What Happened to Channing Tatum?

What Happened to Channing Tatum?

No man is an island. As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes, no one gets anywhere in life without someone believing in them. The same is true for Hollywood. It takes the stars aligning (pun intended) for any success story for anyone to really make it, and especially to escape the shadow of how they may be initially perceived.

There may be no better example of that than Mr. Channing Tatum. He told GQ in 2009, “I got crazy lucky. Like, sometimes I think I won the lottery or something. I don’t really know how I got here. But I just keep moving forward, and it just keeps getting better and better.” Had the stars aligned differently, he could have been just an exotic dancer and never entered the public consciousness. Or just a model. Or just played a jock. Or just played generic romantic leads. Or just played generic action roles. Or faded into obscurity after 2018 like so many others have before. Or remained purely in front of the camera. Or maybe just been loved instead of beloved. But WTF happened to Channing Tatum to make him beloved? To learn that, let’s start, as we do, at the beginning, where the beginning began.

Channing Matthew Tatum, Chan to his friends and family, was born on April 26, 1980, in the small town of Cullman, Alabama, USA. His family moved to Mississippi when he was 6. He wasn’t born on the bayou, but he got there pretty quickly. Football was one of his first loves, but after receiving a football scholarship, he soon realized that it wasn’t something he wanted to make a career of. He found himself having to work for a living (tragic, I know) and worked construction like his father had before landing a job at a Dillard’s perfume counter. He was soon fired (he says he quit) for breaking into dance while on the job. He figured he may as well get paid to dance and started work as an exotic dancer. That experience would serve him well later. In 2000, a man saw Channing Tatum on the street and told him that he should be a model and that all he had to do was come back to his apartment. Luckily, Tatum only listened to the first part, didn’t get “Weinsteined,” and went to a modeling agency of his own volition.

Tatum walked the runway for brands like Marc Ecko and Sean John and was in ad campaigns for brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and Pepsi/Mountain Dew. His first acting gig came when he appeared in Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” music video in 2000 as a bartender with face paint and a mohawk. His 2002 Mountain Dew spot, in particular, may have earned him the right people’s attention. More on that in a bit.

His first and really only television acting gig, since portraying himself on The Simpsons in 2014 doesn’t count, was on CSI: Miami in 2004, wherein he was spotted as aspiring white rapper Bob Davenport. His first major movie role was in 2005’s Coach Carter. Samuel L. Jackson certainly carries the movie on his shoulders, but Tatum showed his acting potential as one of a group of basketball players, and the coach uses his unique approach to inspire. Tatum originally had a small speaking role in 2005’s War of the Worlds, but he was reduced to a background extra in editing.

After supporting roles in Supercross: The Movie and Havoc, Tatum landed his first leading and real breakout role in 2006 with She’s the Man. Amanda Bynes said this took her championing for his inclusion after she saw him in his Mountain Dew commercial. Obviously, casting directors Sarah Halley Finn and Randi Hiller, who would go on to contribute to the success of the MCU, and director Andy Fickman, fresh off Reefer Madness, deserve credit, as well. Channing Tatum rewarded them for their trust. Fickman would go on to praise Tatum’s character and work ethic. His character is one of the most endearing aspects of a movie that, while it wasn’t initially commercially or critically successful, has gone on to cult status. He showed his dedication by training for weeks to look convincing as a skilled soccer player. He offered early glimpses of the comedic chops he would later come to be known for with one-liners that have persisted in the minds of viewers for decades since. But more poignant and relevant is when he quotes the play upon which the movie is loosely based: Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Knight: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I think we’re finding that all three apply to Mr. Channing Tatum.

We look back on the life and career of Channing Tatum, from his early days as a teen heartthrob to a leading man in comedy and dance.

Next up, Tatum would step up with 2006’s Step Up. Depending on who you ask, his charm was one of the few redeeming aspects of the formulaic and shallow movie. He rounded out his busy 2006 with A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. He steals every scene he’s in in the best possible way in a movie where he proves his dramatic acting ability. After serving as a member of a loaded ensemble cast for 2007’s Battle in Seattle, Channing Tatum appeared in the solid if depressing wartime movie Stop-Loss in 2008. The marketing for 2009’s Fighting leaned hard into Tatum’s sex appeal, and his physicality in performing the top-notch fight choreography goes some distance toward masking a derivative and underwhelming story.

Channing’s 2009 started with Public Enemies, in which he portrayed “Pretty Boy” Floyd, which is…fitting. The film leans more toward style than substance, but Tatum showed he could hold his own with Hollywood heavyweights Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. His first smash hit, since War of the Worlds doesn’t count, was 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which is basically a cartoon shot in live-action, for better or mostly worse. Maybe if director Stephen Sommers had allowed for more levity like he did in his timeless masterpiece The Mummy, critics would have been fonder of it. But more importantly to our story, G.I. Joe proved that Channing Tatum could carry a blockbuster franchise. For his part, he’s since said he regrets his participation, largely due to his reverence for the source material, but also because he…ahem…”fucking hated the script.”

In 2010’s Dear John, Tatum portrayed…John. The movie did what all romance movies have tried to do since 2004: recapture the lightning in a bottle of that other movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book. Channing’s chemistry with costar Amanda Seyfried is…fine…but the movie treads over too much old ground to be worth seeking out. Tatum’s next film was 2011’s The Dilemma, which is also a dilemma for the viewer. A Ron Howard-helmed dark comedy with THIS cast? Sign me up…in theory. In practice, not so much. But Channing is kinda perfect as 2011’s version of a f***boi.

Channing Tatum played a soldier again in 2011’s The Eagle, this time one from ancient Rome. This may be one of the few times where the movie’s poor reception can be placed on Tatum’s shoulders for his wooden delivery, but it can be tough to discern sometimes where it’s the fault of the actor or if the writer should have showcased a defter hand or the director a firmer one. Next up for Channing Tatum was the crime drama The Son of No One, which no one saw, despite Tatum and Al Pacino in top billing. If you have a strange itch to see a Dito Montiel/Channing Tatum flick, just watch A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. And maybe see a doctor.

2011’s Haywire was director Steven Soderbergh’s consolation prize after being dropped from Moneyball as well as lightning rod Gina Carano’s acting debut. The movie wasn’t a hit with audiences, but it did mark the start of Soderbergh’s working relationship with our hero, Channing Tatum, who would go on to be called Soderbergh’s “muse”. You could even say they’d go on to make magic together. Tatum finished up 2011 with 10 Years, where the core message is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s tough to say things were staying the same for Channing Tatum, who in 2012 starred in box office smash romance film The Vow opposite Rachel McAdams. Maybe she’s the romance movie linchpin.

Channing Tatum’s career to this point wouldn’t make his assignment to a buddy comedy reboot of a beloved 80s police procedural especially intuitive, but costar Jonah Hill, writer Michael Bacall, and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller looked at Tatum and saw their guy. His performance in 2012’s 21 Jump Street perhaps did more to change perceptions about him than any other movie. Mostly shoehorned into romantic and action films, to that point, Channing Tatum showed that he had a funny bone, in addition to his square jaw and chiseled abs in a movie that called for precise comedic timing and leaned on improv. His expanded range begat expanded appeal in one of the most pivotal years in his career.

When the original director fell through for Channing Tatum’s next very loosely autobiographical passion project, he remembered how well he vibed with Steven Soderbergh, who was excited for the reunion. This partnership spawned the Magic Mike franchise, with the namesake debuting in 2012. It was a really big hit with women, for some reason, and went a long way toward earning Tatum People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2012. 2012 also marks the peak popularity of the first name “Channing.” Our guy was on top of the world.

Tatum was back with Soderbergh for 2013’s Side Effects, a tight thriller about how the effects of drugs can amplify, magnify, and cascade. Soderbergh trusted Channing Tatum to once again act against type in the subdued supporting role.

Channing returned to his blockbusting ways with 2013’s GI Joe: Retaliation. I don’t ever care to see it, again, but it made nearly $400m at the box office, so what do I know? Spoiler Alert: Tatum’s contract with the studio obligated him to be in the movie but didn’t dictate how much, so he asked to have his character killed off right away, and the studio complied. Some former wrestlers took the reins from there. Also in 2013, Tatum appeared as one of many famous faces playing facsimiles of themselves in This is the End and in the action thriller White House Down, wherein his earnest performance is diluted by loose direction and distracting editing. This is one of those movies that’s gone on to be called self-aware parody, which I think is sometimes a crutch for underwhelming movies.

Channing was back with Lord and Miller in 2014 for The Lego Movie, with Tatum voicing Superman. He’d aptly embody the necessary gravitas and reprise the role in 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie and 2019’s The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Can Lord and Miller do no wrong? The band was back together again for 2014’s 22 Jump Street. The success of the first film justified the sequel we didn’t know we needed and yet appreciated even more than the “original” or “reboot” or whatever you want to call it. Tatum builds on his prior performance in a movie that’s a bit more meta, a bit more topical, and a bit more fun.

In 2014’s beautifully animated The Book of Life, the most unbelievable thing in the mythical tale is that Tatum was the odd man out in a love triangle. The next trio he was a part of was a trio of Oscar baiters for 2014’s Foxcatcher. Unfortunately, while his costars Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo were deservedly nominated, he wasn’t, despite critical acclaim.

2014 also marked the formal announcement of Fox’s unmade Gambit film, with Channing Tatum attached in the titular role. The journey of that unmade film could be its own video. Suffice to say that development hell and the Disney acquisition put the kibosh on it. Rumors persist that Tatum will embody the Ragin’ Cajun in an upcoming film, and he was long passionate about the character, so we can certainly hope one of those rumors comes true.

Channing Tatum proved his ruggedness when he ran wild with Bear Grylls on Running Wild with Bear Grylls in 2014 and again in 2019. Tatum’s first 2015 film was Jupiter Ascending. I think back in 1999, people would have thought, “Oh, The Wachowskis and sci-fi! What could go wrong?” but by 2015, they would have probably realized, “Oh, yeah, a whole lot.” 2015 also saw Magic Mike XXL, directed by Soderbergh collaborator Gregory Jacobs. Tatum’s enthusiastic cheering for Joe Manganiello’s “Big Dick Richie” as he tries to seduce a store clerk is a highlight. Channing Tatum went from leading an ensemble to a small role in one for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Tarantino, as a director, has maybe the highest floor in film history, but to many, this film is that floor.

In 2016, Channing Tatum made a memorable appearance on Lip Sync Battle, though his then-wife Jenna Dewan may have been even better. He worked under the Coen Brothers for 2016’s Hail, Caesar!, a meta film appreciated more by critics than audiences because Hollywood types love movies about themselves. For his critically triumphant return from self-imposed retirement, director Steven Soderbergh looked to his muse, Channing Tatum, along with a positively unhinged Daniel Craig, for 2017’s Logan Lucky. Channing Tatum elevates a flick that grabs you by whatever bits you have and doesn’t let go.

Tatum kept the adrenaline flowing with the 2017 follow-up Kingsman: The Golden Circle, wherein he played a member of the Kingsman’s American counterpart, the Statesman. And you just know he had to dance in it. Channing Tatum lent his voice to the lead role in 2018’s Smallfoot, where, subversively, we follow his character, Migo the Yeti, as he discovers the existence of humans.

Following 2018, Channing seemed content to be behind the scenes for a couple of years, earning a couple of producer credits as the world went into hiding and he entered into a messy if amicable divorce. We’d next see him on the silver screen in a cameo-level appearance for his friend Ryan Reynolds in 2021’s Free Guy. He got to be silly and nerdy, something he’s grown to be really good at. He also led the Netflix animated revisionist history feature America: The Motion Picture as a chainsaw-wielding George Washington.

2022’s Dog perhaps marked the true comeback of Channing Tatum. The movie, which he starred in and co-directed with Reid Carolin, represented a major bet on himself. Most of the runtime features just Tatum and the titular dog, the Belgian Malinois Lulu. For all the dog’s talents, Tatum did much of the heavy lifting. If Tatum leaned on anything comfortable, he did so in once again portraying a soldier. The movie made its budget back on its opening weekend during a time when movie theaters were still recovering, a testament to Channing Tatum’s enduring talent and star power. 

Channing Tatum returned to his romance roots with 2022’s The Lost City…kinda. The hit movie serves to emphasize Tatum’s versatility, as he’s tasked to balance elements of romance, action, adventure, and comedy. I think the then 41-year-old Tatum and 57-year-old Sandra Bullock look better in this movie than most of us have looked in our entire lives. Also, in 2022, Tatum cameoed in David Leitch’s Bullet Train as a character that fans have speculated may be far more multifaceted than he initially appears.

Channing Tatum was named one of Time’s most influential people in 2022. The feature, penned by Matthew McConaughey, is about as vague and cryptic as you’d expect. It’s worth seeking out if you’re a fan of either man. Tatum’s only 2023 film was Magic Mike’s Last Dance, wherein he showcases a chemistry with Salma Hayek that would make his Hateful Eight director Quinten Tarantino jealous.

If 2005 was the debut, 2012 the peak, and 2022 the return, then 2024 might be the year of the Channing Tatum renaissance. He’s set to appear opposite Scarlett Johansson in Fly Me to the Moon, a romantic comedy-drama set against the backdrop of the 1960s space race. He’s playing tech entrepreneur Slater King in beau Zoë Kravitz’ directorial debut Blink Twice. He’s been attached to Soundtrack of Silence, Roofman, Calamity Hustle, and Bloodlines, which are all in pre-production, as well as the announced Wingmen opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is also the writer and director. 

I think it’s safe to say he’s escaped the shadow of his exotic dancer and model origins and joined the realm of the auteurs. He says he got lucky, but sometimes luck also means good genetics, natural talent, hard work, and the right people taking a chance on you. It looks like we’ll be getting more Channing Tatum for the foreseeable future, and I’m sure your mom and sister are happy about that. And I’d bet Amanda Bynes, Steven Soderbergh, Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum himself are, too.

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