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Hollywood Stock Exchange

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Yes, the free market has a way of turning truths into data. For instance: Lisa Kudrow, the most popular Friend, is +15.57 percent; Stephen, the expendable Baldwin, is -4.80 percent; The Lost World is going to be big ($150.25 million); and even with whispers of Mary Reilly echoing in empty theaters, Julia Roberts is still a star (+11.71 percent).

Or so says the Hollywood Stock Exchange (www.hsx. com), the hottest of the Internet games with players ”trading” films and stars like pork bellies. HSX’s 30,000 registered users check into the free site an average of four times a day to invest virtual capital — buying and selling upcoming and recently released films (stocks) and actors (bonds). The game is so addictive and complex that 11 fan sites, among them The Money (www.the-money.com), The Hollywood Stock Brokers (www.geocities.com/ Hollywood/7882), The HSX Resource (www.owlnet.rice. edu/~affcase), and Stocktipper’s HSX Page (www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Lot/3687), are devoted to ”stock” tips. And real industry types, including ICM agent Bill Block (Milla Jovovich, Kevin Sorbo), log on to see how clients are doing. ”We’re all talking about it,” says Block. ”It’s a far more accurate indicator of public taste than any poll I’m able to conduct.” Even more telling: Several agents have called HSX to lobby their clients up from AA to AAA bonds.

But even if it looks like harmless fun, remember that even a virtual Hollywood can be cruel. Skeet Ulrich (Scream) — touted as the new Johnny Depp, despite the persistence of the old Johnny Depp — probably wouldn’t be a Warren Buffett pick on the Hollywood Stock Exchange. Told during an interview that he rated a CC bond on the exchange, Ulrich is more than a little hurt. ”At least you’re not a D bond,” his publicist offers. ”There are no D bonds,” grumbles Ulrich. A+