state of the arts

Can’t stand Chris Pratt? Moviegoers don’t agree with you

Social media wants us to believe the Marvel star is an unemployable pariah, but the box office sings a different tune, writes Louis Chilton

Saturday 30 April 2022 08:11 BST
Through roles in the Jurassic World films and the Marvel franchise, Chris Pratt has risen to become one of our most prominent movie stars
Through roles in the Jurassic World films and the Marvel franchise, Chris Pratt has risen to become one of our most prominent movie stars (Getty Images)

If Twitter were to be believed, there are few people on earth more despised than Chris Pratt. Paddle through the sea of disparaging remarks and barbed memes, and you might imagine the 42-year-old actor to be something of a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster. A cinematic pariah, unfit for human company or roles in the latest Jurassic World sequel. Such is the sheer volume of disdain levelled against Pratt that filmmaker James Gunn – who directs him in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise – felt compelled to directly address calls for his dismissal. Responding to a fan who asked Marvel to “replace” Pratt (with The Conjuring’s Patrick Wilson), Gunn said: “For what? Because of your made-up, utterly false beliefs about him? Chris Pratt would never be replaced as Star-Lord but, if he ever was, we would all be going with him.”

It’s true. The idea that Pratt would be swapped out, five films deep into a mega-franchise like Marvel, is pretty specious. When actors are recast in major features (outside of contract disputes), there’s always some serious reason: abuse; misconduct; criminality. Pratt’s worst offence is his somewhat tenuous association with a church that has been criticised for its LGBT+ views – guilt only by association. As Adam White wrote a while ago in his assessment of the anti-Pratt backlash, the animosity towards the actor “feels less to do with his personal life and more to do with cool”, or Pratt’s lack thereof. And that’s also true: Pratt doesn’t have the critical cachet of an Oscar Isaac or Adam Driver, nor the popular adoration of a Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt. A man who shoots straight from sitcom supporting-player and rom-com wingman to instant franchise figurehead doesn’t give you much of an underdog to root for. No one wants to champion a steroidal pitbull. But the backlash against him is not only excessive, it’s illusory. Put away the pitchforks and the Most Hated Hunk statuettes – outside the social media bubble, Pratt is not just tolerated by the public at large, but actively embraced.

Since rising to fame through the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, playing the slow-witted but affable Andy Dwyer, Pratt has proved to be one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men. Granted, this is in some part down to the projects he has tethered himself to. Jurassic World broke box office records in 2015 and is still the seventh highest-grossing film of all time. He features twice more in the top 10: reprising his Guardians character, Star-Lord, in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. In 2014, he voiced the lead in The Lego Movie, also a smash hit, and was in the sequel. All these films probably fall into the “too big to fail” bracket; they would have drawn a crowd whether Pratt’s mug was on screen or not. A similar argument has been made about 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which came at a point when Marvel had hit its stride as a remorseless box-office machine, able to churn out popular hits multiple times a year. But in reality, Guardians was still a gamble – an even-nerdier-than-usual space opera based on a lesser-known comic, with talking raccoons and cheesy music and a whole lot of lore. It can’t really be understated how crucial Pratt’s goofy everyman shtick was to the film’s nearly $800m (£630m) success.

Outside the relatively risk-free realm of franchises, Pratt has fared somewhat less well. His 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven made back a little over $162m on a $90m budget (though it would probably be harsh to hold Pratt accountable for the public’s allergy to Westerns). Passengers, in which he played a horny spacefarer who dooms Jennifer Lawrence to a lifetime of interstellar co-dependency, was met with middling reviews and branded a flop, despite making $303m, more than double its budget. Again, though, there were mitigating circumstances. Passengers was directly competing with another space-themed release at the time, the billion-dollar behemoth Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In truth, Pratt’s only major flops have come during the Covid era: Pixar’s Onward and last year’s costly The Tomorrow War, which still accrued enough streaming views for Amazon to greenlight a sequel.

Maybe Pratt isn’t the secret ingredient to all his blockbuster hits, but he’s still a part of the stew – even his detractors seem willing to force him down and come back for seconds. If people really hated him, they sure have a funny way of showing it. As long as people keep showing up for his films, he will keep getting to make them. With another Jurassic World sequel, two more Marvel entries and a Super Mario adaptation on the horizon, it’s hard to see any sort of end in sight. For better or worse, Chris Pratt is one of our biggest movie stars. Maybe not the A-lister we want, but the A-lister we deserve. His critics need to make peace with that – or start putting their money where their tweets are.

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