This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On Sept. 9, Keanu Reeves was in Toronto pitching foreign distributors on his new movie Passengers. He's just one actor whose star might have dimmed in the U.S. but still burns overseas, where the decision to pick up a film can depend entirely on the above-the-title actor.
In addition to usual suspects like Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis and Matt Damon, sales agents say the names who matter overseas include somewhat surprising rising stars Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as well as aging stalwarts Robert De Niro, Liam Neeson and John Travolta.
Actresses with foreign sales value are far fewer and include Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson. "It seems like a lot of people, but it's not when you are all going after the same people," says The Solution's Lisa Wilson, a veteran sales agent.
Sellers hope new stars with foreign appeal will hit -- Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liam Hemsworth, Tom Hardy, Jeremy Renner and Zac Efron -- but just like in the U.S., overseas audiences are becoming fickle. "The trouble with Japan," says IM Global's Stuart Ford of a territory that once worshipped U.S. actors, "is they don't like anybody anymore."