The Netflixification of Russell Crowe

Hollywood has morphed around the great actor
Russell Crowe’s in 2 Exorcism Films? Yes, and Here’s Why the Roles Work
In a three-decade career, he’s developed an impressive range without forgetting how to have fun.

Kudos to Beatrice Loayza who figured out a way to wrap what seemed like some random internet joke – that Russell Crowe recently starred in not one, but two movies about exorcism, with the word in each title, even though the movies are in no way related – into a column about the actor. Was this Crowe just having a bit of fun? Well, maybe, but Loayza also makes a compelling case that they're roles which play to his strengths as an actor in different ways.

One might ask why Crowe is starring in these B-movies in the first place. In the 2000s, Crowe was nominated for a best actor Oscar three years in a row, but at the height of his fame he was associated with the kind of midbudget adult dramas that have become endangered in today’s theatrical landscape. He is getting older, too. At 60, he’s not the strapping It Boy who rallied the Roman masses in “Gladiator” (2000), or the same hunk who made headlines for his on-set romance with Meg Ryan, his “Proof of Life” (2000) co-star. Like many actors of his generation, he’s now playing showbiz with a different set of cards in an industry that looks radically different than when he started out.

There was a moment in time where it seemed like Crowe was destined to become the best actor not just of his generation, but perhaps of all time. I mean, three best actor noms in a row! For three very different types of movies and roles. He was shaping into – in many ways literally – the new Marlon Brando. And now he's making two movies in two years about exorcisms.

I've long been fascinated by the move of great actors to start taking on roles of lower-quality, higher volume. In fact, I wrote about it a few yeas back:

With this newest entrant, Breach, Willis does actually seem to be committed to the movie — and, it should be noted, it sounds like it’s not all bad as a result. This reminds me of some of the other newer players in this world, like Liam Neeson. While movies like Taken may have started off sounding like schlock, they’re actually pretty decent. His issue is slightly different — he keeps making the same general movie over and over again (there may be far deeper, ultimately heartbreaking reasons for that).

John Cusack is at the other end of the spectrum, making these types of movies that largely seem to suck. But perhaps he’s more of a straightforward case, with his star long since dimmed (for seemingly various reasons, including his own choices). Russell Crowe, who is by all accounts, a tremendous actor, may be on the verge of entering this realm as well…

Willis, as it would turn out, also likely had his own heartbreaking reasons for starting to churn out these movies.

Good call on my part recognizing that Crowe was joining the ranks. But per Loayza's piece, it does feel a bit different, as he's choosing parts which play to his strengths and just aren't for the paycheck. But I also like and believe her point that some of the roles Crowe used to play – beyond the big budget ones, like Gladiator – have either gone away, or gone to Netflix. This is the "Michael Clayton" issue I wrote about six years ago.

So now the main theatrical movies we see Crowe in are superhero movies: playing Jor-El (see, Brando!) in Superman and Zeus in Thor. Next up? Kraven the Hunter (alongside the next, perhaps, James Bond?). Otherwise, we see him randomly pop-up in the Apple TV carousel starring in Land of Bad and Poker Face:

Anyway, I think about this more than I should. And that’s largely because I see these movies in front of me more than I should thanks to the dearth of iTunes (yes, it’s still called iTunes) movies this pandemic year. Not to mention all the streaming services now enabling these would-have-been-straight-to-video movies to scale in ways not possible before.

Mainly this is all a plea to make another Master & Commander film. There are 20 books from which to choose! How great would that look on an IMAX screen? Just saying...

One more thing: Crowe, much to his chagrin, is not a part of Ridley Scott's new Gladiator sequel. Though if he were, they may need to call in an exorcist...