Last year, Jennifer Lawrence — YA action heroine nonpareil and David O. Russell muse — jumped to the top of our 2014 100 Most Valuable Stars list, in the process dethroning two-time title-holder Robert Downey Jr. This year, the new status quo remains intact: Lawrence in the pole position, followed by RDJ and, just as in 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio in third.
Considering the criteria used to gauge “most valuable” status — which includes domestic and foreign box-office yield, social-media buzz, critical respect, and likability scores (as determined by E-Poll), all run through a formula crafted with our guest statistician, FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten — it should come as little surprise that the 25-year-old actress held off all challengers: In addition to being adored by fans and critics alike, she continues to savvily mix big-money tentpole fare such as The Hunger Games with the sorts of smart prestige choices that have already garnered her one Academy Awards win and three nominations. That approach is why her reign may well continue in 2016: She has the blockbuster Mockingjay — Part 2 and Russell’s Oscar-bait-y Joy both bowing in the next two months. It’s a good time to be Jennifer Lawrence.
Beyond the top three, kudos to the Rock for jumping 24 positions into the No. 5 spot, Chris Pratt for vaulting from the lower half of the list up to No. 11, and for Amy Schumer and Emily Blunt launching into the 40s after never previously making the list. There’s much more to discover in the list, where you can also look at the top stars by genre: Click on the box at the list’s upper left to see it broken out by drama, action, and comedy stars. If you want to see how each of the categories affects the overall rank, tinker with the sliders along the side.
How the Stars Were Ranked: A Guide for Statistics Lovers
Just as Hollywood executives must contend with a rapidly changing market, so must MVS regularly reappraise what gives a star value. The data collected this year fell into eight different metrics, which include:
1. Domestic Box Office. First, actors’ films released between January 1, 2010, and September 1, 2015, were counted. Only starring or large supporting roles were included; and in the latter case, only if their name or likeness was prominently used to sell the movie, as opposed to small, unbilled cameos. Actors who had not appeared in a film for 18 months or longer received a penalty; in today’s fast-moving movie world, you can’t simply rest on past laurels.
Enten used a median of an actor’s recent box-office performance to stand as his or her Domestic B.O. number, as an average can be too skewed by one enormous blockbuster. A median — or the middle value in an actor’s box-office tallies — negates the outliers (the most extreme hits and bombs) and lands on a number that more accurately signifies their usual box-office potential. Animated films were counted at half the value of live-action films. A penalty was applied to the box-office and critical ratings of actors who had animated or supporting roles in the vast majority of their counted films, as well as those who have only been in one film in the five-year period.
2. Overseas Box Office. For studios, international box office has gone from a nice bonus to the driving reason for a green light; it can often bring in a multiple of a film’s U.S. gross, especially now that China has become a more avid consumer. (And many stars whose continued employment may seem perplexing in America are still big moneymakers abroad.) The Overseas Box Office is determined by the same rules as Domestic, above.
3. Studio Value. To get this telling statistic, we have again polled a secret panel of several top studio executives and producers, asking them to assign the actors a score from 1 to 10 based on how much their casting in a movie in their most proven wheelhouse (like Kristen Wiig in a comedy, Ryan Gosling in a drama, or Liam Neeson in an action movie) would boost the project’s box-office prospects. Basically, it’s which stars they would hire first. A 10 means, “You just tripled your gross,” while a 1 means, “If this movie were ever going to succeed, you just ensured it won’t.” The scores were collected, and the median value became the Studio Value.
4. Likability. How warmly the public feels about an actor can affect how eager they are to run out to see one of his or her films. The market research firm E-Score regularly polls more than 1,000 people on their knowledge of and attitude toward celebrities, and provided data on what percentage of respondents find each star appealing. However, an important note on this data: E-Score first asks people if they can identify a star by face or name, generating an Awareness score, and only those who can are polled for that star’s Appeal score. On the Most Valuable Stars list, actors with an Awareness rating of below 15 percent were hit with another penalty, since the data suggested they had not yet become a household name.
5. Oscars. When studios are making something more thoughtful than your standard superhero fare, it helps to have a cast composed of award-winners, ensuring an extra patina of quality that the trailers will no doubt tout. Unlike the post-2010 numbers counted in the Box Office and Critics Score, here our actors get credit for any wins or nominations over their whole career, since that bragging right never expires. Wins are given two points, nominations one, and then the entire list’s scores were normalized to a 1-to-10 scale.
6. Critics’ Score. Using the same weighting system as Box Office, we calculated the median Metacritic rating of every movie each actor had released from 2010 on. This is meant to credit those actors who become valuable, reliable icons of quality.
7. Twitter Mentions. Social media has become the new watercooler, where buzz can make or break a movie on opening weekend. Twitter representatives counted the daily mentions of each star over the last 365 days — including all the articles and blog posts tweeted about said star — and then supplied Vulture with the median number.
8. Tabloid Score. Once again, Vulture asked three editors of gossip and entertainment sites to assign each star a 1-to-10 value based on how interested their readers were in reading about them — whether because of lurid scandal, baby bumps, or just because they like to ooh and aah over pictures of them having lunch. Essentially, this is the actors’ clickbait rating, an average of all three editors’ scores. We turned to the same panel as last year: Whitney Jefferson, celebrity editor for BuzzFeed; Marc Malkin, senior editor at E! Online; and Justin Ravitz, deputy editor for UsMagazine.com.
Consider each of the categories above a share of total “star value”: We then distributed the shares by importance, so they all added up to 100. We largely followed last year’s distribution model, with some modifications: As box-office performance is the driving force behind Hollywood, Domestic and Overseas Box Office remain at 15 percent each, and Studio Value stays at 30 percent. The remaining 40 percent measures stars’ popularity and prestige, with Likability warranting 12 percent, Critics’ Score and Twitter Mentions at 8 percent, Oscars at 7 percent, and Tabloid Appeal at 5 percent.
Now that you know how it all works, let’s get to the list.