Saturday, April 3, 2010


Has anyone had a bigger first year in the movies than Sam Worthington?

I'm cheating a little here -- Worthington has actually been around a couple years in Australia, even in movies with Hollywood actors, such as Rogue with Radha Mitchell (a fellow Aussie) and Michael Vartan. But a year ago, no one here knew who he was, except for maybe a little distant buzz that he was a guy to watch in James Cameron's Avatar.

As of today, with the opening of Clash of the Titans, he's now appeared in three major tentpole movies in the last year: Terminator Salvation, Avatar, and now Titans. That's a pretty titanic year indeed.

And Worthington should probably enjoy it while it lasts. There's nothing to say he can't have a decent career, but he seems somewhat limited in his dramatic range. Probably the most obvious recent model for the way his career might play out is Gerard Butler, though we haven't seen a sense of humor yet from Worthington, and it's hard to know if there is one, lurking in there. That rules out romantic comedies, and he doesn't really seem to have the chops to go the route of fellow Aussie Russell Crowe. And there are only so many gigantically budgeted, digitally innovative epics a person can be in.

Maybe he can settle in as kind of a Jason Statham, but I don't know if he has the charisma.

Still, you've got to be pretty impressed with this first year in Hollywood. It's a pretty famous story that Worthington was living in his car prior to all this hoopla. Even if he never makes another movie -- and I'm sure I'd find a half-dozen in the pipeline if I checked on IMDB, including Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 -- he'd probably never have to go back to the car lifestyle. This first year has assured that.

And I think the really interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it demonstrates how fast Hollywood moves, how much more it needs to rely on buzz than on proven results. I'm not going to sort out all the timelines here -- there are probably famous stories here as well, and you can look them up elsewhere -- but to be in three such huge movies in the same year means that Worthington was cast on hope and promise alone. When Worthington received the part of Perseus in Clash of the Titans, they couldn't have known that Terminator Salvation and Avatar would be hits, and in fact, Terminator Salvation really wasn't. (I do think Worthington was the best part of that movie, and his role was supposed to be bigger until Christian Bale's ego stepped in.) But it was a safe assumption that these movies would at least be seen by lots of people, and that Clash of the Titans would benefit from Worthington's instant A-list status.

You see this happen all the time. An actor has his/her breakout, and then suddenly, he/she is in six movies in the next calendar year. It's really the only way to go. With the long production schedules of most movies, you have to be seeing who else is casting these people, and what the pedigrees of those projects are, if you want your own project to benefit from casting the same star.

In this way, movies have an oddly symbiotic relationship to each other, even while they are directly competing with each other for the available box office dollars of all movie patrons. The symbiosis wasn't so great in the past, because it used to be that actors (and directors, and other talent) would have an exclusive six-picture deal with a particular studio. The studio spent its own time and money on turning a performer into a star, or a star into a bigger star. Now, one studio says "thank you very much" to the other studio for promoting the heck out of the star of the first studio's upcoming feature. (Though it's worth noting that Terminator Salvation and Clash of the Titans are both from Warner Brothers, while Avatar was released by Fox.)

So what is next for Mr. Worthington? Well, perhaps inevitably, scaling back a bit, but not ducking out of the spotlight by any means. John Madden's The Debt (2010) is a thriller about Israeli special agents capturing a Nazi war criminal in 1965. Massy Tadjedin's Last Night (2010) is a romantic drama in which Worthington plays a spouse tempted into adultery. In Ami Canaan Mann's The Texas Killing Fields (2011), he's a homicide detective teaming up with New York City cops to investigate a string of unsolved murders. (This stuff is from IMDB, which means it's possibly wrong/subject to change, as some of you have pointed out to me before.) It's not until a project listed as in pre-production, Dracula Year Zero (2011), that Worthington looks like he might return to these titanic heights again. Then again, maybe Avatar 2 will be close to coming out by then as well.

So will I be seeing Clash of the Titans this weekend? No. I'm still catching up on last week's releases. It'll be time for me to finally see Dreamworks' Dragons on Sunday.

And though I've had kind of a dubious outlook on Titans, when you come right down to it, I want to see that Kraken released just as much as anybody. Have you seen that thing? Talk about titanic.

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