“Chris” is a popular name, and it seems to be at its most popular in Hollywood, with no fewer than four of the industry’s current crop of A-Listers bearing the moniker. While it can become confusing to remember which Chris is which, and one could spend days wondering why the hell there are so many in all our blockbusters, there’s something to be gleaned amidst this strange phenomenon. You can learn a lot about someone by asking which of the four major Chrises - Evans, Pratt, Pine and Hemsworth - is their favourite, and the ever-shifting rankings of said gentlemen can provide a glimpse into the movie world’s attitudes on masculinity, privilege, industry economics, and general obsessions. It’s also just fun to decide who’s the hottest.
For the longest time, the race to the top has been dominated by the one-two battle between Evans and Hemsworth: The Avengers favourites, both muscled and heroic, with one preferring romantic sensitivity over goofball antics, Evans the political rabble-rouser of Twitter and Hemsworth the self-aware dork of Instagram. Both are, of course, exceptional displays of Chris-ness, and, barring a major faux-pas, will remain at the top of their game as long as the film world needs tall handsome white guys who look good in tight t-shirts. Yet all this time, there has been a dark horse in the race, and he’s quietly been asserting his dominance. Now, it is time for us to accept the red-hot truth — Chris Pine is the number one Chris.
As the only one of the four Chrises not in the Marvel universe, Pine often fell by the wayside, even as he led the successful Star Trek reboot. For many, myself included, he seemed to be the B-squad Chris: Good enough, but not really doing anything to warrant further interrogation. Sure, he had the token rom-com beginnings behind him, but little to suggest he could stand shoulder to shoulder with Captain America (although he literally can do so as they’re the same height). Even those who enjoyed the first two Trek reboots couldn’t deny that Pine as Captain Kirk had very little to work with, as they seemed insistent on just repeating the same story and character beats to diminishing returns. Blandness can be a blessing in a creative field that requires constant change, but with so many Chrises to choose from, why settle?
That began to change in 2014. While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an attempt to kick-start another franchise with him in the lead role failed, he provided a bright comedic spot in an otherwise dour sequel to Horrible Bosses, and then came Into The Woods. As Cinderella’s Prince, Pine went to town in one of the musical’s funniest roles, revelling in the pompousness of the preening peacock prince who proves too good to be true. His big number, Agony, is the perfect opportunity to showboat for the cheap seats, and Pine runs with it, throwing in a dramatic shirt-rip amidst the cascading waterfalls. Finally, we saw Pine’s potential. Not only was he hilarious, but he could actually sing (take that, cast of Les Miserables). This was Pine confronting his own pretty boy image and taking it down a few notches, exposing the shallowness of the handsome prince archetype. Pine still breaks out the tunes now and then, including a duet with Barbra Streisand herself (when Barbra gives you the seal of approval, who are the rest of us to question that?)
2016 was a good year for Pine. Indeed, he may have been the only not-awful person to have a good 2016. Star Trek Beyond proved to be the best in the reboot series, giving its ensemble much more to do and allowing Kirk to move beyond the tired repeats of the previous films. Pine’s Kirk had the opportunity to be noble, conflicted and loyal, yet still with a healthy dose of sardonic glee. In a film that prizes unabashed enjoyment over all else, Pine could breathe and finally be comfortable in the typically staid leading man mould. Meanwhile, his indie work of that year proved to be the surprise hit of the Summer. Hell or High Water is a tightly crafted thriller with a keen eye towards contemporary unease over the economy. It’s a story we’ve seen countless times before that so easily could have fallen apart in less capable hands. Pine’s role as the more stoic of the two robber brothers, a quieter display of grit in contrast to Ben Foster’s on-the-edge tension, could have been a washout, yet he imbues it with such pathos and exhaustion, impeccably conveying the grind of petty crime and the fear of never escaping the cycle. With a threadbare denim shirt, seldom buttoned up, an old-timey cowboy mustache, and specks of dirt perpetually strewn across his face, Pine did some of his best work. Most of the Chrises have tried to skew more serious with smaller projects outside of the blockbuster realm - Hemsworth’s attempts have mostly failed but Rush is excellent; Evans seems to favour shimmery romantic dramas, with a side-order of oddball in Snowpiercer, and Pratt has preferred to stick to the bigger stuff since joining the Marvel-verse - yet none of them seem to have nailed the work quite like Pine. For the first time, it felt as though we had a Chris who could truly transcend the boundaries of the A-List and become a character actor.
But being the best Chris isn’t just about the films: It’s about the lifestyle. Generally, Pine has kept to himself, eschewing social media (preferring to use a flip-phone), and mostly staying out of trouble, bar one DUI charge. Not much is known about love life, although he was rumoured to be dating former co-star Sofia Boutella. Where the other Chrises maintain a degree of online presence, Pine is nowhere to be seen, which has its own element of mystery. On talk shows, he’s warm and witty. On SNL, he elevated a mediocre episode to must-watch through sheer force of charm, including a genius musical number all about which Chris he is and which one he isn’t. He’s self-aware enough to know that he’s probably not your favourite Chris, and he’s cool with that as it provides a shield from the harsh gaze of celebrity adoration. In a way, that’s what makes him so perfect for Wonder Woman; he’s an immense talent, but he’s savvy enough to know he’s playing second fiddle to something much more beloved (there’s also a glorious moment of Female Gaze in the film, only highlighting Pine’s strength in that role, where he truly is perfectly cast).
While Pine is decreed our favourite, it’s only for now, and we still ask ourselves: Why do we focus on the Chrises of Hollywood so much? It may lie in their status as “perfect leading men” or an industry that fetishizes highly specific tropes: Aesthetically pleasing cishet white dudes with big muscles who look good in spandex. It’s a trend that’s almost as old as Hollywood itself, and one in no danger of dying out, not as long as the multi-film expanded universe franchise mould remains embedded in the foundations of every major studio. As budgets soar alongside audience expectations, producers keep turning to that favoured model of man to lead the show, believing it to be the safest bet in a field so bereft of them. That makes it a good time to be a Chris, but it’s also one with many trappings. Traditionally, a leading man’s shelf life is short, and audiences can be fickle, so a Chris must find other options in case of an under-performing Summer blockbuster. It’s not enough to save the world: You have to be the character actor, the charming guest, the fan favourite, the sensitive soul, the adoring parent, and whatever tastes dictate. That’s why Pine should be considered the best of the Chrises: He’s got the potential to do that, and so much more. Not knowing what lies in his future is the most tantalizing part of it all.