Movie Stars: Nicholson, Jack: Box-Office Star of the 1980s

Tim Burton’s “Batman” has grossed over a quarter of billion dollars at the domestic box-office and is still running strong in its video version. Opening in July, the much publicized and eagerly awaited film featured three bankable stars: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, and Kim Basinger. Batman may be one of the few American films in which the villain (jack Nicholson) is more dominant in the narrative than its nominal hero (Keaton). That the film’s ultimate effectiveness depends on Nicholson’s Joker is attributable as much to the script as to his tour de force performance.

Considered to be the most talented and eccentric actor of his generation, the multiple Oscar nominee and winner Nicholson has appeared in other blockbusters of the decade: Stanley Kubrick’s horror “The Shining” (1980), the James Brook’s Oscar-winning serio comedy “Terms of Endearment” (1983), and the broad comedy “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987), all of which were among the ten most viewed films of their respective years.

Does this mean that every film starring Jack Nicholson is bound to become a smash box office hit Not at all. The extremely versatile actor has had his own share of commercial flops (“The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “The Border,” “Ironweed”), though it might not have been his fault.

Nonetheless, it is estimated that Nicholson’s earnings from the Batman phenomenon (and it’s socio-cultural phenom that goes beyond the realm of fiilm), the movie, video version, book, merchandise, etc., will be over $50 million. Nicholson’s superstardom, and the huge amount of money and power which go along with it, stresses again the drawing power of actors, when they are cast in appropriate roles and in vehicles that suit their talents.

Stars alone could never guarantee success, as many big-budget films have demonstrated. Not even Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty could persuade the large public to see the $50-plus million “Ishtar,” directed by Elain Maine, which was panned by the critics and must be one of the greatest debacles of the entire decade.