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A study in Scarlett: Johansson is inventing a new kind of movie star

If you've seen a movie lately, Scarlett Johansson quite possibly was in it. Checked out the superhero extravaganza "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"? The Oscar-nominated computer romance "Her"? The rom-com "Don Jon"? The experimental sci-fi head-trip "Under the Skin"? As varied as those films are, Johansson was in them all.In early April, she even opened two films — "Winter Soldier" and "Un
Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett JohanssonEvan Agostini / AP

If you've seen a movie lately, Scarlett Johansson quite possibly was in it. Checked out the superhero extravaganza "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"? The Oscar-nominated computer romance "Her"? The rom-com "Don Jon"? The experimental sci-fi head-trip "Under the Skin"? As varied as those films are, Johansson was in them all.

In early April, she even opened two films — "Winter Soldier" and "Under the Skin" — on the same exact day.

She's been all over the talk-show circuit. Her face and figure adorn the May covers of Vanity Fair and Glamour. Gushing profiles of the 29-year-old star rhapsodize over her beauty, her voice, her laugh: "dry and dirty," according to Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, "as if this were a drama class and her task was to play a martini."

Look back at her path from promising young actress to major star.

She's twice been heralded "The Sexiest Woman Alive" by Esquire. Her movie press conferences get sidetracked into reporters' obsessions over her image, her private life, her engagement and pregnancy. She's the closest we have to an old-fashioned movie star, all glamour and gossip fodder, at least as far as the tabloid press is concerned.

And she just might be designing the new template for what a modern female movie star is supposed to be. Someone who can take on the traditional action hero role and give it a smart twist, and also grab critical raves for playing indie heroines who stand out from the crowd.

"The Winter Soldier," featuring Johansson stealing scenes as the slinky, savvy super-agent Black Widow, opened to over $200 million worldwide. She's costumed in a black bodysuit that hugs every famous curve, yet her flirtatious banter with Chris Evans' boy scout of a Captain America is more good-natured than seductive. 

And when it comes to action, she proves herself a match for anyone in the boy's club of superhero movies. This girl's got moves, and they extend to her career choices. For every "Iron Man 2" or "The Avengers," she makes an ensemble piece like "We Bought a Zoo" or an indie comedy like "Don Jon."

Johansson bowled over critics with a purely vocal performance in "Her," creating and evolving a complete character with nothing but her throaty, honeyed voice (and, to be fair, a terrific script). And while Oscar has still not come calling, she won a BAFTA for her breakthrough performance in "Lost in Translation" and a Tony for her Broadway debut in the 2010 revival of "A View from the Bridge."

Which brings us to the sudden Johansson lovefest. Sure she's been busy doing publicity rounds for both "The Winter Soldier" and "Under My Skin," but the explosion of articles is more than the usual spotlight on the celebrity of the moment or the star of this weekend’s big release. 

Perhaps moviegoers have so long thought of her as another pretty face that the realization she is a smart, serious, committed actress has taken us by surprise. Not that it should have —she did, after all, make her big screen debut before she was 10 and received glowing notices for "The Horse Whisperer" when she was 13 — but that kind of professionalism gets forgotten after all those magazine covers.

It's the same battle Julia Roberts fought until she got the respect of an Oscar with "Erin Brockovich," except that Roberts never had to act while in a skintight catsuit. And it puts Johansson in the same orbit as the fiercely ambitious Angelina Jolie, who seamlessly slips from "Tomb Raider" Lara Croft to the Oscar-nominated star of "The Changeling" to a celebrated director in her own right, or golden girl Jennifer Lawrence, who sinks her teeth into such meaty films as "The Silver Lining Playbook" and "American Hustle" between her "X-Men" and "Hunger Games" films.

Johannson will take the action spotlight in the adrenaline-boosted sci-fi thriller "Lucy" in a few months and of course she has a new "Avengers" movie coming up (where we're promised an increased role for Black Widow) and maybe even a solo "Black Widow" film. 

But between now and then she's back in indie mode, playing in the ensemble of "Iron Man 2" co-star Jon Favreau's "Chef," a character piece about a restaurateur co-starring Bobby Cannavale, Sofia Vergara, and her "Avengers" compatriot Robert Downey, Jr. 

It's a reminder that she's a trooper, not a diva.