You know how it goes. You’re crazy in love, and you want to show it off to the world. So what do you do? Possibly you annoy the living hell out of friends, coworkers and family by flooding your social feeds with cute selfies. But what happens if you and your mate are crazy-in-love movie stars? You flood movie theaters with the world’s most expensive selfie—a major motion picture that you two have made together. Who’s going to tell you no?
The public and the critics, that’s who. And often what they tell you is that they don’t care about your off-screen relationship anywhere near as much as you do.
Take last weekend. Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender and Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, a crazy-talented, charismatic and photogenic duo who happen to be a real-life couple, tanked in the defiantly old-school melodrama The Light Between Oceans. (Read our review here.) So-so reviews for a big-star movie based on a best-selling novel, a movie that some predicted could be Oscar bait? Not good. Only $6.3 million hauled in at the box-office for a well-publicized $20-million flick that opened on a four-day holiday weekend? Crushing.
Check your Hollywood history and you’ll find that there’s blood on the tracks when it comes to co-starring couples.
Look, we may want to see more and more movies made for grownups and we think Fassbender and Vikander are top-of-the-line talents, but here’s the tough takeaway from The Light Between Oceans: The international paparazzi are rabid to grab photos of Fassbender and Vikander out in public, but too few moviegoers wanted to pay to see them together in a movie—at least not in this movie. Check your Hollywood history and you’ll find that there’s blood on the tracks when it comes to co-starring couples. In 1953, the zenith of the I Love Lucy epoch, sitcom TV darlings Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz scored a big splash in their first co-starring movie, The Long, Long Trailer. Three years later, after Ball and Arnaz had been on TV for five years, plus shown up on innumerable magazine covers, TV and radio interviews, audiences no longer seemed willing to pay for what they got free in their living rooms. Their follow-up movie Forever, Darling bombed.
In the ‘60s, for every one of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s tony triumphs like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the decade’s most notorious Hollywood couple also committed unintentionally hilarious, critically lambasted atrocities like Boom! and Hammersmith is Out. Is Out—pretty much in private, since so few people paid to see them. In the ‘80s, the chemistry-free pairing of so-called “It” couple Madonna and Sean Penn couldn’t draw flies to their fat-budget romantic adventure turkey Shanghai Surprise. Likewise Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, a decade later, arriving on the wings of a rumor that married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman would possibly be seen boning onscreen. Also in the ‘90s when Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger were married, and movie stars, someone thought it was a good idea to foist them on the public in both the high-profile Neil Simon comedy The Marrying Man and the action-thriller remake The Getaway (the latter originally starred a red-hot off-screen couple of the ‘70s, Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw). Nobody came.
At the height of the utterly baffling Bennifer era in the early 2000s, a movie studio actually spent a reported $54 million pairing Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Gigli. That unromantic romantic comedy calamity struggled to eke out just over $6 million total in ticket sales but had zero trouble amassing worldwide ridicule and bagging a record six Razzie Awards. As if one messed-up movie weren’t enough, Bennifer chased Gigli with another dud, Jersey Girl, a film director Kevin Smith ranks as his worst.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie met while shooting the 2005 spy thriller Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a massive hit back when the two ignited a media circus by becoming a new celebrity couple. By the time of their torpid, faux artsy marriage-on-the-rocks 2015 drama By the Sea, the world had been saturated with tales of their six kids and tabloid rumors of their on-again off-again relationship challenges. They may be considered worldwide superstars but the audience passed and the movie struggled to pull in $3.3 million worldwide. Apparently learning their lesson, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have never costarred in a film since 2001's Ali, a critical success that lost over $63 million at the box-office.
Conclusions? Not only is the concept of the movie star on life support but, with our 24-hour news and info-tainment cycle, we also see way too much of them for their mere presence in a movie to be catnip. After all, how can we miss them when they won’t go away?