Gerard Butler has finally found his niche – making dad movies for guys who might not be a dad yet

For about a decade there, Gerard Butler was Hollywood’s worst leading man. This is indisputable. After, after The Phantom of the Opera stumble and 300 Butler later lent his expertise, making a dizzying series of bumbling action films (Olympus has fallen), rudely perceived rom-coms (The ugly truth), and at least one lousy, cocky rom-com conceived (Bounty Hunter). He has made the distinct impression of appearing in good films exclusively by accidental chance – and this exercises some generosity in contact. Egyptian gods New Movie. He even turned around Olympus has fallen In his signature trilogy of low-rent manhood. And then, at some point, people decide they love him. Gerard Butler’s movie becomes more than kind of trashy as Butler plays secret agent Mike Banning. It’s now practically her own brand. Hence the marketing airplanea movie title so generic that Butler’s star billing sounds like an adjuster: Get Ready to Ride Gerard Butler Blaine.

To be fair, some viewers must have already embraced Butler’s curly beauty, gruff manner, and squeezing American accent; Some of these movies have been huge hits (including airplanethat It grossed just over $12 million at the domestic box office End of this week). But what explains the critical reappraisal that has made so many critics genuinely anticipate his next move along with Butler fans?

On paper, this makes sense: Gerard Butler is making the kind of movie that not many major studios are particularly interested in at all. (Many of his biggest films have been mini-Lionsgate stars, who by necessity or by design don’t have many big-budget franchises to serve as their pillars of support.) Sometimes without potatoes. Movies about cops, criminals, intelligence agents, terrorists and disasters. Dad movies for men who may not be fathers yet. He’s steadfastly eschewed superhero films, and has forged a neat British Isles triangle, representing Scotland against Jason Statham’s England and Liam Neeson’s Ireland.

Image: Everett Collection

In practice, though, Butler often comes across as an unhappy middleman, and not just because he stars in many of these films. He has no credibility for Neeson as an actor, no decades of prestige pictures and mentor roles to give his roar some gravitas; It also lacks the pure athleticism of Statham at his best. Butler’s cinematic lacks a series as fun as Statham’s Transporter a trilogy, or a collaboration as fruitful as Neeson with Jaume Collett-Sera; Don’t bother asking if he has a classic-level type grab or Batman beginsNot to mention anything like that Schindler’s List or Silence.

A few years ago, Butler started doing a little better in the B movie category. The cultural-critical turning point seems to be A den of thievesalso known as Dumb the heat, because it’s basically the poor man’s version of the Michael Mann classic – which makes for a fun picture of heist cops and criminals, with Butler particularly rough around the edges as the donut-eating cop plucked straight from an active crime scene. Butler similarly uses his scrawny sass for the very good Cop shop, a barely-watched thriller in which he plays a hitman whose clash with a con artist finds his way to a police station where a rookie officer (Alexis Louder) docks. Hell, it was around this time that Butler made the only viewable entry in his country He fell series, although that means just that Angel fell It is the trauma, rather than the gruesome and jingoistic predicament.

in A den of thievesAnd Cop shopAnd the new airplaneCatch the flash of old butler movie star energy. None of them are as moody or evocative as any number of classic 1940s noir pictures, but they have more color and flavor than the military grays of the worst action films. in airplane, his role as a spunky commercial airline pilot trying to protect his passengers while they’re stranded on an island in the Philippines, feels like a warmer, sweeter Liam Neeson – Neeson’s character minus the alcohol backstory and Catholic guilt. What may seem like a light role for Neeson feels comfortable on Butler’s shoulders.

DEN OF THIEVES, Gerard Butler, 2018. © STX Entertainment / courtesy Everett Collection
Image: Everett Collection

Still, Butler’s critical reclamation based on a few good B pictures seems a bit premature, given the effects of mediocrity and sleaze in its wake. Perhaps some of his rise has to do with his resilience. During the first year plus the COVID-19 pandemic, films were mostly shown on streaming and VOD, and Butler’s contribution to this collection was green land, an extraordinarily grounded (and grim!) apocalyptic disaster movie. Butler seems drawn to variations of this specific genre, such as Monument Destruction London has fallen Or crash severe weather geostormIt once felt so slumped, like it was sifting through a garbage truck full of ’90s car parts. Suddenly, in the midst of a truly global catastrophe, green land It was surprising — and Butler’s career, which often teetered on the brink of direct-to-video (where many of his ’90s predecessors ended up like Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, and John Travolta), seemed not fringe but normative.

The downside is that almost any of Butler’s films, even the best ones, feel like they could be turned straight into streaming. (His last movie before airplaneAnd He was last seen alive, so far ; It was released internationally in 2022 before hitting Netflix recently.) And the upside is that Butler is showing them off; He doesn’t take inflated paychecks for glorious engraving or spread obscurity in Bulgaria (at least not exclusively). His taste may not be as eclectic as Nicolas Cage, but for when you need a movie like January airplane Or an airplane movie like Angel fell, he is there. I remain baffled by his performance in these films, which at times seems to actively counter charisma, as exemplified by his fading American accent. but through airplane, I found myself resigned to that sense of stability that movie stars offer—the knowledge that Gerard Butler would go on to make a certain kind of movie, a certain kind of way. This is not true of course. Jobs change and end all the time. His job is to maintain this illusion. After all, there must be a reason why he still survived so many calamities.

Jesse Hasinger is a writer living in Brooklyn. He is a regular contributor to The AV Club, Polygon, and The Week, among others. Podcasted at And tweets stupid jokes in @tweet.

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