Here’s why Angelina Jolie didn’t star in a third Tomb Raider movie. Back in the heady days of the original PlayStation, Lara Croft emerged as one of the console’s leading icons and became a household name to rival Sonic and Link. The pixelated pistol-toting Brit remains a video game legend, but whether later releases match up to the 1990s originals is a matter of debate.
The popularity of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider was such that Hollywood soon came calling and a live-action movie began development in the late 1990s. Released in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider wasn’t well received by fans and became one in a long line of poor video game adaptations. Nevertheless, the intrigue of seeing Lara on the big screen was enough to propel Tomb Raider to box office success.
Consequently, a sequel was green-lit with Jolie returning as the charismatic lead. 2003’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life pitted its titular explorer against a Chinese criminal gang and a dastardly scientist intent on finding the legendary Pandora’s box.
The follow-up was essentially more of the same globe-trotting fantastical action and marked yet another failed effort to successfully translate a video game into a compelling feature-length story. Since the novelty of Lara’s film debut had now worn off, revenue was significantly lower for The Cradle of Life, although the sequel did still manage to turn a profit.
Initially, the prospects of a third Tomb Raider movie looked good. The property clearly had franchise potential and was still making money for Paramount, with The Cradle of Life showing enough promise in the international market to warrant another outing. Additionally, Chris Barrie, who had played Lara’s butler Hillary in both Tomb Raider movies, stated in 2004 that a third installment was “on the slate” and that he hoped to return.
Of course, Tomb Raider 3 never came to pass, and this decision was entirely down to Angelina Jolie. Speaking during the press tour for Taking Lives in 2004, Jolie stated “I just don’t feel like I need to do another one, because I felt very happy with the last one. It was the one that we really wanted to do.“
Jolie’s Tomb Raider 3 reluctance is entirely understandable. The initial 2001 film was criticized for a poor script and lack of character depth, but The Cradle of Life offered a little more in that regard. This fits with Jolie’s suggestion that her portrayal of Lara Croft had already achieved everything the actress wanted from the character.
Taking a more business-minded stance, Angelina Jolie’s performance is easily the strongest element of the Tomb Raider movies and despite the films themselves receiving poor reviews, becoming Lara turned Jolie into an A-list movie star. It seemed the logical choice to step away from a franchise that was on the decline financially when her growing reputation gave Jolie so many other options to explore.
In hindsight, Tomb Raider 3 likely wouldn’t have hindered Angelina Jolie’s meteoric rise, but it still could have impacted her career in a profound way. Following the 2-year gap between the first 2 movies, Tomb Raider 3 likely would’ve shot around the same time Jolie was working on Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Not only was this spy comedy another big hit for the actress, but she would also meet her future husband, Brad Pitt. Perhaps this opportunity wouldn’t have been available if Jolie had committed to another Tomb Raider movie.
Lara Croft, meanwhile, took a hiatus from the big screen, only to return refreshed and rebooted in 2018, now played by Alicia Vikander. The new generation of Tomb Raider broadly followed the same pattern as Jolie’s era – a solid financial performance despite stinging reviews. Vikander will return as Croft in 2021, and it’ll be interesting to see if she too declines to take part in a third Tomb Raider movie.