The Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe romance has ended, pushed to its limits by Phillippe's alleged indiscretions with Australian starlet Abbie Cornish on the set of "Stop Loss."
Will the indie title score big box-office numbers as a result of Phillippe's philandering? Will newcomer Cornish become famous -- or infamous -- for destroying Phillippe and Witherspoon's picture-perfect marriage?
If recent history is any indication, if both sizzle both on- and offscreen, the film benefits. But for the most part, when a film gets more ink in the gossip columns than on the entertainment pages, its box-office receipts don't get much of a boost.
In the 2005 action film "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had the kind of sexual chemistry that makes audiences swoon. Their co-starring roles as husband and wife may have led to the beginning of the real-life "Brangelina" love affair, and, in turn, to the demise of Pitt's long-running marriage to Jennifer Aniston.
Though some critics and fans slammed Jolie as a home wrecker, American moviegoers dropped nearly $200 million to see the movie -- not because it was a great film but because of rumors about the palpable passion (both on - and offscreen) between its co-stars.
Tom O'Neil, columnist for TheEnvelope.com, the Los Angeles Times' film awards Web site, doesn't predict similar results for the Phillippe-Cornish onscreen pairing. "The sympathies of moviegoers are solidly with Reese," he said. "They may very well hold a grudge against 'Stop Loss' because it witnesses the scene of the crime, what broke up her seemingly perfect marriage."
Famous and Infamous
Yet New York Daily News gossip columnist Ben Widdicombe maintained that in Hollywood, success is often born from scandal. "Home wrecking is such a practiced art in Hollywood, there should be an Oscar for it," he said. "It won't do Abbie Cornish any harm to be mentioned just before her film comes out. At the very least, people might learn how to spell her name."
Perhaps. But Cornish's skirmish with the husband of a beloved leading lady -- did we mention that Witherspoon and Phillippe have two small children? -- may not bring her the all-important likability factor. "When Americans turn on Hollywood home wreckers they recoil like disgusted snakes," explained O'Neil.
"Admit it or not, it's fascinating to watch because it can be like a Hollywood script come to life: the love triangle between the good girl, the handsome hero, the naughty vixen," said relationship expert Dawn Yanek, an editor-at-large for Life & Style Weekly.
"No one had heard of Abbie before the alleged affair, and her perception will depend on how she puts herself out there as an actress and a public figure. So much of Hollywood is about spin, and Abbie's image is in a precarious position right now."
Us Weekly Senior Editor Bradley Jacobs suggested a possible double standard. "Men get let off a little more easily. No one's criticizing Owen Wilson for coming between Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson.''
Even actors with squeaky-clean images -- like Claire Danes or Meg Ryan, for instance -- aren't immune from moviegoer backlash.
Enough 'Proof' to Forget About
Ryan ended her longtime marriage to Dennis Quaid after she had a very public, very steamy dalliance with Russell Crowe while making 2000's clunker "Proof of Life," which was proof that scandal doesn't always sell tickets.
And Ryan, formerly an A-list actress, has made only three films since "Proof of Life."
Danes suffered a blow to her good-girl image while filming "Stage Beauty" in 2003, when she ended up in the middle of co-star Billy Crudup's breakup with his seven-months pregnant girlfriend, actress Mary Louise Parker. "I don't think the American public has truly forgiven Claire Danes for breaking up Billy and Mary Louise," Jacobs admitted.
In the end "Stage Beauty" never even registered on the movie Richter scale. As New York Magazine writer Logan Hill put it, the film "barely registered at the box office, netting just $780,000," quite possibly due in part to bad tabloid press."
While Danes and Crudup were both in seemingly solid, seven-year relationships (Crudup with Parker, and Danes with musician Ben Lee), Witherspoon and Phillippe have admitted to attending marriage counseling.
What's Down the Road?
But this may not be enough to save Cornish's reputation. "Sure, Reese and Ryan had problems," O'Neil said. "Every couple does, but this one was never supposed to break up because they looked just like the couple on top of a wedding cake."
Jacobs predicted that Cornish would remain unscathed -- and unknown. "Most people won't pin it on [Cornish]. … Ryan wanted to be out of that marriage for a long time," he said, adding, "I don't think this will turn her into a household name."
Still, it's no secret that the end of an A-list Hollywood honeymoon creates buzz.
"'Mr. and Mrs Smith' benefited from the curiosity about what chemistry Brad and Angelina might have onscreen, and no doubt the 'Stop Loss' producers hope the same for their film," said Widdicombe.
"Abbie might want to stay out of the South, though. Reese's fans are probably less interested in her career than her scalp."