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Are Movie Studios Just Casting by Keyword?

At the New York Times, Michael Cieply takes a look at the proliferation of films starring litters of stars, pegged to the upcoming premieres of The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Red, and, of course, The Avengers. The reasons for the shift are a bit muddled in the piece: Robert J. Thompson, a Syracuse television-history professor, speculates that "film is reaching toward the complex, multicharacter scenarios" of TV shows like The Sopranos. (Um, he probably hasn't seen The Expendables.) And then he adds: "In some cases they’re borrowing the aesthetic of The Love Boat." (Got that? Ensemble films are either like The Love Boat or The Sopranos.) More sensibly, the piece notes that these big casts are likely a result of building films that appeal across various ethnic and generational lines.

Our two cents? We'd emphasize the historic explosion of the international market and films geared toward global appeal with increasingly international casts: The Expendables doesn't just have a big cast, it has a global cast: It should play well in Britain (Statham), Asia (Li), Sweden (Lundgren), and whatever planet Mickey Rourke lives on. Also, a big cast is essentially a great list of keywords. We've already floated our theory that keyword casting reached its tipping point with the amazing DVD success of the couldn't-have-more-stars drama Crash. Five years after its release (and despite being wretched, with only a two-and-a-half-star rating), it still tops the Netflix Top 100. Intentional or not, it's a search-optimized film, whose enormous cast of stars allows the film to game the various recommendation algorithms used by Amazon, Netflix, and Blockbuster.

A few months from now, if you have ever five-starred any action film starring one of the eleven dudes in The Expendables, you will absolutely see that film in your "Might Also Like" box. These could be reasons why these films are getting made. Or it could be because Stallone wanted to have tons of dudes blow shit up just like they do in The Sopranos. And The Love Boat.

Photo: Lionsgate