Oscar Winners' Action Follow-Ups: Ranked
So here you are, an accomplished thespian. Your grueling awards season campaign has paid off and you have finally ascended to the pinnacle of your profession and won a coveted Academy Award — your acting prowess will be forever memorialized in the annals of Oscar history and cinephiles across the globe will either cheer your coronation or rue the fact that you beat their preferred nominee. The world is your oyster: what are you going to do next?
That’s right, you’re going to CASH IN. Hollywood stardom can be fleeting and there’s no better time to capitalize on your name than immediately after “Academy Award Winner” has been attached to it. Ideally you want both a payday and to have a little fun and take a break from the prestige filmmaking landscape you’ve been immersed in for months, which means the obvious move is to sign on to an action flick. You get paid, they get to plaster your Oscar cred on all the marketing materials: it’s a win-win.
But, of course, not all action movies are created equal — like any movie, there are successes and failures, both financially and critically, and unless you only care about your upfront salary, picking the right project still matters, even after a big win. Inspired by Aeon Flux, Charlize Theron’s woeful follow-up to her Best Actress win for Monster, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to put together an objective ranking of the most and least successful action movies undertaken by newly crowned Oscar-winning actors.
Our measure of success is based on two variables: critical reception and profitability. For the former we simply used the film’s Metacritic score (not perfect, but the best we have), and for the latter we calculated the film’s worldwide box office gross as a proportion of its reported budget. These two scores were then weighted equally and combined for a total score, which was used to rank the movies in order of least to most successful.
In addition, there were four criteria that we applied to help narrow down the list of contenders:
This phenomenon of following up an Oscar win with an action movie didn’t really take off until the 1990s, so we limited our pool to only include Oscar winning roles from (film year) 1990 on.
The action film has to be either the immediate follow-up or very close. It’s not an exact science, but the general rule of thumb is that it should reasonably appear to be one of the first films the actor signed onto after their Oscar win. So it may be included even if it is not the next movie released or even necessarily the next one filmed, but if there are three or four movies between the Oscar win and the follow-up, that’s much more likely to be left off.
We want to try as much as possible to ensure that there is some sort of connective tissue between the Oscar win and the action movie, but it’s not always possible to tell exactly when contract talks started, etc. As such, for our purposes we are excluding any movies that had started filming prior to the Oscar ceremony. While this does lead to a couple borderline cases, it seemed to us like the most reasonable cut-off point.
Finally, the action movie cannot be an entry in a franchise that the actor had already appeared in. Call this the Jennifer Lawrence rule.
As a final note on methodology, all financial data and production information was pulled from IMDb. On to the rankings!
30. Jeff Bridges
Oscar Win: Best Actor, Crazy Heart (2009)
Follow-Up: R.I.P.D. (2013)
Budget: $130M — Worldwide Gross: $78.3M — Metacritic Score: 25
Love you Jeff, but oof.
29. Halle Berry
Oscar Win: Best Actress, Monster’s Ball (2001)
Follow-Up: Catwoman (2004)
Budget: $100M — Worldwide Gross: $82.1M — Metacritic Score: 27
28. Charlize Theron
Oscar Win: Best Actress, Monster (2003)
Follow-Up: Aeon Flux (2005)
Budget: $62M — Worldwide Gross: $53.3M — Metacritic Score: 36
The financial and critical failure of Aeon Flux is unsurprising — the movie’s a mess — but if you’re looking for someone to blame you’d be well-served to direct your ire towards the studio instead of Theron or director Karyn Kusama.
27. Mira Sorvino
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Follow-Up: The Replacement Killers (1998)
Budget: $30M — Worldwide Gross: $19.2M — Metacritic Score: 42
26. Christoph Waltz
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Follow-Up: The Three Musketeers (2011)
Budget: $75M — Worldwide Gross: $132.3M — Metacritic Score: 35
25. Angelina Jolie
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Follow-Up: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Budget: $115M — Worldwide Gross: $274.7M — Metacritic Score: 33
24. Mercedes Ruehl
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, The Fisher King (1991)
Follow-Up: Last Action Hero (1993)
Budget: $85M — Worldwide Gross: $137.3M — Metacritic Score: 44
23. Hilary Swank
Oscar Win: Best Actress, Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Follow-Up: The Core (2003)
Budget: $60M — Worldwide Gross: $73.5M — Metacritic Score: 48
22. Holly Hunter
Oscar Win: Best Actress, The Piano (1993)
Follow-Up: Copycat (1995)
Budget: $20M — Worldwide Gross: $32M — Metacritic Score: 54
It’s probably a stretch to call this an action movie, but I thought it was important to remind everyone that Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter teamed up for a Silence of the Lambs rip-off — despite the low ranking here, there are a lot worse ways to spend two hours.
21. Alicia Vikander
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, The Danish Girl (2015)
Follow-Up: Tomb Raider (2018)
Budget: $94M — Worldwide Gross: $274.7M — Metacritic Score: 48
For any upcoming Oscar winners thinking third time’s the charm for Lara Croft: maybe think again.
20. Denzel Washington
Oscar Win: Best Actor, Training Day (2001)
Follow-Up: Out of Time (2003)
Budget: $50M — Worldwide Gross: $55.5M — Metacritic Score: 63
19. Jared Leto
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Follow-Up: Suicide Squad (2016)
Budget: $175M — Worldwide Gross: $746.8M — Metacritic Score: 40
18. Jamie Foxx
Oscar Win: Best Actor, Ray (2004)
Follow-Up: Miami Vice (2006)
Budget: $135M — Worldwide Gross: $164.2M — Metacritic Score: 65
If there were any justice in the world this would be a top-5 follow-up, but alas, greatness often goes unrecognized in its own time.
17. Helen Mirren
Oscar Win: Best Actress, The Queen (2006)
Follow-Up: National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
Budget: $130M — Worldwide Gross: $459.2M — Metacritic Score: 48
16. Tommy Lee Jones
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, The Fugitive (1993)
Follow-Up: Batman Forever (1995)
Budget: $100M — Worldwide Gross: $336.6M — Metacritic Score: 51
15. Penelope Cruz
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Follow-Up: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Budget: $250M — Worldwide Gross: $1.05B — Metacritic Score: 45
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, The Cider House Rules (1999)
Follow-Up: Miss Congeniality (2000)
Budget: $45M — Worldwide Gross: $212.7M — Metacritic Score: 43
13. Forest Whitaker
Oscar Win: Best Actor, The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Follow-Up: Street Kings (2008)
Budget: $20M — Worldwide Gross: $66.5M — Metacritic Score: 55
I have not seen Street Kings and I did not think that Jim Emerson’s 1.5 star review for RogerEbert.com was going to make me rethink that decision, but then he goes and asks “[a]re these people trying to make the Showgirls of retro-1990s cop movies?” — if that’s the case, sounds like Street Kings may in fact be the greatest movie ever made. Fun fact: this was originally slated to be a Spike Lee joint (side note, what I would give to see Spike Lee remake Showgirls).
12. Catherine Zeta-Jones
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, Chicago (2002)
Follow-Up: Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Budget: $110M — Worldwide Gross: $362.7M — Metacritic Score: 58
11. Nicolas Cage
Oscar Win: Best Actor, Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Follow-Up: Con Air and Face/Off (1997)
Con Air Budget: $75M — Worldwide Gross: $224M — Metacritic Score: 52
Face/Off Budget: $80M — Worldwide Gross: $245.7M — Metacritic Score: 82
Look, I love that Cage doubled down here and made two action movies off the back of his Oscar win, and Con Air is a movie that I’m very happy exists. But if he had put Con Air off a year or so and just focused on Face/Off, I wouldn’t have had to average their scores and Cage would have snuck into the top 10 here. A pity.
10. Viola Davis
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, Fences (2016)
Follow-Up: Widows (2018)
Budget: $42M — Worldwide Gross: $76M — Metacritic Score: 84
No (further) disrespect to Jeff Bridges and his unfortunate last place ranking on this list, but it just really bums me out that more people went to see R.I.P.D. than Widows. Good thing Steve McQueen’s masterpiece had the last laugh and went on to win Best Picture! Nobody needs to fact-check that!
9. Octavia Spencer
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, The Help (2011)
Follow-Up: Snowpiercer (2013)
Budget: $39.2M — Worldwide Gross: $86.8M — Metacritic Score: 84
8. Eddie Redmayne
Oscar Win: Best Actor, The Theory of Everything (2014)
Follow-Up: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Budget: $180M — Worldwide Gross: $814M — Metacritic Score: 66
My impetus for constructing this list was wild action movie swings and misses by Oscar winners, and the two that immediately came to mind were Theron in Aeon Flux and Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending, which of course does not actually count based on the criteria I set up. A huge disappointment because now there’s no good excuse to link to this supercut.
7. Chris Cooper
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, Adaptation. (2002)
Follow-Up: The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Budget: $75M — Worldwide Gross: $290.8M — Metacritic Score: 73
6. Anne Hathaway
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, Les Misérables (2012)
Follow-Up: Interstellar (2014)
Budget: $165M — Worldwide Gross: $677.5M — Metacritic Score: 74
5. Tim Robbins
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, Mystic River (2003)
Follow-Up: War of the Worlds (2005)
Budget: $132M — Worldwide Gross: $603.9M — Metacritic Score: 73
4. Marion Cotillard
Oscar Win: Best Actress, La Vie en Rose (2007)
Follow-Up: Inception (2010)
Budget: $160M — Worldwide Gross: $829.9M — Metacritic Score: 74
The presence of both Hathaway and Cotillard in the top 10 (and had McConaughey rode his Magic Mike buzz all the way to Oscar gold he would have also been here for Interstellar) just goes to show that if you’re looking to capitalize on an Academy Award win, hitching your wagon to Christopher Nolan is one of the safest bets around.
3. Brie Larson
Oscar Win: Best Actress, Room (2015)
Follow-Up: Captain Marvel (2019)
Budget: $160M — Worldwide Gross: $1.1B — Metacritic Score: 64
2. Mahershala Ali
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight (2016)
Follow-Up: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Budget: $90M — Worldwide Gross: $375.5M — Metacritic Score: 87
1. Lupita Nyong’o
Oscar Win: Best Supporting Actress, 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Follow-Up: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Budget: $245M — Worldwide Gross: $2.07B — Metacritic Score: 80
But if there’s one thing safer than joining a Nolan picture, it’s joining a Disney mega-franchise. Is it ideal to lock some of our best young talent into years of churning out superheroes and space battles? Maybe not. But does their star power make those movies that much more of a joy to watch? You bet. Plus, they just won an Oscar — let ‘em get paid.