As I read the memes, even now as we try to make sense of the global disaster descending on us, the people demand to know who will come out on top in this showdown of former teen stars. Maybe it’s the sense of impending doom. “If I figure out just one thing before we descend into the hellscape world of The Road starring Viggo Mortenson…. it has to be this. Who is better: Leonardo DiCaprio or Kirsten Dunst?”
Well friends, your Midnight Movie Train data scientist is on the case, thank goodness, and the time has come to hash this out. Our contenders stepped into the ring just 2 years apart. Although appearing to be just barely past puberty, DiCaprio was actually 17 when he shot his first feature film, Critters 3, in 1991. Although many of us (myself included) grew to love him first as the Seaver’s troubled foster son, Luke, for a couple seasons of Growing Pains, it was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) that made the world take notice of the young man who would grow up to define “movie star” for our generation.
Kirsten Dunst was a bonafide high prestige child phenom; her first feature film was Woody Allen’s New York Stories in 1989, when she was only 7 years old. Although she squeezed in a de Palma here and a Miyazaki there in her elementary school years, it was her role as child vampire Claudia in 1994’s star-studded Interview with the Vampire (1994) for which she was nominated for a staggering 12 acting awards. She won half. Not bad for a 6th grader.
Our contenders have been in the game now for 30-ish years. Both DiCaprio and Dunst are masters at the height of mid-life – and as anyone in their mid-30’s to mid-40’s knows, mid-life is about comparing yourself to other people and figuring out who is doing better. So let’s take the pressure off these two, shall we? Time to figure out, once and for all, who is the best – at their chosen profession and in our hearts.
Round 1: Popularity
In round 1, contenders face off in two dimensions: lifetime box office draw and appearance in popular blockbusters and/or franchises.
Before he was Scorcese’s leading man, LDC was a teenbeat heartthrob, a legacy he secured confidently via the moody gravitas he brought to scallywag Jack Dawson in 1997’s Titanic, which smashed all box office records of the time. DiCaprio’s films have grossed more than $7B worldwide; he’s ranked #128 for lifetime worldwide box office earnings.
|Blockbuster Score||3 / 5|
|Box Office Score||4 / 5|
Spider-man was arguably the first comic franchise blockbuster of the current era and remains one of the highest-regarded, with a surprisingly high Metascore of 83. Dunst starred in all 3 films as the alluring Mary Jane Watson, one of the only roles in her career that can be summed up as “the hero’s girlfriend.” Her films have grossed more than $4B over the course of her lifetime; she’s ranked #377.
|Blockbuster Score||3 / 5|
|Box Office Score||3 / 5|
And the Most Popular is…
Round 2: Coolness
In this round, we’ll look beyond base audience opinion and rate how cool each contender is based, of course, on the number of critically acclaimed (metascore >65), small-budget (<$20M) films they have starred/appeared in, and the relative coolness of their regular collaborators.
Leonardo DiCaprio is NOT about small budget movies. The last film he made that had a budget of less than $20M was Romeo + Juliet in 1997 and though I loved it (still do!), that film didn’t earn a high enough metascore to qualify. LDC is just not a “cool indie” kind of guy.
He is, however, long-time collaborators with Hollywood titan Martin Scorsese – so, you know, there’s that. The phenomenal Gangs of New York was the first of 5 films they’ve worked on together since 2002. Their next projects have been announced: a film about Teddy Roosevelt and a series based on Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Oh boy!
|Cool Films Score||0 / 5|
|Collaborators Score||5 / 5|
The critically acclaimed small budget movie is Dunst’s calling card. She has 10 under her belt, including heavy hitters like The Beguiled, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Melancholia, The Virgin Suicides, Midnight Special, and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
She is also Sofia Coppola’s favorite leading lady – starring in four of the Cannes Best Director’s six films.
|Cool Films Score||5 / 5|
|Collaborators Score||5 / 5|
And Round 2 goes to… DUNST!
Round 3: Importance
In round three, contenders will be scored on the films they’ve starred in that have A) won important awards for best picture, acting, directing, or writing, and B) made an impact on the film industry. This second rating measures how much money each film made relative to its budget, influencing the types of movies that get made, distributed and promoted.
Prestige is definitely LDC’s game. He’s had a role in six Oscar-winning films, starring in five: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, The Revenant, The Departed, The Aviator, and Titanic. He has been nominated for Acting awards by the Academy 7 times – and finally won in 2016 for The Revenant.
He is also a box office silver bullet – a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio hasn’t lost money for the last 22 years. Titanic and Romeo + Juliet both did extraordinarily well – making back 9x their budgets in profit. On average, his films make back nearly 3x their budget in profit. On average! He’s a heavyweight.
|Prestige Score||5 / 5|
|Industry Bang Score||4 / 5|
Although her prestige catalogue is lighter, it packs a punch. Dunst has had roles in 3 films that won major awards: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Oscars), The Beguiled (Cannes), and Melancholia (Cannes). Quite deservedly IMO, she won Best Actress at Cannes for the latter, Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic stunner.
The interesting projects Dunst takes on don’t always translate into box office success: Upside Down, On the Road, and Dick are high profile box office failures. She wins more than she loses, though – sometimes big – the fanTAStic Bring it On earned 7x its budget and spawned a trail of sequels. Average for all films she’s starred in is a solid 1:1.
|Prestige Score||5 / 5|
|Industry Bang Score||2 / 5|
And the most important is…. DICAPRIO!
Round 4: Artistic Merit
In this round, we’ll put aside whether the films they’ve made are cool or popular or important and examine whether they’re actually any good… and will consider each contender’s range. Sure, anyone can do drama or comedy – but can you do a great horror movie? A historical period piece? A musical?
Looking over DiCaprio’s filmography, his genre of choice is decidedly the ole faithful Drama… Sometimes he does dramas that are also historical/period pieces (Django Unchained) and sometimes he does dramas that are thrillers (Shutter Island). Once he even did a Shakespearean drama.
But, it’s hard to argue with the results: the average metascore for a DiCaprio vehicle is 68.65. Considering stinkers like The Man in the Iron Mask and The Beach are in the mix, that’s damn impressive.
|Range Score||2 / 5|
|Critical Praise Score||4 / 5|
RomCom (Wimbledon), Horror (Interview with the Vampire), and everything in between, Dunst has done it and done it well. She’s even got a semi-musical in there – 2001’s too often forgotten Get Over It (which also happens to feature Sisqo, yeah – like “The Thong Song” Sisqo).
Unfortunately, critics don’t always get it, at least not right away. Many of Dunst’s films that were panned at the time of their release have proven their value over time, to the cinema community (Marie Antoinette) and to audiences (Drop Dead Gorgeous). Her average metascore is a respectable 62.
|Range Score||4 / 5|
|Critical Praise Score||3 / 5|
And the superior artist is… DUNST.
Round 5: Let’s Get Personal
And now…. the all-important big final round question: who is a better person? You shouldn’t win the Arbitrary Showdown if you’re a creep. That just wouldn’t be right.
I was ready to count your guy Leo out because it’s so weird that he only dates 20-year-old supermodels – but then he went and raised $20M in the last 4 weeks for America’s Food Fund while most other famous people were just drinking pina coladas while quarantined at their third home in Bermuda or whatever. DiCaprio’s philanthropic legacy began when he started a foundation to combat climate change when he was only 24. This guy raises $30-40M per EVENT from his famous friends, and gives it to indigenous sovereignty work, saving rainforests, stopping deforestation, reimagining sustainable futures, feeding the hungry, safeguarding endangered species… just all the stuff.
And he grew up pretty broke in West Hollywood with a single Mom. Geez LDC, ok, we get it.
|Good Person Score||5 / 5|
For a child star, Dunst is surprisingly well-adjusted. She refuses to change her crooked teeth or lose weight for roles, talks openly about her struggle with depression in her mid-20’s, and though she’s dated a bunch of handsome actors – has only married one, and just recently in her late 30’s. She has supported and been actively involved with a pediatric AIDS organization for 20 years, publicly supports progressive political candidates, and directed a documentary about how important voting is.
|Good Person Score||4 / 5|
And the person who gets my vote for city council is….. LEONARDO DICAPRIO.
So who won?
|Popularity||7 / 10|
|Coolness||5 / 10|
|Importance||9 / 10|
|Artistic Merit||6 / 10|
|Good Person||5 / 5|
|TOTAL||32 / 45|
|AVERAGE||3.6 / 5|
|Popularity||6 / 10|
|Coolness||10 / 10|
|Importance||7 / 10|
|Artistic Merit||7 / 10|
|Good Person||4 / 5|
|TOTAL||34 / 45|
|AVERAGE||3.8 / 5|
Kirsten Dunst WINS!
In the end, it’s KD with the steady class-act powerhouse knockout punch. Better luck next time, kid.
Who do you want to face off next?