Total Recall: Gerard Butler's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Playing for Keeps star.
The rest of the heavy hitters Hollywood has planned for us in 2012 are being stored away until later in December, but Gerard Butler can't wait -- he's back in theaters this weekend with his latest rom-com, Playing for Keeps. Although its Tomatometer fate can probably be guessed by the fact that it isn't being screened for critics, don't feel too badly for Butler -- his filmography has plenty of critical highlights to fall back on, and this week's list offers proof. From period drama to family-friendly fantasy and bone-crunching action, he's stayed plenty busy over the last 15 years and change -- and now it's time to pay tribute, Total Recall style!
10. Reign of Fire
The only film to combine the acting might of Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey, and Christian Bale with the special-effects majesty of fire-breathing dragons and the giddy thrill of witnessing a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, 2002's Reign of Fire had a lot going for it. After all, it isn't every day filmgoers get to watch British construction workers accidentally open an underground cave full of dragons, triggering 10 years of panic, death, and mayhem -- or watch an axe-wielding McConaughey leap into the mouth of one of the filthy beasts. Unfortunately, while Fire proved a medium-sized box office hit, most critics felt it squandered all the potential of its premise on a movie that sacrificed compelling story in favor of eye-popping visual effects. For Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, however, that was precisely the point -- as she argued in her review, "The season could do with more grinning, spinning, un-self-important, happy-to-be-B throwback movies like this one."
Two years before Angelina Jolie exerted a disconcerting level of mo-cap sexitude in 2007's more succinctly titled Beowulf, Gerard Butler played the titular warrior in director Sturla Gunnarsson's Beowulf & Grendel, a beautifully filmed retelling of the ancient saga about the generations-spanning grudge that erupts after a Danish king (Stellan Skarsgård) slays a troublesome creature that's been pestering his lands, only to let its offspring go free. He lives to regret this decision after the orphan grows up to be Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who returns to terrorize the kingdom and can only be stopped by the fearless Beowulf (Butler). Despite its impressive scenery and unimpeachable source material, most critics were unmoved by Beowulf & Grendel, and after scoring with Canadian filmgoers, it sputtered out quickly in U.S. theaters. Their loss, according to William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who wrote, "Shot entirely in the outback of Iceland, it's a gallery of hauntingly beautiful locations, and director Sturla Gunnarsson skillfully uses its bleak otherworldliness to distance us from anything familiar and evoke a lost heroic age."
While far from his biggest role, Butler's brief turn as Chris Kumac in the Elie Chouraqui-directed war drama Harrison's Flowers added to his early film résumé while giving him a chance to share space in the closing credits with a long list of solid actors, including Elias Koteas, Brendan Gleeson, and Adrien Brody -- not to mention David Strathairn, who played photojournalist Harrison Lloyd, and Andie MacDowell, who plays the wife that travels overseas to search for him after his presumed death in a building collapse. Clearly, Harrison's Flowers contained the seeds for a powerful drama; unfortunately, most critics felt that the movie zoomed past it and soared straight into soggy melodrama. But that wasn't enough to deter Robert W. Butler of the Kansas City Star, who argued, "Despite its melodramatic framework and thin characterizations, the movie does deliver an unforgettable sense of the desperate civil conflicts that seem to be a recurrent phenomenon of our troubled times."
7. Nim's Island
On paper, Nim's Island had a lot going for it: A solid cast, strong visuals, and bestselling, family-friendly source material in Wendy Orr's book about a young girl (Abigail Breslin) forced to seek help from an agoraphobic adventure author (Jodie Foster) after a shipwreck strands the girl's scientist father (Butler). Unfortunately, things didn't exactly work out the way they were supposed to when the movie kicked off its theatrical run in April 2008 -- while it easily recouped its $37 million budget with a $100 million worldwide gross, reviews and word of mouth were disappointingly lukewarm. That isn't to say the movie was without its defenders, however -- including USA Today's Claudia Puig, who wrote, "Nim's Island is a win-win proposition: an entertaining, diverting adventure saga that offers excitement and a relatable heroine for children, and also will remind their parents of favorite classics from their own youth."
He's returned to Fresh territory with his Sherlock Holmes movies, but for awhile there, it looked like Guy Ritchie's post-Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels career was going to be a study in diminishing critical returns. Case in point: 2008's RocknRolla, a London-set action thriller about a group of scuzzy underworld types including a crimelord (Tom Wilkinson), unscrupulous accountant (Thandie Newton), rough-and-tumble thug (Butler), and punk musician (Toby Kebbell) who only stop shooting long enough to betray their supposed allies. Familiar territory for Ritchie, but most critics found RocknRolla a case of style at the expense of substance. For others, however, that was more than enough: As Michael O'Sullivan put it for the Washington Post, "Style is what RocknRolla is all about. And it has it in spades, from the cockney Pulp Fiction dialogue to the music-video editing of the rambling narrative."