We’ve all taken part in the battle of the Chrises–which include Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Chris Pratt. We’ve taken sides, ranked them, and otherwise engaged in some fun banter as to why one Chris is THE Chris. Looks, personality, and respective movie and TV roles have all played a part in debates. In the end, it’s all subjective, of course (though admittedly, Pratt is the worst of the Chrises, let’s be real). But if we’re to discuss the range and versatility showcased in various roles, Pine comes out on top for multiple reasons. As an actor, he has been largely underappreciated or outright dismissed in the past, with many believing he’s nothing but a pretty boy with no depth. But over the course of his career, Pine has had a solid track record for putting in memorable and nuanced performances across different genres.
There’s a certain allure about Pine, who began his movie career in romcoms like The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement opposite Anne Hathaway and Just My Luck alongside Lindsay Lohan. Pine immediately proved himself to be leading man material, even when some of the films he starred in were forgettable. Much like the romantic comedies that gave him his big break, however, Pine himself was overlooked.
But as the number of roles grew–from Star Trek to Into the Woods, Wonder Woman to Outlaw King–he’s proven time and time again that he’s capable of fluidly playing characters who range from the bizarrely eccentric (shout-out to his uncredited role in Joe Carnahan’s Stretch) to the dramatically serious (Z for Zachariah). While it was hard to narrow his performances down for this list (which is in no particular order) because there are so many good ones to choose from, these are the ones that stand out for many reasons. In appreciation of his work so far, here’s a look back on five of Pine’s best and most memorable roles.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
There was never going to be a sequel to the The Princess Diaries that had as much spirit as its predecessor, but while The Princess Diaries 2 wasn’t as good as the original, it’s arguably more memorable and fun. It played out like a traditional romcom and that’s primarily due to the fact that Mia (Anne Hathaway) was caught in the middle of marrying for duty and country, while engaging flirtatiously with her competition to the throne, Nicholas Devereaux. Pine was charismatic as Nicholas, slightly pompous, but never quite crossing the line into asshole territory. He exuded a sense of charm so disarming that no one could fault Mia for becoming a bit ruffled while in his presence. Not only that, but Pine and Hathaway had amazing chemistry together, so much so that none of Pine’s female co-stars have come close. There was something so intoxicating in the way he looked upon Mia in such high admiration and the formal way in which he spoke was polite, yet endearing. For his first big movie role, Pine played a romantic lead very well and his energy and chemistry with Hathaway, along with the lightness and fun dynamics of the film, made him very hard to forget.
For hardcore fans, 2009’s Star Trek might not have been what they’d imagined when Paramount announced a reboot, but the film was generally well-received and even upon rewatch, still stands the test of time. Chris Pine doesn’t go for a direct imitation of William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk, first popularized on the original Star Trek series, and that’s really to the benefit of the film. He still embodies the basic attributes of Kirk’s character, playing up the charm and sense of command, but his version of Kirk is still at the beginning of his journey towards becoming the captain everyone had grown to love from the series. His performance is, of course, uplifted by the fantastic ensemble cast, and Pine plays off of them very well. He balances Kirk’s recklessness with charisma, while also managing to be one step away from a tantrum and underhanded manipulation at almost every turn. Pine delivers a layered performance that makes Kirk’s journey toward being a better man, and not simply an angst-ridden brat, seem that much more compelling.
Hell or High Water
While I’ve always known Chris Pine could act, it took a long while for others to catch up and acknowledge it. For many, that revelation came with Hell or High Water. It was the first time critics really saw Pine as an actor capable of nuance and depth. Maybe it was because this was a new kind of role for him, that of a ragged and struggling father (plus, he was sporting a mustache for the first time onscreen), but Pine really sold it. He was able to capture desperation wrapped in a calm, yet somewhat threatening exterior. He was stoic, playing a character who was a bit more mature and worn down by life than any other he’d played before and his performance brought me and others into his sphere and frame of mind. Before Hell or High Water, his characters had largely been charming, wannabe bad boys with a secret heart of gold. Toby wasn’t any of these things, nor was he trying to convince us that what he was doing was good; however, it was necessary in his eyes. Pine’s quiet, calculated facial expressions and body language exemplify the control he has within this role, the jilted way in which he walks, the tight space he keeps around himself. All of these choices elevate his performance and Pine gets to truly sit inside who Toby is as a character in a way that’s almost quietly meditative.
Horrible Bosses 2
Pine has always had good comedic timing and has been shown stretching his comedic chops in previous films. After all, who could forget the hilarity that ensued when he and Billy Magnussen sang the ever-competitive and melodramatic “Agony” in Into the Woods? Horrible Bosses 2, a mediocre comedy at best, is probably the first time Pine really lets loose and goes wild. As Rex, the spoiled and disrespectful son of a wealthy businesses man (played by an underutilized Christoph Waltz), Pine is completely unhinged. He’s a shady, problematic asshole who bargains his way into the hearts of Dale (Charlie Day), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Nick (Jason Bateman) through sympathy, guilt, melodramatic tears, and by faking a friendship. All of this so he could gain their trust before turning the table on them to get his way. And as, well, horrible as he is, Pine’s off-the-wall portrayal of Rex is energetic and practically manic. One of his best scenes in the film simply involves him laughing at the expense of the three leads after popping out of their trunk and surprising them with his presence. It seems as though he laughs for a good few minutes, so pleased he is with himself for surprising and scaring the other three men, and it’s his continuous laughter and amusement alone that makes the scene that much more hilarious. Pine is essentially a highlight of the film and his comedic timing even manages to outshine that of the three leads.
I Am the Night
I Am the Night, which reunites Pine with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, provided another career-best performance. Playing disgraced journalist Jay Singleton, Pine’s performance is gripping. As Jay, he’s desperate, hanging onto the last shred of hope he has in once and for all uncovering the story that destroyed his career, and he’s teeming with nervous energy. Jay’s actions can be construed as out of control, but Pine maintains some sense of control over his body language, moving in and out of spaces–bars, people’s personal space, homes–that simultaneously don’t want Jay, but which he attempts to invade anyway, especially if it means it’ll get him more information. Pine’s facial expressions shift from fear and remorse, to determination, annoyance, and disappointment. There’s some semblance of cockiness, but it’s mostly a shadow, with most of his confidence having disappeared following his fall from journalistic grace and being beaten down by life. It does, however, crop up in moments of determination. Pine portrays Jay as a bottom of the barrel type whose only shred of decency comes in the form of ensuring that justice is served and the truth is known.