2014 has marked a lot of time spent with old friends. Fading veterans taking stabs at a renewed stardom, long bridled talents breaking loose into untested territories, and ubiquitous power players holding strong to their status quo celebrity. For some, the year has allowed for box office milestones, critical acclaim, and successes of all sorts. For others, 2014 has been a tragic undertaking: commercial flops, critical pans, and your unavoidable tabloid scandals. But most of our favorite Hollywood icons got a taste of both extremes this year, reminding us that the showbiz game is about as fickle a racket as high school popularity.
Looking back through the year, we’ll find some high highs and low lows attached to our many beloved big name actors and directors — some equally surprising indie hits and blockbuster bombs. But did everyone break even, or did some resilient thespians come out on top? Will a few be leaving 2014 worse for the wear? Did Angelina Jolie have the best year of her life? Does Matt Damon wish he could have skipped straight over these chaotic 12 months? Check out this assessment of how 2014 treated ten of our favorite movie stars… and let’s all keep in mind how tough the times have been for some of these folks before succumbing to our knee-jerk impulsions to trash them on Twitter.
Highs: Believe it or not, Jolie’s foray into the Disney fairy tale realm actually proved unprecedentedly prosperous. The pre-summer release Maleficent is Jolie’s highest grossing movie to date.
After a universally ignored directing debut (The Land of Blood and Honey), Jolie’s behind-the-camera talents are getting notice with Unbroken. The film, which releases on Christmas, is a given candidate for Best Picture.
Lows: Despite the box office success of Maleficent, the movie didn’t exactly win over the critical community. Likewise, Unbroken’s reviews have wavered around mediocrity (which doesn’t count it out from Academy favor whatsoever).
Highs: After a decade of making chiefly reviled crud, former Hollywood golden boy Tom Cruise actually turned in something terrific in 2014: Edge of Tomorrow, a big, goofy, thrilling sci-fi that cashes in on Cruise’s true expertise… playing a jackass. Alternatively titled Live Die Repeat, the movie stands as one of a select few Cruise flicks to earn positive critical acclaim in the past decade.
Lows: …but that doesn’t mean people saw it. The movie’s $100 million domestic gross fell a good deal short of its $178 million budget, hardly working to “reinvent” the Cruise image after a near-fatal few years of personal defamation.
Highs: Despite being an actual actor, Wahlberg took it upon himself to headline a Transformers movie this year. Whether we’re ready to accept it or not, Transformers: Age of Extinction is far and away the highest grossing movie he has ever appeared in.
Lows: That said, it was terrible. But Wahlberg’s real low point this year came far more recently, and altogether independent of the big screen. When the actor decided it’d be a good idea to demand that his younger days’ standing assault convictions be pardoned, we all realized he was kind of a jag.
Lows: Although Transformers: Age of Extinction might have been a profitable turn for Wahlberg, it actually ranks low against the intake of Bay’s other Transformers movies… and, again, it’s terrible.
But why stop at one terrible blockbuster when you can have two? A month and a half after Transformers, the Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit theaters, landing just as much critical bile. All this and all the flack he received from that CES stage walk-off makes 2014 one of Bay’s less favorable years.
Highs: While we’re not quite sure if either of the Daniel Radcliffe-led movies that released this year covered their no doubt minuscule budgets, there is a clear critical winner between the pair: What if. The delightful romantic comedy sets Radcliffe aside from the rest of the dead-eyed good guys of indie cinema, highlighting genuine charm, comedic acumen, and cleverness in the art of performance.
Lows: Horns, on the other hand, is the sort of thing from which Radcliffe should steer clear. Critics were less than thrilled by the odd horror flick.
Highs: Man, what a year for ScarJo (don’t call her that). With four pictures releasing in a single year, it would have been easy for Johansson to undertake some degree of failure… be it critical or commercial. But no! Johansson’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier wowed critics and audiences; her mini-budget cerebral thriller Under the Skin has landed on many a Top 10 of 2014; Chef (in which she plays a small role) did leagues better than anyone might have hoped; and her bonkers blockbuster Lucy way outperformed rival and projected Goliath, Hercules.
Lows: The only one I can think of is that she still doesn’t have her Black Widow movie set. But let’s not count that against this superstar! She’s done wonders with her 2014.
Highs: Although Rogen has remained a celebrity in big screen comedy for just shy of a decade now, his movies have not always raked in the big, big bucks. But his more mature 2014 venture, Neighbors, marks a promising turn. In fact, the adults-vs.-kids flick is Rogen’s highest grossing live action film to date (and a critically esteemed one at that).
Lows: If you’ve been following the news at all, you’re already up to date on this one: Rogen’s co-directorial project The Interview marks a low point… not because of quality (or even box office intake), but because it won’t even get a theatrical release thanks to the firestorm of controversy surrounding its development.
Highs: In a year that launched her very own dystopian YA series, Woodley’s greatest success was actually a one-off venture: The Fault in Our Stars. No, it didn’t earn quite as much as Divergent, but its modester projections and relative critical favor make it Woodley’s best turn of ‘14.
Lows: Now we come to Divergent, which didn’t fare nearly as well as its backers might have hoped (and, yes, it was a pretty darn poor movie). Even Woodley’s indie venture, White Bird in a Blizzard, wound up repelling most critics.
One more high: …but at least she managed to sneak out of the atrocious The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at the last minute! Yes, I went there.
Highs: As with any year, Murray has plenty of things to be proud of. His appearance in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel was brief, but all parties associated with such a majestic endeavor should be praised. His involvement with the terrific HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge also lands Murray some bonus points. And although St. Vincent is hardly a great movie, it is very much a fine movie… and one that hasn’t fared too poorly in ticket sales.
Highs: Dude, what happened here? Is the Affleck success getting to you? Just about the only good thing Damon did this year was a small part in Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, which barely even sold a single ticket.
Lows: More memorable than the failure of The Monuments Men was that of Damon’s turn in Interstellar, an otherwise good movie whose Damon-centric scenes were universally castigated.
But hey, we’ll always forgive you, Matt.