Aug. 16, 2006 -- As Madonna celebrates her 48th birthday, it's high time for a little truth or dare: Are her dreams of being a movie star "Swept Away," or is she still looking for "The Next Big Thing"?
Earlier this month, the star seemed adamant in pronouncing her film career over, even as Billboard Magazine predicted that her current "Confessions" tour -- which grossed $86 million in the United States. -- is on its way to becoming the biggest international tour ever by a female artist.
"I hate to admit it, but I've decided to give that up,'' she told the World Entertainment News Network and an Italian fashion magazine as she continued the European leg of the "Confessions" tour.
"How can any film survive if everyone says it's going to be a flop from the very day the project is even conceived? It's already dead in the water. To continue to try to do films with the knowledge that everyone will just spit on them -- and enjoy doing so -- just doesn't make sense to me any more."
Still, Madonna assured ABC News Radio that she's not quite ready to leave her cinematic aspirations behind, and if she can't make it in front of the camera, she ultimately has plans to direct.
"I would love to do something connected to dancing or to music or dancing, where that was a big part of the story," she said. "I would like it to be an original story that I write, maybe, possibly with somebody."
The Elvis School of Celebrity Acting
Of course, Madonna is married to director Guy Ritchie. But their disastrous collaboration, 2002's "Swept Away," became a legendary punching bag for film critics and a punch line for late night comics. It also has the dubious distinction of being the only film to win Razzie Awards as the year's worst movie and worst sequel (believe it or not, that movie was made once before).
The film junkies that bestow the Razzies had earlier named her Worst Actress of the Century for such bombs as "Who's That Girl?" "Body of Evidence" and "Shanghai Surprise."
"You could compare her to Elvis in that her star power never fully translated into movie stardom, and she's begun to embarrass herself," says film historian and pop culture expert Mark Hill, a professor at Temple University. "Her status as an icon is more and more jeopardized with each new movie."
Presley famously frittered away his fan base with a series of campy beach party movies in the 1960s, and his career didn't hit another upswing until he returned to performing.
Certainly many stars have failed on the big screen, including Britney Spears and Mariah Carey in recent years. Hill actually thinks critics overstate Madonna's bad acting. "She's succeeded in some roles. The problem is, the stakes are higher for Madonna. She's an all-time star, a historic figure," he says.
"Her ambition makes it unlikely at this point that she'd take anything but a lead role. And when she fails, she has so much more to lose."
Madonna certainly succeeded in 1985's "Desperately Seeking Susan," and she received critical praise for 1992's "A League of Their Own." But both of those roles were supporting performances. Her most successful starring role came in "Evita," for which she won a 1996 Golden Globe Award.
"Her problem now, if she wanted to appear in more films, is that she's getting a little long in the tooth, and Hollywood is rough, even for established actresses. Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, who have real credentials, have trouble finding roles," says Christopher Sharrett, a professor of film studies at Seton Hall University.
'Why Are We Running Around Like Hamsters?'
As the pop diva celebrates her birthday tonight by performing at London's Wembley Arena, she remains a lightning rod for controversy. The mock crucifixion that has become part of her stage show inflamed religious leaders after a performance earlier this month at Olympic Stadium, just a few miles from the Vatican.
Still, even in her incarnation as the Material Mom, after nearly a quarter century of stardom, she thrives on her role as a provocateur. And even if big screen success has eluded her, she's succeeded in almost every sphere of entertainment, even writing best-selling children's books.
Madonna does have one cinematic project in the works. She'll voice the character Princess Selenia in the animated adventure "Arthur and the Invisibles," due out next year.
Of course, even if she never takes part in another live-action feature, Madonna will alway have an influence on Hollywood simply by being a larger-than-life icon. At the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, she struck a pose as Marie Antoinette in a rendition of her hit "Vogue."
Now, Kirsten Dunst is tipping her cap to that performance, striking the same pose in the pages of Vogue magazine to promote her role in Sophia Coppola's upcoming "Marie Antoinette."
"We live in a society that deeply values celebrity and fame," Madonna said in her recent ABC Radio interview, trying to answer what drives her to keep working so hard.
"It's a question I ask of everybody, you know, 'Why are we running around like hamsters on those weeks? Why do we kill ourselves working so hard? What's it all about?' I do ask myself those questions."