It’s interesting that the story around the Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams’ salaries is still floating around and gaining traction. I suspect that somebody is *pissed* at Wahlberg and that’s why they keep leaking details of his contract. So Wahlberg leveraged his contract to get more money (in a seriously dickish move, refusing to approve Christopher Plummer without being paid) for the reshoots of “All the Money in the World”, whereas Williams was willing to do the work because she’s an artist, along with the rest of the cast and Ridley Scott. She values her time but she also values her work. That’s an interesting way actors can be very different in the way they demand their compensation.
Update: Mark Wahlberg and his representing company have announced they will donate the amount received for the reshoots of $2 million to the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund. Which is a nice gesture, but it would have been nice if it hadn’t taken a week of public shaming to induce it.
What’s more poignant to me, though, is that the knee jerk reaction of the internet was that this movie just needed Wahlberg so much after losing Kevin Spacey, that there was no way it would be financially viable without a marquee actor such as Wahlberg. This reasoning betrays two realities: 1) these smaller movies, while often star vehicles, are financially successful due to the skill of the actors and directors involved. 2) Mark Wahlberg is generally considered a terrible actor and unpleasant to work with.
“All the Money in the World” isn’t a frat-boy jokes or CGI-action driven movie (not that there’s anything wrong with that). These smaller, drama-driven movies are literally made or broken because of the skill sets of the main cast and crew. Therefore, the business side calculus is different. Whereas a “big name” like Wahlberg might drive people to a Transformers film, though I continue to believe it is because Bumblebee is the best, it is well understood that those movies are pure schlock. Audiences may enjoy them (and clearly they do because they keep making a bazillion dollars) but that does not make them quality films. Audiences who prefer or enjoy dramatic movies are aware of truly skilled actors like Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer, and even director Ridley Scott. They drive audiences to smaller dramatic films. I go to some movies because I like the writer, for crying out loud. For example, I went to see “Prometheus” and “Cabin in the Woods” because I liked the writers, and I hate scary movies. Decisions for audiences are not always driven by “handsomeness of lead white dude,” sometimes actor quality is a very important part of casting decisions, and subsequent audience enjoyment.
One of the brilliant things modern superhero moves have done is to incorporate high-quality actors, writers, and directors into their movies. The sheer enormity of their success has driven audiences to believe that all movies must be driven by big names and has forgotten the artistic craft of film making plays a part as well. This has led audiences to conflate quality actors with quality movies, and additionally, to believe that to have a successful movie you must have a marquee-level star (meaning top of the movie poster billing). For a big expensive blockbuster, this might be true.
Movies are an art form. Movies can be made for and enjoyed by the masses, but also for niche audiences. Movies are extremely expensive to create, produce, and distribute. There is always a tension between the business of movies and the art of movies. We are talking here about the art of film.
Because movies are art, normal rules of economics don’t necessarily apply. Particularly when you’re creating a movie for an audience you admit is not going to be a large one. So once you realize that a movie is not going to pander to the target male 18-34 demographic of an expensive blockbuster, there is a lot more room for art and less need for the business (read: money making) side to be as concerned. When you make a smaller film like this, something we fondly refer to as “Oscar bait,” you do still might need some star power, so you find bankable actors with successful movies who are also skilled actors. Michelle Williams specializes in this area. If you don’t know her you simply haven’t been paying attention, she’s been around for a long time and has been in some phenomenal films. She’s a great actor and you should get to know her work if you are a serious film buff. In the “artsy” side of film, actor popularity is not the driving force behind success. Her movies have usually made more than “All the Money in the World” has so far, therefore, it’s safe to say that Wahlberg has not been a driving force behind its very moderate success.
One of 2017’s best films was Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” Peele, though a known quantity to TV and movie audiences as an actor and writer, isn’t well known to general film audiences as a director. The movie starred Daniel Kaluuya, and Allison Williams as the leads, neither is a marquee name. My bet is most people who like movies have at least heard of Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford whom I judge to be the biggest names in this film. But they were not the driving force behind this film’s success. To date, “Get Out” has grossed $175 million in the U.S., and $252 million globally. That is a huge, stunning success for a small film with no marquee actors. It is successful because it walked that line of great acting and directing and great production value.
Therefore, to state that “All the Money in the World” would not have made money without the presence of Mark Wahlberg is fundamentally incorrect. While a curiosity, the target audience for this film probably isn’t interested in him as an actor. In fact, critics have said he’s “horribly miscast,” (David Sims, The Atlantic), and “feels off for the setting,” (Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly). And those were the nice reviews. I find it disappointing that this was the response from so many people, when there is so much evidence to the contrary.