Bradley Cooper’s new adaptation of A Star Is Born is now in theaters, and while it feels fresh and new, the film also hews to the same plot beats of previous movies. Cooper’s film is the fourth version of A Star Is Born. The story originally came to the big screen in William A. Wellman’s 1937 movie, which starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The first remake came along in 1954, directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Give it another twenty years or so, and you’ve got another adaptation, this time in 1976 with Frank Pierson directing and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the lead roles. Finally, with today’s version, you’ve got Cooper directing and starring opposite Lady Gaga.
Although the story spans different eras and even different industries, the overall plot remains remarkably similar throughout all four versions. [Spoilers ahead for all versions A Star Is Born] The story always begins with the male lead as a star on the decline due to alcoholism. The male lead then always discovers the female lead, who has the talent, but hasn’t broken through to stardom. The two strike up a relationship where his connections in the industry help provide her with a path to stardom. They eventually get married even though he continues to decline. His addiction gets worse while she becomes a total star and wins an award. At the award ceremony, he drunkenly humiliates her as she wins an award, thus merging her triumph and tragedy. She vows to stay with him and help him through his addiction, but just as it looks like he might recover, he stumbles again and realizes he’ll never be more than a washed-up drag on her career. He commits suicide, and she mourns his death. Her career now stands as a tribute of sorts to the man she loved.
But it’s where these versions diverge that gives them their own personality and distinction.