How ‘The Avengers’ & ‘Lucy’ Turned Scarlett Johansson Into an Action Superstar

Lucy Movie

Donning a dodgy Russian accent and a skin-tight, leather suit as “The Avengers'” Black Widow is reaping dividends for Scarlett Johansson.

The actress may have benefited more from her work on the Marvel movies than any other member of the superhero ensemble save for Robert Downey Jr., whose work as Iron Man transformed him into perhaps the biggest box office star on the planet. Evidence of Johansson’s raised profile was on display this weekend, as the actress powered “Lucy” to a $44 million debut, the third biggest female-driven action opening of all time.

First and second place belong to “Wanted” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” both star Angelina Jolie, who may have a worthy successor in the come-hither glances and gunplay department in Johansson.

“‘Avengers’ turned her into an action star and that’s part of the reason ‘Lucy’ had so much success,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It’s difficult for females to be an action star. You can count them on one hand.”

Indeed, besides Jolie and Milla Jovovich, the list is unpeopled. Those who have tried to carve a name for themselves, such as Geena Davis with “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” have failed to catch fire.

But Johansson has shrewdly mixed up her dance card, rotating smaller indie projects, like the moody alien thriller “Under the Skin,” the breakout art house hit “Chef” and the off-beat rom-com “Her,” with overtly commercial projects like “Lucy” and last spring’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Throughout her career she’s gravitated towards filmmaker-driven projects from the likes of Woody Allen, Spike Jonze, Christopher Nolan and “Lucy’s” Luc Besson. That’s a strategy that’s served the likes of Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio well.

“What a career she’s got going right now,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “She’s been smart to align herself with great directors and to be choosey about the people she works with.”

“Lucy,” which features Johansson as a superhuman avenging angel, was the first big film she’s had to carry on her own shoulders and now that she’s surmounted that obstacle, expect Hollywood to take notice.

“She is well respected in the acting community and she can deliver at the box office, that’s got to have producers salivating,” said Bock.

Universal Pictures, which released “Lucy,” credits Johansson with bringing in a more diverse crowd. Fifty percent of the opening weekend audience was female, a rarity for the male-oriented action genre.

“We knew women were going to react well to this,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal Pictures domestic distribution chief. “It helps that [Johansson is] a really good actress, in addition to being appealing as an action star.”

To be sure, other “Avengers” alum have profited from their time in tights. Chris Hemsworth helped push “Snow White & the Huntsman” to $396.6 million globally and Mark Ruffalo is having a banner year with his well-received turns in “Begin Again” and the upcoming “Foxcatcher.” But it is Johansson who seems to have mastered the perfect mix of commercial hits and passion projects.

Move over Angelina Jolie. Meet your next action icon.

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  1. Heechul kim says:

    Why I can see film lucy in the internet please answere me

  2. Jayson says:

    “Move over Angelina Jolie”? Yeah, no. Jolie has pushed at least 5 action films to huge box office (Tomb Raider 1 + 2, Salt, Wanted, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), not to mention Maleficent. It will be a long time before any actress can match that consistent track record. Good for ScarJo though, I really enjoyed Lucy.

  3. Griff says:

    Uh, Hunger Games? Hello? Divergent?? All made more than ScarJo or Jolie’s OW. Unless you count ScarJo’s Avengers and if you count and ensemble like Wanted for Jolie, I don’t know why you wouldn’t count Avengers for ScarJo.

  4. Christy says:

    I would have liked to see someone give Jennifer Garner a better break than Elektra at action superstardom. She was amazing in Alias and carried the series, not just with her physical fitness and ability to make kick-ass action scenes believable (which I can hardly say the same for Angelina Jolie’s absurdly skinny arms in Wanted), but also with the emotional depth she brought to the character.

  5. Dale says:

    “. . . Ruffalo is having a *banner* year. . . ” GET IT??? “. . . Banner?” Anyone? Anyone?

  6. Stergios says:

    Scarlett Johansson deserves all of her incredible success to the fullest. She had been one of the greatest actresses of her generation for more than a decade and she has never scored an Oscar nomination (that’s just absurd). She has been great in a series of films, but her recent performance in the groundbreaking Jonathan Glazer masterpiece “Under the skin” is without a question her absolute best. She was undoubtedly Oscar-worthy also for “Her” and “Don Jon” (what a year for her, right?) and of course “Lost in translation” and “Match point”. After her best Black Widow appearance ever in this year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, she deserved to shine as the star of an action-packed film. She is absolutely terrific in “Lucy” and the film is just a blast from start to finish. A refreshingly surreal, unapologetically silly, immensely entertaining and unstoppably intriguing action film. Kudos to both her and Luc Besson for making the viewers forget a little bit about sequels and comic book adaptations. “Lucy” is campy fun at its best and Scarlett couldn’t possibly be any more awesome in it. Her performance is for sure the film’s highlight.

  7. Smooth. says:

    Either this writer is Johansson’s relative or he has a major crush on her. Next.

  8. while Lucy overperformed at the box office, the cost of the film was rather inexpensive and marketing was probably about the same. When Scarlett opens a $170m film, earning $715m worldwide, she can supplant Ms. Jolie. Guess you forgot Ms Weaver’s turn as Ellen Ripley.

    (Remember Lucy opened away from any potential blockbusters which certainly helped her performance. Perhaps Marvel will “approve” a Black Widow standalone. After all, she did sign a multi
    picture deal)

  9. blip says:

    From “Girl with a Pearl Earring” to “Lucy” (and projects like “Lost in Translation” in between): wow. Just wow. Think one of Ms. Johansson’s strengths is that, even in big, action-based films, she’s not afraid of being quiet– she’s got the discipline to go for “still,” rather than “flash.” Whatever it is, it works. She’s a strong, growing actress all ’round. Kudos, Scarlett!

  10. While she didn’t ‘parlay’ it into other characters and/or franchises and by some individuals’ standards, might not be an ‘action superhero, but what about Sigourney Weaver three-movie run as Ellen Ripley in the Alien series.

  11. DA Jolden says:

    Ahem. No mention of JLaw, who’s Hunger Games II not only racks up record box office for a film with a solo woman lead, but picks up the odd Oscar for her work in indies. Your writer has blinders.

  12. fishnets says:

    Scarlett amounted tons of goodwill with the eclectic selection of roles and movies. Note to all aspiring action stars – just lining up action roles isn’t enough. Fans support those who paid their dues in smaller, riskier projects. Remember Orlando Bloom? Maybe not. Anyway, that one lucked out with a string of roles in movies that were big hits due to reasons unrelated to his presence (famous brand, big star). he didn’t take small projects but expected to easily fly solo because everyone knew him form big movies, right? Wrong. His over-budgeted solo flight crash-landed because audience didn’t care for him and many were turned off by him (he isn’t a good actor and has zero charisma). So, compare this easy money career strategy to Scarlett’s hard work in different genres and projects with different boxoffice prospects. Art house to blockbuster and back, prestige to blockbuster and back, indie to blockbuster and back. That’s how it’s done. She deserves to be on the top.

    BTW, Lucy was lots of fun and Scarlett was great, sympathetic lead. I really felt for her character.

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