It happens every time a movie starring an A-list actor or actress bombs at the box office: What Happened to the Movie Star? Probably the most famous recent example of this is Bill Simmons’ “The Movie Star” feature for Grantland, where he wrote, “When Green Lantern badly underperformed last weekend, it shouldn’t have been surprising, because [Ryan] Reynolds isn’t a movie star (despite Hollywood’s best efforts to convince us otherwise).” In case you couldn’t tell by the Green Lantern reference, that article was written before Deadpool made nearly $800 million on a $58 million budget. So, now Reynolds is a movie star? That’s the thing about this argument — it can be proven just as quickly as it can be picked apart. But Ryan Reynolds isn’t the answer. He’s a cog in the current Hollywood machine, which prioritizes the franchise over the actor. Chris Evans isn’t the movie star; Captain America is.
Ryan Gosling rarely comes up in this debate, because since bouncing around from The All-New Mickey Mouse Club to Are You Afraid of the Dark? to Young Hercules, he’s never pretended to be a Movie Star — he’s perfectly happy being a guy who stars in movies. Gosling could have been a flash-in-the-pan heartthrob, and he nearly was after Remember the Titans and especially the snotty-tissue classic The Notebook. The latter’s probably still his most famous role, but he quickly pivoted to more challenging parts, like an inner-city teacher in Half Nelson and the proud owner of an anatomically correct sex doll in Lars and the Real Girl.
From there, he moved on to 2010’s relationship-damaging Blue Valentine, and a year later, Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive (the less said about The Ides of March, his political “thriller” with George Clooney, the better). Gosling was already popular before Drive, but Nicolas Winding Refn’s casually violent neo-noir made him (and his outfit) iconic, as did the scene in Crazy, Stupid, Love where he takes his shirt off for Emma Stone. The FX mainstay — Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Avengers are to FX as Goodfellas is to AMC — was the first time Gosling dabbled in big-screen comedy. There are comedic elements in Remember the Titans, especially the dance sequence, and Lars and the Real Girl, but they’re dramas more than anything. But in Crazy, Stupid, Love, a sassy Gosling — whose character, it’s worth noting, calls his penis his “schwantz” — holds his own against Steve Carell and his sharp rom-com banter with Stone is a delight. The film was a hit, but Gosling quickly returned to the dark moodiness of Drive with The Place Beyond the Pines, Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives, and his directorial debut Lost River, which are as wacky as they sound.