In the film industry, a star vehicle is a movie, play, TV series, or other production that enhances an actor's career. 'Vehicles' are most commonly produced when a young or inexperienced actor has signed a long-term contract with a major studio. By showcasing the actor's talents, the vehicle is an attempt at creating a bankable star. In some cases, an actor may produce their own 'star vehicle' as self-promotion.
One of the earliest and best-documented examples is The Wizard of Oz (1939), which MGM centered on then-teenaged Judy Garland. The DVD notes give extensive film and radio examples of the publicity campaign undertaken to promote the movie and hype Garland's singing and acting talents.
With the demise of the studio system, star vehicles are less common in the movie business, although they continue to appear occasionally (e.g. Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, The Rock's The Scorpion King, or more recently Miley Cyrus' The Last Song). At times, one film can serve as the star vehicle for several actors, a prominent example being Pulp Fiction. They remain common in television, where sitcoms routinely function as vehicles for stand-up comedians. Welcome Back, Kotter, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Seinfeld, Home Improvement, George Lopez, Everybody Loves Raymond, Everybody Hates Chris, and The Bernie Mac Show are the most notable examples.
More recently, the term has been used to describe a film written or produced for a specific star, regardless of whether the motive is to further their career, or to simply profit from their current popularity.
- 'Vanity Fair' is a splendid star vehicle for Reese Witherspoon - Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- A star vehicle is born - St. Petersburg Times - July 26, 2003