The 5 Actors With the Most to Prove This Summer
Stakes are never higher in Hollywood than they are during the summer, when the industry harvests yet another annual multi-billion-dollar crop of blockbuster entertainment. But while studio execs, producers, directors and numerous other contributors behind the camera sweat out their opening weekends, a cluster of actors this summer find themselves facing uniquely ambitious new stages in their own careers -- and box office is only part of it. Who has the most at risk in the weeks and months ahead, and how should they proceed? Movieline had a look.
1. James Franco
The movie(s): Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Aug. 5)
The challenge: Rebuild Hollywood profile after the one-two punch of failures that were his Oscar-hosting gig and Your Highness.
How to do it: How quickly we forget, when discussing the actor/director/polymath's collapsed profile since co-hosting the Academy Awards, that he's still "Oscar nominee James Franco." Despite all the ironic, overexposed hijinks, the guy can act. All he needs to do is lower the volume on his persona, much of which he's already accomplished by burrowing back into academia while Fox goes off and sells Apes as a groundbreaking visual-effects experience. But that's just marketing. The pressure is on Franco to deliver onscreen in what Fox (and Franco's agents, no doubt) hopes is a franchise flagship, and to deliver offscreen with a little more self-restraint than we've come to know him for. For better or worse, it's time to let the work speak for itself.
2. Ryan Reynolds
The movie(s): The Green Lantern (June 17), The Change-Up (Aug. 5)
The challenge: Establish that he can open a film on his own
How to do it: Easy: Slap on the CGI superhero suit, do the required press tour, maybe give Vanity Fair the exclusive about the Scarlett Johansson break-up, and let the fanboys and families do the rest. After all, Buried taught us two things last fall: Reynolds can most definitely carry a movie, but Reynolds alone (literally, in this case) is not enough to get a film into the upper box-office echelons. His only previous studio dalliance with toplining, the romcom Definitely, Maybe, fizzled with a fifth-place opening on Valentine's Day 2008. His biggest hits to date are hooked predominantly to co-stars Sandra Bullock (The Proposal) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine). The Change-Up, his body-switcheroo comedy with Jason Bateman, will be interesting to watch in early August -- counterprgrammed opposite Franco's Apes, no less. And like Franco, a low profile will be key; two major summer releases will have him in our face enough.
3. Kristen Wiig
The movie(s): Bridesmaids (May 13)
The challenge: Lead an all-woman ensemble cast to one of the summer's biggest breakout comedies.
How to do it: On the one hand, Wiig won't be carrying this load alone; Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Ellie Kemper and others will be doing their shares as well. Still, the emphasis is on Wiig, who has spent the better part of three years leveraging her Saturday Night Live presence into supporting roles in middling (Paul, Adventureland) to flat-out underachieving (MacGruber, Whip It) films. The only way out is to kill with Bridesmaids, an R-rated raunchfest that Universal hopes will stand up as the female answer to Wedding Crashers and/or The Hangover. By Movieline's own account from SXSW, it's mission accomplished -- but there are still a few million moviegoers to convince. A lot of that should happen online; if she isn't engaging with folks from a confirmed Twitter account by the end of this week, for example, I'll be kind of shocked. A Funny or Die sketch with some of her co-stars wouldn't be a bad idea either.
4. Justin Timberlake
The movie(s): Bad Teacher (June 24), Friends With Benefits (July 22)
The challenge: Transition to leading man
How to do it: Everybody knows Timberlake can do funny. But can he hold down a feature-length comedy opposite Cameron Diaz (Bad Teacher) and then do it again a month later with Mila Kunis (Friends With Benefits)? Moreover, does he have enough multi-quadrant spark to help make hits out of two R-rated comedies in a row? These need to be more than just date movies; they need to be sensations -- the kinds of broad-appeal hits that graduate Timberlake into that Ryan Reynolds territory we were talking about earlier. I wouldn't sweat FWB too much if I were him -- Kunis is on fire -- but the buzz on Bad Teacher is a little lower than it probably should be at the moment. Starring as an impressionable substitute teacher opposite Diaz's scheming title character, Timberlake shouldn't be afraid to make it his own in the months ahead -- especially with Diaz's gradually diminishing profile over the last few years in anything not including Shrek in the title.
5. Chris Evans
The movie(s): Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)
The challenge: Anchor a cornerstone of Marvel's Avengers saga, hopefully to the tune of a half-billion-dollar worldwide gross.
How to do it: Honestly, there's not a lot Evans can do beyond what he's already (hopefully) done: Give a solid performance in the title role and hope director Joe Johnston doesn't screw up the rest. Marvel will apply the lessons it learned from its previous summer mega-tandem -- Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008 -- to keep from uneven expectations after next week's Thor, which by most early accounts delivers the goods. His handling of foreign press will be crucial; as the the face of a franchise simply titled The First Avenger in some US-averse international markets, any endearments he can make abroad will be a huge deal in both the short and long terms.