Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Forgotten Failures Of Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson is one of those rare movie stars who's familiar and admired both by the critics who prefer quiet, dramatic character stories and audiences who go to movie theaters in search of eye-popping action. It's not every actor who can give two Oscar-nominated performances and star in what was the highest-grossing film ever, all in the same year. 

After starting out as a child actor, Johansson's star-making role came in Sofia Coppola's acclaimed Lost in Translation in 2004, when Johansson was only a teenager. She then broke into the Hollywood A-list, starring in critical favorites across genres, including Match PointUnder the Skin, and Marriage Story. And in 2010, she began her nine-film tenure as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which made her the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. Today, no woman in movie history can boast a higher lifetime box office total.

Of course, no entertainer has a perfect batting average. While the 2010s consisted of nearly nonstop hits for Johansson, her earlier career was more hit and miss, with a few genuine disasters along the way that you may have forgotten even existed.

North was an inauspicious beginning for Scarlett Johansson's filmography

Scarlett Johansson's career as a child actor has a number of highlights, such as her first starring role in a feature at the age of 11 in the indie dramedy Manny & Lo and getting attention for her turn in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer as a preteen. But the very first entry on her resumé is a bit part in the 1994 Rob Reiner film North, a film that was roundly rejected by critics and made back only $7 million of its $40 million budget

Famously, it was roasted by critic Roger Ebert as one of the worst movies ever made at the time of its release. In his very dramatic review, Ebert wrote, "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

None of the responsibility for this disaster, of course, falls to Scarlett Johansson, who was just a kid at the time of the film's release and played a small role in a large ensemble. But it's funny that the career of one of the most successful Hollywood movie stars of all time would begin with such an incredible bomb.

The Perfect Score gets an F

In 2004, one year after her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Lost in Translation, (though reportedly filmed beforehand), Scarlett Johansson appeared in the ensemble of The Perfect Score, a teen heist comedy from MTV Films, alongside her future Avengers co-star, Chris Evans. In the film, Johansson joins a group of students who attempt to steal the answers to the SATs in order to improve their chances of college admission. It's directed by Brian Robbins — creator of All That, director of Good Burger, Ready to Rumble, and Norbit, and beginning in 2018, president of Nickelodeon Television.

The Perfect Score opened at #4 its opening weekend at the US box office, and it was downhill from there, grossing a total of about $10 million. The film received mixed reviews, amounting to a 35% rating on Metacritic and a 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it had its defenders, one particularly brutal review from Marc Mohan of The Oregonian called it "Oceans Eleven for people who can't count past six." Others compared the film unfavorably to The Breakfast Club.

Johansson did win some praise for her individual performance, however. Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle called Johansson "the best thing about The Perfect Score."

Scarlett Johansson shouldn't have sung A Love Song for Bobby Long

In 2004, Scarlett Johansson and John Travolta co-starred in A Love Song for Bobby Long, an indie character drama set in New Orleans. Johansson plays a young woman who returns to her family home after her mother's death, only to find two strangers (Travolta and Johansson's future The Spirit co-star, Gabriel Macht) have moved in. The three characters become a sort of family unit as they attempt to put their lives together.

Debuting at the 2004 Venice Film Festival and distributed strategically to meet the minimum requirements for Oscar eligibility, A Love Song for Bobby Long was clearly intended as an "awards movie," but the film received mixed reviews from critics and only managed a single nomination all season — a Golden Globe nomination for Scarlett Johansson, her third in two years. Said Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, "Scarlett Johansson is a welcome addition to an otherwise unmemorable party." So, as much as the film as a whole was unsuccessful, it still added a feather to Johansson's soon-to-be-crowded cap.

A Good Woman is mediocre at best

Diving into a serious role, Johansson was second-billed to Helen Hunt in Mike Barker's A Good Woman, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan that transports the play from its original setting of 1890s London to 1930s New York. Johansson plays Meg Windermere, whose new marriage is complicated by salacious socialite Mrs. Stella Erlynne (Hunt). 

A UK-based independent venture, A Good Woman was likely not expected to bring in boffo box office numbers, so its $6.8 million worldwide gross is no surprise. But no one looks forward to bad reviews, and A Good Woman received a tepid critical response that was particularly critical of the actors and their difficulty with Oscar Wilde's heightened dialogue. Star Helen Hunt took the bulk of the criticism, but Johansson wasn't spared. Said Paula Nechak of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Hunt and Johansson, two usually good actresses, are vapidly awful, teetering out of their elements in this shakily drawn period piece."

Scarlett Johansson should've stayed away from The Island

Scarlett Johansson would one day star in some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, but her first sci-fi/action flick was a box office bomb. While rarely a critical favorite, director Michael Bay had never helmed a commercial failure of the likes of The Island, a dystopic thriller starring Johansson and Ewan McGregor. It was the first Bay film not to open at #1 at the US box office (this wouldn't happen again until 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi in 2016), and it grossed a worldwide total of about $163 million off a reported budget of $126 million — a loser by Hollywood standards.

In the film, Johansson plays Jordan Two Delta, who — along with McGregor's Lincoln Six Echo — discovers that the island on which they live is actually a clone farm, where they're created to have their organs harvested by wealthy genetic donors offshore. Roger Ebert described The Island as essentially being two films — a "spare, creepy science fiction parable" and a "high-tech action picture" that don't work next to each other.

Still, the middling reviews for The Island tended not to criticize Johansson's performance. Even in the film's most scathing notice, from The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, the acting was dismissed merely as "forgettable."

Scoop didn't stop the presses

After receiving a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Woody Allen's 2004 drama Match Point, Johansson returned to collaborate with the controversial New York auteur for his 2006 comedy, Scoop, opposite Hugh Jackman. Here, Johansson plays an American journalism student who stumbles across a murder mystery in London.

Reviews for Scoop were mixed, with Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post declaring it "the worst movie Woody Allen has ever made," while others found it to be a passable effort in the Allen idiom. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said of Johansson's role, "Ms. Johansson's performance is all over the place in Scoop, but finally works for a film that is itself all over the place."

Scoop would gross $39 million worldwide, less than half of either Johansson's other collaborations with Woody Allen, Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona. While she hasn't appeared in a Woody Allen film since 2008, she said in 2019 that she remains open to a return, despite allegations that the director abused his adopted daughter.

The Black Dahlia was dead on arrival

Released in 2006, The Black Dahlia could've been big for Scarlett Johansson. It was her face alone on the poster, after all, and the film was an adaptation of a historically inspired noir novel by James Ellroy, whose L.A. Confidential had been adapted to critical acclaim and box office success a decade earlier. Unfortunately, the period thriller starring herself, Josh Hartnett, and Aaron Eckhardt failed to impress either critics or general audiences, scoring unenthusiastic reviews and a disappointing box office return, failing to make back its budget in theaters.

Critics of the film seemed to agree that it was bland and miscast, which isn't a knock against Johansson specifically. The relatively young age of the actors portraying detectives and femme fatales was historically accurate for the period, but as Mick LaSalle put it in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, "Maybe 27 means something different in 2006 than it did 60 years ago." Director Brian De Palma, two decades past his creative peek, took most of the heat for the film's failure. As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "De Palma throws everything at the screen, but almost nothing sticks." The only performance that seemed to consistently receive praise was that of Mia Kirshner, who portrays the titular murder victim and who gets much less screen time than Johansson.

Critics wrote off The Nanny Diaries

In 2007, Johansson starred in The Nanny Diaries, a light dramedy adapted from the popular novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. In the film, Johansson portrays Annie Braddock, a recent college graduate who gets a job as a nanny for a difficult and demanding rich family in Manhattan while trying to decide what to do with the rest of her life. Once again, Johansson is paired with Chris Evans, who plays romantic interest Hayden the "Harvard Hottie."

While the film did alright at the box office, it was torn apart by critics for its banality. Slate's Dana Stevens called The Nanny Diaries "a nonexperience," and even positive reviews favored co-star Laura Linney over Johansson. Mick LaSalle of The San Francisco Chronicle heavily criticized Johansson's performance as the indecisive nanny, saying that her attempt to play such a weak-willed character "[robs her] of about 90 percent of her appeal on-screen." Since Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson had made a niche for herself as a young actress who could play more mature than her age. Now at 23, an age at which plenty of Hollywood actors still portray high school students, critics felt that she had lost her window at playing the naive youth.

The Other Boleyn Girl is a Scarlett Johansson failure that everyone's forgotten

Historical costume dramas are often Oscar bait, but English director Justin Chadwick's 2008 film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl did little to impress critics. Here, Scarlett Johansson plays Mary Boleyn, who is not the Boleyn girl to which the title refers — that would be Anne Boleyn, portrayed by Natalie Portman. (Curiously, though both are major stars of the same era, this is the only film to date to star both Johansson and Portman. And no, Portman's cameo in Avengers: Endgame doesn't count.) The film very loosely adapts the true story of the Boleyns' ill-fated relationships with the homicidal King Henry VIII (Eric Bana).

Critics' main gripes against the film tended to be the tone and the direction, but few had much nice to say about any of the lead performances. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called The Other Boleyn Girl "both underwritten and overedited," and she referred to Johansson's performance as "sedate." The film sits at an even 50/100 on Metacritic and a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, though it did at least turn a profit.

Johansson won some minor praise for her turn in The Other Boleyn Girl in the form of a Teen Choice Award nomination, which she would lose to Keira Knightly for Atonement. At this phase of her career, this couldn't have been the level of respect she was expecting.

The Spirit was lifeless

In 2008, two years shy of taking on the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson participated in another, far less successful comic book adaptationThe Spirit. Based on the Will Eisner classic, The Spirit was the solo directorial debut of legendary comics creator Frank Miller, who'd co-directed the film adaptation of his own comic, Sin City, alongside Robert Rodriguez. Sin City had been a hit, and The Spirit was marketed as a clear spiritual successor, with Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson attached as the villains.

The Spirit, however, was a box office bomb and a critical punching bag. The Spirit opened #9 at the US box office and ended up recouping only about two-thirds of its $60 million budget. Critics slammed the film's thin characters, which isn't necessarily a knock on the actors' ability as it is on their choice to participate in the film at all. Roger Ebert wrote that, "To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material." At 30/100, The Spirit has the lowest Metacritic score of any film in which Johansson plays a significant role, and with 14% on Rotten Tomatoes ... well ... it's safe to say that The Spirit stinks.

Things would turn around for Scarlett Johansson very shortly after, as she would spend the next decade alternating between making smash hit blockbusters like The Avengers films and collaborating with celebrated filmmakers like Noah Baumbach and the Coen brothers, a significant step up from wearing a Nazi fetish outfit in a Frank Miller film.