Gerard Butler is everywhere lately pimping out his latest movies, Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen. Both look amazingly ridiculous—a theme that comes up again and again, throughout Butler’s surprisingly lengthy filmography. How could one man star in so many silly movies? Let us count the ways.
After realizing the law degree he’d studied for was going to land him a career he hated, Butler decided to pursue his acting dreams. It took a few years of bit parts, but his first notable role was probably the title vamp in Dracula 2000, or Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000—which imagined the accidental resurrection of you-know-which monster at the turn of the millennium. Even with Christopher Plummer as Van Helsing, reviews of the movie were unkind, with a certain newcomer singled out for knocks by the New York Times:
The clunking fill-in-the-blanks screenplay portrays Dracula as irresistible to women the moment he walks into a room. Gerard Butler, the pale, glowering actor clad in chi-chi black duds who plays him, radiates a certain suave self-assurance, but he is no head-turner.
Undeterred by the critical drubbing, Butler pressed forward. The next step after vampires was obviously post-apocalyptic dragons, playing third lead to Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale in the high-concept B-movie Reign of Fire. (Fourth lead if you count the dragons as the first lead; the dragon theme would return when Butler added his voice-over talents to the animated How to Train Your Dragon series.) Then, a video game adaptation, as Lara Croft’s ex-boyfriend with an agenda, in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.
Just a few years into his leading-man career, a pattern was already emerging. A Butler movie had to have:
- second-tier CG effects
- crazy fight scenes
- some kind of supernatural or fantasy element (like time-travel, when he played an archaeologist who travels to 14th century France in Timeline), and
- a chance for him to show off his famed physique.
His carefully honed abs were elevated to fetish-object status in 300, the film that made him a bona fide movie star, and launched a thousand “This is Sparta” memes.
300 is still Butler’s best-known performance, and was enough of a Hollywood arrival that many might not remember this little detour, which took place just months prior:
Yes. Join me in my private hell of having “Music of the Night” stuck in my head for the rest of the day and probably the week.
Butler, who apparently sang in a rock band while he was in law school, also does a little singing and a lot of lovin’ (from beyond the grave, but whatever) in PS I Love You, his first foray into romantic comedy—but not the last: He went on to make The Ugly Truth, Playing for Keeps, and The Bounty Hunter. Unmemorable, the lot of them—but hits, too.
Butler’s apparent all-over-the-map career strategy means he never stays in one genre for long. He also made a kiddie adventure movie (Nim’s Island), and a Guy Ritchie movie (RocknRolla). And he took a supporting role in the film adaptation of the Shakespeare play that got him his start on the stage, Coriolanus. And, of course, his bread-and-butter has yielded plenty of action-movie roles, in films like Olympus Has Fallen.
But there’s also the utterly demented Gamer, in which Butler plays Kable, a living video-game avatar who goes around slaughtering people under the control of a rich pampered video-game addict. Butler has a long-suffering dignity as a helpless pawn who knows that his wife is being used as a sexdoll in another gameworld, while he’s killing for someone else’s amusement.
And then there’s Movie 43. Which nobody can categorize, or even explain.
This peripatetic approach is perhaps crafted with purpose. Maybe he’s in search of the path taken by Matthew McConaughey, another action hero/hunky sort who also did well in rom-coms and eventually turned into an Oscar-winning Serious Actor. But McConaughey’s got a wacky twinkle in his eye, and a slightly unhinged offscreen persona that seems effortless and uncultivated. Not only does Butler not have either of those things, he doesn’t seem to have a persona that sticks in your mind.
In fact, despite his over-the-top acting (as showcased in 300) Butler has not quite managed to become the new Nicolas Cage, either. He’s barely even the new Jason Statham, even. Butler’s resume is almost as stuffed with bonkers movies as those other scenery-chewing action stars, but he doesn’t stand out the way they do.
But maybe that’s why Gerard Butler is the perfect movie star for our times. He’s more or less a blank slate as a person, which makes him versatile onscreen—not because he’s an amazing actor, but because he’s a solid presence. Though he usually plays a rascal or a rebel, he also has a certain gravitas, and his physique speaks to a not-fucking-around approach to keeping his beefcake intact. He’s not there to deliver an iconic performance—he’s there to play the hero, fit seamlessly into the damn movie, and make whatever insanity is going on around him seem as believable as possible. Of course Gods of Egypt is a Gerard Butler movie. Even if the rest of the movie makes absolutely no sense, his casting absolutely does.
Top image: Gerard Butler stars as ‘Set’ in GODS OF EGYPT. Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate.
Middle image: Gerard Butler in Movie 43. Photo courtesy of Relativity Media LLC.