Now that Jared Leto is being considered at the time of this writing for a movie adaptation of “Dr. Strange”, we have yet another Oscar winner out to make a mark in comic book movies. Has this become a new rite of passage lately where an actor wins an Oscar and then goes off to a long-running franchise playing a comic book character? Consider that everyone from Ben Affleck to Halle Berry won Oscars and then went on to play comic book characters, with mixed results. In the latter case, Berry went on to play Storm in the first “X-Men” movies after winning an Oscar in 2001 for “Monster’s Ball.” She also played Catwoman, which might have been the worst career decision for any Oscar-winning actress in history.
In the case of Affleck, we have yet to see how well he can transition from Oscar winner for “Argo” in the last couple of years to playing Batman. With petitions already out on people wanting Affleck removed from the role, it shows how some people feel about Oscar-winning actors and actresses deciding to take on the world of comic books rather than more human dramas.
Why are so many Oscar winners deciding to delve into comic book movies where they seem to stay for years before finally returning to more humanistic movies? It might be a combination of a safe haven and the desire to keep their name up front.
The Robert Downey, Jr. Example
Robert Downey, Jr. seems to be the one who set a lot of this in motion after being considered one of the great dramatic actors of his generation. Despite never winning an Oscar, his two nominations over the last 20 years (plus a win for “Sherlock Holmes” at the Golden Globes) still made him movie award royalty. Once he went into “Iron Man”, though, he found himself in a mammoth franchise that took him away from the smaller dramas that he was still making. It was in those smaller films where you could still see his prodigious acting skills, even if “Sherlock Holmes” allowed a combination of more serious acting with a tongue in cheek comic book approach.
“Iron Man” was probably made better thanks to Downey’s skills, yet you have to wonder how trapped he felt in getting back to more humanistic dramas. His appearance in Jon Favreau’s “Chef” shows him finally getting back to the indie films he was doing before the “Iron Man” franchise began. He also has his own acting showcase project of “The Judge” on tap that’s now in post-production.
Is it possible to escape the comic book franchise madness that’s now calling on Oscar winners to give them even more box office momentum? In a different era of film, an Oscar winner would have scoffed at doing a comic book movie. Now it seems to be somewhat of a haven for perhaps financial security.
Comic Book Franchises as a Career Sanctuary
Going from one film to another with no assuredness of success can sometimes be a tough business, no matter if you’ve won an Oscar. Despite have an assured raise after winning the Oscar, you can imagine the career relief if you’re being told you’ll be in a three or four-film franchise that’s assured big box office and your name being uttered everywhere. That already saves time having to read through new scripts looking for another drama to perform in. Also, if those dramas are continuously indie, it doesn’t guarantee your name will stay in the limelight.
As selfish as it might sound, you can’t blame Oscar winners for taking on comic book franchises. The enticement is too great with extreme career (and financial) security for the next five to seven years. Nevertheless, it still takes away from the humanistic dramas when they have to wait for the Oscar winner to get back to them perhaps a decade later.
Now it may be the same for Jared Leto if he takes on “Dr. Strange” and finds himself in an “Iron Man” franchise scenario. After “Dallas Buyers Club”, perhaps he found it impossible to top anyway without going in a completely different direction. “Dr. Strange” is also quite different from other comic book movies and can still offer an acting tour de force. Just as long as the more human characters won’t be shut out completely, even if it allows newer actors to take those roles while the A-listers are on comic book leave.