Why Hollywood keeps telling the story of a troubled star and the woman he loves.


Warning this post contains SPOILERS for A Star Is Born. 

A Star Is Born is one of Hollywood’s biggest success stories.

The 2018 version of the classic film has smashed box office records.

For a little over a week, the movie about an ageing country musician, and the rising star he falls in love with, has been all anyone wants to talk about.

It’s the kind of film that irreversibly changes you, with an unforgettable ending that will haunt your thoughts long after the final credits roll.

Holly Wainwright, Rachel Corbett and Leigh Campbell debriefed on the movie after they watched it: 

But it’s not a new story.

Bradley Cooper’s iteration is actually the fourth version of the movie.

It seems every generation, Hollywood revisits this story of a troubled star and the woman he loves. Each version is slightly different and every generation gets the A Star Is Born it deserves.

The original film was released in 1937. It told the story of Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) a North Dakotan farm girl who dreams of becoming a star. Along with thousands of girls just like her, Esther moves to Hollywood to follow her dreams.

a star is born original
Janet Gaynor plays a North Dakotan farm girl who dreams of becoming a star.

There she meets Hollywood star Norman Maine (Fredric March) at a concert. Using his industry connections, Norman gets Esther a screen test.

Before long, her star is on the rise, while his is falling.

They marry but Norman quickly becomes jealous of his young wife's fame. When she wins an Oscar he embarrasses her on stage, then walks into the ocean to meet his death.

While this original film is not a musical, it firmly establishes the timeless story of a talented ingénue being discovered by a troubled, older star.

The 1954 version of the film starred Judy Garland as the female lead and James Mason as the male lead.

a star is born original
James Mason and Judy Garland in the 1954 version.

Garland's character is an already semi-successful singer who sings as part of group.

At one of their performances, Norman stumbles on stage drunk. Garland's character helps him save face by pretending it's part of the act.

Impressed by her talent, Norman introduces her to his movie studio.

Once again, she quickly becomes a star, as his own career is disintegrating. In this version, Norman also interrupts her Oscars speech before fatefully walking into the ocean.

The 1976 version stars Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as the leads.


In this iteration Kristofferson plays John Norman Howard, a hard-drinking but talented musician. John Norman meets Esther Hoffman (Streisand) in a nightclub one night when she saves him from a fight.

a star is born original
Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 version.

He is, once again, drawn to his female lead's talent.

When Esther becomes more famous than John Norman, he becomes jealous and ruins her moment when she wins a Grammy.

In this version of the film, John Norman is killed in a reckless, high-speed car chase.


In the 2018 version, Bradley Cooper plays an ageing country musician named Jackson Maine. He meets a waitress and singer songwriter called Ally (Lady Gaga) at a drag bar one night.

He sees something in Ally and takes her on the road with him and soon her star begins to rise as his starts to fall.

Despite this, the couple fall in love, get a dog, and seem to have the perfect life together.

However, throughout it all Jackson is privately battling alcohol and drug addiction as well as depression.

Things do not end well for Jackson and Ally is left grieving for a husband who was in a lot more pain than she ever realised.

This newest version has one key difference though - Jackson is never threatened by Ally's fame. Instead, the tension between them is caused by Jackson worrying that Ally is selling herself out for the industry, while Ally is trying to do whatever she can to ride the wave of fame.

That's what makes the final scene so powerful. Sadly, once Jackson is gone, Ally finally embraces her true talent and a star is indeed born.

While four versions of the same movie seems excessive, the universal themes of love and loss and addiction mean we'll probably keep returning to this story time and time again.

And we'll probably always love A Star Is Born.

A Star Is Born is screening in cinemas across Australia now.