As if the growth of internet piracy, declining DVD sales and the diminishing returns from 3D movies were not enough to give Hollywood studio bosses sleepless nights, the film industry was hit with another bombshell last week. News that the actor and regular contender for the world's most attractive man, Brad Pitt, 47, is planning early retirement could be enough to clear multiplexes of the female sex entirely.
Well, maybe not quite, but the Fight Club star's admission that he plans to step away from the limelight when he turns 50 has already been met with dismay by fans. During an interview with the Australian television programme 60 Minutes to promote his Oscar-tipped film Moneyball, Pitt was asked how long he planned to continue acting, to which he replied: "Three years."
When asked what he wanted to do after stepping away from the limelight, the star said: "Hell if I know ... I'm really enjoying the productorial side … and getting stories to the plate that may have had a harder time otherwise. I've gotten away with a few things."
Pitt, whose 31 films to date have grossed more than US$2.12 billion (Dh7.78bn), also implied that his family life with the actress Angelina Jolie - they have six children - might be the reason for his decision to quit.
"Their idea is that when they go out beyond the gate - because we have to live behind a gate - there's people standing there in line with cameras that try to take your picture," he said. "Their idea is that everyone has to deal with that, though the older ones are getting more savvy. It's the only thing that I get hot about, that I'm ready to fight about."
Soon after the interview, he clarified his stance during a press conference promoting Moneyball in South Korea: "I wasn't putting an exact deadline on my expiration date [as an actor] but I just see it coming and I do have an interest in the producing side."
Pitt is currently wrapping up filming on the zombie epic World War Z, which he is also producing. According to his IMDB page, the actor has just three other projects in development. They are the 1960s gangster drama Cogan's Trade from the filmmaker Andrew Dominik (with whom he worked on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), narrating the Terrence Malick documentary Voyage of Time, and starring in 12 Years a Slave, by the British director of Hunger, Steve McQueen.
Pitt's threat of early retirement - at least from acting - may turn out to be little more than a shrewd attempt at persuading Oscar voters finally to hand him an acting gong next year. He has been nominated twice - for 12 Monkeys and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button- but never won. But if he goes ahead with the plan, it will be a rare move by a member of the Hollywood elite. While many stars disappear into obscurity, most A-list actors and directors continue working until their final years.
A select few have called it a day early, however. One of Hollywood's first megastars, Greta Garbo, completed her last film at the age of 36. Like Pitt, it was the constant glare of the media spotlight that drove her into self-imposed isolation. Another classic Hollywood dame, Grace Kelly, gave up acting at 27 after completing only 11 films. Far from a life of obscurity, however, she left Hollywood to wed Rainier III, Prince of Monaco.
If Pitt does go, his decision could be likened to that of the classic leading man Cary Grant, who also retired while still a bankable star to raise his first and only child, fathered at the age of 62.
Recent years have seen a handful of the late 20th century's top leading men leave acting behind. Clint Eastwood claimed that his turn in Gran Torino would be his last and that he would concentrate on directing. Meanwhile, Sean Connery bowed out after 2003's woeful action film The League of Extraordinary Gentleman - hardly a swansong befitting the Bond legend. The double Oscar-winner Gene Hackman has not made a film since 2004's comedy flop Welcome to Mooseport. Although all three actors were still in demand when they called it quits, their ages were 78, 73 and 74 respectively - far in advance of Pitt's.
The rarity of other leading men under 70 who have opted to throw in the towel while still capable of earning $10m a movie in Hollywood's history makes Pitt's claim all the more unbelievable.
Inspired by a true story, Moneyball stars Pitt as a baseball manager who introduces a controversial percentage-based system to try to overcome his team's lack of star players. It is expected to open in cinemas across the UAE next month.