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The Three Types Of Sandra Bullock Movies

Sandra Bullock’s latest movie — “Our Brand Is Crisis,” a black comedy based on the time a bunch of Americans interfered with a Bolivian election — bombed at the box office and flopped among critics last weekend. The response from reviewers is not an uncommon one in Bullock’s career: solid performance from her, not a great movie on any other count.

Indeed, when Bullock has a script that lives up to her performing skills, she shines. She won an Academy Award for her turn in “The Blind Side” (2009) and received a best actress nomination for her essentially-one-woman-show role in “Gravity” (2013). There’s a reason that she’s the second-most bankable actress working, according to a metric developed by box office analytics site The Numbers.

In good movies with good scripts, Bullock can rise to the occasion.

“Our Brand Is Crisis” was not one of those movies, though, and did not have one of those scripts. The film has a measly 31 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s pulled in the smallest nationwide opening box office haul of Bullock’s career. Tough break for Bullock. But she’s had a bunch of tough breaks, and she’s still here.

As is the custom in our rolling Hollywood Taxonomy series, I pulled the data on every film with Bullock in a leading role from critical ratings aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and box-office database OpusData. Here’s where Bullock’s brand stands:


Hope Sinks

“Well, I take my share of risks. Uh-huh. Um, I don’t always floss. I rip the tags off my pillows.”

— Angela, “The Net”

Films: “Love Potion No. 9” (1992); “The Net” (1995); “In Love and War” (1996); “Two if by Sea” (1996); “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997); “Hope Floats” (1998); “Practical Magic” (1998); “28 Days″ (2000); “Murder by Numbers” (2002); “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” (2005); “The Lake House” (2006); “Premonition″ (2007); “All About Steve″ (2009).

“Our Brand Is Crisis” has great company. This cluster — any movie with less than a 40 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a $100 million inflation-adjusted box office — includes a lot of Bullock’s early roles. There’s “Love Potion No. 9,” in which Bullock and Tate Donovan buy — let’s be real here — superscientific roofies from a gypsy, because the 1990s were weird and that was a movie that could still please something like a quarter of critics. Then you have “The Net,” which is about Bullock having her identity stolen by Internet hackers. All things considered, that was a pretty forward-looking plot by 1995 standards and probably earned every percentage point of its 36 percent fresh rating.

There are also two poorly thought-out sequels in here. “Speed 2: Cruise Control” is a film whose most impressive contribution to cinema was pulling off a 3 percent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Or — it might have been providing Bullock with the funds to make “Hope Floats,” which is also in this set of terrible movies. Then we have “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” a film about a successful career woman who’s dumped by her boyfriend and relegated to a public relations role before saving William Shatner from kidnappers.1

Still, look at all the other actors from these films: They’re not exactly marquee names. Now ask yourself why Bullock is the last one standing, Oscar in hand, defiant. The answer is that even if these movies sucked, Bullock was consistently the positive element amid the muck. The fact that the second most bankable actress in America today had to deign to appear in these flops says more about the film industry than it does about Bullock.

Final thought: The loglines of these movies are absurd and magnificent, and I’m going to plan a Bad Sandra Bullock Movie Marathon as soon as I can.

Miss Congeniality

“And for me this experience has been one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences of my life.”

— Gracie Hart, “Miss Congeniality”

Films: “Demolition Man” (1993); “Forces of Nature” (1999); “Miss Congeniality” (2000); “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” (2002); “Two Weeks Notice” (2002); “Crash” (2004); “The Proposal” (2009).

There are several polarizing films here in the middle cluster. “Miss Congeniality,” perhaps a perfect film, is in this category because of its deliriously underrated 42 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Punching in at $147 million after adjusting for inflation, it’s one of the top two hits of the first half of Bullock’s career. This category also includes “Two Weeks Notice,” a generally unremarkable rom-com remembered for the glaring error in its title that I’m told is like needles in the eyes for people who care about grammar.

As for the bad: “Crash” sucks. It sucks so much. Enough people have written about “Crash” and how it sucks that if I write anything about how “Crash” sucks, I will become so bored with myself that watching “Crash” may become a viable alternative. Just Google it. Rotten Tomatoes, with its 75 percent fresh rating, is full of shit on this movie. Everyone knows it didn’t deserve the Oscar, the director knows it, enough about “Crash.”

Most interesting in this set, though, is “The Proposal,” a smash-hit romantic comedy with Bullock and Ryan Reynolds that made a whole bunch of money — $180 million in 2014 dollars, the biggest rom-com of the year — despite tepid reviews. The key with “The Proposal” is that it came out in 2009, the same year as the film that would eventually net Bullock her best actress Oscar and kick off the five-year tear she’s been on.

Give Her The Damn Oscars

“Cos either way, it’ll be one hell of a ride. I’m ready.”

— Ryan Stone in “Gravity”

Films: “While You Were Sleeping” (1995); “A Time to Kill” (1996); “The Blind Side” (2009); “The Heat” (2013); “Gravity” (2013); “Minions” (2015).

This is the set for any film that grossed more than $100 million domestically and had a positive Rotten Tomatoes score.

Bullock had lead roles in two high-grossing, well-regarded films in the 1990s: the romantic comedy “While You Were Sleeping” and the John Grisham novel adaptation “A Time to Kill.” After that, it would be awhile until Bullock was in a film with both critical acclaim and substantial box-office success. In fact, it would be more than a decade. She finally succeeded on both counts in 2009 with her Oscar-winning role in “The Blind Side.”

Quick note: Bullock’s role in “Speed” (1994) is definitely in this category, but OpusData lists her billing in that movie as “supporting role.” If it were up to me, the 93 percent fresh film that made $120 million before adjusting for inflation would definitely be in this cluster. But we’re not in the business of messing around with data based on our own preferences, so it’s not in the chart.

After “The Blind Side,” it gets kind of odd: Bullock’s next three films could not be any more different in tone or style, but all were slam dunks. Bullock once again joined the FBI in “The Heat,” a buddy cop comedy with Melissa McCarthy. She also appeared (very nearly solo) in the sci-fi low earth orbit nightmare “Gravity,” which pulled a Bullock-high 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and lots of Oscar nominations (no major wins). And she was in “Minions,” which was terrible — well, 54 percent fresh, but still — yet also made an obscene amount of money — $335 million domestically — so I guess she can buy that beach house or whatever she’s been saving up for.

Those last three films underscore Bullock’s career: She can do the serious material, she can be a convincing and funny law-enforcement agent, and she can brighten a terrible movie. That’s the reason she’s so bankable.

Needless to say, I’m already pre-ordering tickets for “Our Brand Is Crisis 2: Armed and Fabulous,” in which Bullock deposes the president she got elected in the first movie in a violent coup. And if they’re not already making that, I swear to god I will write it.


  1. It has been awhile since I saw this film, but for the life of me, I can’t remember if Shatner was playing a character in the film or was just playing William Shatner. Maybe there’s no difference.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.