In Marvel’s latest comic-book blockbuster, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the screen siren expands upon her fan-boy-approved casting as smart, seductive and strong Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow (2010’s “Iron Man 2” and 2012’s “The Avengers”). She’s proved that she can hold her own in a male-dominated genre–although Romanoff does dispense dating advice to lonely Captain America. As the main attraction in the hauntingly hypnotic “Under the Skin,” Johansson strips down in every sense as an alien whose mission on Earth is to harvest male victims but ends up discovering herself. (Clips below.)
Signature line: “Men always seem to wonder. They think I’d be something very special.” – Nola Rice in Woody Allen’s “Match Point” (2005)
Career peaks: Moviegoers have been wondering about Johansson, 29, for a while, considering this grad of Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School began acting at age 10. As a teen, she stood out in supporting parts in Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisperer” (1998) and as a disaffected high-schooler in “Ghost World” (2001). Her coming-out party as an adult lead occurred in 2003, often functioning as an unattainable muse for such older men as Bill Murray’s out-of-sorts actor in “Lost in Translation” and Colin Firth as Dutch painter Vermeer in “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” She then became a real-life inspiration for filmmaker Woody Allen, starring as a tragic mistress in 2005’s neo-noir “Match Point.” They paired again on 2006’s “Scoop” and 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and she recently said she’d be glad to work with him again.
But actresses can’t live by Woody Allen outings alone, especially given what he pays. Luckily, Johansson is now that rare woman with a continuing membership in the superhero franchise universe – but wait, where’s that Black Widow Movie?
Biggest assets. Looks, 10, talent hovering around 8 — and climbing. While many actresses in her generation struggle with acquiring a more timeless allure as they grow older, Johansson’s radiant appeal has always harkened back to the golden age of bombshells. But unlike Marilyn Monroe, she also possesses enough physical agility to keep up with those Avengers boys in her comic-book face-offs. Plus, there’s that alluring voice, a warm and throaty rasp with a ticklish bit of grit to it. Which is why she was so perfect for Samantha, the female OS voice who wins – and eventually breaks — Joaquin Phoenix’s heart in last year’s “Her.” And, after this weekend’s successes, she has continued to prove her box-office might. The actress also chooses not play a victim, saying: “I don’t do damsel in distress very well.”
Awards attention. Johansson has yet to be nominated for an Oscar, but she has won a Tony as a featured actress in the 2010 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From a Bridge.” She also owns a best-actress BAFTA trophy for her lonely photographer’s wife adrift in Tokyo in “Lost in Translation” and has been nominated for four Golden Globes. She ranks high when magazines do lists of the sexiest celebrities.
Biggest misfire. Johansson’s film debut in Rob Reiner’s 1994 comedy “North” was small enough that she came away unscathed, despite one of Roger Ebert’s most notorious pans (“I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie”). But she had to share some the blame for choosing to be in 2005 flop “The Island,” a pricey exercise in Michael Bay sci-fi action overkill.
Biggest problem. A lack of versatility. Johansson has barely shown audiences what she is capable of yet. She is funny – Allen has described her as even wittier than he is. But she hasn’t done many successful comedies. She can also sing, as proven by her work on film soundtracks and three albums, including a collection of Tom Waits covers. Give this singer a musical! If Anne Hathaway can pull off “Les Miserables,” surely Johansson could carry a musical comedy. But what Johansson really needs to go to the next level as a serious actress is that one mind-blowing performance – think Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” – tailor-made to exploit her special qualities.
Gossip fodder. Johansson is not one to reveal much about her private life. “I like to believe that the audience still wants to have the element of surprise,” she told The New Yorker recently while refusing to discuss her current pregnancy. But that has not kept tabloids from chronicling her taste in men over the years, including Josh Hartnett, Jared Leto and a brief relationship with Sean Penn. She and Ryan Reynolds divorced in 2011 after three years of marriage. She is engaged to the father of her baby, French journalist and ad agency owner Romain Dauriac, 32.
Career advice. With a booming franchise firmly in place and critically praised collaborations with such respected directors as “Under the Skin”’s Jonathan Glazer and “Her”’s Spike Jonze on her resume, Johansson can afford to mix it up even more. It would be foolish for her not to take advantage of her glamorous image, but it can also get in the way of her doing more challenging roles – which was the case with 2011’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Meanwhile, her directing debut, an adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel “Summer Crossing,” has been postponed because of her pending motherhood.
Next step: Johansson shows up in the low-budget “Chef,” a foodie comedy due May 9 that is directed by and stars “Iron Man 2″’s Jon Favreau. The trailer for “Lucy,” a flashy sci-fi thriller directed by Luc Besson, suggests that someone who looks like Johansson has the capacity to use 100% of her brain, thanks to ingesting a drug that was planted inside of her. We will find out Aug. 6 whether that is a good thing or bad, although the director did do “La Femme Nikita,” 1990’s female action-hero groundbreaker.