Who can replace aging superstars like Julia and Mel? With no young actors emerging as reliable box office draws, the answer may be no one

By Benjamin Svetkey and Allison Hope Weiner
Updated August 06, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Illustration by Thomas Fuchs

Your invitation must have been lost in the mail, but last month Tom Cruise celebrated his 42nd birthday. Tom Hanks blew out candles this summer as well — he turned 48. These days, pretty much all of Hollywood’s most famous heavyweights (Meg Ryan, 42; Mel Gibson, 48; Bruce Willis, 49; Denzel Washington, 49; John Travolta, 50; Harrison Ford, 62) are ambling around their middle ages — or rapidly hurtling toward them (Julia Roberts is going on 37).

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s bracing all the same, watching this entire generation of actors — the generation that climbed to the top of the A list way back in the 1980s and has dominated it ever since — shuffling inexorably toward AARP eligibility. And it raises an obvious, unavoidable question: Who is replacing them? Who among Hollywood’s next gen of actors — the litter now in their 20s and early 30s, with names like Ben and Colin and Reese — has proven themselves huge enough to fill their enormous Uggs? Orlando? Keira? Cameron?

So far, the answer looks like a big fat None Of The Above.