June 6, 2023 - 10:00am

With his latest Marvel Cinematic Universe effort chugging toward the billion-dollar mark, it’s clear Hollywood has found an enduring powerhouse in the surprisingly controversial figure of Chris Pratt. The beefy everyman actor, who has unapologetically aired his non-progressive political and religious views, has drawn criticism from the mainstream media even as his box-office drawing power has enabled his films to tap a vast and easily ignored audience demographic. Namely, the centre of the American political spectrum, what Pratt has called “the big group in the middle” who feel alienated by all the “wackos” engaged in “political posturing”. 

Pratt has fronted a string of big-budget franchise movies such as Jurassic World Dominion, The Super Mario Brothers Movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, all nearing or exceeding the billion-dollar mark at the box office. This success stands out even more starkly when compared to rival actors like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (DC’s Black Adam), Paul Rudd (the MCU’s horribly-titled Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), and the returning cast of the first Black Panther film, all of whose recent releases failed to meet billion-dollar expectations.

Arising from middle-American beginnings in rural Washington state, Pratt’s unabashedly outspoken political and religious views contrast starkly with the cautious approach of most Hollywood actors. Nonetheless, he has avoided consignment to the Christian movie ghetto in which the likes of fallen stars Kevin Sorbo and Jim Caviezel ply their trades. His recent success with The Super Mario Brothers Movie, a bland, apolitical animated film aimed squarely and safely at both Nintendo-loving parents and their children, can perhaps be attributed to how its anodyne fan service is at odds with the more overtly message-driven nature of much of today’s blockbuster fare. It is already the second-highest-grossing animated film ever.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3′s success, in particular, adds another feather to Pratt’s cap: rescuing director James Gunn from the potential professional oblivion into which some off-colour tweets had placed him. Despite pressures from fans and critics, Pratt’s unwavering support for Gunn has been instrumental to the film’s achievement while the director, in turn, has resisted online calls to replace the actor as Star-Lord on account of the stances Pratt’s church has taken on LGBT issues. 

In light of outraged boycotts and cancellation campaigns from both Left and Right, “woke” and “anti-woke,” this approach shows another way forward: simply give the audience what they want, which is the same old stuff, served with overpriced concessions and devoid of any sort of political messaging at all. 

Pratt’s appeal seems to be rooted in his relatability. His run-of-the-mill “athletic guy” build and middle-of-the-road characters set him apart from the extreme, heavily steroid-enhanced figures seen today in Hollywood. This positioning, it seems, places him on a trajectory akin to that of Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise — both extraordinarily prolific actors with complicated public perceptions, yet who are capable of consistently delivering high-quality entertainment for mass audiences.

The Right-leaning nonagenarian Eastwood and Cruise — known for his controversial, long-term affiliation with the Church of Scientology — have both repeatedly demonstrated an ability to reach what Richard Nixon described as “the great silent majority”. Although not always favoured by the media, these two stars have proved that money talks — and that the middle of the demographic spectrum is willing to splash out for accessible, non-threatening entertainment. For now, Pratt has plenty left on his shelves to sell them, too.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work