Opinion: Is Angelina Jolie the Greatest Female Action Star of All Time?

With Salt having been released just a few days ago in the US, pundits and the press have been speculating as to Angelina Jolie’s status as premier female action star both currently and overall. Some have trotted out box office grosses to justify their opinion that she is, in fact, the greatest female action star of all time, while others offer up alternatives (Milla Jovovich being my preferred candidate). I think it’s worth highlighting the differential between budget and gross.

Gone in 60 Seconds, Jolie’s first big role following her breakout performance in Hackers, was made for $90 million and grossed over $237 million worldwide. While it wasn’t a particularly good film, it was exhilarating and silly and featured a lot of fast cars and dumb lines. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider had a production budget of $115 million and grossed over $274 million worldwide. The sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, did not fare so well; made for $95 million, it only brought in $156 million worldwide. Taking marketing into account, the film would have been lucky to break even. The first film was a legitimately exciting and well-done film, despite some minor quibbles with the script. Jolie was strong and sexy, and was ably supported by Australian Noah Taylor and Englishman Chris Barrie as techie and butler, respectively. The first film also co-starred a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig.

Just one year after the moderately unsuccessful release of Tomb Raider 2, Jolie turned up in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The film was a box office disaster, bringing in only $57 million worldwide from a production budget of $70 million. Things weren’t looking so good for Jolie-as-action-star. Talent and star power won out over poor choices, with Mr & Mrs Smith raking in over $470 million worldwide for a budget of $110 million. Beowulf was another slump ($150 million budget for $196 million w/w gross) and Wanted another success (production budget of $75 million for a $341 million gross). The uneven nature of Jolie’s financial ‘resume’ mirrors her standing in the press and the public – well-regarded by critics and film buffs but alternately loved and disliked by the general public (not, usually, for artistic reasons), Jolie has struggled to find some sort of consistency in her career. Salt, a not-particularly-groundbreaking spy thriller originally written for Tom Cruise, may only serve to irritate that wound.

by Ben Vernel


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