Movie star

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A movie star (also known as a film star and cinema star) is a celebrity who is well-known, or famous, for his or her starring, or leading, roles in motion pictures. The term may also apply to an actor or actress who is recognized as a marketable commodity and whose name is used to promote a movie in trailers and posters. The most widely known, prominent or successful actors are sometimes called “superstars” by writers and journalists. According to an online dictionary, a movie star is an actor or actress who is famous for playing leading roles in movies.[1] In recent decades, there has been an increasing trend to associate the term only with those iconic leading actors whose careers were at their height in the 1930s, 40's, 50's or 60's.

Music Hall antecedents[edit]

Before the advent of movies, the term "star" was already in use in the milieu of the Music Halls, at the time the most popular form of entertainment. "Star" already meant much the same as it came to mean in the context of films – i.e. entertainers who were well-known and highly popular, and who were therefore paid significantly better than fellow performers. The term "Star" was for example used extensively during the 1907 strike in Britain which came to be known as "The Music Hall War", when Stars were praised for standing by their lesser-paid fellows and actively participating in the strike (see Music hall#'Music Hall War' of 1907).

Although such were the terms most immediate antecedents, the use of the term "star" to refer to "an actor, singer, etc. of exceptional celebrity" (OED, s.v. "star") can be traced as far back as the eighteenth century, when its earliest usage is cited with reference—quite appropriately—to the most famous and feted actor of the day in England, David Garrick."The little stars, who hid their diminished rays in his [Garrick's] presence," J. Warner noted in 1779, "begin to abuse him". The term soon became part of the language of the theatre, as another, slightly later citation of its use in a publication such as the Edinburgh Weekly Journal makes clear ("He had hitherto been speaking of what, in theatrical language, was called stars"). The term was first used in 1924 to coin a phrase for Rudolph Valentino; it was further used in news publications, demo reels, and print covers for the likes of Elvis Presley, Grace Kelly, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe.

United States[edit]

Hollywood, first years[edit]

In the early days of silent movies the names of the actors and actresses appearing in movies were not publicized or credited because producers feared this would result in demands for higher salaries.[2] However, audience curiosity soon undermined this policy. By 1909, actresses such as Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford were already widely recognized, although the public remained unaware of their names. Lawrence was referred to as the “Biograph Girl” because she worked for D. W. Griffith's Biograph Studios, while Pickford was "Little Mary." In 1910, Lawrence switched to the Independent Moving Pictures Company, began appearing under her own name, and was hailed as "America's foremost moving picture star" in IMP literature.[2] Pickford began appearing under her own name in 1911.

IMP promoted their “picture personalities”, including Florence Lawrence and King Baggot, by giving them billing/credits and a marquee. Promotion in advertising led to the release of stories about these personalities to newspapers and fan magazines as part of a strategy to build “brand loyalty” for their company's actors and films. By the 1920s, Hollywood film company promoters had developed a “massive industrial enterprise” that “…peddled a new intangible—fame.”[3]

Hollywood “image makers” and promotional agents planted rumors, selectively released real or fictitious biographical information to the press, and used other “gimmicks” to create glamorous personas for actors. Publicists thus “created” the “enduring images” and public perceptions of screen legends such as Judy Garland, Rock Hudson, Marilyn Monroe, and Grace Kelly. The development of this “star system” made “fame…something that could be fabricated purposely, by the masters of the new ‘machinery of glory’.”[3] However, regardless of how “…strenuously the star and their media handlers and press agents may…try to ‘monitor’ and ‘shape’ it, the media and the public always play a substantial part in the image-making process.”[3] According to Madow, “fame is a ‘relational’ phenomenon, something that is conferred by others. A person can, within the limits of his natural talents, make himself strong or swift or learned. But he cannot, in this same sense, make himself famous, any more than he can make himself loved.”

Madow goes on to point out “fame is often conferred or withheld, just as love is, for reasons and on grounds other than ‘merit’.” According to Sofia Johansson the “canonical texts on stardom” include articles by Boorstin (1971), Alberoni (1972) and Dyer (1979) that examined the “representations of stars and on aspects of the Hollywood star system”. Johansson notes “more recent analyses within media and cultural studies (e.g. Gamson 1994; Marshall 1997; Giles 2000; Turner, Marshall and Bonner 2000; Rojek 2001; Turner 2004) have instead dealt with the idea of a pervasive, contemporary, ‘celebrity culture’.” In the analysis of the celebrity culture, “fame and its constituencies are conceived of as a broader social process, connected to widespread economic, political, technological and cultural developments.”[4]

In the 1980s and 1990s, entertainment companies began using stars for a range of publicity tactics including press releases, movie junkets, and community activities. These promotional efforts are targeted and designed using market research, to increase the predictability of success of their media ventures. In some cases, publicity agents may create “provocative advertisements” or make an outrageous public statement to trigger public controversy and thereby generate “free” news coverage.[3] Movie studios employed performers under long-term contracts. They developed a star system as a means of promoting and selling their movies. “Star vehicles” were filmed to display the particular talents and appeal of the most popular movie stars of the studio.

The last of the greats[edit]

With the loss of Hedy Lamarr, Loretta Young and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 2000, Rod Steiger in 2002 Katharine Hepburn, Jeanne Crain, Bob Hope and Gregory Peck in 2003, Howard Keel, Ann Miller and Marlon Brando in 2004, June Haver in 2005, Shelley Winters and June Allyson in 2006, Yvonne De Carlo, Betty Hutton, Deborah Kerr and Jane Wyman 2007, Cyd Charisse, Evelyn Keyes, Van Johnson and Paul Newman in 2008, Jennifer Jones in 2009 Lena Horne, Tony Curtis, Gloria Stuart, Patricia Neal and Kathryn Grayson in 2010, Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Garrett, Barbara Kent and Miriam Seegar (both Barbara and Miriam were 103 years old when they passed away) in 2011, Tony Martin, Celeste Holm and Ernest Borgnine in 2012, Deanna Durbin, Esther Williams, Eleanor Parker, Peter O'Toole, Joan Fontaine in 2013, and Shirley Temple in 2014 the number of stars is dwindling. Carla Laemmle, Diana Serra Cary (Baby Peggy), Mickey Rooney and Dickie Moore are the last surviving stars from the silent era. Lupita Tovar, Maureen O'Hara, Luise Rainer, Mary Carlisle, Michele Morgan, Danielle Darrieux, Jane Withers, Olivia De Havilland are the last main 1930s actresses, Marsha Hunt, Anne Jeffreys, Lauren Bacall, Joan Leslie, Jane Powell, Louis Jourdan, Margaret O'Brien, Lizabeth Scott, Ann Blyth, Kirk Douglas, Gloria DeHaven, Nanette Fabray, Barbara Hale, Adriana Benetti and Rhonda Fleming are some of the last actors from the 1940s. The 1950s saw the collapse of the old studio contract system. Some of the last stars from that decade are Arlene Dahl, Joanne Woodward, Eli Wallach, Terry Moore, Robert Wagner, Doris Day, Christopher Lee, Jerry Lewis, Tab Hunter, Gina Lollobrigida, Angela Lansbury, Mamie Van Doren, Sophia Loren, Leslie Caron, Debbie Reynolds, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dina Merrill, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Piper Laurie, Jeanne Moreau, Eva Marie Saint, Mitzi Gaynor, Brigitte Bardot, and Sidney Poitier.


Movie stars in other regions too have their own star value. For instance, in Asian film industries, many movies often run on the weight of the star's crowd pulling power more than any other intrinsic aspect of film making.


The Indian film industry, of which one is commonly known as Bollywood, has its own set of rules in this aspect and there are often superstars in this region, who often command premium pay commensurate with their box office appeal.Indian actors who are among the most popular movie stars in India and Southern Asia include Rajesh Khanna 'The First male Superstar Of Hindi Cinema', Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Mithun Chakraborty, Aamir Khan, Sharukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan, Arjun Rampal, Govinda, Shahid Kapoor and Anil Kapoor in males and amongst the females Sridevi is considered as the biggest star ever and is often known as 'The First Female Superstar Of Hindi Cinema'. Kajol, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Karisma Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, Hema Malini, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Vyjayanthimala and Rekha are othe stars among females.


A number of Chinese film actors have become some of the most popular movie stars in Eastern Asia and are also well known in the Western world. They include Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun-fat, Stephen Chow, Sammo Hung, Gong Li, Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Cheung, and the late Bruce Lee.

Malay Archipelago[edit]

Malay Archipelago or also known as Nusantara consist of four film industry in Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore which over the century has collaborated and related to each other. A number of actors from this region have become some of the most sought after movie stars in South East Asia, commonly in Malay speaking country. Actors like P. Ramlee, Rano Karno, Rima Melati, Deddy Mizwar, Jins Shamsuddin, Eman Manan, Alex Komang, Christine Hakim, Fauziah Ahmad Daud, Joseph Estrada, Jose Padilla, Nordin Ahmad, Saadiah, Fernando Poe Jr., Roy Marten, Yusof Haslam and many legends are considered as movie stars in 20th century. Some of the has acted in each countries. Some of modern days movie stars are Romalis Syafril, Erra Fazira, Rosyam Nor, Shaheizy Sam and Maya Karin from Malaysia, Nicholas Saputra, Vino G. Bastian, Dian Sastrowardoyo, Tora Sudiro and Iko Uwais from Indonesia, Claudine Baretto, Piolo Pascual, John Lloyd Cruz, Jericho Rosales, Aga Muhlach, Kristine Hermosa, Dingdong Dantes and Bea Alonzo from The Philippines and also small numbers from Singapore such as Aaron Aziz and Adi Putra.[needs copy edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Definition of 'movie star' (American English) at
  2. ^ a b "100 years of movie stars: 1910-1929", The Independent, January 25, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d Mitchell A. Flagg, “Star Crazy: Keeping The Right Of Publicity Out Of Canadian Law” (1999) Ad IDEM <>
  4. ^ Editorial by Sofia Johansson from the Communication and Media Research Institute of the University of Westminster. Available at:

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