We Are Entering Into the Josh Hartnett-aissance

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a movie star’s face can sell a movie on its own anymore — unless you happen to be Tom Cruise. While this is tough news for the stars of this generation (apologies to all four Chrises), it’s even more disappointing for the actors that were iconic in the early 20th century that no longer have the same draw over audiences. Young, charismatic leading men who once starred in action films, romantic comedies, and major blockbusters are now left to fend for minor roles in either independent projects or television shows; it’s been a while since we heard from Ryan Philippe, Ashton Kutcher, Jim Sturgess, or Hayden Christensen in a major, lasting way.

However, Josh Hartnett has had a surprising comeback in the past year thanks to his roles in the sixth season of Black Mirror and Christopher Nolan’s historical masterpiece Oppenheimer. These roles suggest that the “Joshaissance” is about to take Hollywood by storm, and it’s about time that Hartnett’s talents are finally being rewarded and praised.

RELATED: How the ‘Halloween’ Franchise Helped Shape Josh Hartnett’s Career

Josh Hartnett’s Career Had an Ambitious Beginning

While Hartnett’s name is often thrown around as yet another forgotten heartthrob of yesteryear, his career was one that started out in a very ambitious place. Hartnett managed to crawl his way out of the Halloween franchise after his debut role in 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, preventing himself from being stuck with the series for the disastrous Halloween: Resurrection. His next horror film wasn’t in a major franchise, but with a rising auteur in Robert Rodriguez via The Faculty. The role showed the versatility that Hartnett had at his disposal; not only could he play a compelling teenage protagonist in a fun horror film with a tone akin to Scream, but he could deal with some of the weirder decisions that Rodriguez made in order for the film to feel so unique compared to other teen monster movies.

Before Hartnett started becoming a mainstream romantic comedy icon, he worked with several more significant directors. Another role that showed the range of his abilities was Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides; it’s a film that revolves around how young men perceive beauty and innocence, and how misguided their beliefs on love and romance really are. However, Coppola allows Hartnett’s character Trip Fontaine to be one that the audience can feel sorry for, as his feelings for the girls are genuine, and the sense of danger that he adds to their lives feels exciting, and not toxic. It’s a multifaceted role that once again required Hartnett to fit within the parameters of Coppola’s commentary and play the role of a traditionally charismatic leading man.

Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor isn’t a film that anyone is particularly proud of, but Hartnett’s decision to join the film is completely understandable; what actor of his age would turn down the opportunity to star in a major World War II epic (only a few years after Saving Private Ryan) from the director of The Rock and Bad Boys? Hartnett certainly sells the melodrama better than Ben Affleck and manages to add a touch of emotion to a largely soulless action spectacle. Adding charisma to a project that lacked it before is something that Hartnett began to make a habit of; in the next decade of his career, he made rather generic romantic comedies like Blow Dry, Mozart and the Whale, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and Town & Country more entertaining thanks to his personality.

Even when appearing in mainstream films, Hartnett clearly had the ambition to work on more ambitious projects. He tried his hand at something far more unsettling than The Faculty with the gruesome vampire film 30 Days of Night and worked with Rodriguez again for an intimidating role in Sin City. Even some of his failed prospects suggested good intentions on Hartnett’s part; he got to work on a Brian De Palma movie (even if it was The Black Dahlia), co-starred with Harrison Ford (even if it was the disastrous Hollywood Homicide), and tried more than once to work with Nolan.

Josh Hartnett Has Been Making a Comeback This Year

Josh Hartnett as David Ross
Image via Netflix

Netflix’s science fiction anthology series Black Mirror has an affinity for casting A-listers, even if they’re stardom may have faded in recent memory. While Season 6 was a mixed bag that contained some of the show’s most biting commentary and its worst clichés, the standout episode by far was the 1960s space romance “Beyond the Sea.” It served as a surprising comeback for Hartnett, who showed a true villainous, toxic side to himself that has never been seen in any of his previous work. Hartnett isn’t a mustache-twirling supervillain; he appears as David, a lonely astronaut whose family is killed by a cult leader (Rory Culkin) and longs for someone to care for him in their absence. It’s when David starts crossing the line of consent in his quest to heal that Hartnett transforms him from being sympathetic to scary.

Hartnett finally got his chance to work with Nolan in Oppenheimer, a film that co-stars many once promising young leading men whose careers have hit a standstill, including Josh Peck, Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, Dane DeHaan, Alex Wolff, and Jack Quaid. Hartnett showed maturity himself with his performance as Ernest Lawrence; while he’s friendly with Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and even supports some of his more experimental propositions, he’s also deeply skeptical about any political movements that arise in the laboratory. Hartnett shows these convictions as unrelated to Lawrence’s personal stance; he simply wants to avoid distractions and keep the experiments objective. It’s an understated, subtle role; while Oppenheimer’s Best Supporting Actor campaign during the Academy Award season will likely revolve around both Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon, Hartnett is no less worthy.

2023 was a year when Hartnett recognized his talents and chose to challenge himself once more; he even managed to lampoon his own stardom with a self-referential role in Guy Ritchie’s action comedy Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre as the goofy action star Danny Francesco. Hartnett’s absence from mainstream projects was just a brief setback; he’s now reached the most interesting point of his career, and it’ll be exciting to see where the “Joshaisssance” goes next.

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