Angelina Jolie jolts a man's world: action films

Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:12am EDT
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By Jay A. Fernandez

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The National Organization for Women should send Angelina Jolie a nice cheese basket (or vice versa).

The world's most famous Hollywood humanitarian might not have single-handedly erased gender inequality in the movie industry, but she sure has struck a major blow for actresses. How else to explain her $20 million payout for Sony's next big summer release, "Salt," an action project that originally was written to star a man -- no less than Tom Cruise?

"It's definitely unusual that a female has become an action star," "Salt" producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura says. "But it's a funny thing. She's not a female action star; she's an action star. She's really the first female to transcend gender. I don't think it's occurred before."

To di Bonaventura's point, a star must be in some rarefied atmosphere when a lead role in a big studio action movie is rewritten from male to female. It's akin to the groundbreaking result when 25 years ago Jerry Bruckheimer had the white lead in the "Beverly Hills Cop" screenplay refashioned so it could star a 22-year-old black actor named Eddie Murphy.

Then again, given Jolie's track record, it's not so much of a stretch. In the past 10 years, she has starred in five action-dominated films that have averaged $124 million in domestic grosses. Worldwide, those grosses total nearly $1.5 billion. Again, that's just her action roles -- "Wanted" (2008), "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005), "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (2003), "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001) and "Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000).

The Philip Noyce-directed "Salt," in which Jolie plays a CIA spook accused of foreign espionage who must go on the run, looks prepared to push that total upward when it opens next Friday. Industry tracking a week out has it opening north of $30 million, but its only competition that weekend is the kid-friendly "Ramona and Beezus" and the second week of "Inception," which means interest is likely to spike as it gets closer to opening.

"Wanted" opened at $50.9 million against "WALL-E" two summers ago, and "Smith" opened at $50.3 million in 2005.

Sony also has her next project, "The Tourist," a reworking of the 2005 French thriller "Anthony Zimmer," which will open in February. That film pairs her with one of the most bankable actors in the world, Johnny Depp. As Elise, a femme fatale, Jolie gets to show off her sensual side and her active one when killers start chasing the patsy she has put in harm's way.   Continued...