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Burning Question: What current star would have benefitted most from the Studio System?

This post is brought to you by agonizing advertisements for The Huntsman: Winter's War. Which looks dreadful.

Sometimes when I look at Charlize Theron, it hurts. She has such old school "MOTION! PICTURE! SPECTACULAR!" scale to her persona, this inarguable magnificence / screen beauty. The catch: she's almost never in movies that do anything for her when she's doing so much for them.

She might be my #1 choice for current star whose career is alright but would have been spectacular under the Studio System when star magnetism was carefully catered to, packaged, and regularly served up rather than an "extra" your random movie can sometimes benefit from.

Who is yours?

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Reader Comments (67)

Monster and Young Adult are 2 for the ages,I still agree with Ebert about her Oscar winning role.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Jennifer Lawrence, of course. Her comic timing and her huge magnetism would be wonderful in some 40's screwballs. Her tough side (Winter's Bone, Katniss) wpuld be great in heavy dramas and maybe westerns! Jennifer Lawrence would be a Barbara Stanwyck.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

What a fantastic question! One thing I bellivve the studio system did quite well was monompolize on beautiful women who could act so that's why i think you're right - Charlize Theron is a perfect example. Here are some others off the top of my head: Jessica Lange - can you imagine her doing lots of women's pics dressed in great clothes and having heartbreak all the time?!; Kathleen Turner - damn I feel she was wasted - a studio needed to come along and recognize they had someone as beautiful, smart and tough as Joan Crawford and used her appropriately!!; Mia Farrow - studios in their heyday would have taken hold of her and cast her as the sensitive, wan beauty who loved and lost over and over and over again - she could have done most of Olivia DeHavilland's roles and been terrific!; I'm at work so I can't give this time and thought I'd like to right now. But I'm not so sure about Jennifer Lawrence - I think she's doing just fine for what she offers - blockbusters and "art" films. But I will add - because I am a Meryl fanatic - how much fun it would have been to see her in the studio system - they would have written picture after picture for her and worked her ass off. I can just see her in all those "women" films!! She could have done the Bette Davis roles, the Greer Garson roles, the Teresa Wright roles!

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

I think Theron would be the #1 beneficiary for the reasons you note. Though I could also see Emma Stone benefiting, when it comes to being a *STAR*.

Though it's not the point of your post, another thing I enjoyed about that era was how it kept a stable of reliable people with some range highly visible for quite a long time (at least relatively), and especially when it comes to supporting actresses, that could've helped a variety of actors have a more stable career (for some reason Minnie Driver is the first person who comes to mind, if that model would've been applied to the last 20 years). I don't think it's only the people who would've been spectacular stars who it could've helped - though of course there are good reasons why it went away.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Obviously Jennifer Lawrence has to be mentioned, as she's kind of boundless in her star charisma. I also think that Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks qualify under the "beautiful women who can act" umbrella, and maybe of the men-James Franco? He has charisma, and used to be wonderful, but the studio would have made sure he didn't go on his bizarre and miscast Faulkner-fueled flights of fancy.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Michelle Pfeiffer and Marisa Tomei could have used the help to be in bigger pictures.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEddie

Charlize is a good call.

I think Rachel Weisz would have benefited from the star system, she's got both the beauty and the talent but rarely the roles in high profile pictures but I could see her in the type of roles Olivia de Havilland played once she hit her stride.

I could see Keira Knightley being molded into an Audrey Hepburn style star too.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

So, I'm the only one who wants to see The Huntsman: Winter's War?

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

cal roth Jennifer Lawrence is privileged without a studio system unless David O Russell is his own version of it for the modern era. 3 of her 4 Oscar nominations are for movies he directed. She is the most successful and celebrated actress of her general. This topic is for talent who needs assistance in lesser contemporary Hollywood.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful


March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

William Wyler directed 3 Bette Davis movies for which she was Oscar nominated: Jezebel (she won), The Letter and The Little Foxes.

On the topic at hand: Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep are at the top of my list.

Taking a slightly different look: can you imagine what the studio system would have done with Patricia Clarkson, Catherine Keener and Laura Linney in their character actress' roster?

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

I think anyone with musical talent and dramatic chops...the Amy Adams, Anna Kendricks of the world...would have benefited. I also can't help but think someone like Sarah Paulson would have benefited from being around during the 70's--imagine her getting leading lady parts!

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

This thread is about the studio system benefiting people who need it. Streep and Lawrence are too powerful and popular to need any system but the one currently in place.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Totally agree that Streep and Theron would have thrived under studio system.

As for younger stars today, I am in the group that finds Jennifer Lawrence wildly overrated. I don't see much difference between her and Demi Moore, and I think this is going to become more and more obvious as time goes on.

Emma Stone and Emma Watson? They would likely be very popular and able to do more then than they are allowed now.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTouch Daily

John Cusack? I say that now because he was in, ugh, Drive Hard a couple years back. I mean, there's also things he's doing (Dragon Blade) where I can actually see the cool factor drawing him in: "Jackie Chan!? If no one else big wants it, get me there! Plus, it's a good excuse to only show up for a day of shooting on Hot Tub Time Machine 2!"

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Lawrence would be a Stanwyck / Carole Lombard mix. Theron and Streep are good choices too. I think there are talented actors that excel in certain types of roles that could have benefited, like Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Anne Hathaway, etc.

I think Naomi Watts in particular would have been more successful.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Jennifer Lopez. And yes! to Ryan's suggestion of Naomi Watts.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersvg

Anne Hathaway, easily. Angelina Jolie also -- she would definitely have thrived in noirs, I imagine. If we're going by old school standards as well but without the institutional racism, Angela Bassett would have been a Bette Davis type for sure, while Gugu Mbatha-Raw would be huge at this point. I even think Jennifer Lopez would have thrived in that system, because the studio would pick specific projects for her and maybe tap into what Out of Sight brought into light and we sadly never saw in that same brilliance ever again.

Others: Patrick Wilson would be doing musicals -- heavenly with Hathaway.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFlickah

I must disagree with everyone on Streep. The Studio System wouldn't have served her at all because they weren't big on chameleons. The idea is that that was the best system for people with star quality who could exude with slight variations from role to role but always the same essential core.

Streep was of the new breed that didn't have a steady core but were constantly trying to be someone else entirely each film.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

But isn't that what Bette Davis did? She certainly mixed it up.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

Tom -- i disagree. Bette Davis was always BETTE DAVIS playing ___ . But Streep tries to disappear and be Karen Silkwood or Sophie or Miranda Priestley. I don't think Streep has a firm persona at all. Bette Davis had that intimidation factor the headstrong aggression that feeling of the edge of madness ... so many through lines in her work..

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Since they actually made comedies starring women ANNA FARIS would've actually gotten roles - Billy Wilder and George Cukor and Ernst Lubitsch would've loved her.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

But wouldn't being tied to a studio limit stars like Streep and Lawrence that have benefited from being able to sign with many studios (and are in demand for every role they qualify for)? I actually see these two women being hurt by the studio system. Now, if Streep was with MGM and Lange with Columbia, I can see Lange benefitting because Streep wouldn't have continued stealing all the roles they were both up for.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

Meryl Streep? C'mon! Any other actress but HER. Theron is a great choice, Nathaniel. I see her doing all sorts of genres with marvelous costumes in all of them. What about Jessica Chastain? I'm not her biggest fan, but I worry about her. She seems totally lost lately.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Agree on Charlize, Namoi, and Emma. I think Amy Adams would have been used a lot in Deborah Kerr-type roles and I can see Laura Linney becoming a regular supporting player.

But I think the person who would have benefited most from a studio system is Sharon Stone, in all honesty.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

John T: Yes, he directed himself in those bad Faulkner adaptations. But...he's going to be Tommy "The Room" Wiseau! Okay, Franco...you WIN.
Jason: Also a good call.
shawshank: Ooh, yes, that's definitely the studio system's biggest benefit: The lack of monopoly. For white male actors, that probably doesn't matter, but for most actresses and any black actors, that's pretty huge.
Steve: Maybe? Don't entirely see it, though.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I am not a total fan of the studio system time period. It could mold stars, but it also forced them to do a lot of second rate pictures while under contract.

I do think musical stars benefited the most, current Broadway stars like Laura Benanti, Sutton Foster and Kelli O'Hara would be more apt to be given a chance. Along with Adams, Kendrick, Blunt and Hathaway it's easy to picture more opportunities for them.
I think Kathleen Turner would have fit in perfectly with that time period, she would have been an even bigger star.
Keira Knightley's films with Joe Wright are exactly what the studio system did well. Wright is a bit of a throwback, he reminds me of George Cukor who was known for women's pictures and his attention to visual details. It's easy to imagine KK doing well with a Stanley Donen in "Charade", "Funny Face", or "Two for the Road".

I think Streep would have struggled and found the studio way too confining, she might have gone back to Broadway as certain people did. I'm not so sure that Theron's career would be so much bigger either.
For example, I cannot picture any studio who had invested in building her up as a glamorous star wanting her to do a non-glamorous role like Mad Max, or Young Adult.
Studios confined and limited stars as much as they made them.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Catherine Zeta-Jones. I believe that she'd have been a much bigger star with the studio system, even with her obvious acting limitations.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterhcu

hcu -- that's a perfect example, i agree wholeheartedly.

everyone -- i didn't mean to imply that the studio system was some kind of utopia. Obviously it was very difficult for a lot of people and really hard on actors who wanted to stretch and play against type and such. But my point is certain people nowadays really would have been huge IF anyone was invested in their careers. Now the only people invested in any star are their agents and management. The studios have nothing to gain by trying to craft star vehicles since they ROI could come in some other studio's coffers.

March 31, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Agree there were pro's and con's with studio system. It's not like Bette Davis loved it. She often felt trapped, overworked, and sometimes did not like the roles she was offered (or couldn't get the roles she wanted). The independent system now is more flexible, but you do see actresses working with the same collaborators (Streep with Nichols, Lawrence with Russell, Knightley with Wright, etc.) so the studio system has evolved as it should to allow more creative freedom. The musical choices here are great BTW.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMa Bell

Anjelica Huston certainly would have benefited from having vehicles tailor made to her strengths. (Trivia) The initial choice for The Supreme Leader in Captain EO was Shelley Duvall! And while visiting the set Elizabeth Taylor told Michael Jackson she believed she could have played the role in eye and ear shot of Anjelica Huston who was beyond agitated.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

She seems to have her detractors. But I think Jennifer Aniston's pretty awesome when it comes to comic timing. I sometimes think of her as the modern Jean Arthur. Like Arthur, she often projects a kind of idealized version of a "just regular folks" personality. And this is something the old studio system was great at marketing. Foxy Eva Green - with her throaty voice and deep-dish combo of composure and charisma, would surely have flourished in studio era noirs and period films. And Tammy Blanchard's yet to find her breakthrough movie role - but, oh how she'd have shone in some of those MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's!

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKen

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Julia Roberts. She'd have done very well under the studio system I think. I like her a lot, but she's not really a chameleon. Her best performances play on elements of her public persona in some way or another.

Ditto Reese Witherspoon. I think she'd have benefited from the studio system as well.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKieran Scarlett

I'm excited for The Huntsman... Em and Charlize look like they are having loads of fun being eviiiil.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersummer

I think Charlize Theron is a good call. Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman, too. Basically, modern Hollywood has no clue what to do with gorgeous, glamorous women who act.

My other thought was Annette Bening. I bet Billy Wilder and George Cukor would have loved her.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Comparing Jennifer Lawrence to Barbara Stanwyck is massively insulting to the latter. JLaw has given one great performance: Winter's Bone. She usually ranges from mediocre (The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook) to terrible (X-Men, American Hustle, Serena).

Plus, studio actresses had great faces. Jennifer Lawrence is attractive in a regular person kind of way, but she's no great beauty. She has no cheekbones, a big nose, a pointy chin, a broad forehead and dead eyes. I don't see the magnetism that her fans do.

Jessica Chastain is the actress with the class, beauty, and talent to have been a star during the studio system.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

The old studio system abandoned women in their 40's, so I don't know that we want to go backwards. At least today there is a range of female stars who range from their 20's to 60's, or even older. My question is WTF is Charlize doing making an unnecessary fantasy sequel, or prequel? Is there no good property that she can option or develop? She still has some power and does not seem to be using it for her own welfare.

And I don't recall Streep stealing roles from Jessica Lange. More the opposite, at least in the beginning.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDebra Winger

Yes Ken on Tammy Blanchard. She would have shined in the musicals but can also play the ingenue. She was so great in Life with Judy: Me and My Shadows. I don't know why know one capitalized on that talent. A performance like that isn't just a fluke.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom

On the female side: Emily Blunt would have been a queen of the studio system.

On the male side: Rupert Everett, unless he chose to live a life like Billy Haines, would have been bigger than big.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Julia Roberts of course. Now that's a movie STAR! and her revent misfires wouldn't have happened with the studio system imo.
On the male side, it's Patrick Wilson. I love him so much and totally would like to see his stardom blow up. Hollywood so far hasn't done him any justice.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

In the studio era the roles weren't always good, but the
movies were better.Casablanca, for example, was considered
a minor film for the Warner Bros.
There was no difference between "art" and business.
...Gone With The Wind, for example, was planned as a
comercial movie: war, action, drama, tears...
Today would be classified as "art": an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize great book.
They made movies about people and the women(actresses) were bigger than the
men(actors). And their salaries too. Elizabeth Taylor was the first
with one million for Cleopatra and the next was another woman, Audrey Hepburn
for My Fair Lady.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly S

in the 90s it almost felt like Winona Ryder could've been part or inspired by a Studio system. she was so specific and always Winona Ryder regardless of her role.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCris

Julia Roberts made $20 million per picture for several years, so she is actually a terrible example. She has never needed extra help, until recently. I also think people are forgetting how oppressive, illegal and exploitative the old studio system was.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

yeah, julia roberts was the most successful box office movie star of her generation so she didn't really need the studio system to catapult her into another level.

any middle aged actress wouldn't be helped by the studio system. they would have been treated like discards.

i think an actress who does the whole emoting, sing and dance thing is anne hathaway and she would have done better with a studio backing her and she would have a best actress oscar by now, not best supporting.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermcv

IMO, ScarJo (who exudes old Hollywood GLAM) wld have benefitted the most & probably had one or two Oscar noms by now if a major studio had backed up her ala Liz Taylor (She reminds me of Liz the most).

Actually, I find the studio sys too constricting and only stars who are good in only certain roles and genre will find it a safe heaven. Prime examples are those musical stars of the heydays

I'm not sure any studio would wanna groom Charlize Theron as their resident Glam Queen & then let her act in Young Adult or Mad Max.

I feel without the studio sys, more actresses actually benefitted as they could pursue more variety of roles and not locked into a certain image the public wanna see, prime example: said Charlize Theron

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

It's not offensive to Stanwyck. We're talking about charisma. I'd argue Lawrence is even more magnetic than Stanwyck, who was, OF COURSE, a better actress.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Drew Barrymore

she's had a cgood career, no doubt, but I think the studio system would have done so much more for her. the barrymore connection, the face, her natural charm.

and I think the studio would have helped her with growing older and finding the right vehicles to stay connected with the audience.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJesper Larsson

I'd vote Fassbender, because the indifference general audiences have shown him is unacceptable. But at the same time, his persona has never been nutured by a studio to the public even when he was playing a dynamic lead like Steve Jobs or Magneto

April 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Anna Kendrick. Arthur Freed would have made her a musical queen.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterV.

Cameron Diaz
Julia Roberts
Toni Collette
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Scarlett Johansson
Rosamund Pike
Jennifer Connelly
Kate Beckinsale
Monica Bellucci
Kristin Scott Thomas
Li Gong
Diane Kruger

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

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