The results of this appraisal will make two actors into permanent Hollywood legends, while plunging the other two into C-list ignominy.
The Amazing Spider-Man — perhaps the most necessary reboot of our time — arrives in theaters today. And while Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are both hot commodities right now, people will obviously be stacking them up against Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. (We know Stone and Dunst are playing different characters, but who's counting?) Since this film, like the 2002 version, will probably live and die on the chemistry of Peter Parker and his paramour, we're looking through the four actors' filmographies to provide a highly scientific verdict on their relative sex appeal.
We're pretty sure that the results of this appraisal will make two actors into permanent Hollywood legends, while plunging the other two into C-list ignominy. So read closely.
We give Tobey Maguire a lot of points for his first two Spider-Man films. He was at once adorably nerdy and surprisingly fit, and he brought just the right amount of pathos to the part. And the rest of his resume is impressive too. Pleasantville cemented his status as the guy you realize is pretty hot once you stop staring at the letterman-jacketed jock. Wonder Boys perfectly cast him as a pretentious but legitimately talented weirdo — who bags Robert Downey, Jr., even. (You get sexier when you do that.) And The Ice Storm made him a typically shy (but still cute!) boy-next-door. At his best, he's the guy you knew in high school whom you always wonder why you didn't date.
But, stack all of that up against his performance in Spider-Man 3. The terrible bangs. The whiny emo posturing. That weird dance number. Any actor can be excused for making the occasional bad movie, but Spider-Man 3 highlighted an unappealing part of Maguire's persona; when the dork-factor is gone, Maguire can seem douchey, bland, and more like the guy you never noticed in high school for good reason. And he didn't do himself any favors with chaff like Seabiscuit or Brothers, which failed to make use of his specific talents and saddled him with a decidedly unflattering jockey outfit and buzz-cut, respectively.
Here is a truth about Andrew Garfield: dude has not been in a lot of movies. He's certainly talented — he was just nominated for a Tony, for instance — but he just hasn't done that yet. That being said, his debut performance, in Boy A, as a young man trying to start his life over after committing a notorious crime, is soulful enough that it counts for at least three lesser film roles. Garfield's look doesn't scream "bad boy," but that's part of the charm of the performance — the convicted murderers who can give you a cuddly puppy-dog stare are always the ones that get you. (That's what Mom always said, anyway.) The eyes also came in handy in the sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go. A role as a sheltered clone who's destined for organ-harvesting may not be hot, exactly, but Garfield wears tortured soulfulness like a jaunty hat. We'd take his kidneys any day.
Unfortunately, he has worse luck when he's playing college students. He wasn't unsexy, exactly, as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network — "least douchey" is something of a compliment, at least — but let's be honest: no one in The Social Network had a net gain of sex appeal, right? (Maybe Armie Hammer, but only because he played twins.) And then there's Lions for Lambs. He shouldn't feel too bad, since even Meryl Streep and Robert Redford looked bad in that thing, but it's not helping his case.
Also, for real, he's only been in like five movies.
Probably the most iconic moment of the original Spider-Man trilogy — the upside-down kiss in the rain — was all about Dunst. Maguire did his part, but let's be honest, it was the soaking pink dress (and attendant raisin-smuggling) that made a huge impression on the movie-going public. That being said, Dunst has well established her hotness outside of the Spider-Man films. Please note her seminal performance in Bring It On. Is this her most serious role? No. (That would be her turn in
Dick Melancholia.) Dunst was at her alluring daffiest in a performance that should go down in high-school-comedy history. Also, she wears a cheerleading outfit for most of the running time, so, points for that. Really, plop the girl into any era — from 18th-century France to '70s suburbia — and she can cut an appealing figure.
That being said, we can't ignore the fact that the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" was literally inspired by Dunst's performance in 2005's wretched Elizabethtown, which features the actress at her most aggravating. You can add the failed teenage angst-fest Crazy/Beautiful onto the list of Dunst bombs as well: watch as Dunst flirts with the danger of miscegenation! Gasp at the unsightly pairing of a Meg Ryan haircut and a crop-top! Dunst can do lots of things well — stony alienation, repressed sexuality, human pyramids — but this kind of trouble-making teen isn't one of them. Demerits!
Stone's been acing this whole "being hot" game since she first made a splash as Jules, Jonah Hill's would-be paramour in Superbad. (Never underestimate the power of a perfectly timed "What the fuck?") But her sexiness portfolio is more diverse still. There's her adorably goofy Olivia Penderghast in Easy A, a modern-day Hester Prynne who embraces an unearned reputation as what Grandma would call a "loose woman." Then there's her shotgun-wielding Wichita in Zombieland, the kind of con woman who's savvy enough to get all your guns, but still sweet enough to take her little sister for one last trip to an amusement park. You can't really blame Jesse Eisenberg for following her.
On the con side, witness The Help, a.k.a. "The Unbearable Whiteness of Being." The Help is really the antithesis of sexy. For one thing, it takes on Big Heavy Moral Issues; for another, it doesn't do it very well. Turning the civil-rights movement into a tale of one white woman's personal and professional growth is just never going to work, and not even the freckles on Emma Stone's face will convince us otherwise.
The boys are easy: Garfield may not have many credits to his name, but he has a charm that Maguire lacks, so he takes the win. (Also, have you seen him in that Spider-Man suit? Wow.) The girls are where it gets tough: Dunst has a long resume, and while it's spotty at times, she's made her mark as far as on-screen hotness goes. (And acting talent, of course.) Stone's greener, but has a higher success rate overall. We're going to have to give it to Stone, but this was a photo finish. Now, to the theater!