When The Tourist opened slightly below expectations, the headline everywhere was 'Angelina Jolie BOMBS'. If you didn't know better, you'd have no idea that Johnny Depp was the co-star of said movie and thus shared at least partial responsibility for the film's relative under-performance over its first weekend. And the following week saw the very disappointing opening weekend for the James L. Brooks romantic comedy How Do You Know? The film starred Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. Do you think the headlines all screamed about the box office failure of the all-star cast? Of course not, the blame fell entirely on the shoulders of Reese Witherspoon (who received $15 million for the film), as if Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson had no star power that justified their (respectively) $10 million, $3 million, and $12 million paydays for the $120 million comedy.
And let's not forget Nicole Kidman, who got tagged as 'box office poison' after a series of uber-expensive (and sometimes troubled) genre pictures only opened to 'just' $15-30 million. Did Will Ferrell's career take any real damage after Bewitched opened to a 'mere' $20 million? Of course not. Did Daniel Craig take any of the blame for the disappointing opening numbers posted by The Invasion ($7.9 million) or The Golden Compass ($25 million)? Nope, he's got a shiny new franchise this summer with Cowboys and Aliens, plus a starring role in David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake (and if that tanks, it will fall entirely on the shoulders of virtual unknown Rooney Mara). Did Hugh Jackman share any of the responsibility when the $120 million Australia opened with $15 million over Thanksgiving 2008? Nope, he still was able to star in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and got to host the Oscars to boot. But Nicole Kidman is of course box office poison.
But what if the film is a hit? Well, if at all possible, find a way to give credit to the male lead. Sandra Bullock had her (at the time) biggest hit ever with The Proposal in June of 2009, but if you read much of the press that followed, you would have sworn that most of that $33 million opening weekend and $164 million total came from fans of co-star Ryan Reynolds. And The Ugly Truth opened with $27 million later that summer on the strength of Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler. He may have deserved some of that credit, but much of the press acted as if Gerald Butler was a known entity when it came to opening romantic comedies. So if he gets half the credit for that solid hit, why did he get none of the blame when it was falsely reported that The Bounty Hunter was a flop upon opening with 'just' $20 million? Because his costar was Jennifer Aniston, and no one, I mean no one, misses a chance to trash Aniston (notice how Jason Bateman escaped unscathed for the The Switch).
Call it sexism. Call it laziness. Call it a crass knee-jerk reaction to appeal to the baser instincts of uninformed readers. But pay close attention after this year's Oscar ceremony. If it goes well, then more power to everyone involved. But if it fails as entertainment, who do you think the press will aim their swords at, James Franco or Anne Hathaway? As always, we'll see...