“Avatar” once-again became the highest-grossing film ever in terms of global box office in March 2021. This was after the film was re-issued in China, which pushed the total past “Avengers: Endgame”. What do these two films have in common? For one, they each have large areas of Disney parks dedicated to each film, with Pandora in Disney World and Avengers Campus in Disneyland.
Both films also star Zoe Saldana. The actress played Neytiri, the princess of a Na’vi tribe in “Avatar”, and Gamora, the adopted daughter of the mad Titan Thanos in “Endgame”.
Saldana’s IMDB success story does not stop there though as she was also Uhura in the recent “Star Trek” trilogy which collectively grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide.
Saldana is a very talented actress, and she should get extra credit for performing her “Avatar” & “Endgame” roles in makeup that had to require hours of application. However, it’s also fair to say she was part of ensembles in these movies vs. being the star.
Still, Saldana is a key contributor in three of the biggest movie franchises of all-time. Movies that have made “silly money” at the box office, and considering where the movie industry is going, might have had success that won’t be repeated.
And where have we seen this before in the sports world? Who has been a vital part of multiple teams reaching the ultimate goal while also not being the clear #1 driving force behind that success?
That’s right. Zoe Saldana is the Robert Horry of the Box Office.
Horry played 16 seasons in the NBA for four different teams. He won NBA Championships with three of them, including two with the Houston Rockets, two with the San Antonio Spurs, and three with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won the most Championships of any player that hasn’t played for the Boston Celtics.
Horry wasn’t the star of any of these teams, but it is fair to say none of these teams would have raised these Larry O’Brien’s without Horry, as he had a knack for hitting big shots, earning him the nickname “Big Shot Bob”.
It’s natural with a comparison that is so outside of the box that you will have questions, so let’s dive in.
First off, why?
Fair. Maybe even very fair. The list of “actress to NBA role player comparison” articles are few and far between. But doesn’t that mean we’re due?
Also, it’s not like everyone has gotten the vaccine yet, so don’t act like you have a full social calendar this is keeping you from.
[Sees Texas raising its hand in the corner, ignores it, moves on]
Ok so if we are doing this, which movie role equals each Championship run?
Excellent question. Here’s how I see it:
1994 & 1995 Rockets = Star Trek movies
The first “Star Trek” came out the same year (2009) as “Avatar”, but it came out earlier and was arguably Saldana’s biggest role to date at that point. You could also say Saldana lucked into a situation that was difficult to fail. A bankable franchise, a well-known director, solid casting around her, and one of the better teaser trailers ever.
For Horry, these Rockets teams had an MVP in Hakeem Olajuwon and another Hall of Famer (Clyde Drexler) in the second Championship season. Also, Michael Jordan had retired before the ’93-94 season and then only came back wearing the 4-5 right before the ’94-95 playoffs. That alleviated quite a bit of the degree of difficulty for these back-to-back champs.
2000, 2001 & 2002 Lakers = Marvel movies
Saldana’s Marvel franchise, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of the lesser known comic books to be portrayed in the MCU. However, the success of those movies, due in large part to Saldana’s portrayal of Gamora, is more than just the luck of being part of the MCU machine. That success continued into the “Infinity War/Endgame” mega-blockbusters where Gamora was key to the storyline.
The early 00’s Lakers had one of the top combos in NBA history with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. And even though the casual NBA fan feels you only need one player to win a championship, that’s not the reality. O’Neal/Bryant needed more than just a collection of guys from a local pick-up game to be champions. Enter Horry, who provided 20+ minutes a game of knowing his role, an incredibly valuable part of any championship roster.
2005 & 2007 Spurs = Avatar
“Avatar” was the brainchild of director James Cameron. There are very few movies in the history of cinema that are so deeply entwined with their director/creator. Could “Avatar” have been what it was no matter who was cast? Maybe. But Saldana still should get the credit for delivering on every part of her role that was required to help make “Avatar” such a phenomenon.
The 2000’s Spurs are also just as connected to head coach and team President Gregg Popovich (and top-10 all-time player Tim Duncan). Could Popovich (and Duncan) have won championships with any roster? Maybe. But Horry also gave the Spurs 20+ minutes a game in each playoff run and shot a combined 42% from 3-point range.
And please do not for one second misinterpret this as saying Sam Worthington is Tim Duncan.
If Cameron is Popovich, then Sigourney Weaver is Duncan.
Then what is Saldana’s version of Horry’s shot against the Kings?
First, we should clarify “Horry’s shot”.
In Game Four of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the Kings were leading 2-1 in the series and by two points in the game with nine seconds remaining.
Then this happened.
The Lakers would go on to win what is still one of the more controversial NBA playoff series ever.
It’s when Thanos sacrifices Gamora to get the Soul Stone in “Infinity War”.
Much like the Lakers, Thanos was a powerful foe but he had hit a wall in his attempt to get the Soul Stone (like the Kings had seemed to do with the Lakers title hopes). In order to fill his gauntlet with the stones he needed, he required a little help. This was Gamora’s knowledge of where the Soul Stone was, and the ability to sacrifice her life to get it. Like how the Lakers needed help from Horry’s late-game heroics and the refs to get past the Kings and three-peat.
Also, Shaq kind of looks like Thanos.
Well then who wins? Who’s more impressive?
We covered how each has their version of three “championships”.
Horry also has the honor of being included in a trade for one of the best players ever (Charles Barkley).
But Saldana was also part of ANOTHER movie franchise phenomenon as she played Anamaria in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”. Saldana didn’t appear in the following four “Pirates” movies, but her name still goes on the trophy when you look at those movies as a whole. And if you’re forgetting her role in the first “Pirates”, here you go.
Add in that Horry’s NBA career has ended and Saldana has several years left in her acting prime (and four “Avatar” sequels coming) and the decision has to go to Saldana.
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