Although highly regarded for her acting abilities, Jolie’s films to date had often not appealed to a wide audience, but Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) made her an international superstar. An adaptation of the popular Tomb Raider videogame, Jolie was required to master a British accent and undergo extensive martial arts training to play the title role of Lara Croft. She was generally praised for her physical performance, but the movie generated mostly negative reviews. Slant Magazine commented, “Angelina Jolie was born to play Lara Croft but [director] Simon West makes her journey into a game of Frogger.” The movie was a huge international success nonetheless, earning $275 million worldwide, and started her reputation as a female action star.
Jolie then starred alongside Antonio Banderas as the mail-order bride Julia Russell in Original Sin, a thriller based on the novel Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich. The film was a major critical failure, with The New York Times noting, “The story plunges more precipitously than Ms. Jolie’s neckline.” In 2002, she played Lanie Kerrigan in Life or Something Like It, a film about an ambitious TV reporter who is told that she will die in a week. The film was poorly received by critics, though Jolie’s performance received positive reviews. CNN’s Paul Clinton wrote, “Jolie is excellent in her role. Despite some of the ludicrous plot points in the middle of the film, this Academy Award-winning actress is exceedingly believable in her journey towards self-discovery and the true meaning of fulfilling life.”
Jolie reprised her role as Lara Croft in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life in 2003. The sequel, while not as lucrative as the original, earned $156 million at the international box-office. Later that year Jolie starred in Beyond Borders, a film about aid workers in Africa. Although reflecting Jolie’s real-life interest in promoting humanitarian relief, the film was critically and financially unsuccessful. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Jolie, as she did in her Oscar-winning role in Girl, Interrupted, can bring electricity and believability to roles that have a reality she can understand. She can also, witness the Lara Croft films, do acknowledged cartoons. But the limbo of a hybrid character, a badly written cardboard person in a fly-infested, blood-and-guts world, completely defeats her.”
In 2004, Jolie starred alongside Ethan Hawke in the thriller Taking Lives, as Illeana Scott, an FBI profiler summoned to help Montreal law enforcement hunt down a serial killer. The movie received mixed reviews and The Hollywood Reporter concluded, “Angelina Jolie plays a role that definitely feels like something she has already done, but she does add an unmistakable dash of excitement and glamour.” She also provided the voice of Lola, an angelfish in the animated DreamWorks movie Shark Tale; the cast included Will Smith, Martin Scorsese, Renée Zellweger, Jack Black and Robert De Niro. Also in 2004, Jolie had a brief appearance as Franky in Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a science fiction adventure film shot with actors entirely in front of a bluescreen, with all the sets and nearly all of the props computer-generated. Jolie then played Olympias in Alexander, Oliver Stone’s biopic about the life of Alexander the Great. The film failed domestically, with Stone attributing its poor reception to disapproval of the depiction of Alexander’s homosexuality, but it succeeded internationally, with revenue of $139 million outside the United States. Newsday wrote of Jolie’s performance, “Jolie is the only one in the picture who seems to be having any fun with her role, and one misses her whenever she’s off-screen.”
Jolie’s only movie of 2005, the action-comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith, is also her biggest commercial success to date. The film, directed by Doug Liman, tells the story of a bored married couple who find out that they are both secret assassins. Jolie starred as Jane Smith alongside Brad Pitt. The film was well received and was generally lauded for the chemistry between the two leads. The Star Tribune noted, “While the story feels haphazard, the movie gets by on gregarious charm, galloping energy and the stars’ thermonuclear screen chemistry.” The movie earned over $478 million worldwide, one of the biggest hits of 2005.
Jolie next appeared in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd (2006), a movie about the early history of the CIA, as seen through the eyes of Edward Wilson, played by Matt Damon. Jolie co-stared as Margaret Russell, Wilson’s neglected wife who becomes increasingly discontented by the effects of his work. The Chicago Tribune commented on her role, “Jolie ages convincingly throughout, and is blithely unconcerned with how her brittle character is coming off in terms of audience sympathy.”
Jolie’s confirmed future projects include the animated movies Beowulf (playing Grendel’s mother) and Kung Fu Panda, as well as A Mighty Heart, a film based on the life of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan; she will star as Pearl’s wife, Mariane Pearl. Jolie will also appear as Dagny Taggart in the movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged and is considering the role of Ava Lord in Sin City 2.