Quentin Tarantino: Marvel actors ‘are not movie stars, Captain America is the star’

Quentin Tarantino has been giving lots of interviews to promote his new book, Cinema Speculation. The book isn’t a memoir, it’s more like a collection of musings about the films, scripts, critics and performances which shaped him as a person and an artist. As he promotes this book, he’s been asked a lot about the on-going Hollywood conversation, “Has Marvel ruined the film industry?” Given QT’s status as a sort-of lowkey Hollywood historian, I’ve been interested in hearing his comments. Previously, he’s said that we’re in the middle of one of the worst eras for Hollywood, and that he wouldn’t be caught dead working on a Marvel movie. He’s no Marvel fan, nor does he think it’s a good thing for Hollywood that superhero films have eaten the industry. Even more than that, he thinks superhero movies have ruined “movie stars.”

Jennifer Aniston made headlines at the start of November when she declared, “There are no more movie stars.” It’s a statement that Quentin Tarantino agrees with, as evidenced by the director’s recent interview on “2 Bears, 1 Cave” podcast (via Mediaite). Tarantino attributed the loss of movie stars to the “Marvel-ization of Hollywood.”

“Part of the Marvel-ization of Hollywood is…you have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters,” Tarantino said. “But they’re not movie stars. Right? Captain America is the star. Or Thor is the star. I mean, I’m not the first person to say that. I think that’s been said a zillion times…but it’s like, you know, it’s these franchise characters that become a star.”

For Tarantino, Captain America is the star and not Chris Evans. “I’m not even putting them down frankly, to tell you the truth,” the director said earlier about movie stars no longer existing in bulk. “But that is one of the — the legacy of the Marvel-ization of Hollywood movies.”

Tarantino also clarified in the interview that he does not “hate” Marvel movies but dislikes them for being the only product Hollywood is interested in making these days.

“Look, I used to collect Marvel comics like crazy when I was a kid,” Tarantino said. “There’s an aspect that if these movies were coming out when I was in my twenties, I would totally be f–king happy and totally love them. I mean, they wouldn’t be the only movies being made. They would be those movies amongst other movies. But, you know, I’m almost 60, so yeah. No, I’m not quite as excited about them….My only axe to grind against them is they’re the only things that seem to be made. And they’re the only things that seem to generate any kind of excitement amongst a fan base or even for the studio making them. That’s what they’re excited about. And so it’s just the fact that they are the entire representation of this era of movies right now. There’s not really much room for anything else. That’s my problem.”

[From Variety]

I think QT’s critique is valid and correct. Of course, I thought Martin Scorsese’s criticism was valid and correct too, and everyone yelled at him and called him a racist has-been. I actually do think that Chris Evans is a movie star, and yet I don’t think Captain America “made” him a movie star – QT’s point about the superhero being the star and not the actor is correct. I also agree with QT’s larger point about superhero movies are fine, but we need diverse points of view in film and that’s not happening with the Disney/Marvel system.

Simu Liu reacted to QT’s comments and pointed out (correctly) that Marvel gave him a chance to helm a major movie, which is a valid point. But what’s left out is that… people like Tarantino and Scorsese are a huge reason why Asian filmmakers have been able to get a foothold in Hollywood – when Bong Joon Ho swept the Oscars a few years ago, it felt inevitable because people like Scorsese and Tarantino had been hyping his work for years and years. Not to mention what happened with Scorsese and his film Kundun.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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41 Responses to “Quentin Tarantino: Marvel actors ‘are not movie stars, Captain America is the star’”

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  1. Normades says:

    Urgh, I hated his portrayal of Bruce Lee. And in what world could Brad Pitt kick his ass?

    • Barbie1 says:

      That was foul. Also made fun of Natalie Wood’s death in that movie. Strange choices.

    • Concern Fae says:

      Don’t you think Brad Pitt believes he could have kicked Bruce Lee’s ass? Of course he’d have to work out, but if he got serious about martial arts – totally.

      That scene is a story Brad Pity’s character is telling. Tarantino is mocking this attitude.

      LOL Just noticed autocorrect turned Brad Pitt into Brad Pity. Leaving it in as truth.

  2. girl_ninja says:

    Maybe “Movie stars” shouldn’t exist anymore. Movie stars have largely been cis white people who fit a certain mold only allowing a few black actors and people of color. Maybe it should be torn down completely and built into something that reflects the people who watch these films and go to the cinema. Tarantino may be right about some of his critiques but he also has portrayed black people and people of color in horrible ways. Let us not forget his decision to have Bruce Lee portrayed as total douche when so many have said this is not who Mr. Lee was.

    • JayBlue says:

      100% agree. For some reason this makes me think of Marilyn Monroe, and how her legacy has been reduced to “movie star/pin up”, same with Audrey Hepburn and hedy lemarr. The title of “movie star” reduces actors to their work, and it indeed should be forgotten or replaced, and allow us to see them as people. Otherwise abusers like Pitt and depp will always get a pass.

    • The Recluse says:

      A long time ago I read an article that was discussing that we just don’t have a movie star system anymore, not even like there was in the 80’s. Film has changed too much, as has the market. So, it isn’t just the Marvel influence, but a general marketplace/cultural evolution in cinema. Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, and perhaps Robert Downey, Jr. may be the last of that breed, like Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Times have changed. If anything Marvel has created more attention for an increasingly diverse collection of actors, which isn’t bad.

    • Lux says:

      So glad this is the first comment, @Nomades. Also, don’t forget: only a white, vengeful woman can beat hundreds of nameless Asians at their own art, while paying “homage” to an Asian martial artist with her rip-off yellow suit.

      I swear I used to love the Kill Bill movies and really enjoyed the wink to Japanese cinema. However, that was before I realized that the main protagonists/antagonists in QT movies were always going to be white (Brad Pitt, Uma, David Cassidy, etc.); QT basically just appropriated an Asian cinematic style/genre for a western audience, not so unlike “The Last Samurai” or the freaking “Great Wall” (which I absolutely did not watch).

  3. Woke says:

    He’s not wrong but the whining about the state of the film industry because of Marvel are getting a bit tired now.

    In the era of streaming coupled with the cost of living crisis I’m not paying money to watch a rom com or one of Scorsese or Tarantino movies in theaters. I’d rather pay to watch a super hero movies that’s just what it is.

    Also there’s always been a particular genre that dominated the industry at one point or another. The westerns, the rom coms, the horror movies. It’s just a phase.

    • Eurydice says:

      ITA – and what’s funny to me is that all of Tarantino’s films are a retelling of some genre or other. What I liked about Pulp Fiction were all those tropes from 60’s TV comedies – Oh, no, we gotta clean up this mess before the wife comes home, Oh, no, I got stuck babysitting the boss’s wife…

    • The Recluse says:

      Streaming has absolutely had an impact on the industry.

  4. Jttrain says:

    I get the complaint, but they are sidestepping that it is what the audience is asking for and going to. The market is still driven by demand. You can complain about McDonald’s all you want, but people still go in droves. These directors are getting pretty close to Metallica/Napster levels.

  5. Mia4s says:

    He’s….totally right? How is this causing any controversy?

    Back in the day people would go see “the new Julia Roberts” (for example). They went to see stars. If you tell me now that people go “oh let’s go see the new Chris Evans” on the same level? You’re lying. Sorry! 😁 But LORD knows some garbage movies became successes because people would go see stars! So the death of the movie star is not necessarily a bad thing.

    • Eurydice says:

      Back then, stars were created through the movies. Now, stars are created through social media.

    • Barbie1 says:

      He is 100% correct. I love real movie stars. It was a thrill seeing the new Tom Cruise/Harrison Ford/ Bruce Willis/Michelle Pfeiffer/Denzel/ etc. movie growing up. Hopefully someone new will rise up to that level one day.

  6. Yesagain says:

    Nonsense. Marvel movies have way more value imo than the grungy “ghetto” movies tarantino makes. They are a rich white man’s very limited gaze of women and POC, often very demeaning and exploitative, and all in the service of nothing other than a perception of QT as a genius. Marvel movies are more collaborative in nature, and that is reflected both in their relatively pedestrian nature, BUT also in their diversity of casting and POV. There will always be tradeoffs, and this is just one. It’s fine. QT is just mad Marvel movies killed the auteur, which is honestly one of the singular best things marvel has done IMO

    • Prairiegirl says:

      This is an excellent point right here.

    • SuMu says:

      Yep. Totally agree. I am a 64 year-old Canadian woman who is a total Marvel stan. There are also other good movie types. It is entirely possible to enjoy more than one film genre. Jane Austen adaptations. What appears to be the beginning of the Knives Out franchise. Both good, old fashioned movie types in the super hero era.

    • Louisa says:

      Sorry to break it to you but Marvel films definitely didn’t scream diversity when they were starting out. They only started putting in token actors and screaming progressiveness when it became profitable.

      But keep on drinking that Marvel kool-aid!

  7. BB says:

    Are we really praising an Asian actor getting dunked on by some guy on Twitter? Really??
    Simu Liu’s point is valid.

    “…people like Tarantino and Scorsese are a huge reason why Asian filmmakers have been able to get a foothold in Hollywood…”

    Cool – so it’s only the white guys’ contribution that matters? Not Marvel giving an Asian director a chance to helm a big budget movie, with an Asian lead and Asian cast. Asians themselves have done nothing to push the needle forward in cinema?? Noted.

    Also – the audience says it all. No one went to see She Said. BP: Wakanda Forever is close to a billion dollars only two weeks in. This is what people want to see. There is room for everything else on the streamers. The economics have changed.

  8. Ameerah M says:

    His point isn’t valid though when you look at the roster of people who are in Marvel movies as a WHOLE. His buddy Samuel is in these Marvel movies. So are stars like Cate Blanchett, Robert Downey Jr, etc. Brie Larson was an Academy Award winner BEFORE she got cast as Captain Marvel. Chris Evans was very well known BEFORE Captain America. Which is why it was a big deal when he was cast. So while yes Marvel films have CREATED stars it also employed the star power of the actors they cast to boost the superheroes they played.

  9. Becks1 says:

    He’s not wrong, and I think its a good point. We were discussing this about a year or so ago, when there was an article about how Leonardo DiCaprio was the last great movie star. the point made there was that he doesnt’ do franchises, he doesn’t do Marvel movies, and his movies still do well enough at the box office – its clear that people will still show up to see HIM.

    People are going to show up to a Marvel movie almost regardless of who is in it at this point. (that might not have been true 15 years ago but I think its true now. I do think that RDJ helped make Avengers and Iron man the successes they were.) And I think that’s basically QT’s point. The character is the draw, the movie is the draw, not the actor.

    That doesn’t mean its a bad thing, especially bc it does give Marvel a big cushion to make movies like Black Panther and Shang Chi (both of which I loved even though I’m not a Marvel fan overall.) But, it is a change.

    • Nic919 says:

      They started to complain about this in the 80s but it’s about corporations creating film and that’s not really what artists want. I can see Tarantino’s point because so many of the marvel films are just boring. There is a formula that few deviate from and the actors who want to make money try to get on these films to get increased exposure and get paid.

      Since major studios don’t like to take risks, they are focusing on these franchise type films to the exclusion of more artistic or independent films. That’s the main issue for most of these directors.

  10. HeatherC says:

    I actually don’t mind the “death of the movie star.”

    When there were “movie stars” and studio produced “stars” the films weren’t interesting then either. They were written to showcase the “star,” which usually resulted in inappropriate casting (think John Wayne as Genghis Khan) or the same role over and over (Think John Wayne in his commercially successful movies).

    The smaller films that seem to be disappearing (which I love) didn’t star the “movie stars” either. They couldn’t afford them.

    • Cat says:

      I generally agree with what you’re saying except for that last point: smaller films can book movie stars if the scripts are good enough. Everything Everywhere All at Once had 2 movie stars (Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis) despite its relatively small budget because the actors were excited about the project. I’m actually of the mind that if a movie has some genuine star power and a small budget, it’s probably pretty good.

  11. Kelly says:

    I don’t blame Marvel for the current state of Hollywood, but I agree with Quentin nowadays is one of the worst eras in Hollywood history. I think of the past decade and I can only think of a handful of movies I found truly iconic and memorable. Parasite? Get Out? Can’t think of any others off the top of my head. 2, out of a whole decade. And neither of them count as “Hollywood” even.

    I guess where I do blame Marvel is that it seems like nowadays you can’t make a blockbuster movie unless it’s mindblowingly expensive (look at Avatar 2), and that just adds salt to the wound. To think there’s so many million dollars that go into making movies no one will remember or talk about. It just pisses me off, that so many people in the world struggle with just living nowadays, while so many millions of dollars go into making thoughtless popcorn entertainment that’s not even that entertaining.

    A lot of people talk about how streaming changed everything and people don’t really feel compelled to go to the cinema unless it’s a huge blockbuster, and ok, that’s a point… but honestly, I don’t think streaming is even producing quality content anymore. There was a point where series seemed to be where it’s at, back when GoT and Breaking Bad were at their peak. But that’s in the past for me already.

    Maybe I’ll get canceled for this but the argument of diversity rings hollow to me. I get it, it’s important. But as a non-American woman of color, if I want to see talented asian writers telling good stories with talented ensembles of asian actors, I’d watch a korean movie. Shang-Chi was good, I liked it, but it was a marvel movie that got me through a 3 hour flight and not much more than that.

    • Nic919 says:

      Of the now dozens of marvel films there is Shiang Chi and Black Panther who don’t have a male white lead. And it took over a decade to get the first one. And just as bad with a female lead, which right now is only two white women one of whom is no longer an active character.

      This is tokenism and not real diversity. It is what corporations do. They throw a few non male and non whites to pretend they are diverse. Because who is writing these movies? Who is directing these movies? Still almost all men.

      These movies can be fun but let’s not pretend they are doing anything to help diverse voices. They only react and after years of doing nothing.

      • FF says:

        Giving diverse PoC and women the opportunity to helm big budget projects, that can being them to the industry table is tokenism now?

        I think the likes of Ryan Coogler, and Oscar winners Ruth Carter and Hannah Beechler would beg to differ.

        Tokenism is JJ Abrams announcing a Black Superman movie and never making it, or making a Latina led Batwoman film and then canning it after it’s made for a tax break. Or putting posters of John Boyega over Times Square only to racebait and switch him as the movie lead and promptly demote him to support character for the rest of the film series.

        People maybe need to recognize the difference.

    • Abbie says:

      “while so many millions of dollars go into making thoughtless popcorn entertainment that’s not even that entertaining”
      WELL SAID omg and now I’m depressed.

      All that money and for what? I’m bored most of the time and it’s all so predictable and repetitive.

      I think about proper entertainment from my childhood like Vertigo, The Silence of the Lambs, Some Like it Hot, Casablanca, Gladiator, The Matrix, The Usual Suspects, The Game, Memento, Jurassic Park, Braveheart, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, North by Northwest, The Jewel of the Nile, Pulp Fiction, Leon the Professional, Moulin Rouge, Thelma and Louise, Groundhog Day, the Fifth Element, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice …. this type of storytelling is dying out, all of this. All I see these days is one franchise after another followed up by a third remake of the same story.

      I don’t think TV is to blame, TV in the 90s was great, there were many amazing (creative and innovative) shows. I also don’t think proper diversity is here yet. Imagine all of the movies I’ve listed before with people of color as the main cast. When we get that, then we’ll have actual diversity. But it’s still a start they’re hiring more people of color in general.

  12. Veronica S. says:

    We can acknowledge that it’s an important stepping stone for Marvel to be putting more POC in lead roles while still recognizing they are not fundamentally great movies or cultural milestones. They’re formulaic capitalist pieces designed to maximize profits. I’ve enjoyed some of them, but I don’t line up to see them and frankly more or less got bored of them in the mid-2010s. They serve a certain kind of mindless entertainment niche that is given entirely too much credit.

    I will say I do think it’s more than just Marvel that did this, though. I think social media fundamentally changed a lot of the relationship between fans and celebrity. The death of the movie star took awhile, but I think it’s credited as much to capitalist trends as anything else. We make them commodities rather than legends.

  13. Danbury says:

    Correction : Captain America’s ass is the star. On this we can all agree

  14. Frippery says:

    He isnt wrong with the narrow point he is discussing, which is that the character is the star of the film and not really the actor. But there are bona fide movie stars as well as incredibly talented new comers who play these characters.

    I do find it funny that he is railing against big budget, special effects, tentpole movies where you go to see the character and not the actor, when, pre-Covid, he was chomping at the bit to do the next Star Trek movie. And I say this as a huge fan of both QT and Star Trek.

    • The Recluse says:

      Hmmmm. That’s right. He was aching all over to put his stamp on Star Trek, wasn’t he?

    • Abbie says:

      I totally agree that these young actors are talented and hard-working people and I don’t want to undermine their value. It’s not really them, it’s the way things work now. The corporation has taken over the fame. Marvel/Disney is THE star. Next level down is Captain America/Iron Man/Hulk. Next level down, the actor (and only if you’re a fan, lol, not as a casual viewer).

      The character, and more than anything, the franchise, has eclipsed the actor. Before it was the other way around. Before the actor was the brand, not his character. Movies were promoted as Tom Cruise/Bruce Willis/Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone starring in…..XYZ……as……XYZ. It was “oh have you seen that new Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise movie?”

      These days you go “have you seen the new Marvel movie”? You don’t go have you seen the new Chris Evans movie because frankly (and again this is not me shading the man), the average viewer does not care about the dude Chris Evans. Chris Evans is not the brand that Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson were 30 years ago. Captain America is the brand.

  15. Flowerlake says:

    I rather give my money to support a movie in another language than English than going to another Hollywood movie just because there is a ‘star’ in it. There’s lots of talent in the world that is just as talented but has far fewer opportunities.

    It’s wild to me that some Americans think watching subtitled movies is pretentious, while Hollywood movies go around the world with subtitles at the same time.
    Is an Italian or Vietnamese person watching Dumb and Dumber with subtitles pretentious too?

  16. paper_shoes says:

    the moment these superhero films start to stumble in the box office and audiences get sick of them, they’ll pare the releases back to just the major white characters and all this play acting that major corporations represent a path towards racial equality in the film industry will vanish

  17. Lucía says:

    He’s right. About everything. And I say this as someone who loves Marvel movies.

  18. FF says:

    The taking over theatres thing worked as an argument pre-covid, not post.

    Theatres just had a 2-3 month period where there were minimal blockbusters and those independent/mid-budget/lower budget films were not enough to sustain theatres and they were practically begging for new blockbuster releases.

    Bottom line, the old guard need to get people in cinemas. Some directors manage it. Christopher Nolan does pretty well. And Cameron’s track record has been fortuitous even when he went overbudget but generally no matter how good alt-cinema films are considered by their peers come awards season only rarely are the audience draws that can keep theatres going.

    They either need to make bigger numbers or accept the new ecosystem needs both and stop the excessive snootiness. Franchises in general are the stars, not just Marvel movies – just look at Harrp Potter or the Fast movies. Same applies to any Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman flick.

    These directors are starting to sound bitter (even if they don’t intend to) and there’s no need.

  19. Abbie says:

    I don’t like him at all, but he’s right on this. Hollywood was much more creative and interesting 30 years ago. It feels like technological advancements made it shift from innovative art and human emotion to great visuals. The story, characterization, good dialogue and good plots were all forgotten in favor of cool CGI, fancy action sequences and dumb jokes.

    And yes it has meant actors are no longer movie stars. People (especially from non-English speaking countries) have no idea who these Marvel actors are or how they’re called. They might remember the superhero but not much more than that. It’s very true, the level of stardom that Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise had in the early 90s is gone.

  20. Emmlo says:

    Another aspect to this is that movie studios are naturally risk averse. The *character* of Captain America is never gonna get pulled over for a DUI and start ranting about The Jews. That’s something a major movie star did, however! Movie studios prefer being in control and not having to spend their $ rehabbing an actor’s private life through elaborate PR.