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The Earning Power of Star Power

The New York Times today examined the effect of big-name movie stars on the box office success of their films. The question was inspired by Paramount Pictures’ decision last week to cut ties with that high-earning, bad publicity machine Tom Cruise.

The conventional wisdom is that putting Halle Berry or Brad Pitt in your movie will fuel additional ticket sales. Now, academics are disputing “Superstar economics”–the idea that some people are more talented, and deserve to be paid more because of their unique ability to bring in more money. Recent data shows that star power has a negligible monetary effect on film projects. Movies can exist without stars but, even in this tabloid era, stars need material.

But there aren’t just superstars of the screen; each profession has its own best and brightest. Do these superstars matter to their respective fields? In baseball, can one star player make a losing team profitable? Does Barry Bonds deserve his massive salary if fans spend millions more on souvenirs featuring his name than Randy Winn’s? In the business world, does the CEO deserve a multi-million dollar salary while some workers are paid hourly? Or do superstar CEOs deserve the same treatment that Cruise got?

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