Well this was inevitable. We’ve received several requests for a Ryan Reynolds prospectus, and since he’s had yet another summer blockbuster flop, it seemed like a good time to address what exactly is going on with his career.
Reynolds is a good looking guy with decent talent and pretty sharp comic delivery, who also happens to be athletic enough to make a real go of being an action star. On paper, he’s the total leading man package. Coming off a mildly successful television show, Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, he broke out with Van Wilder in 2002 and then bulked up and made a mark as the best part of the worst Blade movie in 2004. Blade: Trinity sucked but Reynolds’ combination of humor and physicality totally worked. Suddenly he looked like the heir to Harrison Ford.
In 2005, Reynolds had his biggest hit to date with the Amityville Horror remake, but then he just stalled out. Between 2006 and 2008 he starred in comedies that weren’t funny/no one saw (Waiting, Just Friends), dramas no one saw (Fireflies in the Garden, Chaos Theory), and one bad action movie and rom-com apiece (Smokin’ Aces and Definitely, Maybe, respectively). It amounts to three years wasted not consolidating a brand or cornering a market—any market—all while losing momentum. Reynolds can do a little bit of everything but he’s never defined himself as any one thing. At this point we knew him better as Alanis Morissette’s ex-fiancé and Scarlett Johansson’s man.
But things started looking up in 2009. The rom-com The Proposal was a big hit—thanks in no small part to Sandra Bullock—and he had a well-received turn in the indie Adventureland. But then he also appeared as fan-favorite Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which everyone hated and which seriously impaired his chances of ever getting that solo Deadpool movie off the ground. 2009 highlights a big issue with Reynolds’ film career—he is not a man’s man.
Despite the action hero roles and dudebro comedy persona, Reynolds hasn’t been embraced by male audiences. I remember talking to some comic nerds before Green Lantern came out in 2011 and they were actively turned off by Reynolds in the lead role. They just didn’t like him, citing a smug on-screen persona and a post-ironic delivery style that “makes everything feel like a joke”. I was surprised by their dislike, but it explains a lot about his career. The action hero thing never really happened because the number one target of action movies just plain don’t like the guy.
If you Google “Ryan Reynolds career” you’ll see a spate of “what went wrong” articles from summer 2011, as well as this summer. In 2011 he racked up back-to-back losses as Green Lantern flamed out spectacularly—so much so that his involvement with the character is pretty much done—and The Change Up failed to take off, too. And this summer RIPD sh*t the bed (I’m not holding Turbo against him as vocal work doesn’t count). Unlike Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor Kitsch, who politely went away after their high-profile summer movie losses, Reynolds keeps insisting on making us like him when clearly, no one is buying it.
Which isn’t to say he can’t be effective. Safe House was a surprise hit in February 2012, though like The Proposal, that has a lot to do with his co-star—in this case, Denzel Washington. So while people might not be entirely sold on Reynolds as a leading man, they’re perfectly willing to watch him as part of an ensemble, or as support for a more established star. And though guys don’t like him well enough to make him a viable action star, his comedy chops are solid and he could approach it from that angle—get the dudes on board through comedy before asking them to buy into the hero schtick (let’s call it the Reverse Channing Tatum).
Reynolds gets plenty of work and he is well paid for it. He has a promising movie with Atom Egoyan due in 2014, which is a good palate cleanser, so it’s not like it’s all doom and gloom. But the movie star thing is consistently not working out. At this point, he might be best served by looking for a television gig. He’s famous enough to topline a vanity project, and a good TV show would go a long way toward re-establishing some cache around his name as well as give him a chance to develop an audience. Besides, a cushy, settled TV job would fit nicely with the Happy Homemaker image his wife is so diligently cultivating. And that’s what we call “brand synergy”.