This weekend Emily Blunt appears in “The Girl On The Train,” an adaptation of a wildly popular novel where Blunt’s character stumbles into the center of a missing persons case. It’s the latest entry in a career that’s spanned only a little more than a decade but has still shown the highs and lows we often see in more experienced performers’ oeuvres.
Her range and talent is remarkable; she’s won a Golden Globe, she’s been recognized by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for her contribution to the genre in “The Adjustment Bureau,” and she was one of the winners of the 2004 Evening Standard British Film Award for most promising newcomer, a recognition which itself won the 2004 Prize For Most British-Sounding Award.
As I’ve done before, I pulled Blunt’s filmography, getting domestic box office totals from OpusData, which is the database behind The Numbers, and grabbing the critic score from Rotten Tomatoes.
Blunt’s Ill-Advised Travels
“But where does one begin and the other end?”
— Gwen Conliffe, “The Wolfman”
Films: “Wind Chill” (2007), “The Wolfman” (2010), “Wild Target” (2010), “Gulliver’s Travels” (2010), “Arthur Newman” (2013), “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (2016).
This grouping contains the biggest mistake of Blunt’s career. No, not “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” which introduced the tale of the Snow Queen to the world three years too late. No, not “The Wolfman,” which failed to spur a Gothic Monsters Cinematic Universe. Not “Wild Target,” a heist movie that never resonated domestically but did all right in the U.K., where apparently Bill Nighy still has sex appeal.
I’m talking about “Gulliver’s Travels.” Think back to the heady days of 2010, when Jack Black had inexplicably become a leading man. He’d been in the critically acclaimed “Kung Fu Panda” and “Tropic Thunder,” and Peter Jackson even put the guy in “King Kong.” Sure, he had recently crapped out the ill-advised “Year One,” but Jack Black remained a respected comedy actor who was going places. Imagine you’re Emily Blunt around that time and you have a busy schedule forcing you to pick between two roles: the female lead in the guaranteed smash comedy hit of the holiday season, “Gulliver’s Travels,” or a bit part in some arriviste action franchise sequel called “Iron Man 2.”
She chose Gulliver’s, turning down a role as the Black Widow character in “Iron Man 2” (she was Marvel’s first choice for the part) to appear alongside Jack Black instead. “Gulliver’s Travels” flopped and Scarlett Johansson took over the Black Widow role and, in addition to “Iron Man 2,” she went on to appear in “The Avengers” (2012), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014), “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) and more to come, all of which are nice and very expensive movies. In retrospect, this was not a good call for Blunt.
But it plays to a larger theme in Blunt’s career, in that she’s showed a real willingness to take gambles. She’s comfortable tackling undeveloped properties and sticking to her instincts when they say to avoid the boy’s club superhero genre. All gambling involves risk, and Blunt took a heavy loss when she opted out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2010, but in the end she winds up ahead.
Good Movies You Didn’t Pay To See
“Well, I don’t really know what I think is right. I think just, time will tell.”
— Violet Barnes, “The Five-Year Engagement”
Films: “My Summer of Love” (2005), “The Jane Austen Book Club” (2007), “Sunshine Cleaning” (2009), “The Great Buck Howard” (2009), “The Young Victoria” (2009), “Salmon Fishing In The Yemen” (2012), “The Five-Year Engagement” (2012), “Your Sister’s Sister” (2012), “The Wind Rises” (2013).
Emily Blunt is in a lot of movies that are very good but make zero money. Well, not exactly zero, but they don’t really do all that well given her star power in other films.
Rather than consider each of these movies individually, it’s easier to look at this categories’ entries for two years in her career, 2009 and 2012. In 2009, she appeared in buddy comedy “Sunshine Cleaning,” joined an ensemble in the attempted Colin Hanks vehicle “The Great Buck Howard,” and, in the free space on every great English actress’s career bingo card, turned in a lauded portrayal of a beloved royal in “The Young Victoria.” In 2012, she was in the rom-com “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” with the freakishly handsome Ewan McGregor, the comedy “The Five-Year Engagement” with the freakishly tall Jason Segel, and the com-dram “Your Sister’s Sister” with the freakishly the-guy-behind-everything-you-like Mark Duplass.1
Blunt has a good eye when it comes to selecting films that will be consistently acclaimed, as we see in her ’09 and ’12 work. But it’s the movies where she makes bank at the box office that show her true range.
Fantastic Section, Phoned-In Title
“You’ve changed. You’re daring. You’re different in the woods.”
— Baker’s Wife, “Into The Woods”
Films: “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), “Dan In Real Life” (2007), “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007), “Gnomeo and Juliet” (2011), “The Adjustment Bureau” (2011), “Looper” (2012), “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), “Into the Woods” (2014), “Sicario” (2015).
These movies vary: “The Devil Wears Prada” gave her a meaty part and put her on the map for U.S. audiences, and “Sicario” was beloved enough that it spent most of last year on the wrong side of the Oscars bubble. And she wandered the forest alongside James Corden in the musical “Into the Woods,” which foreshadowed “Carpool Karaoke.”
However, some of the films are good example of why artists like Blunt have been dealt a tough hand in Hollywood; she spent 2007 portraying the unenviable roles of “a beautiful woman attracted to Tom Hanks” and “a beautiful woman attracted to Steve Carell.” Later she was in “Gnomeo and Juliet,” which presumably paid off the mortgage on a beach house or freed her from whatever the English version of crushing student loans is.
Yet Blunt has become one of the most interesting things to happen to big-screen science fiction in quite some time. Between “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Looper,” and “The Edge of Tomorrow,” she’s a devotee of rolling the dice on an original, untested science-fiction concept. (But seriously, why did anyone think a movie called “Edge of Tomorrow” could do well?) Unlike, say, J.J. Abrams’s recent contributions to the genre, Blunt invests in movies that aren’t sequels or reboots. Granted, those movies also starred Matt Damon, Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise, so they were solid bets. But the perceived absence of new, original movies in theaters, especially science-fiction movies, has a counterpoint in Blunt’s recent run. I mean, she hasn’t reached Sigourney Weaver status yet, but she’s definitely the mirror-universe J.J.