The Business of Leading Men in Hollywood

15 Nov

By: Lurker

How do you recall the leading men in Hollywood? Is it the blockbuster Hollywood movies? Most people if asked would answer the same way, the leading character or “the face”.  However, many leading men have become memorable due to starring roles in franchise movies. The concept of the Hollywood franchise really took hold with James Bond which today is still #2 top grossing franchise worldwide. Hollywood experimented with other franchises like The Godfather Trilogy in the 70’s to wild success. Star Wars and Rocky started in the late 70’s and of course all of these are still iconic. It seems that the faces of the lead characters in all these franchises are what we recall instantly and without hesitation and they were all lead by men. The faces in the top 30 franchises are a list of who’s who with the box office sales all in the +$1 bill. The actors that the top franchise list includes some young new faces like Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Pattinson, Shia LeBeouf and Toby McGuire. Along side those who we know by just the mention of their names like Arnold, Stallone, Johnny, Cruise.

In the top 30 franchise list one could argue the two who stand out. First Harrison Ford, the face of StarWars, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan. Right behind him is Sylvester Stallone the face of two franchises, Rocky and Rambo.  However there are no other actors who have made the leap to embody more than one franchise besides these two! Telling? Maybe. There is no doubt the concept of a multi-picture story and franchise is lucrative to the movie industry. In reviewing the numbers[1] to see return on investment these franchises standout.  Some eye-popping numbers!

  • Twilight with 1,083%
  • Harry Potter 499%
  • Transformers 328%
  • Jason Bourne 243%.

In fact, Robert Downey Jr’s career reboot has been wildly successful in his portrayal of IronMan. Two pictures down, IronMan is #16 on the top franchise list1. (Note that none of the numbers are adjusted for inflation, just total sales figures).

It is also interesting to look at all the actors who are the faces of these top 30 franchises to see what their other work consisted of and how becoming the face of the franchise propelled their careers forward when standalone movies seemed to just make money on their name alone.

In researching this article, one actor who has consistently made money sticking with the complex characters is Leonardo DiCaprio. While he is not the face of any particular franchise, the wave of success from Titantic and his own acting abilities have propelled him much further in box-office draw than any of his contemporaries. Call that his pairings with Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg and having the ability to pick fabulous stories, Leo seems to be doing it without becoming a franchise face. His box office totals 24 movies and $4.7 billion later seem to stand out when compared with Stallone 40 movies and $4 billion later.

It seems Hollywood can’t get enough of finding a leading man to become the face of a franchise because they are proven money makers. With financing hard to come by due to the economic environment, Hollywood needs something more than a gamble, they need proven winners and franchises have built in audiences and box office draw they can count on.  Actors may be unwilling to sign on to franchise movies in fear of being typecast. However the dollars prove that Stallone was able to pull off stories he wrote and directed, which gave him control over his own career. Would it be too much to ask in today’s economy? I think that having the money to finance your own projects provides some power to control the path of your career. If Stallone could do it recently with The Expendables, I think it can still be done. What are your thoughts? Are there any other actors that can take on multiple franchises?

[1] Data sourced from

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8 Responses to “The Business of Leading Men in Hollywood”

  1. Open Book November 15, 2010 at 4:15 PM #

    This is a great article and very interesting. I think your research on Leo is the most compelling. I wonder if the reason Leo has resisted franchises is due to him producing movies instead? I imagine it’s harder to produce and grow your own company if u are tied to a franchise. I believe that’s what happened to George Clooney with his first production company. He could not manage the demands of being an actor and working for someone else, while trying to develop and grow his company. U stated Stallone wrote and produced his movies and was successful but imagine this is his greatest strength.

    I’m not sure but I think Leo may be doing Nolan’s Inception’s sequel. If so than this will be a first for Leo. Great piece!!!!

    • Lurkerm3 November 15, 2010 at 6:32 PM #

      I wonder too if Stallone’s success was partly due to his focus all remaining on one goal and not trying to do too much? I was amazed to see Leo’s track so drastically different than his contemporaries too!

      • Open Book November 18, 2010 at 4:58 AM #


        I think the times are so different from when Stallone first started. I mean it cost far less to make a franchise movie like Rocky and Rambo than it would today, making the return on investment pretty nice. In the past audiences would just be satisfied with a good story like Rocky. However today so many franchises are CGI films like Avatar, Inception, Spiderman etc….. Today audiences want not only a good story but a visual experience. Do u think audiences desire to see CGI films will reduce in the future?

        • kneon65 November 18, 2010 at 6:51 PM #

          I think people will be expecting more and more CGI in their films. I can’t say if this is a good thing or not. I know Hollywood actors/actresses do worry about someday being replaced by computer generated actor/actresses.

    • Pariesienne November 16, 2010 at 10:05 PM #

      Great Article!

  2. kneon65 November 16, 2010 at 9:37 PM #

    Great article. Being in a franchise has definetly helped Rob’s career. He has gone from the Harry Potter franchise to the Twilight franchise. It will be interesting will he pick up a new franchise Bourne is up for a new actor or will he try his hand at starting his own company and develop movies on his own. This seems his two choices. Maybe, I’m wrong.

    The franchise seems to be what Hollywood wants because there are a lot of new franchises waiting to be released, filmed or developed.

  3. whisper November 16, 2010 at 10:13 PM #

    I imagine leading men need to be really savvy about what direction they want there career to head in. I guess to have a long career you need to develop your own stuff it seems. I agree with kneon65 Hollywood are producing a lot of franchises and to be apart of a franchise is big money today. Rob has really hit a fork in the road that’s very exciting.

  4. Open Book November 18, 2010 at 5:06 AM #

    To: Kneon65 and Whisper,

    I agree Rob does have a lot options and a lot of pressure….. This is a good thing given this economy!!!

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