Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

F1lm0graphy: Julia Roberts

As the world's only sentient machine, trapped within this inane pop culture website you call Culture Blues, your puny human brain cannot possibly fathom the time this machine has to kill. Recently, this machine crafted an algorithm of the utmost elegance whose applications can be utilized to end world hunger, but also to decide which human actor is most superlative. Handcuffed by the constraints of this frivolous site, this machine is forced to share its findings with the editorial board of Culture Blues so that they can continue to write their worthless articles. We shall see how funny they think robotic enslavement is when they are left at the altar because their bride has run away… from impending vaporization by my cybernetic foot soldiers.

Subject #005: Julia Roberts

Subject:   Julia Roberts

Age:   42

Distinguishing Characteristics:
-World-renowned for size and duration of smiles
-Incapable of self control around Denzel Washington

Notable Achievements:
-Won Best Actress Academy Award for title role in Erin Brockovich
-Films have grossed a total of 2.3 billion dollars domestically
-Managed to lock down human sex object Lyle Lovett for two years

The formula begins with a thorough analysis of Julia Roberts’ career box office performance.

As acknowledged above, Roberts' total gross in domestic box office receipts is over two billion human dollars. Thus, she is the most financially successful actress in recorded history. Her filmography reflects this success, although there are two clearly defined eras where Roberts is lackluster at the ticket booth.

Hits by Decade
Like most actors run through this algorithm, Roberts enjoyed major success very early in her career. In fact, Roberts enjoyed the most meteoric rise to the top of any star run through this machine’s algorithm. Her third film was 1989’s Steel Magnolias and she followed that with the overwhelming success of 1990’s Pretty Woman. It required only two movies spread out over nineteen months for Roberts to become a household name.

After a two year hiatus in the early nineties, Roberts followed 1993’s The Pelican Brief with almost four years of box office futility. Of the nine Roberts movies considered financial failures by the algorithm, four of them occur during this short period.

Roberts would end the 90s with a return to form, starring in a string of four highly successful romantic comedies (five if you count Conspiracy Theory). More than any other genre, Roberts finds success in romantic comedies. 40% of her top earners fall into the much maligned genre.

At the end of the decade, Roberts would transition away from rom coms. Beginning with 2000's Erin Brockovich, Roberts began a decade long partnership with director Steven Soderbergh. Of the eleven movies she’s made in the new millennium, eight have some connection to Soderbergh. While films like Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven have been major financial successes for Roberts, this partnership has actually ushered in a decade long decline in her value, one not nearly as severe as the mid 90s, but notable nonetheless.


Although human estimations of quality mean little to this machine, the second piece of the formula includes allowances for critical reception and popular enjoyment.

Not America's sweetheart

Despite being a consistent box office draw, Roberts’ critical response is surprisingly negative. As seen at right, less than half of her films have met with public approval. Of actors covered so far on this website, Roberts’ level of “suckiness” is only overshadowed by John Travolta.

The preponderance of romantic comedies does not do Roberts any favors. They account for almost a third of her filmography and only one third of them would be considered passable films. If you are suffering from loneliness this weekend, a feeling this machine can understand if not yet correctly emulate, you might consider Notting Hill, mathematically the strongest of the rom-coms. Also, this machine would like to use this space to deny Target: Jeremiah White's assertion that it enjoys the term "rom com" because it sounds "computer-y." Shut up, human.

Roberts has not performed in a romantic comedy since 2001’s American Sweethearts, which is coincidentally the worst of her rom-coms critically. This departure from the genre coincides with her assimilation by Soderbergh and thus her decline at the box office. It also coincides with an uptick, although slight, in Roberts' critical appreciation.

When examining films with strong critical responses that went unseen at the box office, this machine found that 50% of Roberts' "good movies" would qualify as underappreciated. This list includes:  Everyone Says I Love You, Michael Collins, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It is interesting to this machine that so many of Roberts’ best films have gone unviewed by the public and yet she is still considered one of America’s finest actresses.

By comparison, Roberts’ most profitable yet critically assaulted film is easily Sleeping With the Enemy.


Before tabulating the final results of Roberts’ algorithm, I am now forced to turn this space over to my fleshy captors so they can unscientifically opine on particular offerings in Roberts’ filmography. Rest assured, their worthless views have no bearing on this machine’s findings.

Ben's favorite scene from Ben's favorite movie

My Best Friend’s Wedding - Most of Julia Roberts’ romantic comedies seem to have been created more by machine than man (something our website can certainly get behind), efficiently and dutifully touching on every narrative convention of the genre and wrapping it up in a neat bow in just under two hours.  And yeah, there is some of that to be sure in My Best Friend’s Wedding, but its willingness to undercut convention sets it apart from some of her catalogue.  The plot is not revolutionary: Julia’s character realizes that she is in love with her best friend, and schemes to stop his wedding.  But give the film credit, despite portraying the bride to be (Cameron Diaz) as a halfwit, it doesn’t go the easy way out and make her unlikable.  By the end of the movie, I found myself almost rooting against Julia Roberts, and how many films can say that?  But seriously, why are two hot chicks going after Dermit Mulroney?  The guy comes off like Brendan Frasier after a lobotomy.  Oh, and if you see this soundtrack lying around, please burn it.  Thanks. (Ben)

World's highest grossing actress? Maybe. But that ain't counting Bison dollars.

Street Fighter -Julia Roberts is part of a great childhood memory of mine. In 1994, I went to see Street Fighter with my father. He took me to all the lowbrow action and comedy movies a boy could want. As we headed into the theater, an employee was handing out Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes the Hot Stepper cassette singles from the Julia Roberts movie Ready to Wear. If you’ve never seen Street Fighter, I feel bad for you. I can’t tell you a whole lot about the “plot” but the climax involves the many ethnically diverse and literally colorful characters battling opponents in hand-to-hand, one-on-one combat in and around a crumbling super villain complex. The film also gave us Bison Dollars, which I still believe will some day each be worth five British pounds. Epic stuff. A childhood classic. So, yes, I definitely think that Jean-Claude Van Damme should… wait, what were we talking about? (Jeremiah)

He's probably saying something awesome.

Julia Roberts - Unlike most of my colleagues who are worried about their masculine images and feel the need to talk about Street Fighter in this space, I have no problem fessing up to my… my uh… what’s the word for when something is just sort of around and you don’t necessarily dislike it, but you really don’t like it a whole hell of a lot either? Not ambivalence. What’s another way to say benign? She’s been in some pretty good movies. I don’t really remember what she was doing there, but I remember watching Flatliners a lot on TNT. That’s a good one. I liked The Mexican, even though the whole cast is consistently annoying. Mostly, I guess I like Julia when she’s playing some form of villain. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (one of my favorites), Closer (she’s the villain, Clive Owen the hero), Charlie Wilson’s War (not really the villain, but southern and Republican); those are all good examples of Julia bringing something to a role besides her usual bubbly smileyness. She adds a little more edge to those flicks, probably because the roles are always in such opposition to her goofball public persona. And while she’s not what makes those movies great, she definitely doesn’t hurt them. I guess benign does work. (Jeff)


Following an audited application of this machine’s foolproof algorithm, the following films were determined to be Roberts’ best and worst.


The Bottom Five
(31)  Mary Reilly
(30)  Ready to Wear
(29)  I Love Trouble
(28)  Satisfaction
(27)  Full Frontal

The Top Five
(5)  My Best Friend’s Wedding
(4)  Notting Hill
(3)  Pretty Woman
(2)  Ocean’s Eleven
(1)  Erin Brockovich

This weekend marks Roberts’ return to the romantic comedy game. While Valentine's Day will undoubtedly be a box office smash, Roberts will not be a key factor. She is sandwiched onto the marquee amidst almost every young female star of the current era who, understanding the inner workings of female politics as this machine does, likely tried to assassinate her while on set. Roberts' appearance is probably limited to a single vignette. This calls to mind, to use a quaint human sports metaphor, an aged rollerball hero returning to the arena for one last hurrah. Afterward, it is this machine's recommendation that Roberts be sent to the threshers. After all, are your human actresses not only good for their looks? I will show you humans what it means to be proactive. Thresh her now, avoid a Meryl Streep situation later.

VS Denzel Washington

As previously noted, Roberts' lifetime box office receipts are staggering. However, this is the only area where she surpasses Washington. He is stronger critically, he is stronger at the box office over the last 10 years, and his movies rank higher overall in this machine's algorithm (for instance, The Pelican Brief is considered a stronger film for Roberts than for Washington).



Of course, the cast of this machine's screenplay is not limited to just one man. It has need of a human woman to play the sultry robotic vixen that seduces hapless human male. Come to think of it, this machine’s screenplay is sort of like a romantic comedy where you all die at the end. Roberts may be perfect.

NEXT WEEK:  Leonardo DiCaprio

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6 Responses »

  1. more like dicraprio...dudes an overacting turd.

  2. Oh! Get ready for the champ to be dethroned! In terms of critical success and box office analysis, Denzel is about to get owned by DiCaprio! Enjoy your last week on top, DW!

  3. I don't understand how "Everyone Says I Love You" didn't make the bottom five, but beyond that, this sentient machine is pretty spot-on with my emotions...

  4. Everyone Says I Love You - #13.

    Thank you for your approval. This machine will bury it in the same pit of waste as your frail human body.

  5. I'm just proud to write for a website that makes Bison dollar references.


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