Sup? Welcome to the first entry in “Movie Star Smackdown”, a new series I’ll be doing that takes a look at five stars similar in age, using a completely arbitrary system to determine who’s had the best career, who’s the hottest right now, and who has the best prospects moving forward. I will look at the work of the stars –factoring in box office success, critical acclaim, awards, etc.- and ultimately “rank” them, if you will. I don’t care about their personal lives, endorsements, whatever. This is about what they bring to the screen and that alone. This a pointless but hopefully fun exercise and I encourage you to not take this too seriously.
I will also include brief, offensive, semi-satirical comedic takes from my friend “Hater Tom”. Hater Tom chooses to remain anonymous since he says some rude thing and thinks blogging is “just a smidge below TV musicals on the gaydar”. I swear Hater Tom is not me. Hater Tom is a friend who watches a lot of movies who asked to give a few sentences via e-mail. I thought it’d be a funny addition because most of the things he says make me laugh.
Our first group, hand-picked by the committee of one, includes some serious talent between the ages of 30 and 32. Call them the “in their prime” actresses, since it gets very difficult for ladies to find lucrative film work between the age of 40 and 55. Basically, if you want to get good roles as a leading lady, you need to be young and sexy or old and wise.
The tributes are Carey Mulligan (30), Scarlett Johansson (31), Lupita Nyong’o (32), Mila Kunis (32), and Emily Blunt (32). We’ll start with a brief bio of each, and some commentary from Hater Tom.
Best Performance: An Education
Biggest Hit: The Great Gatsby
Carey Mulligan is an actresses actress, churning out acclaimed stage work as well as appearing in prestige films and blockbusters alike. Most of her work receives a great deal of praise, specifically her Oscar-nominated turn in An Education and supporting performances in Shame and Drive. Her breakout came out in 2009, when she was nominated for the aforementioned Oscar as well as appearing in the successful films Brothers and Public Enemies. She became a pretty hot commodity from there, with perhaps her most mainstream movie being 2013’s The Great Gatsby (in which she made a fine Daisy, I might add). She was most recently seen in Far from the Madding Crowd and Suffragette, the former of which was very good, though word is mum on her future projects. It’s also important to note that in-between movies Mulligan still does stage work. She was nominated for a Tony in 2015.
Hater Tom: “Carey Mulligan? She looks like a flustered squirrel, what Miley Cyrus would look like if she never did crack and tried to be a rapper for two months. The most unrealistic thing about The Great Gatsby is that both Joel Edgerton and Leonardo DiCaprio could be attracted to her. She’s also married to the dude from Mumford & Sons. Mumford, not any of the sons, so fuck her.”
Best Performance: Under the Skin
Biggest Hit: The Avengers
It feels like ScarJo is a lot older than 31. Not that she looks old or anything; it’s just that she’s been a prominent actress since her breakout turn in 2003’s Lost in Translation. ScarJo is cool because she comes off as human, is a sex symbol, and chooses diverse roles; she’s great in everything from billion-dollar franchise tent poles like The Avengers to uber-experimental art films like Under the Skin. Much like Mulligan, she’s an accomplished stage actress as well (Tony winner). She’s still chasing her first Oscar nom (which is laughable), but she is a multiple Golden Globe and BAFTA award nominee. The critics tend to love her, making her the rare movie star just as acclaimed as she is popular. ScarJo is a force, as she proved by carrying the film Lucy to a $463M take despite mixed reviews for its non-ScarJo elements. She appears headed for a big year, already having appeared in Hail, Caesar! with assumed blockbusters The Jungle Book (voice work) and Captain America: Civil War on the way.
Hater Tom: “Best thing she ever starred in were those nudes that got leaked, or maybe that movie where Joaquin Phoenix fucks a computer. She also dated Sean Penn, who’s 25 years older than her, as a rebound from Ryan Reynolds? Who does that? Going from Ryan Reynolds to Sean Penn is EXACTLY like going from a romance novel hunk to a washed-up old guy who befriends dictators.”
Best Performance: 12 Years a Slave
Biggest Hit: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Sort of the opposite of ScarJo, Lupita feels younger than she is due to the fact that nobody outside of Yale really knew who she was until 12 Years a Slave (her feature film debut). But, man, what a breakout that was. She won an Oscar and SAG award for it. That movie features outstanding turns from master actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, yet somehow, this lady doing her first movie managed to shine the brightest. From there, she appeared alongside Liam Neeson in the underrated action thriller Non-Stop and provided motion capture/voice work as cantina proprietor Maz Canata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She’ll provide similar contributions to The Jungle Book, playing the wolf. She’ll also star in The Queen of Katwe later this year as a Ugandan chess prodigy. And yes, she’ll be back for the next Star Wars.
Hater Tom: “I’m tired of hearing about this woman. Sure 12 Years a Slave was good but do you think it’s a coincidence that they didn’t even show her in Star Wars? She’s also not very attractive, and before the PC police come at me it has nothing to do with her skin. She has a Peyton Manning sized forehead.”
Best Performance: Black Swan
Biggest Hit: Ted
Mila Kunis rose to fame at the age of 14 due to That ‘70s Show, which had a very successful run. She also joined Family Guy in 1999, but her feature film breakthrough never came until her TV commitments died down, with her critically acclaimed turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Kunis was funny and cute and charismatic but folks weren’t sure if she could REALLY act. Obviously, that’s no longer a concern, given her work in stuff like The Book of Eli and Black Swan, both of which were commercially successful, the latter sparking Oscar buzz for Kunis (Globes and SAG noticed). Kunis has since appeared in multiple successful rom-coms, done some random voice work, and headlined the blockbuster Oz the Great and Powerful alongside James Franco. Her stock took a slight hit when Jupiter Ascending flopped, and it remains to be seen whether or not America buys her as an action star. She’ll star in the comedy Bad Moms later this year.
Hater Tom: “I rubbed more than a few out to Jackie when I was a kid, but man, has she gone downhill or what? Did any of you see Jupiter Ascending? Somehow, Channing Tatums elf ears weren’t the worst part of that movie. I’ll credit Kunis though because that scene in Black Swan where she goes down on Padme is great.”
Best Performance: Sicario
Biggest Hit: The Devil Wears Prada
Emily Blunt. Where do I begin with an actress whose film career has been so diverse and awesome? Blunt received praise about a decade ago for her work in the British productions My Summer of Love and Gideon’s Daughter. She hit the Hollywood scene in a big way with 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, a surprising smash hit in which she more than held her own alongside Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. She started to do some more predictably mainstream work with The Wolfman and The Adjustment Bureau, the latter of which she’s outstanding in. The most interesting development in Blunt’s career has occurred over the last couple years, where’s she grown into a badass of sorts, emasculating Tom Cruise for two hours in Edge of Tomorrow, an exceptional sci-fi action movie that reeled in $370M. She also starred in the action thriller Sicario, an independently produced film you know I’m fond of if you’ve read me before, which made a very respectable $80M and also garnered serious critical acclaim/awards respect. In this same stretch, Blunt gave a Globe-nominated singing performance in Into the Woods. She’s become one of our best and most diverse actresses, a must-watch whether she’s doing action, a rom-com, or something a bit more outside-the-box. She’ll join a franchise in need of a boost later this year with The Huntsman: Winter’s War and headline the highly-anticipated thriller The Girl on the Train.
Hater Tom: “Okay, Hollywood. Am I really supposed to believe that one of the girls from The Devil Wears Prada can fight aliens and drug lords? She’s also married to Jim from The Office, which makes me feel bad for her since that guy is a douche and she’s kinda hot and could probably do better. If we’re being Blunt, Emily sort of sucks.”
With the introductions over, I will start the process of ranking the ladies in different categories.
Box Office Success:
ScarJo takes the cake easily here, and not just because of her work for Marvel. You can only give her so much credit for the success of those films since, frankly, they’d be doing big numbers whether or not Black Widow was in them (with that being said, I fully believe a Black Widow solo film would be a resounding success). To truly understand her value, take into consideration both Under the Skin and Lucy. The former is an art film that the producers openly admitted wouldn’t have gotten made if a star of ScarJo’s caliber never attached herself to the project. The latter is an utterly ridiculous R-rated sci-fi action movie not based on any source material that made $463M despite mixed reviews. ScarJo puts people in the seats at a level matched by very few ladies working right now.
I gave a slight edge to Blunt over Lupita, since there’s not really much data to go off with Lupita. 12 Years a Slave did big business but that had more to do with the fact that it was positioned as a Best Picture favorite. Nobody really knew who Lupita was prior to that. And it’s hard to credit her much for the financial success of Star Wars since her face isn’t even seen in the movie. With that being said, I do not doubt her draw moving forward and there’s no reason studio execs should fear casting her as the female lead in a big movie. While many of Blunt’s most notable turns have seen her playing second-fiddle to gigantic stars (Cruise, Damon, Streep), Sicario proves that she’s more than capable of carrying a film. Blunt’s numbers here could be a lot closer to ScarJo’s had she decided to become a franchise centerpiece (surely she was offered the chance at some point).
With the obvious exception of The Great Gatsby, Carey Mulligan generally chooses smaller movies than the others in this smackdown. While that’s brought her much acclaim, it’s limited her widespread appeal a bit, though she is a much bigger deal across the pond than in the states (same with Blunt, actually). Far From the Madding Crowd, however, was a successful low-budget movie that based its promotion around her presence. Kunis is more of a mixed bag. She was most marketable in that ’08-’11 stretch, done with TV and coming off Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame. Friends with Benefits, relying on the chemistry between her and Justin Timberlake, did 5x its budget and is one of the more successful rom-coms of the last five years. Ted was a smash hit, though it’s fair to question how much of that was actually due to Kunis’ involvement. Kunis has had her fair share of flops since then, most notably Jupiter Ascending, a Warner Bros sci-fi epic that costs $176M to make but failed to recoup its overall costs despite the star power of Kunis alongside Tatum. As harsh as it is to type, it remains to be seen if moviegoers are interested in Kunis outside of “girlfriend” roles.
Hater Tom: “The tagline for the Lucy movie was something like “We only use 10% of our brains, Lucy can use all of hers”. Fuck does that even mean? Scarlett is clearly incapable of using even 5% her brain or else she never would have agreed to do that crap. She wasn’t the reason people saw it. People saw it because it had Morgan Freeman and we all know he’s about to croak so we wanna enjoy him while we can.”
Talked About/Sex Appeal:
ScarJo’s position as one of the more popular players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps her on top in this category, as her name often comes out the mouths of those who otherwise wouldn’t give two shits about her. She’s also all the rage in film circles thanks to some of the smaller projects she finds time for. She’s created for herself this envious position where she’s viewed as a popular movie star, a sex symbol, and a genuinely talented performer. That’s a lot rarer than you think, with both genders. Ever since 12 Years a Slave Lupita has been in the center of movie discussion and it feels like she’s just getting started. I’m trying to keep endorsements and media relations out of this, but Lupita has embraced her position as the next black female A-lister (something that’s, frankly, rare in modern Hollywood) and her discussion of such topics always seems nuanced and genuine.
Emily Blunt has risen fast, and she’s only going to continue to rise, but she’d be a lot closer to ScarJo if she had that one franchise role she could consistently rely on for box office seats and general buzz. With that being said, casting rumors continue to swirl around Ms. Marvel, and Blunt is the name the fans keep bringing up. Depending on which rumors you believe, she’s either turned the role down already or secretly agreed to do it. Three years ago Kunis may have been #1 in this category, but she’s in desperate need of a hit to save her from being known as “the girl in the Jim Beam commercials and the voice of Meg Griffin”. Carey Mulligan is a tier below the other four, mostly because she doesn’t really seem to care about doing big movies or becoming a cultural icon. She’s famous, no doubt, but she’s a “face you recognize but can’t put a name on” for the average moviegoer. More projects on the scale of Gatsby should change that, if that’s her M.O.
Hater Tom: “I agree. People won’t stop talking about Lupita Democratic Republic of Nyong’o for some reason. She makes young black girls feel beautiful blah blah blah. There’s no reason for black girls to not feel beautiful. Do you know how much ebony porn I watch?”
Carey Mulligan has never had a role receive bad reviews. Even where her movie is panned, she rises above it (like Suffragette from last year). On top her acclaimed work in An Education, her quieter supporting turns in stuff like Shame, Drive, and Inside Llewyn Davis received very kind words. She’s widely regarded as one of the best actresses of her generation. There’s not much more to say, really. Her more homely look prevents her from being a gossip mag queen but it also allows her to step into roles like the ones I just mentioned.
This category is also tricky when it comes to Lupita, because she’s such a newcomer. But I have no choice but to put her 2nd because she’s also never received a bad review. In fact, many reviews for Non-Stop and Star Wars: The Force Awakens called for more Lupita. Her only substantial role came in 12 Years a Slave, and she was universally lauded for her work in that one. Perhaps Lupita’s hesitancy to jump into a million projects after her breakout helps her in this regard. Emily Blunt is often regarded as a standout even when her movie doesn’t make waves. She even managed to escape the criticism of Gulliver’s Travels and The Wolfman. She’s also outshined much bigger co-stars with the critics, including Meryl Streep TWICE (Prada, and Into the Woods). You’ll have to search far and wide if you want to read negative words about Emily Blunt, well, other than from Hater Tom.
While ScarJo has now grown into one of the most consistent stars around, there were some times after Lost in Translation where folks questioned her role choice/acting chops. A Good Woman, The Island, We Bought a Zoo. There are certainly some misfires in ScarJo’s filmography; but she’s bounced back thanks to her acclaimed work for Marvel and movies like Her (voice only), Don Jon, and Under the Skin. The nature of Kunis’ roles, many of them girlfriends, doesn’t give her opportunities to really shine, though critics noted her charisma in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Friends with Benefits. Her most acclaimed performance came in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, while the strongest criticism of her is aimed towards Jupiter Ascending.
Hater Tom: “Critics are stupid. They actually praised Scarlett for voicing the computer that Joaquin Phoenix fucked. I’d rather fuck Siri.”
Simple category, and less subjective. I take the 4 “biggest” awards (BAFTA, Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG) and give 1 point for a nom, 3 points for a win.
Lupita Nyong’o: 12 Years a Slave (Oscar win, SAG win, BAFTA nom, Globe nom – 8 point). Total = 8 POINTS
Scarlett Johansson: Lost in Translation (BAFTA win, Globe nom – 4 points), Girl with a Pearl Earring (BAFTA nom, Globe nom – 2 points), A Love Song for Bobby Long (Globe nom – 1 point), Match Point (Globe nom – 1 point). Total = 8 POINTS.
(Lupita & ScarJo have the same number of points but Lupita wins the tiebreaker since she actually won an Oscar)
Carey Mulligan: An Education (BAFTA win, Oscar nom, Sag nom, Globe nom – 6 points), Drive (BAFTA nom – 1 point). Total = 7 POINTS.
Emily Blunt: The Devil Wears Prada (BAFTA nom, Globe nom – 2 points), The Young Victoria (Globe nom – 1 point), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Globe nom – 1 point), Into the Woods (Globe nom – 1 point). Total = 5 POINTS.
Mila Kunis: Black Swan (SAG nom, Globe nom – 2 Points). Total = 2 POINTS.
Really not much to comment on here, as the awards speak for themselves. Nyong’o and Mulligan have built their reputations primarily off one film, 12 Years a Slave and An Education, receptively. I would’ve liked to see Blunt get some awards love for Sicario, but most praise for the film was directed towards its technical aspects.
Hater Tom: “Only dipshits actually care about actors getting awards. I like to make up my own. Mulligan wins “most annoying face”. Kunis wins “best pussy-eating scene”. Nobody else gets any.”
(Determined by compiling rankings in prior categories)
Nothing too surprising based on what I expected when I initially put these five together and thought of this idea. I was pretty sure ScarJo would come in first given that she seems to unite various film circles, and Kunis coming in last was predictable given her lack of serious roles and recent box office struggles.
I would say that ScarJo has had the best career thus far, while Blunt is the most significant RIGHT NOW, and Lupita being the one whom I’m most looking forward to watching over the next 5-10 years.
I look forward to stacking up other groups moving forward. Next I’ll be looking at early/mid 50’s males (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise)
I’ll leave you with one last quote from Hater Tom on the final results.
Hater Tom: “Being ranked #1 in this group is like being the best turd in the bowl of a port-a-potty. Actually, I’d rather look at those turds than Carey Mulligan for two hours. Your next group will include a scientologist, an Australian with anger problems, and a couple of eco-freaks. I look forward to insulting them if you’ll have me back. And just so the three people that actually read your posts don’t think I’m some idiot, my favorite movie is John Q.”