- Channing Tatum has had a successful year with "The Vow" and "21 Jump Street"
- "Magic Mike" is poised to help push his career to a new level
- Source: When you talk about who's the next big movie star, it's Channing Tatum
Construct a film that includes chiseled, handsome Hollywood actors like Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer portraying strippers, as is the case with Friday's "Magic Mike," and you can guess that veiled promise of nudity will draw some moviegoers.
But add Channing Tatum to that mix, and the stakes are raised even higher.
The 32-year-old actor has steadily built a career over the past seven years, folding teen films, action flicks, comedies and romantic dramas into his filmography. Yet this seems to be the year that Tatum's success has reached a crescendo, the moment at which the actor is poised to reach a new level of stardom.
"Magic Mike," directed by Steven Soderbergh and inspired by Tatum's own brief stint as a stripper in his younger years, has caused a frenzy of anticipation, leading box office observers to expect this to be another solid turnout for the actor.
If that happens, it will be just the latest in a string of successes for Tatum, who had a strong showing with both February's "The Vow" and March's "21 Jump Street," says Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com.
"I can't think of an actor who's having a stronger year in terms of building their drawing power," Contrino says, estimating that "Magic Mike" will pull in $29 million on opening weekend, taking second place behind "Brave."
That would ride on the heels of the romantic drama "The Vow," which "turned him into kind of a more solidified romantic interest," Contrino says, and earned $194.6 million globally, as well as his comedic success with Jonah Hill, "21 Jump Street," which earned $195.6 million worldwide. That movie not only had a solid box office run, but it also showed just how funny Tatum can be.
"He's coming off these two very huge movies, and then you have ['Magic Mike']. It's great timing," Contrino says. "Not only can he be in a romantic role because women would love to be with him, but he can be in an action role because he fits that mold too. In terms of a box office draw, that's a dangerous combination."
Hollywood has taken notice, says Forbes' Dorothy Pomerantz, who pegs Tatum as one of the actors who has the most to gain or lose this summer.
"When you talk to anybody in this town and you say, who's the next big movie star, [it's] Channing Tatum, Channing Tatum, Channing Tatum," says Pomerantz. "He is the one that everybody has their eye on, everybody's expecting to be a guy who can draw audiences, [and] who can draw a lot of money."
More specifically -- and most importantly -- he's been able to draw profit.
"He's not just minting box office money -- lots of people can do that," Pomerantz says. "He's making movies that are being made on a small budget that are just churning out the dollars. I think when you talk about this being a make or break moment for him, that's apt."
Yet Tatum hasn't gotten this far by being a repeat critical darling or a constant nominee at awards shows. Instead, he's used strategic film choices, an innate gift that lures in audiences and a reputation for a diligent work ethic to go from the fringes of the industry to high-profile features, such as his upcoming role in the Wachowskis' sci-fi film, "Jupiter Ascending."
Anne Fletcher, who directed Tatum in his breakout lead role in 2006's dance-centric movie "Step Up," says she knew instinctively that Tatum was right for the part, however green he may have been at the time.
"Channing and I are each other's firsts -- first starring role, first directorial," Fletcher says. "I think a lot of [the casting] was instinctual. ... We auditioned him and he was fantastic. The thing about Channing was that a) he could move, and b) he had so much charisma. It just poured out of him ... and without question that would permeate on screen."
"Step Up" went on to gross $114 million worldwide and spawn a franchise, with a fourth film arriving this summer, and it was also a stepping stone for Tatum to show that he could dance as well as "hold the camera's attention," says Peter Debruge, senior film critic for the trade publication Variety.
" 'Step Up' sort of took Hollywood by surprise in terms of how popular it was, and I don't think anyone would've thought that would be the film that would launch an acting career," Debruge says. "Especially because what he really brought to that were dance moves."
Casting directors Amanda Mackey and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, who have cast Tatum in 2006's "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," 2009's "Fighting," and this year's "The Vow," say that the actor has been able to carve out a space for himself as an American guy's guy who can show sensitivity.
"The thing that I think Channing does so naturally and brilliantly is ... he has an innate honesty and charm that is just beguiling," Mackey says. "And I think it's completely natural and I think it's exactly actually who he is. I don't think it's about performance, I think it's about something in his being that's very honest."
Debruge agrees, saying that while he doesn't necessarily look to Tatum for an exciting, groundbreaking performance, he also doesn't overlook what the actor does well, which is "connecting directly with an audience."
"What he's doing is low-key and very natural," Debruge says. "In some ways, it appears so effortless that there's this sense that anyone could do it. And I think it's really a mistake to dismiss it as being that simplistic."
Debruge adds that Tatum's performance in "Magic Mike" is the kind where "critics can once again sharpen their knives when looking for the chance to break down his performance, but I think it's a little bit more complicated, what he's doing," he says. "I don't think he's a great thespian, the kind of person who's shown that he can deliver complexity, but there is a subtlety, a casualness that feels familiar and that feels like you can relate to the characters that he plays, that's not accidental and is absolutely part of the performance."
Thus far, though, critics seem to have fallen for Tatum's particular brand of nonchalant charm in "Magic Mike." Observers are curious to see who turns out for the film, as well as how well it will perform.
Pomerantz, for one, predicts that even if "Magic Mike" is a flop, it won't hurt Tatum's trajectory.
"There's something about him that's working right now, and Hollywood is rooting for him, [and] I think the audience is rooting for him," she says. And if this movie is a hit, she adds, "it takes all these suspicions that Hollywood has about him as a leading man and shoots them through the roof. He is the guy."