Who’s a bigger movie star — Robert Downey Jr. or Sandra Bullock?

starsNew York Magazine’s very savvy entertainment web offshoot, Vulture, released its “100 Most Valuable Movie Stars” list a few days ago, with Robert Downey Jr. topping the chart for the second year in a row.

The whole notion of what constitutes a “movie star” seems to slide around depending on who’s judging and what criteria they use.

In terms of box office consistency, Clint Eastwood and Adam Sandler might be the biggest stars of our time because of their sustained box-office popularity, but neither of them made the top 10.

The movie studio definition of a star is generally a personality actor who can sell tickets to just about any movie they appear in. Eddie Murphy was in that position during much of the 1980s, with one box-office success after another, even when he starred in very dubious vehicles such as “Harlem Nights” and “Beverly Hills Cop 2.”

The people at Vulture use a variety of factors to decide how “valuable” a movie star is — a stars1reputation for being easy to work with on sets and at PR events; whether the gossip that swirls around them is good or bad; and, of course, a steady series of profitable movies.

Downey makes the number one spot because he was the undisputed reason that the mediocre “Iron Man 3” was a blockbuster hit last summer. Yes, the film was another CGI-driven comic book story, but the audience’s affection for Downey as Tony Stark carried them along for a third “Iron Man” film despite mixed reviews and word-of-mouth.

Perhaps if the ranking was done at the end of the year, Sandra Bullock would be bumped up from fourth position to number one, because of her remarkable 2013 one-two punch — a hit summer comedy “The Heist,” and then a fall smash, “Gravity,” which has been doing summer-type business for the past four weeks (the movie will cruise past a $200 million domestic gross this weekend and will no doubt make a lot more money between now and the end of its theatrical run).

The intangible “it” factor of genuine movie stars is reflected in the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was put in the number three spot despite appearing in only one relatively modest hit so far this year, the end-of-2012 release “Silver Linings Playbook” (which did most of its business in 2013).

What has added to Lawrence’s lustre this year was an Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook” and the forthcoming release of the second installment of the “Hunger Games” trilogy, which is expected to do mammoth business next month. Lawrence is also in the lucky position of being part of another lucrative franchise, “X-Men,” which will have a new installment next summer.

The Vulture list is fun to study because it is based on reporting as well as seat-of-the-pants judgements. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out:


Joe Meyers