James Franco is one of those guys everyone loves to hate. And yet, this is an actor who considers himself an artist and who has managed to earn himself recognition, fame, and plenty of money. Regardless of the public's dubious love for all things Franco—like a train wreck, no one can seem to look away—the man's star doesn't seem to falter or fall.
Franco was born in Palo Alto, where he rebelled against the cookie-cutter mold and committed small crimes that brought him under the attention of the law. Eventually, he decided to take life seriously and enrolled at UCLA—only to drop out hoping to pursue his acting career.
The rest is history, though Franco's brushes with scandal weren't nearly at an end. Keep scrolling for 21 things about James Franco's career that make no sense.
21 A McDonald's Kind of Guy
To all the would-be superstars out there, James Franco can serve as inspiration to never give up on a dream. While he was struggling to make it to the big leagues, Franco worked at McDonald's—and appreciated the job so much that later in life, he even penned a story in the Washington Post titled "McDonald's was there for me when no on else was" where he talks about all the positives that balance out many of the fast-food chain's negatives.
20 James Dean
Based on looks alone, anyone can see that James Franco was the perfect choice to play James Dean in the 2001 biopic about the troubled star. But still, the fact that Franco was chosen so early in his career to play such a huge role doesn't make a ton of sense. Then again, it was a TV movie that played on TNT.
19 Harry Osborn
James Franco's career arc sure is impressive, in the end. After getting his big break by being selected as a part of the ensemble cast of Freaks and Geeks in 1999, he took huge leaps and bounds. By 2002, he played a major role that would help bring his face to the masses: Harry Osborn in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film adaptation. But really, his performance wasn't that great (just like the rest of the movie), making the continuing ascension all the more surprising.
18 Nic Cage Directs
Also in 2002, Franco appeared in a dark movie directed by none other than Nicolas Cage. Now, working with Nic Cage is the chance of a lifetime, so no one can fault Franco for taking on the role—and he worked hard to get into the mindset of his character. Still, The New York Post called the movie an "instant candidate for worst movie of the year." And yet, Franco's meteoric rise continued.
17 Then The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man is another Nic Cage movie, though he didn't direct this time, that James Franco appeared in. The whole movie is one scene after another of Cage losing his mind and completely, purposefully overacting his role. Maybe the over-the-top nature of that performance helped James Franco fly under the radar, but anyone who wanted to be in this picture should have their head examined.
16 The Judd Apatow Crew
A huge turning point came in James Franco's career around the same time he reprised his Harry Osborn role for a third Spider-Man film. The same year, 2007, he appeared in the Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up, which placed him into a niche little crew of supposed comedy talent. Apatow had been a writer on Freaks and Geeks, though the reuniting may have had more to do with sitting on couches "hanging out."
15 Pineapple Express
Franco's next big role would typecast him for the foreseeable future. In Pineapple Express, he plays Seth Rogan's squinty, grinning buddy as they fumble around some cops and criminals. Franco would actually earn a Golden Globe nom for his role, though that's really a stark window into the Golden Globes' decline in the last decade or so.
14 127 Hours
Filming a movie that mostly centers around one person alone on the screen can be a challenge. Franco must have known this when he took on the starring role in 127 Hours, which followed the true story of Aron Ralston, who had to amputate his arm after being pinned by a rock. But the real challenge of the movie was watching James Franco pretend to be rugged.
13 Rise of the Planet of the Apes
After 127 Hours, Hollywood decided it was time to try James Franco out as a leading man in huge blockbuster films. The decision may have been as much a statement about how desperate the big studios are to find new, bankable stars—but the resultant Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured Franco being out-acted by a CGI chimp (played by Andy Serkis).
12 Child Of God
Getting paid like a full-fledged superstar clearly went to James Franco's head. Franco took his new cache and tried his hand at directing some little indie films based on established literature. The message was clear: he wanted to prove that he was an "artist." But choosing William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy's Child of God, the latter of which includes a spot of necrophilia, didn't quite do the job.
11 Spring Breakers
Around the same time Franco began directing movies based on long-winded literature, he also took a nice role in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, which also starred a bevy of scantily-clad former Disney child actresses—which might have presaged some of the later struggles that would come to the public's eye over the years.
10 Jonah Hill's Best Friend?
Among the Judd Apatow crew, Franco became friends with Jonah Hill. However, whether the two had exhibited good influence on each other is dubious—both decided that after starring in a few comedies, they had to get back to their real, artistic, serious, classical-literature-informed acting jobs as quickly as possible. But no one believed them for a second.
9 Or Danny McBride's Best Friend?
While Franco and a few members of the Apatow crew were trying to prove that they were, like, totally serious artists, you guys, more established dramatic artists like Natalie Portman saw their opportunity to present a more relatable side. But Franco's continuing friendship with Danny McBride proves, yet again, that he really does much better barely acting in the series of films in which the two have appeared together.
8 This Is The End
The strange Hollywood phenomenon wherein two almost identical movies come out from different studios at the same time continued in 2013, when This is the End and The World's End both hit theaters. The latter was a highly-meta Simon Pegg project, while the former was a highly-meta Apatow crew production. But Franco wasn't fooling anyone when he tried to overdo his own sense of hilarity through all the self-referential humor. The film had "career move" written all over it.
7 The Brothers Franco
Since James Franco has been in the public spotlight, his younger brother Dave Franco has also emerged as an actor in his own right. But where James manages to come across as smarmy and over-invested, Dave has largely stayed out of the limelight. The damage may have already been done on James' ego, otherwise, he could stand to learn a thing or two from his little bro.
6 The Disaster Artist
James and Dave Franco have worked on a few films together, most notably the 2017 semi-bio-pic The Disaster Artist. The movie takes the concept of "meta" to a whole new level, and James managed to win a Golden Globe for his performance as Tommy Wiseau, the real-life creator of The Room, which is universally thought of as among the worst movies ever made—perhaps The Disaster Artist will one day earn the same recognition.
5 Palo Alto Short Stories
In James Franco's continued effort to prove his own artistic bona fides, he released a collection of poems entitled "Palo Alto" that is loosely based on his teenage years growing up in the California town of the same name. But is it truly artistic to recount how much time flew by while behaving like a teenager—especially for someone who spends most of their time prepping for roles in movies loved by teenagers?
4 That Squinty Oscars Host
Anyone in show biz probably remembers the 2011 Oscars, which were hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco. The strangest part about the selection of such a duo to host Hollywood's biggest night is that they are both people that everyone loves to hate. But while Hathaway might have earned some fans, Franco's underwhelming performance as host probably added to the number of serious doubters.
3 He Loves Shia
James Franco's artistic endeavors extend to his entire life, if one is to believe his efforts and obsession with performative art. Another actor of his generation who most people have discovered they love to hate is Shia LaBeouf, of Transformers fame. But while Franco has spent all his time pretending to be artistic while remaining in the mainstream, LaBeouf has gone full-on wild, with sometimes disastrous results—but Franco still supports him.
Franco has definitely run into some tough times lately, following some accusations that arose during the #MeToo movement. But he didn't help himself when he showed up to the 2018 Golden Globes wearing a "Time's Up" pin on his tuxedo lapel—was he trying to get ahead of the scandals to come? Either way, no one was buying it.
1 David Simon and The Deuce
One of Franco's larger roles in recent years came in The Deuce, in which he plays two brothers. The show was created by David Simon, who gained fame for The Wire and Tremé, two other HBO hits. But in October 2019, Simon gave a highly suspect interview with Rolling Stone in which he defended Franco amidst his controversies—first by saying Franco's acts couldn't compare to Harvey Weinstein's because "he wasn’t using his position or status," but then admitting perhaps Franco was "unaware of the power of being James Franco."
Sources: Rolling Stone, IMDb, and Wikipedia.