Woody Allen: Savior of the Dissatisfied Blockbuster Movie Star

By  · Published on August 11th, 2015


Every actor and actress in Hollywood wants to work with Woody Allen. But why is that? Is it because he’s directed 18 Oscar-nominated performances, seven of those winners? Probably, but Allen himself puts it in different terms. In a recent interview by Sam Fragoso for NPR (which has unfortunately gotten more attention for statements made about his controversial personal life than those about his career and work), the prolific one-a-year filmmaker had this to say about why he’s so popular with the movie stars:

There are two factors:

1) I give them good parts to play and they are artists and they don’t want to keep doing blockbuster movies. They want to act in something.

2) But they want to work with me when the blockbuster movie hasn’t offered them anything. If I offer them something and then Jurassic Park offers them something, they take Jurassic Park because of the money.

So, should we expect to see him working with Jurassic World star Bryce Dallas Howard soon? Or Chris Pratt? The latter would be much more fun, but they’re both heading back for the sequel so maybe they enjoyed doing the first one, not just for the paycheck. Anyway, let’s focus on the 45 years worth of movies and casting that already exist. Is there any sort of pattern to the names we see pop up on Allen’s cast lists, a tradition showing that actors and actresses choose him more than he chooses them? It’s a history worth exploring.

We can probably include his next, not-yet-shot currently-untitled movie, which has lined up a few notable stars who probably are suffering from blockbuster dissatisfaction. Biggest of all is Bruce Willis, who is definitely in need of something small and of a certain quality right now. But is it because of the disappointment of 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard? Or this year’s already forgotten straight-to-video sci-fi release, Vice? It’s unclear how recent the blockbuster has to have been to turn a performer toward an Allen ensemble. Or how big.

For Jesse Eisenberg, though, it would seem that the actor is jumping right off the giant superhero blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and into Allen’s arms. There are elements of being in a comic book movie he’s clearly not a fan of (mainly that whole Comic-Con “genocide”). But he also isn’t new to the Allen stable, having previously been in 2012’s To Rome With Love. And he hadn’t really been in a “blockbuster” at that point, unless we count animated features such as Rio.

Rounding out the new cast is Kristen Stewart, who has been free of blockbusters (Twilight and Snow White franchises, specifically) for a few years now and may just want to work with another smaller-scale, actor’s director (following Olivier Assayas, Kelly Reichardt, Ang Lee, et al.) or simply reunite with Eisenberg, her regular onscreen buddy. There’s also Corey Stoll, another Allen vet who also may need a change after Ant-Man, and Blake Lively, who hasn’t been in a blockbuster, or much at all, since 2011. Green Lantern may have been that bad an experience, though.

Now for the past. Here are actors who may have indeed, as per Allen’s own stated factors, flocked to the filmmaker when they were tired of specific blockbusters:

Joaquin Phoenix (Irrational Man) – hasn’t been in a recent blockbuster, but he has reportedly been offered a lot of big roles, the one before being cast in this maybe being Eisenberg’s part in BvS.

Emma Stone (Irrational Man, Magic in the Moonlight) – Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2

Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – The Hobbit trilogy

Alison Pill (To Rome With Love, Midnight in Paris) – Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) – Marmaduke

Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris) – Sherlock Holmes (but she did the sequel, so maybe not)

Josh Brolin (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Melinda and Melinda) – Jonah Hex, for his return to Allen

Anthony Hopkins (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) – The Wolfman

Ewan McGregor (Cassandra’s Dream) – Star Wars prequels, plus The Island

Colin Farrell (Cassandra’s Dream) – Miami Vice

Hugh Jackman (Scoop) – Van Helsing (but his role as Wolverine continued to offer enough satisfaction)

Will Ferrell (Melinda and Melinda) – Elf

Amanda Peet (Melinda and Melinda) – The Whole Ten Yards

Jason Biggs (Anything Else) – American Pie franchise (never mind that he did American Wedding after Anything Else and eventually returned to the series again years later)

Tea Leoni (Hollywood Ending) – Jurassic Park III (is Leoni the reason Allen mentioned Jurassic Park?)

Helen Hunt (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion) – Cast Away

Sean Penn (Sweet and Lowdown) – The Thin Red Line

Winona Ryder (Celebrity) – Alien: Resurrection

Leonardo DiCaprio (Celebrity) – Titanic

Demi Moore (Deconstructing Harry) – G.I. Jane

Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (all in Deconstructing Harry; Louis-Dreyfus also was previously in Hannah and Her Sisters) – Father’s Day, which isn’t quite a blockbuster, even though it opened at the beginning of the summer, but it’s worth noting for that trio and it was also a box office disappointment.

Drew Barrymore (Everyone Says I Love You) – Batman Forever

Beyond that, the further back we go, the less likely it is that Allen’s statement rings true. Still, there is Madonna going from Dick Tracy to Shadows and Fog and Gene Hackman following Superman IV: The Quest for Peace with Allen’s Another Woman and Carrie Fisher doing Hannah and Her Sisters shortly after finishing with the Star Wars trilogy and Diane Keaton beginning her film work with Allen right after doing The Godfather.

Of course, there are plenty of actors and actresses who’ve starred in Allen’s movies over the past 20 years who can’t be linked to a blockbuster before first working with him. They include Scarlett Johansson, Christina Ricci, Penelope Cruz, Colin Firth, Evan Rachel Wood, Javier Bardem, Alan Alda, Edward Norton, Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant and Tracey Ullman.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.