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Discuss: Is Charlize Theron Back On The A-List? And Why Did She Ever Fall Off?

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 7, 2012 12:57 PM
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Charlize Theron, comp

There's one person who's pretty much inescapable in movie theaters at the moment, and that's Charlize Theron. Last weekend, she was the evil queen Ravenna in "Snow White and the Huntsman," and this weekend, she's the biggest name (although not the biggest part) among the ensemble cast of "Prometheus" -- a film that she was originally pegged to play the lead in. And in a few weeks, she'll start filming on the long-gestating "Fury Road," George Miller's return to the "Mad Max" world. Between those three, she's become the queen of the blockbuster world, and with a performance in "Young Adult" that might have been her most widely acclaimed ever, Theron's as big a star as she's ever been.

But curiously, it's taken a little time for it to happen. Theron's been a familiar presence on screen for fifteen years now, since breaking through in "2 Days In The Valley" and "The Devil's Advocate," and it's a decade since she won a Best Actress Oscar for "Monster," which looked to make her a megastar. But while there were highpoints over the last few years, there have been more hits than misses. So what happened, then?

"Aeon Flux"
"Aeon Flux"

Well, a lot of it likely comes down to the failure of "Aeon Flux." The adaptation of the MTV animated series was the first major project Theron signed on to after "Monster," and it was a fairly canny move at the time, we suppose. It gave Theron a chance to remind everyone that she wasn't just the character from "Monster" with a cat-suited action role, and the possibility of a new franchise, and one with a female director, no less, in the shape of Karyn Kusama. Unfortunately, the film was a gaudy, poorly scripted mess and a significant box office flop. Rather than accepting that the film was poor, prognosticators decided that Theron (and female-driven actioners in general) wasn't a draw, and it became harder for her to get films financed afterwards, even with a second Oscar nod for "North Country" and a hilarious guest star run in "Arrested Development" in the same year.

It didn't help that her smaller projects didn't quite land either. She practically moved mountains in a fairly thankless role in "Crash" director Paul Haggis' vastly underrated "In The Valley Of Elah." The film was rejected by audiences, as were many of the Iraq-war themed pictures around the same time. She'd earlier co-starred with her then-boyfriend Stuart Townsend in "Head In The Clouds" and would later appear in his directorial debut, "Battle in Seattle," and again, neither received very good reviews or many eyes on them, although they look like "Avatar" next to Bill Maher's "Sleepwalking" or Guillermo Arriaga's "The Burning Plain," both of which barely received much of a theatrical release in 2008 (it's tempting to note that the end of her relationship with Townsend in 2010 seems to coincide with a new hunger to work).

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  • jingmei | June 11, 2012 2:13 AMReply

    This perspectively speaking analyzing article is not bad, and right at the time. And by all means you know, in the treating-actress-as-flower-bottles Hollywood, it's not easy for an actress(rather than a star) to do whatever projects she approaches, so there is no specific definition about A-list.

  • TFT | June 10, 2012 11:39 PMReply

    Is this writer attempting sarcasm? Theron is one fantastic actress and to attempt to give Jolie credit for restarting her career is insulting. Jolie was not asked to do Prometheus, or Snow White and the Huntsman. Jolie did get Theron's leftover, "The Tourist" and we all know how well that turned out. Even if Jolie was offered the roles before Theron, there's no guarantee they would have done as well as they are doing now. By the way, Jolie should have passed on roles such as "Sky Captain", or will you next claim that role was offered to Theron first?

  • Dana | June 8, 2012 10:25 AMReply

    It's an insult comparing her to Angelina Jolie. Just look at Theron's film choice - most of them are not mainstream and are not aimed at mass audience. Hence she's not a big box office draw, by choice. If she's willing to take on roles (or all the SAME rom com roles) given to Julia Roberts, she would have been a much bigger star. Theron is here to stay. If you have to name an actress who is capable of being remembered by the next generation just the way we remember Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis and the like, Theron will be the one. And by the way, she has always been A list.

  • Parker | June 8, 2012 10:23 AMReply

    She should've been Oscar nominated for her amazing performance in 'Young Adult'; hell, she should've won.

  • KitCon | June 8, 2012 9:30 AMReply

    With her villainous, icy Vickers and her villainous, icy, screeching Evil Queen, she seems to be setting herself up more to be the next Mark Strong than the alternative to Jolie.

  • jesse | June 8, 2012 8:09 AMReply

    It seems at first sight that Theron's got all the ingredients to become a superstar, yet she's not there yet. She's no Angelina Jolie in terms of box office power and global superstar status, and she's no Nicole Kidman in terms of taking Cannes by storm and impressing the arthouse crowd with powerful performances. She needs to carry a film by herself and that film to be a hit if she wants to be as famous or as big a draw as Jolie, and she needs to work more with European/Asian auteurs if she wants to be seen in the same league as Kidman who despite bad choices when it comes to mainstream films still has a good record of great performances (at least a dozen).

  • mAXE | June 7, 2012 9:48 PMReply

    Surprised this article wasn't written by Gabe Toro.

  • Maxe's Mom Following Him Around The Internet | June 7, 2012 10:52 PM

    Ironic, considering I was actually surprised it wasn't written by you, my dear.

  • Ali | June 7, 2012 8:42 PMReply

    I have to agree with all the comments below, she's never NOT been on the A-List. In fact, Theron is one of the last few true Movie Stars around. Unlike Jolie, she has proven she is not only a undeniably talented actress but has range that Jolie lacks. The two are often compared because they're so mind numbingly beautiful but truth is- Theron has it all: beauty, brains, personality, and talent. She's Grace Kelly with the attitude of Lauren Bacall and the talent of Hepburn. Young Adult should have landed her her third Oscar nomination and she was the only good part of SWATH. I'm thrilled she's back to being in the spotlight again considering she's my favorite actress of all time :)

  • BEL | June 7, 2012 9:47 PM

    She's Grace Kelly with the attitude of Lauren Bacall and the talent of Hepburn. SPOT. ON. This whole entire article should've never been written. It's like, "Oh. Charlize starred in Hitchcock. She must not be a serious movie anymore." You know, some actors star in movies like that so a younger audience could have something to watch them in. Hell, if I were an actor I'd stick to the indie genre souly. But I have nephews. And every now and then, I'd work on a comic book m ovie or a kids film to give them something to watch. It doesn't TAKE YOU off the A-list. And every A-list actor stars in a crap film here and there. It's not their fault. Aeon Flux SUCKED but she was TERRIFIC in it.

  • Chase | June 7, 2012 5:47 PMReply

    I disagree as well, she's never been off the A-list. You make it sound like she made a series of back-to-back faux pas that knocked her down a few pegs. Nicole Kidman, after Cold Mountain, had back-to-back box office bombs to the point you could've considered her poison. Yet, she still was and still is considered an A-list actress. Same can be said for Theron. She was never off it and she was never close to off it. And just because she has two blockbuster movies being released this summer a week from each other, doesn’t make her more on it. She’s still in the same league she always was. And, honestly, comparing her to Jolie? Yeah, OK…

  • Pete | June 7, 2012 3:40 PMReply

    She's been on the A-list since early in her career. She always produces quality work and she's always been a big name whether or not she is a big box office draw.

    Take Julia Roberts for example - overrated, chooses very questionable roles, only had 2 decent performances in her career but yet she's a huge draw. I'll never understand it.

  • Eric | June 7, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    I don't think she was ever off the A-list. She's never been a box office draw, but she is great in every single project she works in. Some have been smaller projects and some bigger. Snow White was more of a hit because of the other leads drawing in teens and Prometheus will draw them in because of Alien and it just looks awesome.

  • BS | June 7, 2012 2:19 PMReply

    "and there's only so many actresses you can go to after her [Jolie]" - come on now. Thanks for the laugh.

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