The Anatomy of an A-Lister

From Jennifer Lawrence to Matthew McConaughey, Nick Watt takes a look at Hollywood's biggest stars.
3:00 | 02/25/14

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Transcript for The Anatomy of an A-Lister
What does it take to become the cream of the Hollywood crop? Sure, there's the dazzling smile, abnormally defined jawline. Maybe even some raw talent. But is there something more? A remarkable recipe separating the elite from those who never quite make it in tinsel town? ABC's nick watt traces the anatomy of an a-lister for our series "Oscar confidential." He put a canvas bag over my head! Are you happy now? Because he is trying to kill me! What are you talking about? Reporter: Jennifer Lawrence. So hot right there. Christian bale and Matthew mcconaughey. And Bradley cooper. I don't like that you're in jail while he's going free. I don't like any of that. Reporter: So hot right now. So Oscar buzzy. But are they actual movie stars? What is it that catapults somebody to that level? You become a movie star when people want to see you. Reporter: When they don't care who you're playing, who's directing, what the movie is about. They just want to see you. How many actors do you think there are who are -- rough figure, who are kind of up there? Probably about a dozen. Who tops the list? Who makes it? How, why, and how do we know when they've actually made it? Bradley cooper? Mm. Hot shot casting director Carey Barden worked on "August osage county" and "Dallas buyers club." His films have an actor nominated in every category this year. You are in rare form today. I'm just truth telling. There's something about movie stars that make you want to be around them. But there's also a charisma. Like a Kennedy. Reporter: Talent plus charisma equals Clooney. Right? When you look at George Clooney's box office as a movie star, he's not at brad Pitt's level. Even Adam Sandler's level. Really? Yeah. He does not open movies the way those other stars do. But he projects our sort of best ideal of what we think a movie star should be. Reporter: But if Clooney's name is attached a movie will always get made. Looking good, man. Reporter: I say a-list, but they say successfully opening a blockbuster movie as the marquee name is another crucial benchmark for the a-list. Christian bale has done it with "Batman." He's made it. Could have made it on talent alone. Carey Bardon cast him in "American psycho." Hey, Paul. He scared me in the audition. One of the audition scenes was the one where he chops up Jared Leto's character in the film. And he scared me. It was like -- and he's that actor. Reporter: So even though in a leaked recording from the set of "Terminator salvation" he dropped the F bomb 39 times in a four-minute rant at a member of the crew. You're amateur. Reporter: He later apologized and we forgave him because he's just so darn good. But we all remember that Russell Crowe threw a phone at a hotel concierge and -- His position at the sort of top of the Hollywood heap did get diminished. Reporter: Despite the fact that he did apologize. Similarly the seldom smiling but utterly magnetic Kristen Stewart, she was tipped after "Twilight" as the next big thing. Kristen Stewart is in an interesting place. She made "Snow white and the huntsman," and that did really well. And then the sort of scandal broke. Reporter: She had an affair with the director and r-pats dumped her. And everyone took his side. You have to be likeable offscreen as well. Not necessarily. I think you just have to be not aggressively unlikeable. Reporter: Okay. So let's take a look at j-law, who is the next big thing. She is "The hunger games." Last year's earnings, second only to Angelina. And then there's this. You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell. And that's really embarrassing. She's a sweetheart. She's just a goofy girl. I'm sorry. I did a shot before I -- From the sort of internet's perspective she's a sort of human gif machine. Reporter: Here she is photo-bombing Taylor swift. I was going to come in and push down the stairs. Reporter: Carey Bardon cast her in her first movie role in "Winter's bone" after one audition. I don't think I can anymore. When somebody walks in the door, can you tell within the first five or six seconds whether they have something? After doing this for 20-something years, yes. Jennifer. Reporter: J-law is just 23 and already a movie star. So what about mcconaughey? Lauded for his turn in "Dallas buyers club." He's taking a different, longer road. How are you doing? Reporter: And this is where it all began. I will see you there. When I saw "Dazed and confused," that guy was a really fascinating, interesting actor and really popped on the screen. Here, boy. Reporter: But his career meandered a little through a decade or two in which mcconaughey became famous for taking his shirt off. I mean, listen, I liked "Magic Mike." Don't get me wrong. But he's gone to another level. Matthew mcconaughey has gone through the sort of Matthew mcconnaissance as has been the term. Reporter: Get it? Renaissance? Mccon aissance? He's taken offbeat roles in offbeat movies. Welcome to the Dallas buyers club. Reporter: His first nomination and he wants to win. So you're not one of these guys who says this doesn't matter? This is what I do. This is my career now. This is what I'm trying to be as good as I can be at. I'm trying to lower my handicap, to use a golf term. Especially if he wins the best actor academy award this year, I think that really does put him on track o'becoto becoming a movie star yeah. Reporter: He's the name on "Interstellar" out later this year. And if it's a success then mchuf mcmunky is in the movie star pantheon. Who's number one? Robert Downey Jr. He's never won an Oscar. No nominations this year. And there were the substance abuse issues along the way. But rdj topped the list last year earning $75 million. "Iron man" made him a movie star, and "Sherlock" proved it. It really showed that people want to see Robert Downey Jr. And they will go to a movie with him in it because he's in it. Reporter: Sounds nebulous? This doesn't. "Iron man 3" took over a billion dollars at the box office. The biggest movie last year. Rdj is the biggest movie star on Earth. Why? It can be an intangible quality. There is of course no actual formula. I'm nick watt for "Nightline" in Los Angeles.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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