Written by Sarah

One day, maybe I’ll write about how I define “A List”. I’m very, very picky with this term. It’s overused and more fluid than people give it credit for. For right now, though, we’ll go with “The Hollywood Reporter’s” definition which is, “Actors who are in demand with the mysterious ‘they’ and don’t necessarily have to have proven bankability. Or talent.” These are the actors the studios “need desperately,” according to THR’s unnamed studio source (it’s THR—that’s a legit source even if he is unnamed) to fill the shoes of guys like George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Matt Damon as those guys enter their forties or close in on fifty and start redirecting their careers (or should start redirecting their careers—I’m looking at you, Cruise).

Chris Pine leads the article and is on the cover of THR’s weekly print magazine. He’s joined by Bradley Cooper, Chris Hemsworth, Taylor Kitsch (!!), Shia LaBeouf, Taylor Lautner, Jeremy Renner, Ryan Reynolds and Sam Worthington.

Apparently THR doesn’t think women can be A List.

What about Reese Witherspoon? She’s about the same age as Reynolds and Cooper; she’s an Oscar winner—Renner is a nominee. She’s currently making a movie with Pine. And she’s a member of the Billion-Plus Earner’s Club, so her box office is more than worthy of A List status. She’s right in there with these guys. But maybe, given that she is so proven and has won that Oscar already, THR thinks she’s too established. Okay. Zoe Saldana? She’s definitely on the rise and is a busy little bee with two major franchises to her credit—Star Trek and Avatar. I’m annoyed that THR doesn’t even mention why they chose not to include an actress or two.

But they didn’t, so let’s take a look at who they did name. On the well, older, end of the spectrum are Cooper, Reynolds, Renner and Worthington. I agree that Cooper and Reynolds are poised to take over. Cooper suffered a setback this summer when The A-Team didn’t deliver the big-time box office everyone was counting on, but he’s currently making The Hangover 2, a can’t-miss comedy hit for summer 2011. He’s also got a thriller slated for next spring, The Dark Field, with Robert DeNiro.

Reynolds is hugely busy, gearing up The Green Lantern next year and a Deadpool movie has been announced (though there are no concrete plans yet) for the X-Men franchise. Cooper and Reynolds are in direct competition for the top slot as “handsome guy that can kick ass and crack jokes”. Right now I give the edge to Reynolds because of The Green Lantern and he won so much praise for his performance in Buried this year.

Renner and Worthington, though, I don’t see becoming king of the world. Worthington has Avatar to keep him front and center for next several years, but I just don’t think he has the presence to cut it as an A Lister. His onscreen persona is stiff and wooden and his real life persona is that, plus general unpleasantness. To be the next Clooney or Depp, you have to have an actual personality.

Renner’s trajectory most closely resembles Matt Damon’s—he’s only a year younger—in that Renner can swing between action flicks like Mission: Impossible 4 and The Avengers and dramas like The Hurt Locker and the upcoming The Master. But Renner is getting a late start, and all of his post-Hurt Locker work is either ensemble or character work. He needs a leading role.

In the middle of the pack are Chris Hemsworth, Taylor Kitsch and Chris Pine. Right now the advantage is definitely Pine’s. With Star Trek buoying him, Pine is opening an action/thriller with Denzel Washington this weekend (I’m thinking Unstoppable wins the weekend easily), and he’s filming a romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon. He’s rumored to be attached to Alex Kurtzman’s drama Welcome to People. That’s some diversity and all of it has solid box office expectations.

Hemsworth’s claim to fame is next summer’s Thor, an entry in Marvel’s Avengers universe. This isn’t enough for me. Thor is an esoteric character and I question if he can sell “Norse god with alien powers” story to the masses in the same summer that Captain America—a much more well known character—has his movie in theaters, too. He does, however, have the (totally unnecessary) Red Dawn remake, though it is currently bogged down in MGM’s bankruptcy, and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods. Not bad, but not particularly impressive.

Kitsch has a little more going for him. He’s Gambit in the Marvel universe so he could always pop up in random X-Men movies, and he’ll open another franchise-potential property in 2012 with Disney’s John Carter of Mars. 2012 is a big year for Kitsch—both John Carter and the Battleship movie open then. And of course, he’s coming off of TV’s Friday Night Lights. Not a massive hit but a solid cult presence over the last several years and Peter Berg is a great connection—it’s already gotten him one feature film role.

As for the young’uns—can we even compare Shia and Lautner? They both have trashy franchises, Shia with Transformers and Lautner with Twilight. Transformers makes more money. Advantage: Shia. Lautner spends his out-of-franchise time making action movies like next year’s Abduction while Shia makes action movies like Indiana Jones: Let’s Forget This Happened. Advantage: draw. Indiana Jones 4 sucked. Shia made Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps before returning to finish out his Transformers commitment. After Twilight: Breaking Dawn wraps up, Lautner is signed onto a Stretch Armstrong movie. Advantage: Shia—an Oliver Stone drama beats a toy movie every time. I get why Lautner is in this group—he’s taking on a lot of high-profile action roles—but I just don’t think he has the talent to stay on the A List.

It will be interesting to see which of these guys is still considered “A List” over the next few years and which fade into the background. Again though, it’s just a shame THR didn’t feel it necessary to theorize on who their leading ladies might be. Let’s make our own list. We can discuss it next Tuesday during the LiveBlog?

File photos from Wenn.com