In the film industry, a bankable star is an actor famous or charismatic enough to be "capable of guaranteeing box-office success simply by showing up in a movie". A bankable director is a similar notion.
Media consultant Blake Harris states that a bankable star is one of the "3 minimum ingredients to any film package", the other two being a successful director and a script or a strong story idea. The involvement of a bankable star in a film gives investors confidence that they will achieve a return on their investments, by ensuring that the film is widely distributed and that at least some people will pay to see it (i.e. that it will "open"). Harris adds that obtaining a bankable star for a package is not easy, because of the dearth of such stars, stating that at any point in time there are no more than "a dozen or so" stars whose mere involvement will ensure that a film will be made.
Analyst Alex Epstein states that bankable stars — or, more generally, "bankable elements" — are how "hookless" films (i.e. films without a compelling concept that makes people interested in them in their own right) get made, giving Dances with Wolves as an example of a movie where the involvement of Kevin Costner as the bankable star guaranteed that the movie was made. Writer Melissa Robbie concurs, stating that some movies are high-concept (i.e. they have what Epstein terms "hooks") whereas others are simply star vehicles for bankable stars.
The 2002 survey polled "114 executives at both major studios and independent companies, financiers and various industry players from around the world". Voters were asked which stars "did the most to attract financing to a film, ensure its global distribution, and deliver that hugely important opening weekend based on the strength of their good name".
James Ulmer has compared his list of bankable stars, The Ulmer Scale, to a stock market index. His criteria for ranking is based on the name of a star alone being able to get people to movie theaters, in the United States as well as the rest of the world. In an August 2010 interview Ulmer described the international movie market as "unfortunately ... pretty sexist"; how a woman's name alone cannot sell a movie, and how female stars are only bankable when cast with a male star or in ensemble movies.
Lists of most bankable stars
These are the top 10 lists of the most bankable stars, with their scores, as published by Hollywood Reporter.
- Tom Hanks
- Mel Gibson
- Tom Cruise
- Harrison Ford
- Jim Carrey
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- John Travolta
- Julia Roberts
- Robin Williams
- Will Smith
- Tom Hanks (500.00)
- Tom Cruise (100.00)
- Julia Roberts (100.00)
- Mel Gibson (98.68)
- Jim Carrey (98.46)
- George Clooney (95.18)
- Russell Crowe (94.74)
- Harrison Ford (94.74)
- Bruce Willis (94.30)
- Brad Pitt (92.98) 
The list was created by veteran entertainment journalist James Ulmer, who developed a 100-point method to quantify a star's value to a film production, in terms of getting a movie financed and the cameras rolling. The Ulmer Scale also takes into account an actor's history (box office successes vs. failures), versatility, professional demeanor, and ability and willingness to travel and promote movies.
The Top 10 list as of 2009 (in order of 'bankable' value):
- Daniel Frankel (1999-06-14). "Survey Says: Hanks Hollywood's Most Bankable Star". E!. Archived from the original on March 20, 2005.
- Blake Harris. "A Brief Look at the Industry". The True Art of Screenwriting. Retrieved 2005-12-28.
- Alex Epstein (2002-10-08). Crafty Screenwriting: Writing Movies That Get Made. Owl Books. ISBN 0-8050-6992-5.
- Melissa Robbie. "Find your high concept — or be left low without one". Melbourne Romance Writers Guild articles. Archived from the original on 2005-12-08. Retrieved 2005-12-28.
- "Bankable Stars". CBS News. 2002-02-05.
- "Company Ranks Celebrity Bankability". NPR. August 6, 2010. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
- Bankable Stars, CBS News, Feb. 5, 2002
- "Tom Cruise and Hanks top new power list". World Entertainment News Network. 2006-04-10.
- "The Ulmer Scale". Archived from the original on January 15, 2010. Retrieved June 12, 2009.