HOLLYWOOD -- Tom Hanks has won two consecutive Academy Awards, but another recent testimonial has been somewhat overlooked.
His Oscars rewarded his acting achievements in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, as everyone knows. Almost as impressive is the actor's impact on movie exhibitors who voted him top moneymaking star of 1994, the performer they prefer above all others to play their theaters.
Oscars symbolize the "show" in show business. The Quigley Publishing Co.'s annual poll of more than 600 nationwide exhibitors exemplifies the "business" in show business.
Following Hanks, the nine top box-office stars for the past year: Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Tim Allen, Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Michael Douglas and Tommy Lee Jones. The list has nothing to do with an actor's talent or lack of it. It represents only the stars whose film or films earn the most money in a 12-month period.
There are anomalies to be sure. Allen made the list in his first and only movie, The Santa Clause, which was a raging $150 million hit. It was enough.
Hanks got the job done with the record-breaking Forrest Gump and residual ticket sales for Philadelphia.
Comedian Carrey burst onto the list from relative obscurity with three consecutive box-office hits, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber.
Jodie Foster was the only woman in the top 10, which explains, in part, why so few women-oriented pictures with actresses topping the cast are produced in Hollywood.
The last time a woman headed the poll was Julie Andrews in 1967.
This year was Hanks' first appearance in the No. 1 spot. He has made three previous top 10 box-office lists. Hanks, however, is light-years behind all-time favorite, John Wayne, whose popularity put him in the top 10 no fewer than 25 times from 1949 to 1974.
Clint Eastwood is second with 21 appearances. Bing Crosby and Burt Reynolds, at five each, share the record for the No. 1 spot.
The most successful box-office stars among actresses were Shirley Temple with four consecutive No. 1 rankings (1935-38) and Doris Day with four such postings in 1960, '62, '63 and '64.
Barry Monush, editor of Quigley's annual Motion Picture Almanac, says the organization has been polling exhibitors since 1933, when Marie Dressler was the first No. 1 rated star. Over the subsequent 61 years the movie-going public has proved capricious and discerning, if theater owners are any gauge.
No matter how devoted their fans may be, stars had better select worthwhile properties or find themselves among the also-rans in the box-office survey.
Case in point: Last year Julia Roberts, generally considered a good box-office draw, made a truly terrible picture, I Love Trouble. Nobody went to see her.
Movie stars are transient, like fads. They come and go. Popular stars commonly find themselves in and out of the top 10 for a decade or so.
Two years ago, the top 10, in order, were Eastwood, Cruise, Robin Williams, Kevin Costner, Ford, Roberts, Hanks, Gibson, Whoopi Goldberg and Sylvester Stallone. Eastwood, Williams, Costner, Roberts, Goldberg and Stallone all failed to make a showing in 1994. Some did not have a film released, others appeared in bombs.
In 1992 the list was headed by Cruise, followed by Gibson, Costner, Jack Nicholson, Macaulay Culkin, Goldberg, Douglas, Eastwood, Steven Seagal and Williams. Clearly, the poll does not reflect exhibitor bias about the stars except their ability to fill the coffers. If young Culkin brings in the big bucks in greater numbers than, say, Stallone, then Macaulay is in and Sly is out.
A vitally important consequence of the box-office rankings is the clout it gives a star in contract negotiations. There is little reason to suppose Hanks, for example, will not be able to command more money than almost any other actor, what with two Oscars and the box-office championship.
It is no coincidence that Schwarzenegger, Cruise, Ford, Gibson and Foster are among the highest paid performers in the world.
Ever optimistic, studios and producers also rely on past box-office performances, hoping stars will return to form.
Box-office consistency is the baseline when it comes to setting a star's salary and profit participation. See how often the same names keep cropping up: The 1991 top 10 were Costner, Schwarzenegger, Williams, Roberts, Culkin, Foster, Billy Crystal, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and Gibson.
Five years ago it went this way: Schwarzenegger, Roberts, Bruce Willis, Cruise, Gibson, Costner, Patrick Swayze, Sean Connery, Ford and Richard Gere.
Some actors pop up in the top 10 and never appear again, such as Prince, whose one hit, Purple Rain, made it for him. During the past five years, 1990-94, only Gibson was Mr. Consistency with five appearances. Cruise made it four times.
Some stars, like Carrey, burst into the top 10 out of the blue. Others rise from the teens or 20s in previous polls.
This year the runners-up in 11th through 20th place were Williams, Demi Moore, Keanu Reeves, Costner, Roberts, Stallone, Meg Ryan, Nicholson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brad Pitt, Goldberg, Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone, Hugh Grant and Anthony Hopkins. If nothing else, the Quigley poll demonstrates the eclectic tastes of moviegoers.
Where else would one find a list of performers mixing Van Damme with Hopkins, or Streep with Stone?