Gerard Butler's 'Phantom of the Opera' Was Good, You Guys Are Just Mean (2023)

By Rhianna Malas

Underrated? Maybe. Over-hated? Definitely.

Gerard Butler's 'Phantom of the Opera' Was Good, You Guys Are Just Mean (1)

Ah, yes, everyone's favorite or least favorite musical movie. A film that you can ask someone about, and they will either sing its praises with fond nostalgia or go on an hour-long rant about how it's the greatest misuse of a stage production of all time. The Joel Schumacher-directed The Phantom of the Opera is by far not the worst adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel, those who have seen the 1998 Dario Argento film can verify, but it sure isn't the best. When I first became obsessed with the masked musician, I had many unkind words for the 2004 movie, and it's not as if all of my complaints were unfounded.

There are reasons that this movie is so polarizing. While the production is gorgeous, Alexandra Byrne's costumes are amazing, the sets are sweeping, and the orchestra is on point, in short: it's a pretty movie. But how it fails is the two things the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical needs: it needs the depth of emotionality, and even more importantly it needs a great cast of actors to tie it all together.

RELATED: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Movie Musicals, Ranked

Patrick Wilson as Raoul De Chagny is a total exception; he was brilliant, perfect for the role, even. The supporting cast was also perfectly fine, but that's not where the real issue is, because the two characters people have their eyes on are the ingénue Christine Daae, here played by Emmy Rossum, and the Opera Ghost himself, played by none other than Gerard Butler. Rossum's issue was plain and simple: She was way too young, being 17 years old at the time of filming. This is even more uncomfortable considering how hard they leaned into the romantic and seductive elements of the story, given that both Wilson and Butler were twice her age.

Why Don't People Like Gerard Butler's Phantom?

Gerard Butler's 'Phantom of the Opera' Was Good, You Guys Are Just Mean (2)

Butler, on the other hand, is a whole other story, and a lot of it comes down to being given the burden of playing such an iconic character. This film has a very, very long production history, being in the works since the days of Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, who were originally considered before it became way too late. A lot of actors were considered to play the eponymous role, including Hugh Jackman and Antonio Banderas, which maybe would've been a shock to average moviegoers, but not to those in the know. Why didn't they just pull a Jesus Christ Superstar and cast understudies from the Broadway or West End production? I don't know. No matter which direction they went in, someone was bound to be upset either way. Eventually, Butler was cast, and people had some notes.

Let's get the complaints out of the way. No, Butler was not a classically trained singer, and his performance is at times mentioned in the same category as Pierce Brosman in Mamma Mia and Russell Crowe in Les Misérables. He wasn't awful, but a character like the Phantom needs to be more than not awful, being one of the most enduring and iconic roles in all of musical theater. The deformity that condemned him to a life of violence and seclusion looked more like a bad rash.

Those who took issue with this version of the Phantom just didn't like how purposefully attractive they made him, which is a perfectly valid issue to have. That was the direction that they went with for this film in most regards. The costumes are the same way, as are a lot of the directions for the performances. It's considerably easier to tell when comparing the film and the stage production side by side where the weaknesses are.

He Might Be Underrated, But He Was Absolutely Over-Hated

Gerard Butler's 'Phantom of the Opera' Was Good, You Guys Are Just Mean (3)

However, none of this is Butler's fault, and he tried his absolute best. He was not an experienced singer before shooting this film. He was in a rock band as a student, and he was aware of how strange it was to be in that position. But both Schumacher and Webber believed Butler's singing voice had an edge to it that they felt fit the character, and Butler put the hard work in to be ready for this movie. More importantly, in spite of the idea that the director and producer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, had in their head for the Phantom, which was more of the darker side of a love triangle than a sympathetic villain, Gerard's performance as the Phantom is actually pretty underrated.

This role makes so much sense when you learn that it was his performance in Dracula 2000 that drew Schumacher's eye, playing a darkly brooding, revenge-driven monster. Singing aside, which really was just fine, where Butler shines is in the acting performance of The Phantom. He almost works in spite of the emotionally clumsy direction, and the whole Mills & Boon vibe the movie had. He wasn't afraid to go to a terrifying and ugly place when he needed to, like in the murders, and at the moment when Christine rips off his mask. He played the role as if his charm is a very fragile veneer for something furious and unstable. He can act superior around the people he's haunting, throwing his voice around and openly mocking the Opera House staff because he knows they're too scared to do anything about it, but when Christine shows him affection, he fully breaks down and weeps like a lost little kid.

An Olive Branch For 2004's Phantom

Gerard Butler's 'Phantom of the Opera' Was Good, You Guys Are Just Mean (4)

The Phantom, as a character in any of his many adaptations, is one with a lot of layers. Just watching one man slowly chip away bit by bit until the ending gives way to the center: Someone who has been devoid of love his entire life and is desperately crying for help. Butler plays his layers quite well. Starting off with seductive, dominant, and alluring, then becoming volatile and domineering, and the Final Lair where he stands in front of Christine and just starts sobbing. It still gets me, Gerard Butler had his moments as The Phantom, and does it with an edge and a danger that someone who would go on to play Leonidas could give it.

I really do anticipate that both camps won't really be happy with my conclusion, either in saying that Gerard Butler as the Phantom is okay, or in saying that it was just okay. I think it's time this film moved into the same territory as the first Twilight movie, and that we, those who really didn't like this movie, made peace with its existence. The first eight years were undeniably hard, at a loss for any other version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that was accessible. But 2012 came along, and the 25th-anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall was released on DVD. So if you want a definitive version with a cast that many consider to be the best, there it is. There is so much more to the story beyond one musical and one movie, needless to say, Gerard Butler's Phantom is not the end of the world. Was it the greatest musical adaptation ever? No, far from it. But it had its strengths, and there are people out there who do love it, and now that I'm older, and hopefully wiser, I can kind of see why.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tyson Zemlak

Last Updated: 21/05/2023

Views: 6143

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tyson Zemlak

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Apt. 662 96191 Quigley Dam, Kubview, MA 42013

Phone: +441678032891

Job: Community-Services Orchestrator

Hobby: Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Metalworking, Fashion, Vehicle restoration, Shopping, Photography

Introduction: My name is Tyson Zemlak, I am a excited, light, sparkling, super, open, fair, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.