Public Enemies, Johnny Depp

Universal Pictures

Johnny Depp is all over the posters for this Public Enemies movie. But Christian Bale is MIA. Shouldn't he be on the posters, too?
—Vanessa P.

Apparently when you have the option of showing Johnny Depp staring off into the middle distance and looking iconic, you don't need a second actor staring off into the middle distance and looking iconic. Not unless that second person carries the exact same, or better, commercial draw as Johnny Depp.

Christian Bale does not. You may think Bale does. You may want Bale to. But if that's the case, too bad for you. You're wrong.

How can I say with such certainty? Easy. Numbers. Look:

According to the ever-reliable Ulmer Scale, which measures domestic and worldwide actor bankability, Depp is overshadowed only by Will Smith in his ability to get butts in seats. Brad Pitt comes in at No. 3 on the Ulmer Scale. Bale, who may be a very talented actor, is not so bankable an actor; he is not even on the current Ulmer top 10. Why is this important?

Because film marketing "all comes down to recognizable star power and iconic imagery," says Steve Greenwald, coauthor of The Business of Film. "Johnny Depp is a bigger, more recognizable star than Bale, especially off the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. The image from the film that is being used is probably more striking than any of Bale, and Depp is the Public Enemy of the title."

If Universal Pictures wanted to add Bale to the marketing posters, they would have had to either squeeze him in there with Depp or create separate posters, in the same way Warner Bros. did when marketing Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

The first option would have diluted Depp's selling power, says David Eichler, a publicist who has worked at Hollywood über-agency CAA and at studios such as Warner Bros., Fox and Disney.

"The design is very skillful," Eichler explains. "It presents Depp's character, John Dillinger, in a large, menacing stance, thus making his character more intimidating. Add another face and all of that gets undermined."

The second option might work, but then again, in a way, Bale is no Cate Blanchett. At least, not in his ability to attract men like Blanchett can. Also, Blanchett was one of the biggest gainers in the most recent edition of the Ulmer Scale, its 2009-10 edition. Bale was not. Bale was, however, featured prominently in a leaked audio file in which he threatened to tear some crew guy a new one.

One other possible factor: Much of who goes where on a billboard or in a film's marketing is prenegotiated before a movie even starts shooting; it's all nailed down in contracts. It's possible that Depp's huge face was part of a contractual deal.

"My best guess," film producer Catherine Rubey speculates to me, "is that whatever mileage the studio thought they could get by featuring Bale more prominently was eclipsed by whatever they would have to negotiate contractually to do so."

And whatever tantrums that might ensue. Just saying.

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