Tracking the highs and lows of Jennifer Lopez's career is complicated. As her star power goes up, the quality of her acting goes down. She got serious attention with "Selena" and "Out of Sight," and pop stardom followed. She became a celebrity, an icon, an empire, a brand. She now hosts "American Idol," has a Latin talent show ("Q'Viva: The Chosen") with ex-husband Mark Anthony, and just returned to the big screen with "What To Expect When You're Expecting." But the serious acting potential that she revealed in the late nineties seems to have become irrelevant. Is it too late for her to revive it?
What's next? She has opted out of returning to "American Idol" for a third season. She stars with Jason Statham and Nick Nolte in Taylor Hackford's "Parker" (scheduled for a January 2013 release through FilmDistrict), is attached to Sony's rom-com "Overboard" and had "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" in the works as a producer with Walden Media last fall.
SIGNATURE QUOTE: "Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got, I'm still, I'm still Jenny from the block."
THE START: Before she was JLo she was a girl from the Bronx who sang and danced her way into being a fly girl on Fox's "In Living Color" and a backup dancer for Janet Jackson. She joined Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in 1995's "Moneytrain" before landing the titular role in the tragic music biography, "Selena" in 1997. The role marked her arrival as a leading lady, and won her an ALMA award and a Golden Globe nomination.
BIGGEST ASSET: Aside from being the triple threat that has earned her an empire, she somehow retains "I'm Real" relatability.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: 1998 was a great year for Lopez the actress; she starred in Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" across from George Clooney, and — according to Roger Ebert — the pair "have the kind of unforced fun in their scenes together that reminds you of Bogart and Bacall." The film earned her another ALMA award and made her the highest paid Latina actress. But 1999 proved mightier, making Lopez a music superstar with the arrival of her debut album, "On the 6." The album launched a robustly profitable music career with several albums and hit songs following — she's sold upwards of 55 milliion records and was one of the top recording artists of 2000s. All this, eighteen personal frangranes and a lifestyle brand at Kohl's turned her into the kind of icon-brand that American Idol has reportedly paid $12 million and $20 million for two consecutive years as a judge. She may have proved too expensive. It's no surprise Lopez is #1 on Forbes Celebrity 100 list, 2012.
MISFIRES: While she has built the JLo brand, her acting career hasn't put her on the A-list the way "Out of Sight" did for Clooney. Every one of her films since "Out of Sight" was critically panned and certified Rotten on the Tomatometer (save her voice credit on "Antz"). Why? Generally speaking, they've been luke-warm mainstream rom-coms — "The Wedding Planner," "Maid in Manhattan," "Monster-in-Law," "The Back-up Plan" — that built themselves around her larger-than-life persona rather than immerse her in a challenging creative environment.
And the formula has worked: "The Wedding Planner" (2001) and "Maid in Manhattan" (2002) are the 30th and 61st top-grossing romantic comedies since 1978. The wannabe-feminist melodrama "Enough" (2002) was fun because we watched her kick ass, and "Gigli" was fun because it was such a disaster (and a historical record of her relationship with Ben Affleck; ditto her music video "Jenny From The Block.") "El cantante," about the beginning of the Salsa dance movement, in which she starred with then-husband Marc Anthony, was more of a passion project, but earned under $8 million in a niche market. She stands out in "What To Expect When You're Expecting," but mostly because the rest of the cast is so numb in the paint-by-numbers celebrity look-book.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Her persona is bigger than her talent.
CAREER ADVICE: Serious acting kudos will never be viable unless you completely reinvent your approach — and that would take a series of impeccable project selections in which you relinquish the persona you've spent almost two decades building. But why give up the empire?
Revisit Lopez's career in music videos and trailers below: