The 90s were a good time to our contenders. Each riding spectacular successes of the late 80s, Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke collided for the first and only time in 1994’s Reality Bites, the apex of mid-90s slacker sexy. His greasy hair, her disaffected cool, both with their intellectual cynicism and cigarette smoke and lazy aspirations and white people problems… I can hear the Blind Melon playing now and it makes me thirsty as hell.
Both entered the ring at the tender age of 14, just one year apart. The elder Hawke was first, appearing alongside River Phoenix in Joe Dante’s 1985 sci-fi adventure film, Explorers. Though charming, the film was not successful and it crushed young Ethan, who decided immediately to give up the dream and become a writer. Four years later, all grown up at 18, he gave it another go, playing an aspiring writer in the smash hit Dead Poets Society. Though he tried to go to college and all that for a little bit, Hawke was in high demand, and he eventually abandoned the normie path to pursue artistic greatness. The relentless actor has made multiple movies every year for more than 30 years now, in addition to writing 4 novels and directing/appearing in award-winning plays in NYC, his hometown.
Winona Ryder became interested in theater when she was just 12, and a couple years later, she sent in an audition tape and landed a role in the sweet 1986 high school drama, Lucas, starring baby Corey Haim. Tim Burton caught the film and was captivated by those big brown eyes – and along came a starring role in the mega-hit, Beetlejuice, which came out when she was 17. Though they told her not to do it (“it’ll ruin your career!” they said), Winona got excited next about Heathers, the high school black comedy that solidified her legend at the tender age of 18.
These two have a lot in common: a little intellectual, a little rock and roll – always walking the line between indie and prestige. They both got famous young, both live in New York, both have had a slice of scandal in their lives, and they both know Lawrence Ferlinghetti. But who is BETTER?
Thank your lucky stars, friends: I looked into it, and now I know. And soon, you will too.
Round 1: Popularity
In round 1, contenders face off in two dimensions: lifetime box office draw and appearance in popular blockbusters and/or franchises.
Although she tugged at our heart strings as Spock’s human mother in J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek reboot and brought the mania as the dying swan in Darren Aronofsky’s wildly successful Black Swan, Ryder’s biggest smash was as the doomed Mina Murray in Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 blockbuster.
Over her lifetime, Ryder’s films have grossed just over $2 billion dollars worldwide, which promotes her to rank #1,259 in the lifetime box office rankings for all actors. Blockbusters and franchise films aren’t really her thing, so it’s not surprising that Winona didn’t crack into scoring ranks for box office draw.
|Blockbuster Score||2 / 5|
|Box Office Score||0 / 5|
Ethan Hawke isn’t into the superstardom mania either. At least – not yet. He is slated to appear opposite Oscar Isaac as the villain in Moon Knight, an MCU premiere show, so we’ll see where that leads. So far, the only film he has had a major role in that qualifies as a box office smash according to the Midnight team criteria is Dead Poets Society.
His box office ranking follows suit – his films have made $1.7 billion over the last 30+ years, which – though a TON of money – earns him #1,612 in stars’ lifetime rankings, not high enough to score.
|Blockbuster Score||0 / 5|
|Box Office Score||0 / 5|
And the crown goes to…
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.
This is Winona’s jam. In the 80s, she brought Heathers, Beetlejuice and Lucas; in the 90s, Little Women, Reality Bites, Edward Scissorhands, and Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth – and in more recent years, Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, Aronofsky’s Black Swan, and Almereyda’s Experimenter. 10 in total – wow!
She also has a couple enduring collaborations. She has made 3 films with fantasy-goth auteur, Tim Burton, and has shared the screen 4 times with Keanu Reeves, most recently in the charming 2018 romantic comedy, Destination Wedding.
|Cool Films Score||4 / 5|
|Collaborators Score||4 / 5|
Ethan Hawke is not laying down and brings a staggering 18 (!) qualifying credits – WAY too many to list here and by far the most of anyone who has participated in a showdown yet. We’ve got Tesla, First Reformed, Predestination, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Hamlet, most of the 9 (!) films he’s made with Richard Linklater, and more. He also directed 2018’s Blaze.
In addition to his lifelong allegiance to Linklater – I mean, they spent 12 years on Boyhood, in addition to the 8 other movies they’ve made together – Hawke has made 3 films each with Antoine Fuqua and Michael Almereyda. He has shared the screen 7 (!) times with Vincent D’Onofrio, 4 times with both Julie Delpy and Steve Zahn, and 3 times each with Uma Thurman, Chris Cooper, and Kyle MacLachlan. The guy likes making things with his friends.
|Cool Films Score||5 / 5|
|Collaborators Score||5 / 5|
The COOLEST is….
Hawke, with a mic drop.
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.
Winona appeared in three award-winning films: Girl, Interrupted and Black Swan, for which Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman, respectively, won Oscars, and Heathers, which won Michael Lehman the Independent Spirit award for Best First Feature. Ryder herself has been nominated for Best Actress twice: for Little Women and for The Age of Innocence.
Though not groundbreaking, casting Ryder is a sound business move. Her films are reliable but not generally dramatically successful; on average, they earn back about what they cost to make in profit.
|Prestige Score||3 / 5|
|Industry Bang Score||2 / 5|
Ethan has been nominated for 4 Oscars. Two were for acting (Boyhood and Training Day), and though he didn’t win, both of his costars, Patricia Arquette and Denzel Washington, did. The other two were for writing, for Before Sunset and Before Midnight, with Delpy and Linklater. He did win the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for First Reformed. Dead Poets Society and Blaze (Hawke directing) also won some fancy awards.
Though Hawke’s box office numbers can’t shake a stick at the Avengers and the like, his work goes a long way to safeguard the success of the small budget films he gravitates toward; on average, Hawke’s films make back more than 2x their budget in profit.
|Prestige Score||4 / 5|
|Industry Bang Score||4 / 5|
And the most important is….
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?
In genre fare, Winona gravitates most regularly toward SciFi/Fantasy: everything from lighthearted fantastical comedy (Mermaids) to the cold dark of outer space (Alien: Resurrection). Her haunted angel look works equally well in both Historical/Period and Horror films. In Dracula, she got to do both at once!
And her films are consistently good. Though critics really hated Lost Souls (16) and Autumn in New York (24), for the most part they smile on Winona Ryder movies. Little Women (87), Edward Scissorhands (74), and Frankenweenie (74) are her most celebrated. The average Metascore for films Ryder starred in is a solid 61.5
|Range Score||3 / 5|
|Critical Praise Score||3 / 5|
Hawke has done decent films in ALL the genres: RomCom (Maggie’s Plan), Historical/Period (The Magnificent Seven), Horror (Sinister), Thriller/Action (Assault on Precinct 13), and Fantasy/SciFi (Gattaca). He has also done Shakespeare (Hamlet) and appeared in a documentary called Maxima Mea Culpa: Silence in the House of God.
Though a couple action films drag down his average – low points are Getaway (22) and 24 Hours to Live (37) – critical response to films Ethan stars in is generally strong. Boyhood (100), Before Midnight (94), and Before Sunset (90) were the most praised. The average Metascore for a Hawke vehicle is a strong 63.9.
|Range Score||5 / 5|
|Critical Praise Score||4 / 5|
And the superior artist is… HAWKE.
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 showdown if you’re a creep. That just wouldn’t be right.
Winona was born in MN and grew up in NorCal saturated in the arts, activism, and big ideas in a family of free-thinking hippies. She was a weird outcast at school, probably because she spent most or her childhood reading Salinger in a communal living wilderness situation. She has dated two high profile actors (Johnny Depp and Matt Damon), both for a number of years – and has been with her main squeeze, a fashion guy, for more than 10 years. She has never been married.
Ryder isn’t super politically active, though has gotten involved in a couple causes: the American Indian College Fund, work on Reservations, and support for the family of a young girl who was abducted. But there was that whole shoplifting incident – which was, actually, ~$6,000 in designer clothes from Saks Fifth Ave. She was in a tough moment.
|Good Person Score||2.5 / 5|
Ethan was born in Austin, TX – his parents were barely legal college student babies, and they got divorced when he was 4. He moved to New York with his Mom when he was 10 and has lived there since. He and Uma Thurman were married for 7 years and have two kids; though their divorce was clouded with allegations of infidelity, neither party confirmed or denied that – seemed like the whole moment was crushing for them both. He has since gotten remarried to a normal person; they’ve been together 13 years and have 2 kids.
Hawke lightly supports a smattering of causes – homelessness, democrats, GLBT equality, the environment, public libraries, theater, etc. Though lefty leaning, he’s mostly interested in making art and is not politically active.
|Good Person Score||3.5 / 5|
And the person least likely to have advice on criminal legal defense strategy is…..
So who won?
|Popularity||2 / 10|
|Coolness||8 / 10|
|Importance||5 / 10|
|Artistic Merit||6 / 10|
|Good Person||2.5 / 5|
|TOTAL||23.5 / 45|
|AVERAGE||2.6 / 5|
|Popularity||0 / 10|
|Coolness||10 / 10|
|Importance||8 / 10|
|Artistic Merit||9 / 10|
|Good Person||3.5 / 5|
|TOTAL||30.5 / 45|
|AVERAGE||3.4 / 5|
Ethan Hawke WINS!
And we’re happy for him and we all learned a thing or two… including remembering how much we all love Reality Bites… right!? The Real World parody, the Violent Femmes cover, the facial hair, the apple bong, THE GAP – y’all really should watch this movie again! It’s embarrassing and corny and just a goddamn treasure.