Why Angelina Jolie Nearly Passed On Tomb Raider

Fun fact: 2001's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" wasn't the first action film Angelina Jolie ever starred in. That honor goes to the landmark piece of cinema that is 1993's "Cyborg 2," the now-defunct Trimark Pictures' direct-to-video sequel to the 1989 sci-fi martial arts thriller "Cyborg," starring Jean-Claude van Damme. I haven't actually seen "Cyborg 2," so feel free to ignore my snark, B-movie enthusiasts of the world; for all I know, it might be amazing.

For all intents and purposes, however, "Tomb Raider" was the film that completed Jolie's transition from character actor to full-fledged A-lister, coming on the heels of her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in "Girl, Interrupted." The same year she won that award, Jolie starred opposite Nicolas Cage in "Gone in 60 Seconds," a remake of H.B. Halicki's car-destroying 1974 action-thriller of the same name that was popular enough to revitalize the gearhead movie genre prior to "The Fast and the Furious" coming out the next year. She would then go on to suit up as the handgun-wielding, treasure-hunting Lara Croft for the first time, once again beating a somewhat similar project to the punch by a year (in this case, Paul W.S. Anderson's "Resident Evil").

In many ways, Jolie almost seemed to anticipate where Hollywood was headed in the 2000s before the major studios knew themselves. Her willingness to continue challenging herself and avoid playing things safe that has kept Jolie's career going strong all these years later, but she may have gone down a completely different path had she followed her gut and turned down the starring role in "Tomb Raider."

'I really didn't feel like that character suited me'

"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" is more or less what you would expect from a video game movie directed by "Con Air" and "The Expendables 2" helmer Simon West. Its opening scene alone centers on Lara doing battle with a robot (of course!) in the training room of her mansion. The room itself is modeled after an Egyptian tomb because, as we all know, there's nothing archaeologists love more than imagining they're wreaking havoc on ancient historical sites (outside of doing it for real). This results in several shots of our hero firing her guns, doing backflips, and even wrestling her mechanized opponent as it threatens to slice her face off with its spinning razor blades. 

An elatedly silly set piece in a movie full of them, "Tomb Raider" has an equally silly plot that involves Lara battling the Illuminati in a race around the globe to track down the pieces of a mystical MacGuffin known as the Triangle. It's hard to blame Jolie for being a little hesitant to star in the film, especially when you factor in all the sexism and general grossness she was no doubt aware she would have to deal with over her physical differences from Lara Croft's design in the earlier "Tomb Raider" video games.

Speaking to Collider in May 2021, she explained:

"I said, 'I really didn't feel like that character [Lara Croft] suited me.' I actually didn't at first want to do it; I said no. But they said you can travel the world and train with the British Military and so I had three months of seeing what I could do. And I would encourage anybody to do that."

Jolie's legacy

Jolie opted to do as much of her own stunt work as possible in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," resulting in action scenes that are far more cohesively edited and shot than in comparable Hollywood movies made around that time (and even decades later). This also served her performance in the film well, allowing Jolie to project confidence as Lara and embody the character's full range of emotions, even down to owning her sexuality in spite of all the ways the camera's gaze might try and objectify her. It's why "Tomb Raider" meant so much to a generation that grew up yearning to see more female action heroes on the big screen — the movie's flimsy story (and even flimsier CGI) aside.

This experience would continue to pay off for Jolie over the next two decades, paving the way to her tackling more action movies of both the live-action ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "Salt") and animated varieties (the "Kung Fu Panda" films), and even playing a superhero who can craft hand-held weapons out of cosmic energy in "Eternals." She credited that to her decision to take a chance on "Tomb Raider" all those years ago, telling Collider:

"Sign up for as much as you can, give yourself a few months, push yourself to the limit and see, 'What can I do?' And you find that there's a lot you didn't know and some crazy, weird things you can do or you're capable of, so I love it."