Titanic made him a household name, but what he’s done since then added to his power: Fast-forward 22 years, and DiCaprio remains a global movie star, one whose consistent bankability and acclaim set him apart from his peers. In fact, he is arguably the only global superstar left in a film industry in which an interchangeable group of actors regularly suit up in spandex or brandish a lightsaber for the latest billion-dollar earner — only to be ignored by audiences outside of franchises. Unlike waning megastars like Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Downey Jr., DiCaprio sits alone atop the Hollywood pantheon without ever having made a comic book movie, family film or pre-branded franchise. Leo is the franchise.
Tarantino on Leo: “One of the things I like about Leo is he just doesn’t plug himself into two movies a year,” says Tarantino, drawing an unstated comparison with current stars like Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, who are omnipresent on social media as well as in multiplexes. “He kind of stands alone today, like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro were in the ’70s, where they weren’t trying to do two movies a year — they could do anything they wanted, and they wanted to do this. So that means this must be pretty good.”
Leo has a good picker: In an age of brand management, DiCaprio has cultivated a brand “of excellence,” says Sony film chief Tom Rothman, amid an industry where “brand” these days usually means Marvel, DC or Lucas. “What is remarkable about Leo is his consistency,” says Rothman, who first worked with DiCaprio on Romeo + Juliet and Titanic at Fox. “If he’s in it, the audience knows it’s going to be good because he’s in it. I mean, when is he not great? But that’s not an accident. He works his ass off.”
Everyone wants to work with Leo: Among his compatriots, DiCaprio is by far the one most coveted by studio heads and top-tier directors, offering that rare blend of prestige (three of his past five films have been nominated for best picture) and box office prowess (those same films earned a combined $1.8 billion worldwide). While Smith is doing Netflix originals and a Disney remake, Lawrence is on a cold streak and Downey only makes money as Tony Stark, DiCaprio continues to choose films that would seem risky on paper — typically R-rated, longer than 2½ hours and with budgets topping $80 million — bets that have paid off and given him an unrivaled amount of power.
Leo’s not in everybody’s faces & he stays on the big screen: While modern stars scramble to maintain a constant presence and relevance via social media and nonstop work spanning all platforms, DiCaprio as an actor sticks to cinema (he hasn’t acted for the small screen since a 1992 appearance on Growing Pains). Rather than using Twitter for self-promotion, he offers his 19.1 million followers updates on the Waorani tribe’s efforts to protect the Amazon from oil drilling or to promote vegan burgers.
The Mysterious Leo: Off-camera, DiCaprio has maintained a carefully crafted air of mystery. Some crewmembers on Once Upon a Time were instructed to avoid making eye contact with him, according to an on-set source… DiCaprio rarely talks about his personal life or even his career and typically promotes a film only in partnership with the director (he declined to be interviewed for this piece). Despite being one of the most photographed men in the world, hopping on a Citi Bike in New York or hanging out vaping with supermodels, little is known about his day-to-day life.
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