Dreamworks, Miramax

Colin Farrell is doing Fright Night, and Katie Holmes stars in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, but why aren't there more A-list actors in horror movies?
—Ashleigh G., via the inbox

This answer involves one part math (but it's math with fun symbols), one part psychology, and a bit of unnamed celebrity gossip.

Shall we begin?

First, the math.

Let's look at some of the biggest horror franchises of the past few decades: Nightmare on Elm Street, zombie this, vampire that, The Ring, and so forth.

In most of those films, the star is the monster, not the person who kills it. In other words, in Halloween, Jason > The Person Who Escapes in the End. In Dawn of the Dead, Zombie Horde > The Folks Who Keep Their Brains Intact.

For a preening A-list star, there isn't necessarily a ton of value in that sort of gig. Why compete with a marauding monster when you can star in a rom-com or spy thriller all by yourself?

Another factor: The horror audience.

Unlike, say, Reese Witherspoon fans, who go to movies to see Reese Witherspoon, horror fans attend theaters to see scary stuff, not a particular person.

"The person who usually survives at the end of a horror movie is The Girl," notes Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, CEO of Platinum Studios. (Rosenberg wrote the graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens and produced the recent film Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, now out on DVD and VOD.)

"And according to lot of studios who have done the number, who that female lead is doesn't seem to matter. It's a horrible truth, but people either want to go see a horror movie or not."

Again, not exactly the kind of research that attracts A-list talent, is it?

That's why, in film parlance, horror films are often seen as "step up" vehicles for hot, rising young actors, Rosenberg explains. (By way of example: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played Scott Pilgrim's girlfriend, is set to star in a third remake of The Thing. You haven't heard of her, but you will.

Ditto with Jessica Chastain, who starred opposite Brad Pitt in Tree of Life. She's just signed on to do the next ghost flick by Guillermo Del Toro's production team.)

Finally, there's the typical horror story.

I recently spoke with one rising actress who said she'd loved to do more horror if "the material is there." Message between the lines: Horror scripts tend to suck, and not just vampire ones.

Rosenberg corroborates that theory.

When a horror movie does attract A-level actors, the talent "usually consider the movies to be more intelligent as opposed to popcorn"—perhaps a period horror piece, or an indie, for example.

Zombies in Shakespearean London, anyone?

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