There was a time not long ago when Ryan Reynolds looked like he might conquer Hollywood. With his mix of uncommonly good looks, matinee smile and natural easy charm he was ideally positioned to appeal to both genders. Whether you wanted to sleep with him, pound a beer with him, or both, the fact is it is very difficult to not like him. All of which should add up to box office hits. The studios certainly thought so giving him a string of big budget summer movies that they were certain he could carry all the way to the bank. He was all but poised to become the new Will Smith in terms of yearly profitable summer tent pole movies.
Yet it couldn’t have worked out more differently for the Canadian born Hollywood hunka hunka burning love as he and everyone else have had to endure a string of bland, stinky box office turds. Never was it worse for Reynolds than in July this year when Fox/Dreamworks’ animated snail tale Turbo and Universal’s super derivative Men In Black wannabe R.I.P.D. opened on the same weekend and both tanked. That was further compounded this month when Jeff Bridges openly criticised R.I.P.D. prior to it’s UK release.
It is a career low point for Reynolds who must wonder what he has to do to score a hit. And it’s a fair question. Why is he such box office poison at the moment?
“Was it something I did?”
The first place to look is the man himself. Some actors are just not built to be action heroes. You need the physicality and charm to carry the swagger and confidence of a leading action man. Something Reynolds has in abundance.
In fact on paper he is better placed than his Hollywood action peers Gerard Butler or Mark Whalberg as he is arguably funnier, more disarming and likable than either. Yet both have had fairly successful runs at the box office with equally as poorly received films critically than Reynolds.
He is also, by all accounts, well thought of in showbiz circles, seen as being remarkably humble given the inches of column space dedicated to describing how good looking and nice he is. I have read a few articles of late where journalists can’t wait to describe how approachable and open he is. Guys don’t feel threatened by him because they can see him being their buddy in a different life, and women think he’s not only attractive but nice to boot. Unlike Ben Affleck the public don’t seem to mind his tabloid lifestyle going hand in hand with his poor movie choices. All of which should ideally place him as a box office draw regardless of critical reception. Yet it appears to not be enough.
In fact Reynolds is never as engaging and likable than when he is making choices that go against the grain of his Sexiest Man Alive 2010 image. He has a string of indie movies to his name that show he is more than capable of stretching himself, his abilities and his image if the right role demands it. Few actors could have been as captivating for 90 minutes in a box as Reynolds was in the terrific and terrifying Buried (2010). Similarly I would urge anyone to go and watch him and a pre-Bridesmaids Melissa McCarthy in The Nines (2007), where he plays multiple characters whose paths cross with each other in strange and mysterious ways.
It is difficult to argue against his acting abilities or his public persona. So if it’s not him, who or what is to blame for this unusual run of stinkers?
Bad Luck, Bad Judgement, Bad Advice
Undoubtedly as an actor and a professional Reynolds has to accept much of the responsibility for the career choices he makes. Sure he will be advised by people with a financial stake in his success, but after this long in Hollywood and with no shortage of offers or money he should be able to spot a dud by now. Admittedly every big successful actor has their duds. Look at Will Smith reeling from the panning of After Earth. Or Ben Affleck for everything between 2002 and 2007. It’s inevitable that projects look great on paper but just don’t pan out for one reason and another. It’s the nature of the business. But at a point you have to question the judgement of Reynolds or his advisers in picking the right projects for him.
There is also something to be said for timing. Hollywood is spending money like it’s going out of fashion at the moment as it sees year on year box office takings going through the roof. Sci fi, fantasy and franchise movies have never been more profitable. They’ve also never been as expensive. As a result stakes for buying a summer blockbuster are getting higher and higher. The last few years have seen more $100m spectacle movies than there is apparent room in the cinemas for them. If you get it right, like Iron Man, Batman or Avengers then that $150m (plus $50m in marketing) budget turns into $1b. But get it wrong, like Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger or R.I.P.D. and a previously respectable $250m haul is looking like a waste of everyone’s time.
If Iron Man, Batman, Star Trek and the various Marvel incarnations have taught us anything it’s that fan boy/girl franchises are where the money is right now. Last year Avengers Assemble, Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit accounted for $3.7b of worldwide box office takings. And you can see in the roles he has plumped for that he has been sold on the idea of them making the first part of a series if they do well. I can imagine Universal would have loved to squeeze 3 movies out of R.I.P.D. like Columbia Pictures did with Men In Black or as Disney did so profitably with the Pirates series. Both franchises proof that if you get the first one right then even diminishing follow ups will still pull in major bucks.
Unfortunately for Reynolds though though it appears through a mixture of bad luck, bad judgement and bad timing that he has never been offered the right franchise to make it work.
Will Reynolds Ever Be The Box Office Draw He Should Be?
While Hollywood can be a cold and unforgiving place for most there seems to be a long list of actors and directors who keep getting big jobs regardless of their box office takings. Look at M. Night Shyamalan. Someone keeps writing him cheques. And Reynolds is in good company in 2013 with the likes of Johnny Depp and Will Smith not providing the box office takings that their over inflated paycheques should guarantee. The question is whether Reynolds, whilst undoubtedly a star, is established enough for studios to keep having confidence in him? Because unlike Smith or Depp it is very difficult for him to point back at a list of overwhelming successes and pass this off as a blip.
The one thing I can’t imagine Reynolds is short of is money. And at 37 he still has plenty of time. If I were him, and it’s fair to say I am in no way him, but if I were then I would look to Matthew McConaughey for inspiration on role choices at this stage of his career. After becoming a standing joke for his never ending slew of cookie cutter rom coms in the early to mind 00’s McConaughey took a step back and has gone on an impressive run of dark and challenging indie roles like Mud, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and The Dallas Buyers Club. Reynolds has shown he has the appetite for indie cinema and he has the time to take a step back and look for some more challenging roles with less of a commercial weight of expectation.
Looking at his upcoming projects it may be a choice he has consciously made already with two or three low key releases slated for 2014 such as The Voices, in which he plays a factory worker who gets advice from his cat and dog and is subsequently implicated in the accidental death of a co-worker. Like a much darker Wilfred. Or Mississippi Grind, which looks like it might be a grimy Southern road trip movie where Reynolds can let loose with his image a little more.
That said the big studios obviously still have faith that he can carry a franchise, having announced he will be getting a Deadpool spin-off. He was the best thing about Xmen Origins:Wolverine, and I would love to see a Deadpool movie. But I can’t help but feel that failed attempt at launching a Reynolds franchise movie may be his last shot for some time.