When The Going Gets Cheap, Hollywood Turns To Ideas

As the world plunges into recession, even movie stars are feeling the pinch. Hollywood is turning away from big names and big price tags towards cheaper, more high concept movies. Good news for science fiction?

We've already told you about Marvel trying to lowball Mickey Rourke for his role in Iron Man 2 but, as Variety points out, that's just part of a growing trend at the major studios to either lowball actors' money demands, or ignore stars altogether in favor of newer, cheaper actors:

Unless you’re Will Smith, Johnny Depp or a handful of others, nobody is earning their quote right now, said dealmakers. Stories of tough negotiations are widespread: Disney asked Nicolas Cage to cut his price on the next "National Treasure" sequel, and that same studio cut loose a third "Chronicles of Narnia" film... Dealmakers said studios that once bought projects that could be bait for movie stars now prefer high concepts that don’t require big stars and directors with their big paychecks. The perfect example is "Twilight," which became a big hit despite the lack of bankable stars.

"There is no such thing as a quote anymore," said one agency chief. "You tell them your client’s quote; they smile and say, ‘Here is the offer.’ Even when you agree on a deal, it’s harder to get the trigger pulled, with more signoffs than in the past."

On the face of things, this seems like great news for sci-fi movies, which tend to rely on ideas that are slightly higher concept than, say, "Kevin James is a cop in a mall." But then you get to this part of the article, explaining how widespread Hollywood's fear of a poor planet has become:

Even a spirited bidding battle like last week’s auction for Isaac Asimov’s "Foundation" trilogy resulted in only a mid-six-figure upfront against low seven figures. That property would have drawn a sure-fire seven-figure upfront payday a few years ago considering that directors Roland Emmerich and Alex Proyas were attached to bids.

So, economy is the new watchword in the movie industry right now when it comes to making deals... but how long until that mindset reaches the stage of making movies? Oh, wait - it already has, with Warners looking to cut budgets by 10% in the next year. While sci-fi doesn't necessarily have to have massive special effects budgets, the two do tend to go together in the minds of Hollywood... Does the New Cheapness present a threat to new science fiction on our screens, just when we need escapism and allegorical drama more than ever? We'll admit to being worried... but let's wait and see how the big-budget, no star movies Watchmen and Star Trek do at the box office before making a final judgement.