In case you missed it, we are having a little post-Olympic fun with our sensational movie stars who may or may not actually be athletic. The Movie Star Games will take place like a normal, single-elimination tournament until we have one actor/actress left standing. The first round will pit the one-seeds versus the four-seeds and the two-seeds versus the three-seeds in each region. Each matchup will be scored based on the following:
- Results- Is the star a proven winner in their role(s)? Do they constantly outperform expectations?
- Stakes- How high are the stakes in their competitions? Are they playing rec-league soccer, or fighting for their lives in a jungle?
- “Olympian-ness”- How “Olympic” is their performance? Are they a lock for gold?
- Movie Quality- The last, least important criteria, but still needs to be discussed. Were the movies actually good? Entertaining, at least? It doesn’t matter if you dominate the competition if you have a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
I will try to be as objective as possible, but let’s face it, it is my blog. If you disagree, feel free to send me a strongly-worded email. And without further ado, let’s get into it.
Region 1: Athletic Characters
(1) Tom Cruise vs. (4) Maggie Q
My gut tells me this match-up (along with pretty much all the 1 vs. 4 match-ups) is a bit lopsided, but I owe it to the field of journalism to dig in, just in case. If you want results, you can’t go wrong with Tom Cruise. The man doesn’t lose (basically). Looking at strictly his roles in spy movies, where he is required to run for miles, climb hotels, and hang on to airplanes, Cruise’s record of success is impeccable. He completes his missions, no matter how impossible they might be (get it?). More importantly, Cruise’s under-sized Maverick, along with his less-athletic teammate/wingman/best friend Goose, have no business beating the oiled-up macho-men Iceman and Slider in beach volleyball. Did that phase the cocky pilot? Not at all. The 5’6″ Cruise was spiking volleyballs in jeans. That’s dedication. It doesn’t matter that he lost the points competition at Top Gun academy, because he was the real winner out on the volleyball court.
Meanwhile, for Maggie Q, it’s kind of the opposite story. Sure, in Balls of Fury, she’s a superb ping-pong player. Certainly better than me. However, she might not be the best competitor in the movie– she might not even be better than Christopher Walken. We never get to see that match-up, so that may be unfair, but the speculation is dangerous in this competition. Plus, in her other notable role (to me, anyways) in Live Free or Die Hard, she is unceremoniously crushed by a minivan at the bottom of an elevator shaft. That doesn’t sound like winning to me.
As far as stakes go, both face life-and-death scenarios, so this is relatively evenly-matched. Of course, Cruise’s beach volleyball scene simply has the weight of 30 years of homo-erotic jokes attached, while Maggie Q played in a life-or-death game of ping-pong in Balls of Fury. But with everything on the line, Cruise’s record of success is clear. Both have skills that translate into Olympic events, but Cruise’s career is certainly longer and filled with more classic (and flat out better) films. Maggie Q’s best film might be Mission: Impossible III, and in it Cruise is her superior. Again, while it was worth investigating, this isn’t much of a contest.
Winner: Tom “Maverick” Cruise
(2) Jennifer Lawrence vs. (3) Michael B. Jordan
Smaller sample sizes, and a tighter decision for sure. Just to recap, we are basically looking at Lawrence’s archery skills against Jordan’s boxing skills. Jordan has roles as a football player and superhero sprinkled in, but in terms of Olympic qualities, we are looking at their two most-heralded athletic roles.
In one corner, we have J-Law, who starred as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. She used her archery skills to fend off bloodthirsty teenagers, scary devil dogs (not the dessert), and literally start a revolution. I think. (Full Disclaimer: I didn’t finish the entire series). From the very first moment we see her, we realize Katniss isn’t fucking around.
In the other corner, we have Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in the newest title in the Rocky franchise, Creed. Now, let’s get this straight, I loved Creed. I am so happy that the franchise moved beyond the atrocity of Rocky V and the mediocrity of Rocky Balboa, and started something fresh and new. However, Category 4 is probably the only one that Michael B. Jordan can win. Most importantly, he (SPOILER ALERT) loses the major fight in the film. Sure, the announcers claim that he “won the night” and he gains a lot of respect, but he loses a split-decision. Losing doesn’t get you to the Olympics.
In terms of stakes, both major characters fight on Pay-Per-View, but that means two completely different things. Creed‘s main fight takes place on HBO. The main battle in The Hunger Games takes place in some crazy, computerized jungle, as people pay to watch teenagers kill each other. I’m gonna go ahead and give the “stakes” point to J-Law. Finally, due to these other major points, I’d say J-Law is the bigger lock for a gold medal. She is clearly the superior archer in the film, while Jordan isn’t the best boxer. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Winner: Jennifer Lawrence
Region 2: Athletes In Comedies
(1) Adam Sandler vs. (4) Amanda Bynes
As in the last bracket, this is a tough draw for Bynes. Sure, her success rate is 100%. She’s a proven winner, and she doesn’t do it taking the easy road. Bynes goes in to a top boarding school, makes the boys’ (men’s?) soccer team, and dominates. She scores the biggest goal with a dope bicycle kick, making the goalie look absolutely ridiculous. And, to top it off, She’s the Man is a pretty funny movie. However, Sandler is a tried-and-true volume shooter, and it shows in this competition.
That isn’t to say Sandler doesn’t win, though. Against all odds, his characters in Happy Gilmore and The Water Boy excel in their sports, turning in performances that are, at times, dominant. Happy even takes down PGA Tour frontman Shooter McGavin on an absolutely absurd putt, which makes me think he’d fare well in the Olympics. He leads the Mean Machine to improbable victory in The Longest Yard as well, and it is clear that the team of convicts is overmatched when Paul “Wrecking” Crewe isn’t on the field. With the exception of his basketball game in Grown-Ups (which certainly carries a lot of emotional weight), Sandler is constantly involved in sports on a collegiate or professional level, while Bynes plays high school soccer. It’s just all too much for the young Viola Hastings.
Winner: Adam Sandler
(2) Wesley Snipes vs. (3) Vince Vaughn
This may be the closest first-round match-up in the entire bracket. On the surface, you might think “oh, that should be a blow-out.” Wesley Snipes’ roles seem to be more athletic. But that’s why we can’t make assumptions in this game. Sure, Snipes plays a professional athlete in Major League. It’s a classic movie, one of the best baseball films ever, and Willy Mays Hayes is a big reason why. However, Hayes doesn’t actually hit stardom until Major League II. In the first film, the only one in which Snipes played the role, Hayes was a light-hitting centerfielder, whose only plus-tool was his speed (and, sometimes, it wasn’t even that much of a plus). On the basketball court, in White Men Can’t Jump, Snipes again stars in a classic sports film. Yet again, his athletic accomplishments aren’t necessarily that impressive. Is he more athletic than co-star Woody Harrelson? Sure. Does that reflect in the playing style of his Sidney Deane? Of course. There’s no clear indication, though, that Deane is actually the better basketball player. They both hustle each other throughout the movie. And if he can’t beat out Hoyle, Deane isn’t a lock to make the Men’s Basketball team, no matter how many stars drop out.
Now, looking at Vaughn, sure he may not have “as athletic” of a movie profile. But let’s face it, he’s a winner. In Dodgeball, he is the emotional and physical leader of the Average Joes, is their second-best player, and pulls off an incredible upset in sudden-death dodgeball. The stakes are high, and the feat of athleticism is probably greater than anything Snipes pulls off in either movie. Plus, if we are really looking for a handball revolution, we need serious athletes, and I’m sure Peter LaFleur could take time off from his gym to go win a gold medal. Again, in Old School, Vaughn leads a rag-tag group to athletic victory, despite being severe underdogs in the gymnastics portion of the competition.
It can be argued whose movies are better (Snipes has the classics, Vaughn as a few of this generation’s finest comedies), and whose stakes are higher. It can be argued whose skills translate more directly to the Olympics. And, true, they both are winners in their films. But Vaughn’s blend of leadership and athletic achievement pushes him out into the first upset of this tournament.
Winner: Vince Vaughn
Region #3: Real Athletes
(1) Mark Wahlberg vs. (4) Matt Damon
In this battle, it became clear that the two Bostonians were sent down two very different career paths, due in large part to typecasting. Of course, this typecasting was due to Marky Mark’s early-career delinquency and Matt Damon’s stellar screenwriting, but we can save that for another article. If we were arguing about who has been in “better” movies, I think it is a pretty easy win for Damon– sure, Marky Mark has always entertained us, but typically doesn’t get starring roles in cinematic masterpieces. However, that’s not what this competition is about. And, for at least once in his career, the typecasting gives Wahlberg a resounding edge in this competition.
If this were an academic decathlon, Damon’s characters would win, no doubt about it. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Damon credit for often being a winner. But let’s face it: Wahlberg is the superior movie-star athlete, and he’s got the IMDb page to prove it. He’s proved that he’s willing to pummel you inside or outside of the ring (The Fighter, Four Brothers). He has proven to be one of the best marksman on the planet in two separate movies (Shooter, Lone Survivor). And in the ultra-important head-to-head match-up, Wahlberg comes out on top.
Both men have faced life-or-death scenarios on the big screen on a plethora of occasions. They both have movie star skills that translate well to Olympic events. And they both have made the city of Boston very, very proud. But in this case, we can only pick one winner. Despite his trash-talking deficiencies, it’s gotta be Marky Mark’s brawn over Damon’s brains. How do you like them apples?
Winner: Mark Wahlberg
(2) Russell Crowe vs. (3) Jack O’Connell
Despite O’Connell’s lack of name recognition, you have to admit, he has a pretty impressive resume. Multiple Olympic roles, clear physical skills, and plenty of high-stakes roles. On the surface, it looks good for him. However, it’s never as simple as it seems. First off, while O’Connell frequently plays athletes, he’s not necessarily a winner nor a medal lock. In Unbroken, O’Connell’s Louie Zamperini qualifies for the Olympics at an astonishingly young 19 years old (still the youngest qualifier ever for the 5,000). Unfortunately, in his lone Olympic games, Zamperini finished eighth despite a record-setting final lap. In his other films, O’Connell plays an up-and-coming diver and a replacement-level soccer player. His roles are of iconic athletes, true heroes, and incredible stories. That, however, is not what this competition is about.
Russell Crowe also faces high stakes in his athletic movies. In fact, the stakes often can’t get much higher. In Cinderella Man, Crowe’s Jim Braddock boxes during the Great Depression to make a living and feed his family. His final match is against another boxer who killed someone in the ring. But even that is nothing compared to his battles in Gladiator, where Crowe dominates his competition until ultimately being defeated by a cheap-shot from Joaquin Phoenix. Commentators often talk about an athlete’s “intangibles” like grit, determination, and leadership ability. Well I don’t think anyone in this competition can match Crowe’s intangibles.
Unfortunately for O’Connell, even if the “winning” category is considered a wash, he just doesn’t have the star power to take down Crowe. Russell Crowe’s movies were more critically and commercially successful, and though the story of Gladiator is largely fictional, the stakes were higher. O’Connell has played some real-life heroes, but it just isn’t enough.
Winner: Russell Crowe
Region #4: Athletes in Dramas
(1) Sylvester Stallone vs. (4) Ashton Kutcher
Poor, poor Ashton Kutcher. He’s the best swimmer in this region, in fact in this whole competition. If he was just one seed higher, he may have pulled an upset over in-movie mentor Kevin Costner. But alas, it wasn’t in the cards. The argument for Kutcher is, as we’ve seen in other cases, he may be one of the surer medal contenders. It is shown in The Guardian that his character had a plethora of Division I scholarship offers, and he risks his life for pretty meager pay check. It’s admirable, and in another life, Jake Fischer may have been an Olympic swimmer in the movie. However, Kutcher suffers from a lack of volume shooting, and from running into one of the most prolific contenders of all time.
Sylvester Stallone ticks off every box that we need. Does he win? Rocky is the Heavyweight Champion of the World for parts of three different Rocky movies, and he WON THE COLD WAR WITH HIS FISTS. Honestly, if all Sly had was Rocky IV, he gets by Kutcher without a ton of difficulty. It’s closer, sure, but Stallone still probably pulls it out. But it just doesn’t end with the boxing. Stallone is apparently a capable soccer goalie, and is clearly a highly trained archer. He beats bad guys to a pulp in numerous films, and competes in dire circumstances. And on top of all of that, the original Rocky, which Stallone reportedly wrote in three days, is an Oscar-winning film! Sorry Ashton. You just never really had a chance.
Winner: Sylvester Stallone
(2) Kevin Costner vs. (3) Hilary Swank
This is a battle of the old, grizzled veteran versus the young up-and-comer. Based on volume, Kevin Costner seems to be a firm leader in this showdown. However, closer inspection reveals that perhaps Costner’s athletic accomplishments aren’t all that impressive. Sure, I love For Love of the Game, and yes Kevin Costner’s Billy Chapel does throw a perfect game over the course of the film. But the movie also follows the last career start of a broken down Major League starter– at one point, the announcers comment that the “sun is setting” on Billy Chapel. He loses feeling in his arm/hand, and labors through the last couple innings. He may have had an incredible career up to that point, but that isn’t on film. For Love of the Game is just one in the long line of films in which Costner plays a washed up athlete in the twilight of his career. Bull Durham? Costner is an aging minor league catcher who blew his one chance at the big leagues. Tin Cup? Costner is a golf prodigy that flamed out, and then takes 12 shots to complete the final hole of a tournament because he doesn’t want to take the safe way out. The Guardian? Costner is a Coast Guard hero with an incredible service record, but one who has been relegated to teaching at The Academy because of broken down physical and mental health. Are his movies great? Yes. But he has trouble delivering a knock out blow to a feisty Hilary Swank.
Meanwhile, Swank is the type of athlete that would get all the air time during the Olympics. Her story as a young Tae Kwon Do fighter, learning from the legendary Mr. Miyagi, would win the hearts of fans at home. Her legacy as a late-blooming, underdog fighter would surely earn her an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s post-game coverage. In Karate Kid Part Four, Swank takes on the school bully and wins, despite a serious size and experience disadvantage. Likewise, Swank is a raw talent in Million Dollar Baby, but Clint Eastwood takes a chance on her, and she dominates in Europe before the tragic end of the film. Swank is a winner, and her films are also very, very good– Million Dollar Baby is the best film in this matchup. Costner probably takes the “stakes” argument, though only because he’s competing at a higher level– Swank faces some pretty serious stakes as well. Her talent also translates the best into actual Olympic performance. We haven’t seen many of them in the competition, but in this case, we have another upset.
Winner: Hilary Swank
So there are your winners and losers from Round One. Stay tuned for more athletic revelry in the Elite Eight!