Hollywood’s New Formula: Films Crammed With Stars

NEW YORK TIMES -ARTS

By MICHAEL CIEPLY

Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love,” which opens on Friday against two star-packed ensemble films.

LOS ANGELES — Julia Roberts, set to open in the romance “Eat Pray Love” from Sony Pictures on Friday, may not be outclassed. But she is definitely outnumbered.

Ms. Roberts is squared off against more than two dozen stars, including the governor of California, who are jammed into a pair of competing movies. Those are “The Expendables,” from Lionsgate, and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” from Universal Pictures, both also set for release on Friday.

It might be coincidence. Or maybe it is a trend.

Either way, Hollywood has been serving up its leading men, leading ladies and principal supporting players in sizable clumps of late.

“Red,” an action picture from Summit Entertainment; “New Year’s Eve,” a romantic collage from New Line Cinema; and “The Avengers,” which collects superheroes from Marvel, are examples of group enterprises on tap for the future. Sony’s “Grown Ups” and New Line’s “Valentine’s Day” showed the power of ensemble in months past.

In recent years series like “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” have been thick with cast and characters, in sharp contrast to the lone wolves and duos who carried films like “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon.”

For Robert J. Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, the multiplicity is no accident.

“There’s a much larger thing going on here,” Mr. Thompson said. He theorizes that feature film is reaching toward the complex, multicharacter scenarios that have made hits of sophisticated television series like “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos.”

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