NPR logo

Company Ranks Celebrity Bankability

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Company Ranks Celebrity Bankability

Pop Culture

Company Ranks Celebrity Bankability

Company Ranks Celebrity Bankability

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Michele Norris talks with James Ulmer about The Ulmer Scale, which ranks more than 1,000 actors worldwide by their bankability.


It's Friday, and it's August. And that means another batch of new movies are heading to the theaters begging for your hard-earned dollars. But believe it or not, Hollywood is thinking less and less about your dollars and more and more about someone else's euros and yuans.

These days, half or more of a movie's profits come from overseas. In fact, a bomb here in the United States can be a blockbuster abroad. Case in point: this summer's film "The Prince of Persia." Budget, $200 million. And here in the U.S., it only made about $90 million. A flop, right? Wrong. Overseas, it racked up an additional $237 million, and that got us wondering: What, and more specifically, what actors have bankable global appeal?

And to answer that question, we called on James Ulmer. He created something called The Ulmer Scale. It ranks over 1,000 actors worldwide. And he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAMES ULMER (Founder and Executive Producer, The Ulmer Scale): Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: First off, how does The Ulmer Scale work? What exactly are you measuring, and how do you determine this ranking?

Mr. ULMER: Well, if you think of The Ulmer Scale as a kind of a stock market index for the stars, we look at how a star's power, in other words, how able is their name alone to sell a movie and get those bums into the seat, both nationally and worldwide. That's what we measure, and we use really the people who are the powerbrokers, the people who are the intersection of the deal point - the buyers, the sellers worldwide. These are the people that know Bruce Willis's value in Japan versus, you know, Germany or versus America, and who really control how well a movie does overseas.

NORRIS: Now, I've got the list right here in front of me, The Ulmer Scale's actors hot list for 2009-2010. At the top of the list, Will Smith. Why does he top the list?

Mr. ULMER: Will is somebody who is almost indestructible in terms of his ability to choose excellent roles for himself. He's put himself in franchise movies, movies that are - that would have legs, we call it. Maybe, they're in one or two or three versions of them, and they're often action-adventures, which always do well overseas. He's also somebody who is really smart and savvy and really orchestrates his career very carefully. He studies the box office, and he just doesn't blindly obey the advice of his manager and agents. He'll really take an active role in his own career choices.

NORRIS: As I look at the list, I'm just going to tick through the top 10 names: Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Will Ferrell, Nicholas Cage, Reese Witherspoon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise. Not a lot of women in that list?

Mr. ULMER: No. Unfortunately, I like to say that the global international marketplace is pretty sexist when it comes to their movie stars because, first of all, they can't lead the marquee. Oftentimes, you'll - even today, if you have a Julia Roberts who used to be able to sell a movie based on her name alone, today you'll need a male star. So they're also bankable, as we call it, really mostly in ensembles. They'll also be a little more sensitive to the market fluctuations out there. It's just a sad fact of the international entertainment marketplace.

NORRIS: What are the biggest markets overseas, and what kinds of movies sell well there?

Mr. ULMER: Well, let's just take one of the biggest markets. Traditionally, it's been Japan. And you almost have to ask what kind of movies don't sell too well because, generally, Japan - although you can't make absolute rules - they don't want to touch romantic comedies and some dramas, but they certainly do love the "Twilight" series.

Scandinavia will censor a lot of violence, so Quentin Tarantino films don't do well there. Latin America loves genre movies, horror movies. And I think what you're seeing is that the foreign market, Michele, is really going - responding to the idea of genre movies, and it's becoming a lot more tuned in to what's successful here in America.

NORRIS: James Ulmer, it's been great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

Mr. ULMER: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: James Ulmer is the creator of The Ulmer Scale that ranks actors worldwide based on their bankability.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.