During the 1990s, Jennifer Aniston was one of the most popular actresses in the world. She may not have been blowing up the box office like Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock, she was instead the star of the hit comedy show Friends – which had turned her into a household name. So popular was Aniston during this period that he hair even became known as “The Rachel”, a much-requested style for hairdressers during the 90s. The show was watched by millions around the world and has become one of the most celebrated US sitcoms of all-time, launching Aniston and her co-stars into hot property. Particularly as the show couldn’t last forever and the cast would look to transition to the big screen.
Aniston was no stranger to cinema. She got her first break in the horror comedy Leprechaun in 1993, but would take a break during her first few years on Friends. In between 1996 and 2002, Aniston would feature in low-budget comedies Office Space, Dream for an Insomniac and She’s The One as part of ensemble cast – but nothing that really set the world on fire. Although, her vehicle movie Picture Perfect with Kevin Bacon was at least a moderate success making over $40 million at the box office. But compare that to her co-star Courteney Cox who was part of the Scream trilogy, pulling a combined total of $293 million. She may have been seen as one of the “sexiest women alive”, but her move from TV to film wasn’t overly smooth.
With that said, she was by far the most successful of her Friends co-stars once the show came to an end in 2004. Perhaps not in terms of quality, but certainly in terms of quantity. Cox may have featured in the Scream trilogy, but that was about it, eventually returning to TV for shows like Dirt and Cougar Town. Lisa Kudrow starred in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Analyze That, but not much else worthy of note. On the male side of the coin, David Schwimmer starred in a secondary role in Six Days, Seven Nights, Matthew Perry featured opposite Bruce Willis in The Whole Nine Yards and Matt LeBlanc’s blockbuster outing Lost in Space failed to impress critics, forcing him to take on the failed Friends spin-off Joey. Aniston, for better or worst, was at least was busy.
But busy does not always equal good. While Aniston would star in the half decent comedy Bruce Almighty (thanks in part to Jim Carrey), her resume was blotted with dud after dud. Along Came Polly with Ben Stiller, Derailed with Clive Owen, Rumor Has It with Kevin Costner – the list goes on and on. Some made their money back at the box office, but they all received negative reviews from critics. For some reason, Aniston – a wildly talented actress – just couldn’t find a hit.
The critical duds kept rolling in. The Break-up with Vince Vaughn, romantic ensemble comedy He’s Just Not That Into You, The Bounty Hunter with Gerard Butler, The Switch with Jason Bateman, Just Go With It alongside Adam Sandler. Box office hits some, but that can only count for so much. People can argue her turn in Marley and Me with Owen Wilson was a return to form, but it was an average performance helped by a touching story. Aniston wasn’t showing the flare she had in Friends, or even early career comedies like Office Space. She was just bouncing from romantic comedy to romantic comedy, playing folly for one male lead to the other.
But, in the last few years, it has all turned around.
In 2011 Aniston stared as Doctor Julia Harris in comedy Horrible Bosses, a role that not only rejuvenated her flailing career, but proved that it was worth rejuvenating. Julia was a sexy suductress, a manipulative sex addict who was trying to torture sympathetic Dale (Charlie Day) and it was the first time, possibly since Friends, that we saw Aniston revel and enjoy herself in a role. It says a lot about her performance that when starring against the likes of Kevin Spacey and a hilarious comedic turn from Colin Farrell that she virtually steals the show. If you listen to interviews with her, Aniston loves talking about this role and she genuinely had fun playing it – so much so that she has returned for its sequel three years later. She would also feature alongside Horrible Bosses co-star Jason Sudeikis in road trip comedy We’re The Millers where she would once again break free of her squeaky clean image to play a more expressive role. The key to We’re The Millers and both Horrible Bosses movies is that they were comedies that were not afraid to cast Aniston against type. She’s not just the object of affection for the male lead, she is her own woman – and this has helped Aniston feel fresh for the first time in years.
Although not out in wide release until next year, we’re already seeing Aniston tipped for an Academy Award Nomination for her performance in Cake – something we wouldn’t have thought possible when she was phoning it in for movies like Along Came Polly and The Bounty Hunter. She may have had a fall, but it’s great to see Aniston rise again.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
Horrible Bosses 2 is out next week. You can listen to Jennifer Aniston, Charlie Day, Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis talk about the movie on the Flickering Myth Podcast: