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Career Watch: Has 'Maleficent' Restored Angelina Jolie's Box Office Mojo?

Photo of Susan Wloszczyna By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood June 2, 2014 at 6:30AM

Reviews were mixed. But for moviegoers, the $70 million opening for "Maleficent" -- an Angelina Jolie record -- for a rare female summer action adventure suggests that they were transfixed by the sight of the right actress in a perfect-fit role.
Angelina Jolie

Reviews were split down the middle: “Maleficent” was both magnificent and Grimm failure.  The "Wicked"-style live-action reworking of the animated classic "Sleeping Beauty" that focuses on the vengeful fairy who places the curse on a young princess scored a so-so 51% positive ranking on Rotten Tomatoes.

However, even some of the harshest critics couldn’t resist star Angelina Jolie’s chillingly seductive brand of visual hocus pocus -- jutting cheekbones, curvaceous horns, crimson-lacquered lips combined with the mesmerizing allure of a silent-movie  siren --  as the human incarnation of the Disney cartoon icon. Peter Rainer of the “Christian Science Monitor” praised her as “a genuinely heroic presence,” despite being otherwise underwhelmed.

Those who were kinder to the CGI-jammed fantasy were even more effusive.  As Moira MacDonald of the “Seattle Times” observed, “There's really only one special effect in "Maleficent" worth mentioning, and that is Angelina Jolie.”

Angelina Jolie, Wanted

As for moviegoers, the $70 million opening  -- a Jolie record -- for a rare female summer action adventure suggests that they, too, were transfixed by the sight of the right actress in a perfect-fit role.

Signature line:  “I'm playing the villain, baby, just like you want. I try to give you everything you want.”  -- As Lisa, the brutally honest sociopath, in “Girl, Interrupted” (1999).

Career peaks: Well, well … as Maleficent herself would say. The actress, who turns 39 on June 4, has summoned her bad-girl persona from the past and it worked. Think back to the period before motherhood, humanitarian causes and Brad Pitt. Jolie, the so-beautiful-it-hurts daughter of movie star Jon Voight, favored knives, cutting, and drugs, bedded both men and women, had a bizarre-o three-year marriage to Billy Bob Thornton and seemed  on a path to self-destruction. Remember when she would feed the press such quotes as, “When other little girls wanted to be ballet dancers I kind of wanted to be a vampire?”

Jolie's leg
Jolie at the 2012 Oscars

After a series of mediocre films in the early ‘90s, she found her breakout roles in TV movies:  As Southern politician George Wallace’s second wife in 1997’s “Wallace” and as a tragic supermodel  in 1998’s “Gia.” She then managed to overshadow star Winona Ryder and win a supporting Oscar as a scary and sarcastic mental patient  in “Girl, Interrupted.” After that, Jolie found her calling as an action hero, one inspired by a video-game vixen in 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in addition to a 2003 sequel.

Zoom to Angelina 2.0. Not only was 2005’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” her biggest box-office hit to date ($478 million worldwide), she ran off with her co-star and future fiancé Brad Pitt. Since then, that long-running soap opera relationship (along with her roles as a philanthropist and a mother of six) have eclipsed her work output. She has mixed “quality” films that have garnered critical plaudits, including  2007’s “A Mighty Heart” and 2008’s “Changeling,” with more mainstream fare. Her box-office hits have been either animated (2008’s "Kung Fu Panda" and its 2011 sequel) or action (2008’s "Wanted," 2010’s "Salt"). Until now: "Maleficent" is the perfect mix of both.  

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at 2012 NYFCC Awards
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at 2012 NYFCC Awards

Biggest assets: Those eyes, those lips, that face – combined with her now-glowing public image. Jolie’s astonishing beauty, old-fashioned glamour and statuesque presence are well-suited to outsized roles such as Maleficent or Lara Croft.  And now that her PR smarts have turned the tide on her public image as a Hollywood wild child and home wrecker while capitalizing on her adoption of three in-need children, her efforts as an U.N ambassador and her brave revelations about her preventative double mastectomy to ward off cancer in 2013, moviegoers have warmed considerably towards her.

Gossip fodder:  Where to start? Where to end? For the first half of her career, the chatter about her offbeat goth-girl lifestyle and romantic companions often upstaged her acting feats. But after getting involved with the United Nations in 2001 and adopting her first child, son Maddox, from an orphanage in 2003, Jolie cleaned up her act--and controlled her publicity. All that good will, of course, was threatened by scandal-shouting headlines after being linked with then-married Pitt in 2005. Eventually the popularity of pitting Brangelina against Pitt’s ex-wife Jennifer Aniston ran out of tabloid steam. Both actors have become so savvy in doing damage control and handling how they are perceived by the public these days that their careers have hardly suffered.

This article is related to: Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie, Maleficent, Salt, Kung Fu Panda 3, Kung Fu Panda 2, Unbroken, In The Land of Blood and Honey, Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt, Box Office, Box Office, Career Watch

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.