Thank goodness for Chris Pratt. Between his star turns in this past weekend’s record-breaking hit Jurassic World—which brought in an unbelievable (and unexpected) $208.8 million at the domestic box office—and last summer’s surprise success, Guardians of the Galaxy, the former schlumpy character actor from NBC’s Parks and Recreation has risen from television’s training ground to become Hollywood’s box-office savior. He’s a wunderkind with the physicality of Tom Cruise, the rugged good looks of a young Harrison Ford, and a smart-ass, goofy demeanor that’s part Bruce Willis, part his own creation.
“I don’t know how else to say it other than: He’s a movie star,” says Jurassic World producer Frank Marshall. “We were fortunate to have found him when we did.”
He’s not kidding. Pratt’s meteoric rise comes at a time when once-reliable male A-listers are falling prey to moviegoers’ fickle demands, succeeding only when performing within the narrow box of audience expectations. Robert Downey Jr. saves the day as Iron Man but generates a fraction of the profits when starring in The Judge. (Despite his relentless promotion, the drama made only $47 million, or about 10 percent of Iron Man 3’s lifetime gross.) Johnny Depp may kill as Capt. Jack -Sparrow, but he can’t catch a crowd in a kooky comedy such as Mortdecai, which made a paltry $7.7 million earlier this year. Pratt’s success, by contrast, carries an aura of surprise. He may be playing in the critic-proof arenas constructed by Marvel Entertainment and Jurassic architect Steven Spielberg, but both his starring vehicles confounded Hollywood’s expectations, outperforming even the most optimistic of predictions. Now studios are wondering: What else can he do?
“I think he has range,” says veteran producer Lawrence Gordon, who compares Pratt to a young Willis. “I can think of a number of movies that I’ve been involved in [over the years] that he could have starred in. He would have been great in Field of Dreams.” But back when Kevin Costner reigned in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he could toggle from Mafia tales (The Untouchables) to sports movies (Bull Durham) to political thrillers (JFK) without fretting over switching things up. He belonged to a stratum of stars, including Cruise, Tom Hanks, and Mel Gibson, who could step away from blockbusters to lead any character-driven drama they chose. But times changed, as evidenced by the rise of Depp, Will Smith, and Downey, who aren’t always as bankable in quirkier, quieter fare. The hope is that Pratt won’t be stalled by the same fate.
“There’s a little bit of the ’80s and ’90s in Pratt, but there is also a bit of the stars from the ’30s and ’40s in there, too,” says Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow. “He’s like me. He’s kinda like all of us now. We are a remix generation.”
Wisely, Pratt is taking great care when plotting his career trajectory, making the most of his newfound leading-man status, and he’s relying on wisdom gained during the 15 years he spent working on television and in smaller movie roles to help make informed decisions. One lesson? Be selective. “I’m seeing you have to say no to some things because some things are just bad,” he told EW earlier this year. “Like, you’re given the broken birds and misfit toys that for 10 years no other actor has wanted to put together or play with. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s a reason.”
Pratt’s contractually booked for two return trips to Jurassic World along with two more Guardians movies, but as he builds up his action-figure likeness over the next few years, he will also try his hand at the Western genre opposite Denzel Washington in Antoine Fuqua’s action ensemble The Magnificent Seven. And according to his director, there’s another layer to Pratt waiting to be discovered. “Since spending time with Chris in prep and filming over these past few months, he has a serious edge about him that I don’t think a lot of people have seen yet,” says Fuqua.
Pratt will follow that job with a pretty sizeable payday when he stars opposite Jennifer Lawrence in the upcoming Passengers for Imitation Game director Mortem Tyldum.
As for persistent rumors that Pratt will don the iconic brown fedora to play the title character in a new installment of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise? It’s all speculation. According to longtime franchise producer Marshall, Pratt certainly will be considered, but no discussions have taken place. Still, even without Indy, Pratt’s future is looking pretty bright. “He’s going to be around for a long time,” says Gordon. “I just hope I get to work with him.”
We’re pretty sure he’s not the only one.