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The Phenomenal Box Office Success of Bradley Cooper

‘A Star is Born’ is the latest smash hit for the movie star who doesn’t play by normal movie star rules.
Bradley Cooper In A Star Is Born
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on October 29th, 2018

Bradley Cooper made his wide-release movie debut in 2005 with Wedding Crashers. He wasn’t the star of the comedy and certainly wasn’t a draw for audiences at the time. He plays the romantic rival for Owen Wilson’s protagonist, and in this villainous supporting role, he’s the stereotypical asshole boyfriend we love to hate so that the rom-com hero can steal his girl. Only 13 years later, in Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star is Born, he plays a more complex version of toxic masculinity in a leading role.

Both movies became runaway hits after similarly making decent debuts (A Star is Born is one of the highest-grossing movies to never be number one at the box office), not necessarily thanks to Cooper. Even after American Sniper made more than $500 million worldwide, nobody could ever be heard saying, “let’s go see the new Bradley Cooper movie.” He’s not that sort of movie star. Instead, he’s a talented actor and now filmmaker who has mostly chosen his projects wisely. Last month, even before A Star is Born‘s release, he landed at #15 on a ranking of the highest-grossing actors of all time.

Now, post-release, he’s more like 12th place, right behind Stanley Tucci — another person we don’t really think of as being a bigger movie star than such lower-ranking marquee names as Dwayne Johnson, Chris Pratt, and Bruce Willis. Of course, that Business Insider list didn’t account for inflation nor did it factor only leading roles or live-action roles. A lot of why Cooper is so highly ranked is because of the CG character he voices in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Rocket Raccoon. Still, his Rocket is very popular in large part because of how he says the words coming out of the little scoundrel’s snout.

Cooper’s vocal performances in the MCU (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2 and Avengers: Infinity War) actually only account for three of his 12 domestic hits that have grossed more than $100 million, and with inflation adjusted, the first of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies isn’t even among his top three. American Sniper sold more tickets in North America, at least. The actor’s other successes, which include 10 movies that grossed more than the equivalent of $150 million in today’s dollars, consists of a major comedy franchise and a couple other Best Picture contenders. Most of them are movies that proved to have great legs, their wide release openings being anything but frontloaded. Not the usual tentpole-leaning career for a star.

Following Wedding Crashers ($285 million worldwide), Cooper continued to find his way in comedy and furthered his reputation for being kind of a dick in He’s Just Not That Into You ($179 million worldwide), the 2009 ensemble rom-com where he, coincidentally enough, tries to convince a love interest — Scarlett Johansson as the woman he’s cheating on his wife with — that she should start a singing career. Later the same year, The Hangover ($468 million worldwide) gave Cooper his big break as he starred as one of the lead trio attempting to piece together their previous night’s activities. He’s still not the most likable guy, however, in that movie and its two sequels. Hardly the best route for hopes of stardom.

He probably saw The A-Team ($177 million worldwide) as his next best idea for his rise in Hollywood, yet that 2010 adaptation of the iconic ’80s TV series wasn’t much of a hit, opening even lower than both The Hangover and He’s Just Not That Into You, and failing to launch a franchise. Outside of lending his voice to an alien raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, which itself didn’t seem like a certainty for success even coming from Marvel Studios, Cooper has stayed clear of seemingly obvious blockbusters, and yet he’s managed to primarily star in movies that do very well anyway.

Limitless ($162 million worldwide), for instance, wasn’t seen as much by box office pundits ahead of its release in 2011, but for a thriller of its size, it performed remarkably well, selling more tickets domestically than The A-Team and coming close to grossing as much as the action comedy worldwide. Then Cooper made his next leap with David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook ($236 million worldwide), a rom-com that while ultimately being a crowd pleaser isn’t the typical light fare we expect from the genre. Not only did the movie net him his first Oscar nomination for his deep portrayal of a man with bipolar disorder, but it was a huge moneymaker as well.

Bradley Cooper In Silver Linings Playbook

In 2013, Cooper reunited with Russell for American Hustle ($251 million worldwide), which was another major awards player with the actor earning another Oscar nomination (this time in the supporting category) while also making even more money than Silver Linings Playbook. But his other “American” title movie, 2014’s Clint Eastwood-helmed American Sniper, wound up being his most significant and most lucrative on-screen job. Portraying the real-life Navy SEAL vet Chris Kyle, Cooper earned another Best Actor nod as the movie rocketed towards a leggy $350 million domestic gross and $547 million total worldwide.

American Sniper, which also cemented Cooper as an important player as a producer (he was one of the named honorees of the movie’s Oscar nomination for Best Picture), is an interesting hit for the Democratic Party donor since it cemented the actor/filmmaker as a possible favorite of rather conservative moviegoers — a crowd he also appeals to as the country singer he plays in A Star is Born and with his upcoming reunion with Eastwood in The Mule. That he has played so few feel-good or universally lovable roles makes his constant box office favor a certain kind of phenomenon.

Not that Cooper doesn’t have his share of major duds on his resume. He did co-star opposite Sandra Bullock as the title character in the notorious Razzie nominee All About Steve ($40 million worldwide), though that was made pre-breakout. In recent years, he’s also been in disappointments such as Cameron Crowe’s controversially cast Aloha ($26 million worldwide), the culinary drama Burnt ($37 million), and his would-be-first reunion with Jennifer Lawrence, the temporarily shelved Serena ($5 million worldwide). Even his last Russell team-up, Joy, which featured him in a smaller role opposite Lawrence, only managed to just barely break the $101 million mark worldwide, a huge drop from the team’s previous collaborations.

What’s also notable about Cooper’s box office performance throughout his career is how his work has weighed significantly as more popular in domestic release than foreign, which is obviously the result of him doing fewer clear-cut tentpole type movies than other movie stars of his stature. If we look only at his on-screen gigs (the MCU makes so much of its money overseas), his total domestic box office of $2.4 billion is more than half (54%) of his total worldwide box office of $4.4 billion. Here’s a glimpse of his top 20 titles by the number of tickets sold in North America and how much of its domestic gross was part of the global box office total:

1. Avengers: Infinity War – 72.4 million (33.2%)
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 43.6 million (45.1%)
3. American Sniper – 43.1 million (64%)
4. Guardians of the Galaxy – 41.2 million (43.1%)
5. The Hangover – 37.2 million (59.3%)
6. Wedding Crashers – 32.6 million (73.4%)
7. The Hangover Part II – 31.6 million (43.4%)
8. American Hustle – 18.6 million (59.8%)
9. A Star is Born – 16.8 million (58.7%)
10. Silver Linings Playbook – 16.6 million (55.9%)
11. Valentine’s Day – 13.9 million (51%)
12. Failure to Launch – 13.5 million (69.1%)
13. The Hangover Part III – 13.4 million (31%)
14. Yes Man – 13.3 million (43.8%)
15. He’s Just Not That Into You – 12.6 million (52.5%)
16. Limitless – 9.98 million (49%)
17. The A-Team – 9.86 million (43.6%)
18. Joy – 6.5 million (55.8%)
19. All About Steve – 4.5 million (84.4%)
20. The Place Beyond the Pines – 2.6 million (60.3%)

His next movie will be Avengers 4, which will be another one leaning to worldwide audiences for its massive success, but as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is on hiatus (and reboot possibilities rumored), Cooper’s Marvel movie future is unknown. And although he’s a producer on the DC villain origin movie Joker, there’s no sign of his being a part of its cast, nor does his involvement seem like an indication he’ll be looking at doing more superhero or other guaranteed blockbuster projects (he may just be on board because its director is The Hangover‘s Todd Phillips). He’s attached to be the new Matt Helm, but little is known about that new franchise possibility.

Cooper’s next two starring vehicles are a little smaller and more America-centric, including the D-Day war drama Atlantic Wall and his sophomore directing project, a Leonard Bernstein biopic titled Bernstein. If they’re hits, they’ll be substantial ones, and yet they’ll also be weighted toward their domestic attendance, if they follow the same path Cooper’s been on so far. But then, his career has been anything but predictable, so who knows?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.