No matter how many Scorsese movies he stars in or Oscar nominations he receives, Leonardo DiCaprio will always be remembered for playing the boyish hero Jack Dawson in Titanic. The doomed romance between Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose made hearts across the world go into overdrive when the movie was released in 1997. DiCaprio became the greatest heartthrob of his generation (even more than he had been upon the release of Romeo + Juliet the year before), and no one has let him move on since. But if anyone could get out from under the shadow of a juggernaut like Titanic, it’s DiCaprio. Since the movie became the biggest box office success of all time, he has done more than enough to earn his reputation as one of the greatest actors of his generation. Movies such as The Aviator, Revolutionary Road, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood have shown his versatility and staying power.
Even before Titanic, DiCaprio was a critically acclaimed actor for movies such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and This Boy’s Life. One of the best films he made during that period was The Quick and the Dead, an overlooked Sam Raimi western that was meant to revitalize Sharon Stone’s career. It follows Ellen (Stone), a mysterious gunslinger who shows up in a small town to enter a dueling tournament and avenge her father’s death. It boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Gene Hackman and a young Russell Crowe. DiCaprio plays “The Kid,” a swaggering would-be gunslinger desperate to prove himself. He was 21 when he made the movie, but looks about five years younger. The studio reportedly didn’t want to hire him, believing him to be too much of an unknown. Nevertheless, Stone insisted he be cast and even took a pay cut to make it happen. The Quick and the Dead was a box office bomb and received mixed reviews. It’s an unabashed genre movie, bearing all the hallmarks of a classic Spaghetti Western; this, combined with the unconventional choice of putting a woman in the lead, may have kept audiences away. But it’s a splashy, stylish film that shows Raimi at his best, and DiCaprio’s star potential bursts from the screen.