Not necessarily. Once movie star men hit middle age, nothing is a given.

Of the fiftysomethings, Clooney and Washington are doing some of the best work of their careers — Clooney in "The Descendants," Washington in "Flight." Meanwhile, Depp continues to ride the quirk factor like that horse in "The Lone Ranger." The danger of course is becoming a caricature, a bit like Nicholson has with that arched eyebrow and leering smile.

In strategic terms, actors can't discount the power of today's TV to keep them creatively energized and in front of the public. Dustin Hoffman's most compelling role in a while was his ex-con/racetrack mobster on HBO's short-lived "Luck." "30 Rock" famously resurrected Alec Baldwin's career, though it remains to be seen how it will play out in film for the 55-year-old.

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(And if you've wondered, I'm not mentioning the British Islanders — they start differently and end differently — fecund character actors all the way. If they become "marquee stars" as well — Daniel Craig, Christian Bale and Clive Owen the gently aging men of the moment — so much the better. Ditto our homegrown greats.)

Meanwhile, the Eastwood heir apparent seems to be Ben Affleck — darkly handsome, strong mainstream appeal, an interest in diverse roles and proven directing chops. The actor has earned that spot the hard way, reversing a career that was flagging in his early 30s by stepping behind the camera for "Gone Baby Gone." It has paid off. Earlier this year he walked away with a best picture Oscar for "Argo," which he directed and starred in. (One of the film's other producers — George Clooney.)

For those not inclined to try the directing route, Brad Pitt is the model. The actor has succeeded on screen in virtually every genre: the snarky action of "Ocean's Eleven," the comic drama of "Inglourious Basterds," the swords and sandals of "Troy," the heartland drama of "A River Runs Through It," the crime thriller of "Se7en," and no one will forget the sizzling romance of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Since his heartthrob breakout in 1991's "Thelma & Louise," Pitt has starred in at least one film a year, sometimes as many as four.

The range of the roles speak to Pitt's versatility but also to his strategic smarts. Pitt works on blockbusters, indie films, with A-list directors like Ridley Scott as often as auteurs like Terrence Malick. Sometimes he dominates the screen. Other times he shares it. Increasingly he produces it, "World War Z" only the latest and director Steve McQueen's much-anticipated "12 Years a Slave," in which Pitt also stars, due later this year.

The actor turns 50 in December primed to make that legendary turning point what it should be — just another day.