Shia LaBeouf needs to press the reset button. The once-bright new face from 2007’s franchise-kickstarting “Transformers” reached a career lowlight over the weekend when “Man Down,” the drama in which he plays a former U.S. Marine suffering from PTSD, sold exactly one ticket in the U.K. The film has since picked up two more patrons, bringing the total number of tickets sold to three.
It’s worth noting that “Man Down” is booked for just one showing per day in one theater in Burnley, England, and brought in a little more than $450,000 after opening in the U.S. last December, but the film’s dismal U.K. opening is illustrative of the precipitous decline LaBeouf’s acting career has taken in recent years.
Since starring in Lars Von Trier’s two-part “Nymphomaniac” movie in 2013, LaBeouf has acted in just one feature film per year. He turned in a strong performance as a rat-tailed magazine salesman in Andrea Arnold’s 2016 Cannes competition entry “American Honey,” about impoverished youth in the U.S., but his only feature project of 2017 appears to be Danish documentary director Janus Metz Pedersen’s first narrative film, the sports drama “Borg/McEnroe,” in which LaBeouf plays the foul-mouthed tennis champion John McEnroe. The film has made theatrical distribution deals in countries throughout Europe, but has yet to land a U.S. distributor.
What did audiences like about LaBeouf’s acting in the first place? After launching his career with a three-year stint on the Disney series “Even Stevens” and three “Transformers” movies, LaBeouf earned a reputation as a dedicated, if eccentric, actor who immersed himself in his roles, sometimes through an unconventional approach to method acting. (For the 2014 war film “Fury,” he cut his own face and had one of his teeth pulled.) Other inspired performances include playing an illegal moonshiner in the crime drama “Lawless” (2012) and a troubled teen confined to house arrest in mystery-thriller “Disturbia” (2007).
Then there are LaBeouf’s performance art side projects. The actor famously wore a paper bag over his head with the words “I Am Not Famous Anymore” written on it at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, and then in 2015, LaBeouf launched a more than three-day livestream event with the hashtag #ALLMYMOVIES, which consisted of nothing more than a camera positioned directly in front of LaBeouf while he watched his entire filmography at New York City’s Angelika Film Center.
Recently, however, even LaBeouf’s performance art seems to have hit rock bottom. After New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image shut down his anti-Trump performance art exhibit, “He Will Not Divide Us” due to a number of violent threats and other safety incidents — including LaBeouf getting arrested on assault charges that were later dismissed — the actor and his collaborators Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner moved the project to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where vandals spray painted over the installation’s camera and ended the livestream within days.
The exhibit has since moved two more times: first to an undisclosed location that hackers figured out was Greenville, Tennessee, and quickly shut down, and then to Liverpool, England, where it took British trolls just a day to force the livestream to go dark.
To his credit, LaBeouf has also ventured behind the camera, directing five short films in the past five years and serving as an executive producer on filmmaker Alma Ha’rel’s 2016 experimental doc “LoveTrue.” Still, he needs to take on more consistent acting work if he’s going to reboot his career. LaBeouf is a talented artist who should be starring in more than one movie per year.
It’s one thing to be choosy about roles, but when you’re making more headlines for your offscreen antics and record-low box office results than you are for your acting work, it’s probably time to rethink your career strategy.