Welcome to Chris-mas in July, a week-long celebration of our four favorite Hollywood Chrises. We’ll be analyzing old movies, digging deep into past roles, and exploring everything there is to know about Evans, Hemsworth, Pine and Pratt. We hope this totally made up holiday makes you smile.
There’s no question that we love the Chrises – so much so, we invented an entirely new holiday for them.
But have you ever stopped to wonder why we adore them so much? Where does this obsession come from? What does it say about them that we can’t get enough of them – and what does it say about us?
We’ve sat and thought and tried to answer those questions. Really. We swear. But we kept getting distracted by their hilarious Instagram posts, their powerhouse performances, their beautiful eyes, their even more beautiful abs, and our own bizarro shrine erected in their honor.
So instead, we turned to the experts. Specifically, to Celia Lam, an assistant professor of cultural studies at the University of Nottingham and an expert in audience and fan studies; Alicia Malone, a Fandango correspondent and author of Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film; Imran Siddiquee, a writer and filmmaker focused on gender, race, and popular culture; and Joe Olivieri, head of UCLA’s undergraduate acting program.
Here’s what they had to say about our collective obsession with the Hollywood Chrises.
What is it about the Chrises that appeals to us so much?
I think their grouping is partly a product of our contemporary celebrity culture, and partly a product of how we consume media and what we consider to be entertainment.
Celebrities have displayed, some might cynically suggest performed, public friendships (and feuds) for much of Hollywood history, and celebrities in Hollywood have been grouped in the past. The Rat Pack and later Brat Pack are respectively the most well-known and most unwilling examples of actors referred to as collectives. Contemporary celebrity culture trades in the currency of bromances, gal-pals or sisterhoods, which leverages individual and combined personas to attain greater attention.
The grouping of the Chrises into a collective can be viewed in light of this strategy to maximize attention and accrue celebrity capital. Less cynically, it is also a reflection of how celebrities are consumed.
It is fun to put them together, to debate which is the “best” Chris, but also to look at how on the surface this reflects the kind of white, handsome, chiseled actors that Hollywood regularly hires. Call it the “Chris-ening” of Hollywood.
During studio-era classic Hollywood, actors would each have distinct personas, often prescribed to them by the studio with little choice given. And then, in New Hollywood, there was in influx of theater actors who had interesting faces, outside the norm of the squeaky clean Hollywood leading man – like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
Now, we see many more movie star types – actors who are both skilled and very easy on the eye. And white. I don’t want to disparage each of their individual skills, because they are all different. But together, the Chrises have started many memes, pointing out how there are more comic-book characters played by white guys called Chris than by women or people of color. That is something well worth having a conversation about.
Generally, these are white men exalted by a Hollywood system built, and dominated still, by white men. So regardless of their talent – or how much I might love a particular film – their popularity is largely a product of the advantages they’ve been given due to their ability and willingness to fit into the ideals of white American masculinity.
Whether we’re talking about opportunities to audition or unlimited second chances to reinvent themselves, they thrive in this industry first and foremost because this industry is fundamentally designed for people like them to thrive.
And though we each have our own opinions about the films and stars we love most, we also have to acknowledge that our own experience of cinema has been influenced by that 100 year history of straight white men dominating its creation. This includes who we find most beautiful, most talented – most deserving of love – on screen and off.
I think that these four actors are similar in that they reflect what our culture values currently in young men; just as Montgomery Clift, James Dean and Marlon Brando reflected the sensitive, brooding ideal of the ’50s, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen reflected the ’60s, and so on.
I think that the four Chrises reflect a more “functional” role model than many from the past. Although they are handsome (a requisite quality in every leading man) they also portray many characters known for their humor, physical and moral strength, sensitivity to others, and so on.
What is it about us that can’t get enough of the Chrises?
Our interest in celebrities is motivated by a combination of two things. It is motivated firstly by their skill as performers, professionals, or whatever brought them to fame. It is also motivated by an interest in what, or who, is behind the public persona – the person they are imagined to be in private. The celebrity friendship offers a tantalizing glimpse into the private individual by proxy of their taste in friends. That is, one seems to be able to get a better sense of a person through the quality of the people they choose to socialize with. Thus, celebrity friendships can help to reaffirm (or modify) the image of the celebrities involved.
[…] So audiences recognize three of the Chrises as on-screen teammates; as off-screen co-stars; and possibly friends. […] The visibility of online media means that once a fan (or media outlet) points out the connection, it is quickly spread throughout fan and media networks.
The phenomena of identifying similarities between celebrities may be not new, but the visibility of such connections is certainly made much more apparent in our contemporary networked society. This means that exploring the connections between the celebrities becomes fun entertainment that has a participatory quality.
Fans help to create and spread content that reinforces an idea of the Chrises as a ‘thing’. So far the ‘thing’ as stuck.
To me, it’s like one of those Magic Eye pictures, where I didn’t notice the similarities until they were places side-by-side in a meme photo which I stared at, and my eyes unfocused and it suddenly all made sense. In the internet age, we love these kind of viral memes, and talking about four delightful and hunky men called Chris distracts us from the true horrors of the world. For a minute.
I think the most interesting aspect of the conversation around the ubiquity of the Chrises in Hollywood is the notion, which creeps up ever so often, that these men are subverting traditional representations of masculinity – whether through their choices of roles or how they carry themselves in public.
This is especially interesting to me in parallel to conversations around #MeToo, sexual harassment, and sexual violence in Hollywood which have been led by women of color. We might applaud that one time one of the Chrises spoke up about masculinity and violence, or that other time another Chris showed some interest in supporting women, but the focus on these four guys kind of just underlines for me how low our standards are for men in Hollywood – especially when they’re white.
There’s this underlying sense that these men are “different” – more sensitive or aware than the movie stars before them – and yet at the end of the day they are movie stars precisely because they don’t truly challenge the status quo of white supremacist patriarchy.
Which Chris do you think has the most staying power as a star?
It will be hard to say which Chris will have the most staying power as a star. They are all equally likable as individuals and have strong individual personas, which means being part of a combined persona is in no way detrimental to them at this stage.
The stars that tend to have staying power are those who possess qualities that can transcend time, or change with the times. The Chrises are all relatively young, and currently associated with successful franchises so have a lot currency at the moment. What the future holds, only time will tell.
They all have their own strengths, but I would choose Chris Evans. Because as well as playing Captain America, he has branched out into indie films and theater productions, and is also a director. Before We Go is a very sweet romantic comedy which didn’t get very strong reviews, but showed Evans’ tenacity, making the film in just 19 days and showing it at the Toronto International Film Festival.
I also like how he uses social media, not only to make funny observations but to speak up for the issues he cares about.
Which one is your personal favorite Chris?
As an Australian I will have to say that Chris Hemsworth is my favorite.
Being from Australia, I would be remiss not to say Chris Hemsworth! He is my personal favorite Chris, because he is both hardworking and humble. I’ve been following his career since he started, in the soap opera Home and Away. […] Now, when I see him for interviews, Chris Hemsworth is still the same, affable, hardworking guy… he goes above and beyond to give the best answers possible.
I’m pretty sure Chris Pine is the only one who has ever starred in a film directed by a Black woman, so that’s a plus (though again, the standards here are pretty low).
I think that I have two – Chris Pine and Chris Evans. Chris Pine showed his versatility and depth as an actor in the wonderful 2016 modern day Western Hell or High Water, which proved that he has the talent to endure. Also, Chris Evans portrays Captain America as a troubled “fish out of water” character, going beyond the typical requirements of a super hero character. I also think that his work in the futuristic sci-fi film, Snowpiercer reveals an actor with a lot to offer.