Why Is Angelina Jolie a Movie Star?
Everyone's excited about Angelina Jolie today. As usual, it's not because she made a movie. Angelina Jolie never makes movies people are excited about.
This is not at all a judgment about Angelina Jolie as a "person" or as a celebrity. But as a movie star—conventionally understood as a person who is famous for starring in movies—she is one of the most baffling figures in pop-culture history. Look at her filmography: Pushing Tin. The Bone Collector. Salt. Alexander. There is not one movie in there that is both popular and good (unless her supporting voice-over work in the Kung Fu Panda series counts).
Some of her movies have been well-received acting vehicles. Some of her movies have been gargantuan commercial products. There is no place where those circles overlap on the Venn diagram. You could write a comprehensive history of the past 20 years of American popular cinema without mentioning a single Angelina Jolie film.
The moment she became the world's most famous movie star was probably the run-up to Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Mr. & Mrs. Smith made a lot of money, but it was effectively a spinoff of the much more popular real-life production of Mr. & Mrs. Brangelina Jolie-Pitt. I watched the movie on an airplane, which is the natural place to watch most of her movies.
And her next three movies after that were The Good Shepherd, A Mighty Heart, and Beowulf—a body of work ranging from a $16 million bomb to a $150 million bomb.
This is a remarkable achievement in famousness. Most movie stars operate in a feedback loop between bringing their personal charisma to their films and appearing in films that mass audiences admire. Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock and Robert Downey Jr. and Leonardo DiCaprio—big names who appear, as Jolie does, on Forbes' lists of the highest paid actresses or actors—have histories of making hugely beloved hit movies. (Younger names on the lists mostly got there by anchoring wildly successful action franchises.)
Angelina Jolie's megastardom is completely independent of the substance of her movie career. Has any other actor ever come close to this level of global fame without even one good, important movie to his or her name?