bruce Willis squeeze onto the coveted A+ roster this year? (Just barely.) Has Julia Roberts reclaimed her turf as the world's most bankable actress? (Definitely.) Did Will Smith beat out Eddie Murphy as the world's most powerful black star? (By a hefty eight points.)
Even the stars check their own rankings. After leafing through a recent list, one Oscar-winner quipped, "How much do I have to bribe you to get bumped up 20 points?"
Action star Dolph Lundgren once claimed in an on-camera interview that he "never pays attention to lists" — only to be seen, off camera, poring over these rankings to see if he really did rate the same score as Madonna (he did — that year).
Beginning a decade ago, in entertainment publications like Premiere, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and The Los Angeles Times, these star rankings have become something of an institution in Hollywood, used by agents, actors, directors, producer, bankers, and studio executives whenever they cast or finance a film.
Tom Cruise and John Travolta's agents use the list, not to mention lack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America — the organization that knows a few things about ratings, since it hands down those all-important PG, R, and NC-17 advisories.
Now, with the publication of this book, consumers can get a one-of-a-kind look at the same "cheat sheet" that Hollywood uses daily. It's the most complete power database ever published on Hollywood's top 200 stars, including hundreds of scores never before released.
But this book is much more than a list of scores. It also provides movie lovers with an "insider" context to help them appreciate the numbers. Like a camera with multiple lenses, the following chapters examine the complex, crazed and often comic world of star power — making it, faking it, maintaining it and, inevitably, the waning of it — from the perspectives of die-hard Hollywood professionals. Crewmembers, studio executives, bankers, producers, publicists, directors, agents and assorted hangers-on — all have had plenty of stories and opinions to share, and have faithfully "downloaded" them onto my notepads. (If only more of them had "downloaded" their dollars to help pay for those lunches.)
One chapter burrows into the outrageous world of star perks, where passions get indulged as ludicrously as pocketbooks. Another travels through the perils and profitability of promoting pictures abroad. Still others examine the youth market's "makeover" of Hollywood; the current casting crunch for hundreds of mid-level stars; techniques for giving a fading career a fast facelift; and the magical, shamanistic force that binds all Hollywood insiders together — "tribal power."
And who could resist the spell of another seductive power — industry gossip? "Hollywood Vine" disentangles the wiles and wherefores of its unique chokehold on a community obsessed with power, and with fear.
From there, it's a quick jump to "The Hollywood Hot List," where readers can find plenty of gossip on each of its 200 pages, dished out by some of the most authoritative (and wisely anonymous) sources in Hollywood and around the world.
But what really is behind this passion for pinpointing, this rage for ratings, anyway?
We are a society mesmerized by celebrities and their market power. America enjoys — or endures, depending on your outlook — the world's most sustained, pandemic, media-saturated, cash-generating fascination with movie stars on the planet. And why not, since we've created nearly all of them?
Movie stars are this country's pampered and privileged royalty. Or, more to the point, our favorite rare and exotic creatures. Their habitats, plumage, feeding habits, and mating rituals are scrutinized and commented on daily by hundreds of print, radio, TV, and Internet venues as avidly as any critter in Dr. Doolittle's menagerie. We are, quite simply, obsessed.
If you think this book will be any different, ask for your money back now.
Hollywood's business affairs are almost as appetizing to the consumer marketplace as its celebrity affairs. Who would have thought, a decade ago, that Hollywood's box office reports would be graphed and tracked in virtually every major newspaper and media outlet from Seattle to Secaucus?
From Capetown to Copenhagen, American movies have become to the world what Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was to only a portion of it: a relentless conquistador of local markets. More than half of Hollywood's total movie revenues, in fact, hail from abroad.
Seek out the cineplex in Singapore and meet — Travolta. Hop a moped in Mombasa and hear — Madonna. These creatures stalk the screens, media outlets, and Web sites of nearly every habitable country, and these countries are, in turn, just as happy as America is to report on, gossip about, fawn over, and generally beatify these highly exotic profit centers. Every detail of success or failure in their public or private lives is now global fair game.
A New Kind of Horse Race
In short, watching the rise and fall of American celebrities has become a global spectator sport, as popular as anything on American Gladiators.
Yet for all our fervor in following celebrities' careers, there has never been an adequate system to analyze and track those careers. We have a fine tracking system for the stock market, but not for the star market.
The sports world is far ahead of the entertainment industry in this regard. Sports scoring and risk assessment is often extremely sophisticated. A prime example is the racing form, used to handicap horses at the racetrack. It's a valuable betting tool for a game that risks financial sums far less than the cost of a major star's salary on a single feature film. Still, there's no similar methodology for handicapping the performances of some equally competitive human creatures — our movie stars.
To be fair, actors are hardly horses. They are creatures of artistic inspiration and expression, and their performances cannot be measured by speed or stamina or any other equine criteria. (However, if movie premieres and festivals are any indicators, they can certainly trot themselves around show grounds pretty impressively.)
The kind of scoring needed isn't primarily for the performances millions of moviegoers see in the cinemas. It is for those "performances" given by the stars off screen and witnessed by only a few hundred professionals. These include stars' abilities to trigger financing, promote their films, manage their careers, and conduct themselves professionally on and off the set. A star's acting talent is another criterion, but less critical to his or her ultimate market success.
Together, these factors track the "speed" and "stamina" of actors in the global marketplace — whether, indeed, they have "legs." It is a race that begs to be handicapped. Add some spicy, professional commentary and gossip about these stallionlike screen creatures, and you have a crib sheet as reliable and valuable as any used at The Kentucky Derby.
Using the Ulmer Scale
How are these movie star "racing forms" developed? The methodologies for scoring and indexing the 200 actors in this book are part of a proprietary system called The Ulmer Scale. This scale was developed over the past ten years through my relationships, as an entertainment journalist, with some of the world's leading producers, distributors, buyers, sellers, executives, agents, directors — and stars, too. Trekking the globe to film festivals and markets from Cannes to Cairo and beyond — way beyond: Greenland and Kathmandu come to mind — didn't hurt the scope of this research, either.
Dozens of industry professionals were polled and interviewed on one or more of the five star power ranking categories found in this book. (To maximize objectivity, actors were not polled.) Their scores for each actor were compiled into a 100-point index, and those tallies then ranked into The Ulmer Scale's proprietary A+, A, B+, B, and C lists — and the ever-popular "Bottom of the Heap." The final star power scores are listed at the top of each star's data page.
What is the critical factor that movie power brokers use in determining who they want to headline their films? Bankability, or "star power." Unlike box office numbers — end-game statistics that indicate an actor's market clout after a film is released — star power scores are pre-game numbers used to assess risk before the cameras roll. In this survey, these scores are determined by the graders' answers to the following question: To what extent is an actor's name alone able to raise 100 percent financing to make a major feature film?
Star power is not the same as box office. Measured by ticket sales alone, the roster of star power would look drastically different. For instance, who do you suppose would nab the number-one spot as the most powerful actress in the world: Julia Roberts? Meg Ryan? Demi Moore?
Carrie Fisher. Yes, by box office standards, Fisher is the highest-grossing female star on the planet. Her fourteen movies collectively have pulled in $1.4 billion, according to Entertainment Weekly, with most of that hailing from the Star Wars series. But Fisher's presence in that series was hardly responsible for its phenomenal success; that was the work of George Lucas's storytelling and the special effects. They were the Force with the real star power.
Nor, for that matter, was another A+ star at the box office, Jeff Goldblum, the main draw for those mega-grossers Independence Day and Jurassic Park. (He's a B on our list.) But don't try telling Goldblum that. "Jeff wants $3 million a movie now, and when people tell him that's ridiculous, he keeps reminding them he was in Jurassic Park," related an agent last year. "But on that basis the fucking dinosaurs should be getting $5 million."
Other than dinosaurs, real A+ stars are the ones whose marquee value alone can trigger financing for a film, even if there is no script, director, or costars attached. They also can virtually guarantee strong ticket sales for the movie's opening weekend — the Holy Grail of feature film distribution.
An example: With a near-perfect score of 99, A+ star Tom Hanks could stand on his head in the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard and read the obituaries out loud — in Turkish — for the sequel to Dead Again and somebody would pay $80 million to make that movie. And millions would go see it. Ditto for Tom Cruise.
Everyone else's bankable value is measured against this gold standard. An actor's star power decreases as more packaging elements than name value alone are required to convince financiers to greenlight a film.
A star like Nic Cage may not trigger an automatic up-front sale, but like all other actors on the A list, he's a sure bet if the director and budget is right and the material is consistent with his past successful films.
Demi Moore's seat on the B+ list means that elements in her film package will weigh a bit heavier than for an A star — elements like budget, costars, and, in Moore's case, serious diva behavior.
By the time you hit the C-list stars — and there are busloads of them — an actor has about as much chance to trigger a big-budget studio deal as Yasser Arafat. Occasionally, though, the actor's name might help foreign sales in the ancillary markets, such as video and pay TV.
Since all power in Hollywood is relative, the value of these star power scores lies in their relativity. They allow every star in Hollywood to compete in the power game against every other star. Each star's score must therefore be analyzed in comparison to the scores of fellow actors. The fact that Mel Gibson scores 98 to Anjelica Huston's 44 means only that her name has less than half the chance to snag studio-level financing as Gibson's does. That's providing, of course, that Ms. Huston is not playing the lead in a transgendered musical version of The Birdman of Alcatraz. One presumes the film's material is consistent with her past fine work.
Some caveats: These scores are not meant to imply any dollar amount associated with a star's financial risk. They have nothing to do with defining a star's salary level, and certainly do not imply whether an actor should be hired or fired from a shoot. Nor are they meant to indicate the box-office bounty an actor will reap on his next feature film; the day any crib sheet tells you that is the day pigs fly.
Finally, a word on origins. The rankings in this book have been compiled from The Ulmer Scale's annually published database for movie industry professionals, The Hot List. This list is the Hollywood professional community's most complete reference guide on the star power of over 1,800 actors and directors worldwide. It has been featured in my past columns and articles for Premiere magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Weekly Variety, as well as on TV shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Fox Entertainment News, CNN Business Report, and on the CBS and BBC networks. Internet cruisers can now find The Hot List at Creative Planet's family of business-to-business entertainment websites by visiting www.ulmerscale.com or www.creative-planet.com
With the publication of this new consumer version, readers can finally get a one-of-a-kind look at the same scorecard that Hollywood's top deal-makers use daily — and for a lot less money. In fact, the great majority of the information is published here for the first time. This includes rarely found listings of the stars' current agents and managers; rankings on their promotional willingness, career management, professionalism, and acting talent; their top five box-office movies; and their career trajectories.
Think of this new racing form as the film industry's Janitor in a Drum: an industrial-strength resource available for the first time for use in any film buff's home.
If applicable, the star's real name is given underneath the star's screen name.
Example: Demi Moore
Real Name: Demetria Guynes
Hollywood Hot List Score
This score denotes the actor's global bankability for the year 2000, out of a possible 100 points. Bankability is defined as the power of an actor's name alone to raise 100 percent financing for a studio film.
This number denotes the ranking order of the star compared to all other stars in the Hollywood Hot List's Top 200. An "8," for example, signifies the actor ranks eighth out of 200 in worldwide bankability.
D.O.B. and Birthplace
The date and location of the actor's birth.
Key business contacts for the stars are listed here. These include the star's agent (A) and agency and, when available or applicable, the star's manager (M), attorney (Atty) and/or publicist (P).
The Inside Dirt
What Hollywood insiders are saying — off the record — about the world's top stars. These anonymous quotes are compiled from interviews with top producers, executives, agents, distributors, bankers, on-the-set professionals, and critics.
This quartet of scores highlights a star's additional power rankings in four categories affecting his or her overall bankability, or star power. Each score is based on a 100-point index. The categories are:
Willingness to Travel & Promote: How cooperative is the actor in promoting his films to the U.S. and global media?
Career Management: How well has the star chosen his roles to maximize his career potential?
Professionalism: How reliable is the actor to work with, both on and off the set?
Talent: Based solely on acting ability, how talented is this actor?
Excerpted from Hollywood Hot List by James Ulmer. Copyright © 2000 James Ulmer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The A+ List,
2. Pork Bellies in Hollywood,
3. The Year in Review,
The A List,
4. Breakdowns on the Casting Highway,
5. Perks of the Trade,
6. Trains, Planes, and "Working It",
The B+ List,
7. Hollywood Vine,
8. Rx for Tired Stars,
The B List,
9. The Bloom of Youth,
10. Tribal Hollywood,
11. The Internet and Beyond,
12. The Dream Factory,
The C List,
Appendix A: Star Lists,
The Bottom of the Heap,
Top Women Stars,
Top African-American Stars,
Top Latino Stars,
Top Asian Stars,
The Top Ten Directors,
Appendix B: Voices from the Scene,