Remember When Ryan Gosling Refused to Spend His Ken-ergy on Franchises?

Ryan Gosling arriving at the Barbie premiere
Ryan Gosling arriving at the Barbie premiere / Samir Hussein/GettyImages

Before the Ryan Gosling star vehicle The Fall Guy even hit theaters, franchise ambitions for the film were wafting in the air. Director David Leitch was exclaiming to the press that he and Gosling wanted to do countless Fall Guy sequels. Back in the 80s, the original Fall Guy TV show ran for five seasons and a little over 100 episodes. It certainly wasn’t unthinkable that the exploits of stuntman Colt Seavers (portrayed in the movie by Gosling) could sustain multiple motion pictures. These ambitions for multiple Fall Guy movies came hot on the heels of Gosling anchoring other franchise-friendly movies. This same actor headlined the Netflix feature The Gray Man and box office smash Barbie.

Oh, and don’t forget that this actor was temporarily in line to play a new version of The Wolfman (he’d later be replaced by Christopher Abbott). There’s also that potential Ocean’s Eleven prequel waiting in the wings for Gosling and Margot Robbie to reunite in. This plethora of franchise-friendly movies in Gosling’s recent filmography is fascinating to consider on many levels. However, it’s especially transfixing when one remembers that, once upon a time, it seemed like Gosling would never ever do such projects. The idea of any studio landing Gosling for a blockbuster movie sounded like madness. Now it’s just normalcy!

Gosling's acting career began in the 1990s with a barrage of kid-friendly TV roles. These included The Mickey Mouse Club, Goosebumps, and Young Hercules. Being so well-known for such youth-skewing projects meant that, when he transitioned into feature films in the 2000s, he had to switch things up. He had to show his range by taking on darker characters. Thus, his initial roles in movies focused on playing neo-Nazis and murderers. After so much bleakness, his big movie break would come from something lighter: The Notebook in 2004. This romantic melodrama convinced the world Gosling could play a believable adult and a hunky romantic lead. Afterward, Gosling returned to unconventional indie roles in projects like Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl. The former of those even scored Gosling his first Oscar nod.

As the acclaim piled up around Gosling, he no longer had to worry about Hollywood not taking him seriously as a performer. On the contrary, a new problem emerged. The American film industry saw Gosling as a perfect fit for new blockbusters. American cinema has almost exclusively defaulted to a very typical mold for what leading men in movies “look like.” Conventionally attractive white men between the ages of 25 and 40 will often do nicely. There's a reason Josh Lucas and Dax Shephard were getting to headline more mid-2000s movies and major studio products than Derek Luke and Michael Jai White in this era of Hollywood's history.

The inescapable influence of systemic racism on the American film industry combined with the actor's immense popularity meant that Gosling “magically” fit the bill for any potential new blockbuster protagonist Hollywood came up with. Back in 2008, Gosling was rumored to be playing a new young version of Jack Ryan. Later that same year similarly rampant rumors abounded that he’d be playing Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in a Green Lantern movie. None of them came to pass. By June 2011, Gosling passed on starring in a remake of The Idolmaker. At the time, Deadline Hollywood observed that this development echoed other alleged blockbuster roles the actor had passed on. This outlet alleged some of these included playing Superman and somebody in the proposed live-action Akira remake.

Earlier that year, Gosling did sign on to anchor a remake of Logan's Run for Warner Bros. This major coup signaled the actor may have been finally ready for the blockbuster world. In hindsight, Gosling taking on the part was likely almost exclusively based on his desire to reunite with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. In the end, Logan's Run never happened. Rumors about Gosling maybe finally doing a blockbuster movie would have to wait until the end of 2014.

This was, in hindsight, an incredibly important moment in Hollywood’s history. Major American studios were casting multiple big titles in franchises like the DC Extended Universe and Marvel Cinematic Universe. Such films hoped to provide big box office hauls for the long haul. Major actors courted to play characters like Doctor Strange or new Star Wars individuals weren't supposed to play those figures just once. Studios wanted to sign actors to multi-year commitments.

In October 2014,  The Hollywood Reporter ran a piece talking about how Gosling was in talks to play a series of then-upcoming blockbuster movie roles like Doctor Strange and The Joker. The latter of those would’ve been for Suicide Squad (yes, the version of the Clown Prince of Crime Jared Leto eventually played). Gosling was even being pursued for Lionsgate/Summit's potential blockbuster about the magician Houdini. That production was amusingly being given the subtitle of The Making of America's First Superhero. This Hollywood Reporter piece revealed that Gosling wasn't innately opposed to big-budget movies. However, he did reportedly hesitate over the lengthy commitments such roles required. For instance, this news piece claimed Gosling was excited about playing Green Lantern. However, he didn't want to be on the hook for endless follow-ups.

In this same article, anonymous studio executive sources quoted by The Hollywood Reporter expressed dubiousness that Gosling would ever take on those roles. Gosling had avoided these films for so long. Even the temptation of The Joker or Doctor Strange didn’t seem like enough to break his streak. In the end, Gosling didn’t take on any of these parts. He finally broke the seal on blockbuster roles by inhabiting the main part in Blade Runner 2049. However, even that was different from playing a DC superhero. That character was a one-off role in a dark R-rated motion picture. It was technically part of a franchise, but even then, Gosling did things a little differently from the pack.

After taking nearly four years off from acting, Gosling suddenly began his spree of franchise work with The Gray Man. This sudden embrace of tentpole projects made some sense considering the types of blockbusters Gosling anchored. Things like The Gray Man and The Fall Guy were primarily Gosling star vehicles. They were not smaller gears in bigger cinematic universe ambitions. Gosling’s positive experiences working on Blade Runner 2049, meanwhile, could’ve also endeared him to this type of motion picture. However, Gosling himself openly revealed to The Wall Street Journal in May 2024 why he’s suddenly taking on so many lighthearted roles, explaining that…

"“I don’t really take roles that are going to put me in some kind of dark place…this moment is what I feel like trying to read the room at home and feel like what is going to be best for all of us. The decisions I make, I make them with Eva and we make them with our family in mind first… I think La La Land was the first, It was just sort of like, ‘Oh, this will be fun for them, too, because even though they’re not coming to set, we’re practicing piano every day or we’re dancing or we’re singing.’ Their interest in Barbie and their disinterest in Ken was an inspiration.”"

Ryan Gosling, The Wall Street Journal

When Gosling was first getting into movies, he was trying to avoid any potential stigmas associated with being an actor who had headlined kid-friendly TV shows in the 1990s. This led to him embracing roles as dark murderers or characters in brutal dramas like Blue Valentine. He was now abandoning those very same roles in favor of lighter roles that could endear him even closer to his family. Back in 2010 or 2014, it would’ve been impossible to imagine Gosling being Ken or any other big blockbuster character. But anything becomes possible once you become a father.