Oscar History

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Posterized: Russell Crowe

What was the precise moment that Russell Crowe became a superstar? Here's my guess. The moment LA Confidential introduced him, with that piercing stare (you can count the number of times he blinks in the movie on one hand) with his character name punched out on screen like a case file report.

They might as well have typed out


...in giant letters right then. But enough about L.A. Confidential which we've been discussing a lot this week. His film career started 7 years earlier than that with Australian pictures in 1990. With Noah opening today his name is back on marquees.

I tried to find the earliest poster of each of his films since a lot of the posters have been retrofitted to put his face and name huge as the only selling point, even if he was a supporting characters. It's better to see the slow rise of his marketability with original posters. He's made 38 films thus far. How many of these have you seen? 

Prisoners of the Sun (1990) The Crossing (1990) Proof (1991)

The Efficiency Expert (1992), Romper Stomper (1992), Hammers of the Anvil (1993)

Love in Limbo (1993) The Silver Brumby (1993) , For the Moment (1993)

Act 1 Beginnings 1990-1993
Proof (1991) is really good - see if it you haven't! -- but it wasn't until Romper Stomper slowly made it's way around the world that people began to notice him outside of Australia

The Sum of Us (1994), The Quick and the Dead (1995), No Way Back (1995)

Virtuousity (1995), Rough Magic (1995), Heaven's Burning (1997)

LA Confidential (1997), Breaking Up (1997), Mystery Alaska (1999)

Act 2 Hollywood Experiments With Their New Find
It wasn't all Hollywood of course. He was still acting in Australian pictures like the sweet gay drama The Sum of Us (your only chance to see man's man actor Crowe making out with men (he is not at all shy about it!). Looking back over this period of posters is pretty funny. He's shoved back as far as you can get in LA Confidential, less bankable than Kim Basinger or Kevin Spacey at the time. And even less bankable than Bridget Fonda!  Paired with Helen Slater (Supergirl herself) ? I don't remember that one at all. 

Of course after LA Confidential opened everyone new he was a star and Breaking Up and Heaven's Burning (an earlier film) were released quickly thereafter to capitalize). The first Crowe picture I actually saw was The Quick and the Dead and I immediately rented Proof and The Sum of Us to see what I'd been missing.

The Insider (1999), Gladiator (2000), Proof of Life (2000)

A Beautiful Mind (2001), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), Cinderella Man (2005)

A Good Year (2006), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), American Gangster (2007)

Act 3 Picky and Prickly Superstar (1999-2007) 
Or: The Oscar Bait Years
Notice how he's suddenly the selling point on the posters. It was all golden for a time. Even if the movies weren't great, people loved him in everything... even the one dud (A Good Year) wasn't greeted with any vitriol despite famously cantankerous behavior which cost him many fans (including myself) at the time.

Body of Lies (2008), Tenderness (2009), State of Play (2009)

Robin Hood (2010), The Next Three Days (2010), The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Les Misérables (2012), Broken City (2013), Man of Steel (2013)

Act 4 Faded Giant. What's Going On Here?
Russell did seem to lose interest in prestige projects or settled for several forgettable thrillers (Body of Lies? I'd forgotten it existed. Hasn't everyone?) and then moved into supporting roles or co-lead gigs. 

Winter's Tale (2014), Noah (2014)

Right Now...

Crowe hits the half century mark in less than two weeks on April 7th. Do you think Noah heralds a major comeback for his birthday? His surly ready for a fight onscreen persona is hardly dependent on youth so if he wants it couldn't he flourish again? Next up he's trying his hand at directing himself (and Jai Courtney who we were just discussing) in the Australian period film The Water Diviner (2014) about a man searching for his missing sons after the Battle of Gallipoli and (Oscar Bait alert) will play Amanda Seyfried's mentally ill famous novelist father in the drama Fathers and Daughters (2015) for the director Gabriele Muccino (of The Pursuit of Happyness fame)

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Reader Comments (29)

He's always interesting to watch, even when he's clearly not trying to give a good performance. For me, The Insider, Gladiator, LAC, and American Gangster are his gems.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I've seen 15. Romper Stomper, Insider, State of Play, Virtuosity and LA Confidential are my favs so far with 3:10 and Master et.al. pretty high up there. I rarely dislike his performances, but don't always find the material suits him and I've never felt he was less than fully committed to the performance (never riding on his talent).

Romper Stomper is one of the most arresting film performances I've seen. He was spectacular in ways he has managed to replicate rarely though not necessarily by his fault. It is the perfect marriage of actor and role. Hes become far more mannered lately while he was still very raw and free in this film.

I've also seen No Way Back. Its odd. A very "No one left alive" sort of film and very messy.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

He's my favorite actor and while he has hit a slump, Noah is a welcome return to form for him and hopefully marks his triumphant return to quality cinema and audience good graces!

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Not the huge drop in film quality from 'Stage 3' to 'Stage 4'. Audiences and critics really turned on him after A Beautiful Mind. He even got flak for good to really great performances in Master & Commander, Cinderella Man, 3:10 to Yuma and American Gangster.

The turn in public perception and a couple unfortunate project choices led him to no longer getting first (or 2nd or 3rd picks at scripts), hence the random and low quality scripts/parts he's been doing recently.

Hopefully Noah turns that around for him and he'll line up some interesting projects with good directors going forward.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Have not been that interested in most of his film/roles choices after his fling with Meg Ryan.... About as plain as Kevin Costner

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Even though I think he's quite entertaining in Body of Lies (I have not forgotten - I"LL NEVER FORGET!) i think the thing that most characterizes the 2008-2010 films is that Crowe seemed bored, going through the motions, boxed in by the movie star version of his persona, but with markedly inferior material to work with. Starting with 2012 The Man with the Iron Fist, Les Mis, Man of Steel and now Noah, say what you will about any particular film of performance, but he seems like a guy who is completely reengaged with his craft, and not allowing himself to be held back by past successes. That's very exciting for me as a fan (I've seen 18 of his films, and that run from LA Confidential through American Gangster ought to be the stuff of legends), because it makes me think that he's still got a lot left in the tank. One more reason I'm rooting for Noah's success, aside from that it's a pretty terrific film.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

He kind of went downhill, looks-wise, after Proof of Life -- he got hard-faced and chubby, plus all the anger didn't help.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Less than half, only 15. Favorites: The Sum of Us, L.A. Confidential, 3;10 to Yuma, The Insider, Romper Stomper.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

i watched every movie since LA Confidentiel (I love The Insider,Yuma and American Ganster) even his recent movie with Colin Farrell and Superman movie (beurk! i really hate Snyder's style)

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterfrench girl

Six 100 million grossers someone must still be paying to see him.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I've seen 22. I saw The Sum of Us, which is awesome, in the theatres and have been a fan ever since. My faves beside Sum of Us are L.A. Confidental, Proof, Gladiator and 3:10 to Yuma. I also found Rough Magic odd but intriguing. State of Play was good but the age difference between alleged classmates Crowe and Affleck was distracting. He was brilliant in The Insider and even though it tanked I enjoyed A Good Year, it was minor but I never got why everyone seemed to hate it.

Even when the films weren't good, No Way Back. Heaven's Burning, Breaking Up and Romper Stomper were awful, he gives fully committed performances.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I've seen 15. Until I counted, I thought I had seen more of his work.
I used to think he could do anything, until I saw A Good Year. It wasn't far into that film when I started thinking that Hugh Grant is actually very good at these types.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVaus

15 also. I liked The Sum of Us and he looked good with other men (duh!) and that cast of The Quick and the Dead is quite amazing.
I do believe that Oscar for Gladiator is actually for The Insider. Phenomenal work in there.
Some bad movies, but not a boring actor.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Now hold on! Body of Lies is great! The trailer and marketing made it seem like Russel Crowe and Leo were on opposite sides and battling, but the movie isn't about that at all. Really great action and suspense. And Russel Crowe is pretty hilariously over the top at times. Definitely recommend it.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbbats

Ok just got back from Noah.

Aronofsky's last four films (Black Swan, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream)were miles better but Noah is still good and goes in an interesting direction and has a good pro-animal/environment message (why the hell do some reviewers consider this a bad thing?!) AND is anchored by a very strong central performance (as his last four films were). However, IMO this film breaks his streak as it is not a must-see picture and is much more problematic.

Won't make it close to my top 10 list, but still worth a watch. I also think that Watson, although not awards worthy by any means, shows in this and Perks of being a wallflower that she is definitely an 'actress' and not just a fad - which I hadn't been completely convinced of until now.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Master and Commander is one of my favorite movies of all time. I've watched it countless times, which is weird because it's not my kind of movie at all.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

now do guy pearce - that'd be an interesting career compare/contrast

i clearly recall crowe in proof - such relaxed, naturalistic work that made me sit up and take notice. i lost interest as soon as he kept announcing how great he was (his comic relief in les miz was the only time in the last decade i've seen him on screen)

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I've seen 11. American Gangster being the last one, basically because I don't like the guy and he's got Bardem's first Oscar. My favorite? LA Confidential. Hands down.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I've seen 4 - pretty indicative of my level of enthusiasm for Russell Crowe. He's great in LA Confidential, though.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I've seen 8 - I like him in when I see him but apparently I don't go out of my way to see everything he does. LAC, The Insider, Gladiator, Master & Commander and 3:10 to Yuma were all pretty great/entertaining on some level. His performance in A Beautiful Mind was good, but the wavering accent and the lack of a good film to support him were detrimental.

Les Miz was the only time I've seen him be flat-out bad. I'm intrigued by Noah - I think I want to see it but I have low expectations, which might help it, actually.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I've seen 11, most of which are from Act 2.

I think of him as very Tom Cruise-esque in the sense that when he's good he's REALLY good and when he isn't it's almost unwatchable for me. Crowe usually needs the right director, otherwise he just really bores me.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Oh, dear! I forgot to count him in Lez Miz! Well, it makes sense, that performance deserves to be ignored or judged by The International Court of Justice.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

PROOF - my favourite of his films - is just so excellent. THE EFFICIENCY EXPERT (known as SPOTSWOOD in Australia) is also very good in that early '90s Australian cinema way. I heartily recommend them if people have not seen them.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I'll always love Master and Commander and I truly believe it's his best movie. His best performance is probably from The Insider, although I have yet to see Romper Stomper. In fact, I've seen only 12 of his movies.

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

Lol at Peggy Sue's last post! Classic!

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@Sean: Yes, him, Bettany and Weir all did terrific work in Master & Commander. Definitely an underrated film from it's decade that has aged very well. Too bad we'll never get a sequel - god knows there is enough material (what is it like 13 books?) - and Bettany and Crowe's characters relationship only gets deeper and goes in interesting directions.

Why is it that a great well made and well acted adult story never gets a series made out of it?

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I've seen 23, not including NOAH, which I hope to see next week.

The number is high because I live in Australia and was a fan of his since PROOF, after which I saw most everything of his that came out. His post-Oscar antics and role choices turned me off around 2001.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

I totally agree with you about "Body of Lies." DiCaprio is one of my favorite actors, and I often find Crowe to be the best thing about the films he's in, but I always forget this film exists! It wasn't good. It wasn't bad. It was just forgettable.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJerry Maguire

I count 10. I liked Proof and The Sum of Us, but have seen nothing else of those earliest efforts.

I think Proof of Life is terribly underrated. He's actually made a number of films that have been brushed off that I think are really good. I think 3:10 to Yuma is wonderful and The Next Three Days was smart and very human.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

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