Passed over for several major roles earlier in his career, Franco was chosen to bring Fox's Planet of the Apes franchise back to life and to headline Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful, which is currently the highest grossing movie of the year by a wide margin. How did Franco go from being a TV "geek" to the
king wizard of the box office? Just watch the movies on the list we've put together for you and, in under eight hours, you'll be able to dazzle your friends and co-workers with your understanding of the ascension of Franco.
(2002, 121 minutes)
"You have a knack for saving my life. I think I have a superhero stalker."
After breaking out on the short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks, Franco appeared in a couple romantic comedies and then landed the lead in the 2001 TV biopic James Dean. Franco invested himself heavily in the role and it paid off with a Golden Globe Award and wider recognition of his talents. He was put on the short list of actors to play Peter Parker, the nerdy high schooler who becomes a superhero after being bit by a radioactive spider, in Sam Raimi's adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, but ended up losing out to Tobey Maguire. Still, he impressed Raimi enough that he was chosen to play Parker's best friend, Harry Osborn.
Spider-Man was a phenomenal hit, taking in $114 million its opening weekend — the first movie to gross $100 million in one weekend — on its way to becoming the #1 movie of 2002. The popularity of the movie sky-rocketed Franco to fame, but he wouldn't find the same success on screen until he reprised the role of Harry in Spider-Man 2 (2004), which managed to outgross the original. He would again play Peter's troubled friend in Spider-Man 3 (2007), this time taking up the gadgetry, if not the mantle, of his father, Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, to fight Spider-Man.
(2008, 111 minutes)
"In case you haven't noticed...we are not very functional when we're high."
Franco reunited with his Freaks and Geeks co-star Seth Rogen in
this 2008 buddy action-comedy, earning a second Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of goofy-but-earnest drug dealer Saul Silver and an enduring reputation as a stoner in real life (further exacerbated by being declared "Stoner of the Year" by High Times magazine for his performance in the movie). The plot of the movie centers around a murder and the title strain of marijuana that ties a witness to the crime — process server Dale Denton (Rogen) — back to Saul. Forced to go on the run together to stay alive, Dale and Saul form a bond that becomes the highlight of a movie replete with enough drugs, guns, and explosions for a Die Hard movie.
The box office success of Pineapple Express, not to mention its continual success on home video, has made it a frequent subject of sequel rumors, but nothing has been formally announced. A trailer for Pineapple Express 2 was released on April 1st of this year, but it was merely an elaborate April Fool's prank and advertisement for Franco's latest pairing with Rogen, the apocalyptic comedy This is the End, which opens June 12th.
(2011, 94 minutes)
"I chose this. I chose all of this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life."
Franco gives the most powerful performance of his career to date in this 2011 biographical survival drama based on the life of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who amputated his own arm in order to free himself from a boulder that pinned him inside of a canyon for five days and seven hours. Prior to its limited theatrical run, the movie was mired by controversy after it was reported online that dozens of people were made ill by watching the trailer and the movie at film festivals. Despite this, 127 Hours was both a commercial success and a critical favorite, earning six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor. In his review for The Chicago Sun-Times, resident movie expert Richard Roeper declared the movie "one of the best of the decade," adding that Franco deserved to win the Oscar for his raw performance, which was bolstered by the very real pain he suffered while filming the movie:
There was a lot of physical pain... I had bruises, scars... Not only am I feeling physical pain, but I’m getting exhausted. It became less of a facade I put on and more of an experience that I went through.
(2011, 105 minutes)
"Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!"
When Twentieth Century Fox decided to dust off it's nearly 40-year-old sci-fi franchise The Planet of the Apes, they chose Franco to pick up the reins dropped by Mark Wahlberg and Charlton Heston as the headliner of the $93 million prequel, a clear sign that Franco had finally "arrived." Set in the near future, the movie focuses on geneticist Will Rodman (Franco), who, in his quest to discover a cure for his father's Alzheimer's, inadvertently gives "rise" to the first of the intelligent apes by testing an experimental drug on a chimpanzee named Caesar (motion capture by Andy Serkis).
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was intended to be the first of many prequels to the original 1968 movie, and it's tremendous success at the box office ensured that at least one more would be made. However, after Fox affixed a release date to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, director Rupert Wyatt bowed out for fear that he would not have enough time to make the movie and Franco's involvment in the sequel is in question.