Katniss no more.. Rise of J-Law?
It was six years ago when Jennifer Lawrence transformed from the indie darling from “Winter’s Bone” to the next big thing in Hollywood with “The Hunger Games,” where her performance as Katniss Everdeen earned her a reputation as a bankable star.
But that reputation is now being thrown into question after the disappointing start of her latest film, “Red Sparrow,” which has only made $17 million in its domestic opening weekend against a $69 million budget. Outside of the “Hunger Games” films and the rebooted “X-Men” series, where she plays the shapeshifter Mystique, very few of Lawrence’s films have been noteworthy at the box office.
According to data from Box Office Mojo, the “Hunger Games” and “X-Men” films combine to make up approximately 81 percent of Lawrence’s $5.67 billion career worldwide gross, and all of them outperform her indie and prestige films on the global charts.
On the domestic side, only one of Lawrence’s non-franchise films has been able to outperform an “X-Men” film. That was the 2013 Oscar-nominated true crime tale “American Hustle,” which earned Lawrence a Best Supporting Actress nomination and made $150 million in North America, just slightly more than the $146 million made by “X-Men: First Class” in 2011.
“American Hustle” came out at the peak of Lawrence’s popularity, when she was putting out critically-acclaimed performances in films directed by David O. Russell alongside the big name blockbusters. This likely made it easier for her popularity and name recognition to translate into interest in seeing her Oscar contender films. Aside from “Hustle,” the only other non-franchise film Lawrence has made that grossed over $105 million domestic is the one that earned her an Academy Award, 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which made $132 million stateside and $236.4 million worldwide.
But since completing the “Hunger Games” series in 2015, Lawrence’s box office performance has tailed off as she has starred in films that have performed poorly critically or, as is the case in the past year, are challenging films that refuse to be crowd-pleasers.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” was Lawrence’s last film to gross over $100 million in its domestic opening. After that, she worked with Russell again in “Joy,” a film that was nowhere near as well-received as “Hustle” or “Playbook” and only made $101 million worldwide against a $60 million budget.
After that was “X-Men: Apocalypse,” a film that made $543 million worldwide but was rather muted in its domestic performance, receiving mediocre reviews and making 34 percent less than the last film in the series, “Days of Future Past.” Her collab with Chris Pratt, “Passengers,” also had decent returns with $303 million grossed worldwide against a $110 million budget, with critics praising her performance despite the poor plot.
Lawrence’s last two films, “mother!” and “Red Sparrow,” have seen the actress take roles that are a far cry from “The Hunger Games,” going in a much more polarizing and discomfiting direction. Lawrence shocked moviegoers who saw “mother!” on opening night, playing the personification of Mother Nature who is brutally assaulted verbally and physically by an angry mob. While some critics championed the film, “mother!” received an F on CinemaScore and only made $44.5 million against a $30 million budget.
This weekend, she continued this streak with “Red Sparrow,” a film in which she plays a ballerina-turned-spy that has to learn how to seduce her targets. Like in “mother!” scenes of Lawrence being assaulted on camera have become the subject of much conversation at a time when the depiction of women in media is being challenged by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
It could be argued that the problem with “Red Sparrow” isn’t so much with Lawrence as it is the spy genre, which hasn’t gotten much interest outside of brand names like 007 and “Mission: Impossible.” Last summer’s female spy film, “Atomic Blonde,” only made a little more than “Sparrow” in its opening with $18.2 million, albeit with a much cheaper budget of $30 million. With blockbusters like “Black Panther” providing audiences with a crowd-pleasing alternative on a regular basis, it’s tougher for an R-rated adult film to find a foothold in the marketplace, relying on recognizable leads like Lawrence to move the needle.
So while it’s true that Lawrence’s success with blockbusters isn’t carrying over to non-franchise success like it did five years ago, it might be premature to determine whether audiences are less interested in seeing her or less interested in seeing the sort of commercially risky films she has chosen to act in. It may take another acclaimed indie piece like “Winter’s Bone” or “Silver Linings Playbook” to make that call, but it may be a while before we see that, as her next film coming out in November is yet another franchise film: “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.”