Here’s a statement that sounds kind of contentious: Sandra Bullock is the only true female movie star in Hollywood.
Now, that might sound completely daft. You very rarely hear anyone describe Ms Bullock as anyone’s favourite film star and you never see ‘Sandra Bullock movies’ on anyone’s list of Facebook ‘likes’.
The tabloids and online media certainly have a preference for younger stars like Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence or Mila Kunis. Readers of glossy magazines would argue that Angelina Jolie or Catherine Zeta-Jones have a greater star quality. And that might be true. Let us not forget the grand dame of Hollywood Meryl Streep: arguably the greatest actress of her generation. But is she truly a proper movie star?
In William Goldman’s legendary books on Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?, he defines a movie star by one standard: can he or she ‘open a film’? By ‘opening a film’, he asks if that actor is able to guarantee success on a first box-office weekend on the back of their own name.
Tom Cruise is the ultimate movie star. Regardless of how bland a film might seem (let’s call this speculative film ‘Jack Reacher’, for the sake of argument) having Tom Cruise’s name at the top of the poster can usually guarantee a good box-office result in the first week – over $30 million dollars in the case of Reacher. And almost always, the Cruiser’s movies will go on to make mega-bucks worldwide, thanks to his international appeal.
By this metric alone, we can describe Sandra Bullock as a proper star. Even taking into account the fact that she has recently taken time off from acting to raise her adopted child, she has been the lead in no fewer than 4 blockbuster hits in as many years.
When you put her four films in perspective with all the female-led films made by major studios, her achievement becomes even more staggering.
Let’s take a look at some of the other ‘big name’ actresses in Hollywood within the same time period. Remember, we’re looking for films in which the actress plays the lead: not the love interest or the sidekick. The movie has to be about her character.
Between 2009 and 2013:
- Scarlett Johansson acted in 6 films but was not the lead in any of them
- Natalie Portman won the Oscar for her lead role in Black Swan, her only top-billed performance. She played the girlfriend in Thor, No Strings attached and Brothers.
- Angelina Jolie has only acted in 2 films since 2008: she was only the lead in Salt.
- Renee Zellweger has not acted in one single film for the past 5 year
- Emma Stone has only headlined 1 film (2010′s Easy A). Since then, she’s been playing girlfriends and working in ensemble casts
- Mila Kunis has only played supporting roles and/or girlfriends
Our main point is how Hollywood’s pretty terrible when it comes to writing movies about women. There are enough girlfriend roles to keep America’s most glamorous starlets employed but it’s really dismal how few movies there are told from the perspective of a female characters.
The result is that all your favourite actresses are rarely a film’s headline star.
On the other hand, Bullock has rarely vacated the top billing since she broke out in Speed back in 1994. In a short time, she proved her capabilities with romantic comedies like While You Were Sleeping, thrillers like The Net (okay, that film has dated badly but she’s pretty good in it) and dramas in the vein of A Time to Kill.
But the one thing that has solidified her position in Hollywood –and we cannot stress the importance this enough— is that her films make money. Her comedy The Proposal (which she also produced) made over $317 million at box-offices around the world; she scored a $310 million hit with The Blind Side, which is crazy amount of money for a family drama. Gravity and The Heat, her two films from this year are collectively pushing their way towards the $1 billion mark.
In The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn’s character (an actress) says: “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: ‘Babe’, ‘District Attorney’, and ‘Driving Miss Daisy’.”
Bullock’s played her fair share of District Attorney-types but she’s not limited to them. Few actresses could have pulled off her role in Gravity, a remarkable movie which has quickly become the year’s ‘must-see’ film. She is an affecting on-screen presence who could also plausibly be an astronaut.
Maybe she’s enjoyed a long successful career thanks to the fact that she’s never been ‘The Babe’ in anything. We’re not saying that she isn’t a remarkably attractive woman – of course she is; but she’s never been a pin-up kind of gal. As she gracefully transitioned into middle-age, Bullock has never given off the air of someone desperately trying to cling on to her youthful looks (see: Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan).
She’s shown an eclectic taste in film projects, some of which she has produced herself. In the same year she won the Oscar for playing a wealthy southern matriarch in The Blind Side, she also won the Razzie for Worst Actress in All About Steve, in which she played a manic woman-child. In a charming and classy move, she even turned up to collect her award:
She’s very funny and charming, and she’s non-threatening to women which makes her the female Tom Hanks. By that we mean that she’s able to play normal people in a way that many other stars cannot.
Regular women can’t possibly empathise with the majority of female stars. I mean, could you see Scarlett play a check-out girl who gets fired from the Co-Op? Of course not: the idea of it would stretch credulity to its breaking point. Scar-Jo is a good actress but she can’t play a regular human being: her character in We Bought a Zoo isn’t a human being as much as a middle-aged man’s fantasy of what a zookeeper should look like!
Despite the fact that she’s a multimillionaire, Sandra Bullock looks and acts like someone you would want to meet in real life: you would definitely take her up on a lunch invitation. If Angelina Jolie asked to meet you for an afternoon drink, you know she’d spend the entire time droning on about how smart her kids are before bullying you to set up a direct debit to her charity.
So as we head into an Oscar season that will likely reward Sandra Bullock for her performance in Gravity, let’s acknowledge the fact that she’s still one of Hollywood’s greatest personalities.
Beautiful actresses come and go, but real stars never fade away.
What do you think? Do you agree with us or do you think we’ve contracted a terminal case of Sandra Bullock Fever? Let us know in the comments below.
Check out this week’s latest comedic release, The Heat