Is Chris Evans ‘Gifted’ Enough to Lead a Non-Marvel Film?

By  · Published on April 13th, 2017

His history of underperforming at the box office makes predicting a post-Marvel career tricky.

If the image of a bearded, flannel-clad Chris Evans playing a single uncle isn’t enough to lure throngs of women to the movies, I don’t know what will. In his latest film, Gifted, Evans plays Frank Adler, the aforementioned single uncle to a spunky six year-old gifted child, Mary (Mckenna Grace). Frank is caring for his niece after the unexpected death of his sister and he yearns for the child to have a normal and healthy life. After he sends Mary off on her first day of school, her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), notices the child’s remarkable abilities and alerts the school’s principal. Mary is offered a chance to attend a prestigious school for gifted children, which Frank promptly declines. This kicks off a custody battle between Frank and his estranged mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who wishes to indulge Mary’s intelligence.

Although the plot is pretty basic, Gifted is still a sweet film that tugs on the heartstrings thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Evans and Grace, who trade affection and jokes, allowing the audience to feel invested in the continuation of their relationship despite Frank’s insistence on Mary being “normal.” Perhaps the film’s biggest disappointment is the limited use of Octavia Spencer as Roberta, as even in a small role Spencer’s enormous talent shines brightly, making her absences felt that much more. Slate is sweet as schoolteacher Bonnie and shares a cute and funny rapport with Evans, but the romantic chemistry between them feels almost forced and circumstantial. Instead, the film’s strengths lie with the relationship between Frank and Mary, as well as Frank’s complicated relationship with his mother, Evelyn.

Gifted had a limited release this past weekend and has grossed just under $500,000 domestic thus far. It’ll be interesting to see how the film fares upon its wider release on April 14th, although it seems quite likely that The Fate of the Furious will reign at the box office. Still, Gifted is a film packing some solid performances, especially from Grace, and it is a sweet, heartwarming little film that deserves the space to grow and draw in an audience. But, when considering the film’s relatively low numbers thus far, there is one nagging question: is Chris Evans a box office draw?

Obviously when it comes to Captain America and Marvel, the numbers speak for themselves. But it’s also quite evident that films like Gifted rest on their star recognition. Can Evans, Spencer and Slate lure moviegoers to see their film? Can the plethora of press being done by Evans, often joined by the effervescent Grace, charm enough audiences into giving it a chance? If its limited opening weekend is any indication, the answer is no. Instead, Gifted feels like a film many will discover during its VOD or streaming run, which happens all too often with quality indie films that are given a second life on digital platforms.

Outside of 2013’s Snowpiercer, Evans has normally taken roles in smaller indie projects, including his directorial debut, Before We Go. Since taking the mantle of Captain America in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Evans has worked sparingly, making just five films outside of his Marvel commitments: The Iceman, Snowpiercer, Before We Go, Playing it Cool and Gifted. Considering the taxing physical and scheduling demands that inevitably come with being an Avenger, the mix of supporting roles and lead roles in light rom-com fare makes sense.

But what’s also curious about these films, is none of them, including Snowpiercer, did particularly well at the box office. The bulk of Snowpiercer’s $86.7 million lifetime gross comes from foreign box office. Its domestic opening weekend garnered just $171,187, albeit with a not much of a wide release. Still, to date Snowpiercer remains Evans’ most high-profile and critically acclaimed film outside of the Marvel franchise. While his role as Steve Rogers catapulted him to A-list status, the truth is Evans hasn’t sought out blockbuster or even high-profile projects like his fellow Avengers co-star Chris Hemsworth. Which makes trying to anticipate or predict Evans’ transition into his post-Marvel career that much more tricky.

In the past, Evans has spoken about retiring from acting to focus on directing, although he quickly walked his comments back and clarified that he would prefer to focus solely on directing. So far, alongside Avengers: Infinity War, Evans has a starring role in Jekyll on his 2018 slate. The film’s synopsis is sparse but intriguing: “the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde makes a deal with the dark side.” The film also boasts Sherlock’s Steven Moffat as a screenwriter (for better or worse, I suppose) and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer behind the camera, making this a potentially appealing crossover film for Evans’ Marvel fans.

There’s no question Evans has a future in Hollywood following the completion of his Marvel contract and his tenure as Steve Rogers will be sorely missed after Infinity Wars. But it will be interesting to see whether he makes the transition full-time behind the camera or if he is eventually drawn back to the types of blockbuster films that helped establish his career.

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Jamie Righetti is an author and freelance film critic from New York City. She loves horror movies, Keanu Reeves, BioShock and her Siberian Husky, Nugget.