Jennifer Aniston and the curse of 'Friends'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Her latest film is yet another flop. Even so, she's doing well compared to her former co-stars, reports Guy Adams in Los Angeles

For Jennifer Aniston, it was just another week at the (box) office. First, she tiptoed up a red carpet on the arm of an eligible male co-star. Then, she mounted a PR blitz that put her on the front of almost every gossip magazine in America. Finally, after swinging by several chat-show studios, she holed-up at a female bachelor pad in the Hollywood hills to see how The Switch, her latest heavily-marketed romantic comedy, would perform in cinemas.

You didn't need a crystal ball to predict what would happen next; just a healthy sense of history. Like most of the movies that the 41-year-old actress has launched since the demise of Friends, the TV series which made her famous, The Switch bombed. Despite all the marketing, the vaguely biographical tale of a single fortysomething who turns to sperm donors to satisfy a ticking biological clock, opened to complete apathy, limping into eighth position in the weekend box office charts, with ticket sales of just $8m (£5.1m).

To put that figure into context, it was less than half the amount made by Sylvester Stallone's kitsch action film The Expendables, which remains top of the charts in its second week of release, and $4m less than the figure recorded by the second placed title, a low-budget horror spoof called Vampires Suck. It was worse than the weekend's other underperforming new releases, Emma Thompson's Nanny McPhee Returns, and Piranha 3D. As headline-writers put it, Aniston's film about a turkey-baster turned out to be a turkey.

It also highlighted an unfortunate paradox. Though Jennifer Aniston is comfortably one of the world's most famous and recognisable women, her movie career has been defined by failure. Three of her last four releases have now been financial disasters. Management closed after making just $2m in May 2009. Love Happens returned $36m. Her last effort, The Bounty Hunter, defied awful reviews to post $136m globally. But these days, when even cheap studio flicks cost $60m, that doesn't put it into blockbuster territory.

Little wonder, then, that followers of this most cut-throat of industries are currently unsheathing their poisoned pens. "At what point will Hollywood give up on Jennifer Aniston?" read a headline in Forbes yesterday, above a piece which pointed out that the star's commercial track record seems at odds with her enormous wage demands, which currently make her the third-highest-paid actress in Hollywood, with annual earnings estimated at $27m (only Sandra Bullock and Angelina Jolie fare better).

"Exactly why is she a movie star?" asked Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times, pointing out that "she's made an almost-unbroken string of forgettable movies that have rarely made a lot of money". Perez Hilton, the acerbic blogger who is seemingly beloved of a younger generation of readers, put things more succinctly. "Poor Maniston!" he declared on Sunday evening. "She is just not a film star!"

The case against Aniston looks even more compelling when you consider the fact that biggest successes – Bruce Almighty, The Break-Up, and Marley & Me – have all seen her in a co-starring role, where she has played second fiddle in the public's affections to Jim Carrey, or Vince Vaughn, or (in the case of the latter film) a Labrador. She hasn't, on her own delicate shoulders, ever carried a movie past the benchmark of $70m.

The box office is, of course, a weekly crap-shoot. And there is never a shortage of noisy (and largely male) commentators waiting to pour scorn on so-called "chick flicks". But in mentioning Friends, which made her famous and dominated her life for a decade from 1994, Simmons may very well have identified the source of Aniston's commercial woes.

Six years after the show's 238th and last episode, the cultural footprint of Friends remains so vast that every one of its stars remains firmly in its shadow. Matt LeBlanc has not acted since 2006, when his spin-off sitcom, Joey, was axed. David Schwimmer, whose last film, Big Nothing, went straight to DVD, is pursuing a career in theatre. Matthew Perry had a supporting part in Zac Efron's disappointing 17 Again last year, but the last film he took the lead in, Birds of America, did not get a wide release.

Aniston's former female colleagues have also suffered from the so-called "curse of Friends". Lisa Kudrow makes occasional minor film and TV appearances, but her last major movie role was in a title called The Paper Man, which made a mere $13,000 at the box office. Courteney Cox hasn't even bothered trying to crack the movie business, opting for more guaranteed success on TV.

The phenomenon of sitcom stars trying, and failing, to become movie stars is well-documented: after a decade being beamed into the world's living rooms, David Schwimmer will forever be the gormless Ross, just as Kudrow finds it hard, in the public's imagination, to be anything but the eccentric Phoebe.

Aniston, who still looks and sounds like Rachel Green in many of her film roles, is further hampered by the regrettable attitudes of an industry that has a famously throwaway attitude towards female talent of a certain age. So far, she has perhaps only survived (when other Friends stars have stumbled) because her market value has been inflated by her own, chequered, love-life). As one half of "Braniston", alongside former husband Brad Pitt, she was cast at the centre of one of the world's most watched celebrity soap-operas. When Pitt left her in 2005 for his current partner Angelina Jolie (forming "Brangelina"), she became first America's best-known scorned housewife, and then Hollywood's most eligible female fortysomething, a role that continues to this day.

Her ill-fated dalliances with the likes of musician John Mayer have helped extend her celebrity career way past that of her former Friends co-stars, guaranteeing her, for example, a Vogue cover only last year. It also makes a useful marketing tool: almost every film she launches sees her in a supposed "romance" with a male co-star.

For now, this continues to land Aniston film roles: her calendar for next year contains three expensive studio titles. But so long as she continues to play single women seeking happiness ever after, critics will be entitled to roll their eyes and accuse her of doing the same old thing.

"In her newest movie, The Switch, Aniston plays a character that has no husband or boyfriend, which is decidedly inconvenient considering her time to have a child is running out," noted the New York Post last week. "It's funny, cause that's the exact same situation the real Aniston wakes up to each and every morning (minus the stupendous dimmers that Brad Pitt personally installed in the house they lived in together, and the weighted knowledge that he now has six children that she did not give him)."

Choosing art that imitates her life has, in other words, landed Aniston lots of highly paid film roles. It has kept her in the fame game far longer than she had any right to expect. But, in an industry dogged by accusations of creative stagnation, facing a public that is harder and harder to drag into cinemas, she will only become a true film star – in the critics' eyes, at least – when she makes a movie that is more interesting than her own, tangled romantic life.

How the 'Friends' alumni have fared

Courteney Cox

With the strongest big-screen pedigree when the series began, and a key role in the popular Scream movie series, Cox has recently found herself more in demand on television. These days her biggest role is as a sexually voracious woman in pursuit of younger men in the comedy series Cougar Town.

Matt LeBlanc

Considered the best-loved character in the series, network bosses commissioned two seasons of a spinoff about Joey Tribbiani. But the new show flopped, and LeBlanc has been considerably less in demand since. A trained carpenter, he professes not to mind. "This whole acting thing was always just ... an absolute shot in the dark," he once said. "If it didn't pan out, I had my hammer and tool belt."



Lisa Kudrow

Playing a washed-up former sitcom star searching for a new hit in The Comeback was a bold approach to the demise of Friends and Pheobe. It earned Kudrow critical acclaim, but only one series. Never obvious star material, she has taken a number of supporting film roles, and now executive produces the US version of Who Do You Think You Are?

Matthew Perry

After Chandler, Perry moved behind the camera, directing an episode of Scrubs. He also gained two Emmy nominations for a part in The West Wing, and took a starring role in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which lasted only one series. Most recently he starred in teen film 17 Again.



David Schwimmer

Arguably the most successful of the show's alumni, Schwimmer has made few high-visibility moves, instead quietly establishing himself as a successful director with Simon Pegg's Run Fatboy Run and guest-starring in such hits as Curb Your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock. He's also carved out a niche as a stage actor.

NEHA-TAMARA PATEL

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor