Channing Tatum smiling

In 2012, Channing Tatum had the sort of year actors dream of. Thanks to films like The Vow, 21 Jump Street, and Magic Mike, Tatum enjoyed a streak of box office successes that span multiple genres. 2012 made it clear that Tatum’s appeal isn’t limited to blockbuster fans or those interested in R-rated comedy — he is capable of resonating with all moviegoers, across all walks of life. Though he had been part of hits like Dear John prior to 2012, this was the year when he truly came to life as a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Subsequent hits like 22 Jump Street and Magic Mike XXL seemed to further indicate that Tatum’s appeal was not something momentary: This guy was here to stay.

Since headlining 2015’s Magic Mike XXL, though, Tatum’s presence on the big screen has become sparse. He’s only served as headliner for one live-action movie (2017’s Logan Lucky), otherwise taking on only small roles in movies like The Hateful Eight and Hail, Caesar!, or voice acting parts in animated films like Smallfoot. His absence from the silver screen has been no accident. A variety of factors, ranging from those fully in Tatum’s control to those stemming from the shifting Hollywood landscape, help explain where Tatum has gone after he seemed to cement himself in 2012 as an unstoppable movie star, and why the shift has happened at all.

Focusing on fatherhood

Channing Tatum baseball cap

In May 2013, Tatum welcomed his first child, Everly, into the world. It was a development that, as happens with any new parent, totally reoriented Tatum’s priorities. While he shot sequels 22 Jump Street and Magic Mike XXL in the wake of his daughter’s birth, Tatum’s career ground to a halt shortly after he finished his responsibilities on those productions. With a daughter to take care of, Tatum began to largely eschew headlining major star vehicles. Instead, he took on smaller supporting roles and voice-over work that allowed him more time to be a father. His social media feeds filled up with images of him doing Dad activities, like hanging out in matching onesies with his little one, rather than hawking whatever new action movie he’d just headlined.

It was a drastic change of approach for a man who previously starred in three separate projects in 2012. However, under these circumstances, it’s an understandable and even expected one. Tatum’s far from the first actor to see their priorities shift drastically once a child enters the picture. He even made his newfound commitments explicit in a 2018 Variety interview, in which he explained, regarding his absence from the big screen, that "I have a kid, man … that is the biggest job that I have." While Tatum’s focus on parenting might pare down his career as a silver screen leading man, Tatum clearly has no regrets about putting fatherhood first.

Hollywood tastes have changed

In 2006, Tatum got put on everyone’s radar with a dance movie called Step Up. It was a sleeper hit that immediately made people pay attention to Tatum as a leading man. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful Tatum would have been able to get his big break in modern Hollywood, since major studios have largely ignored smaller-scale genres like dance movies in the last decade. Without the next Step Up getting made, the next Channing Tatum also struggles to get discovered. Perhaps nothing reflects the radically overhauled priorities of mainstream Hollywood more than the fact that one of Step Up’s production companies, Touchstone Pictures, has ceased to exist entirely.

Step Up isn’t the only type of Tatum vehicle that Hollywood is no longer interested in. Tatum’s massive 2012 was buoyed by a romantic drama (The Vow), an R-rated comedy (21 Jump Street), and a sleek Steven Soderbergh picture (Magic Mike). In the years since, romantic dramas have largely migrated to Netflix, R-rated comedies have also moved to streaming services, and Soderbergh movies — you guessed it — have pivoted to Netflix and HBO Max. In just a decade, the kind of movies that cemented Tatum’s status as a leading man are largely gone from the theatrical landscape. Hollywood studios have shifted focus over to action blockbusters, and as a result, Tatum has been left adrift. This doesn’t mean he can’t make his mark in other genres, but it does make it a whole lot more difficult for him to do so.

Struggles with blockbusters

Sometimes, you can have all the ingredients in place for a smash hit, and things can still go awry at the box office. Case in point: 2013’s White House Down. All the big talents in this project were coming off massive successes. It was Tatum’s first big movie after his tremendous 2012, Jamie Foxx’s first feature after his turn in the smash-hit Django Unchained, and Roland Emmerich’s next blockbuster after his massive moneymaker, 2012. Despite all those sterling ingredients, White House Down only grossed $205 million. That’s just $9 million more than Tatum’s romantic drama The Vow pulled in, which cost $120 million less to make than White House Down. It was the first time Tatum struggled to headline a summer blockbuster, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Shortly after White House Down, Tatum starred in Jupiter Ascending, another big-budget affair helmed by solid, proven directors — in this case, the Wachowski sisters. Much like his exploits with Roland Emmerich, though, Jupiter Ascending became a massive box office dud that made only $183 million worldwide on a $176 million budget. These projects failed to show that Tatum could translate his success in comedies and romantic dramas to large-scale blockbusters. That’s not inherently a problem: No actor is successful in every genre. The trouble is that blockbusters are Hollywood’s primary bread-and-butter in the modern era. With Tatum struggling to be successful in this domain, Hollywood has similarly struggled to find a space for him.

Shift to voice acting

While his live-action leading man roles have been scarce, Channing Tatum hasn’t been entirely absent from the pop culture landscape in recent years. The trick is that he’s largely taken on projects that haven’t required him to show up on screen. Since 2016, Tatum has done a large amount of voice acting, particularly for Warner Bros. Entertainment’s Warner Animation Group. In addition to his role as a very sunny Superman in The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Tatum also played the lead role of Migo in 2018’s Smallfoot.

Tatum’s recent penchant for voice acting isn’t just limited to kid-friendly feature films, though. He also lent his vocals to an absurd parody of 1980s cop dramas entitled Comrade Detective, which hit Amazon Video in 2017. This project required Tatum to use his voice for the dubbed-over vocals of one of the show’s lead characters, alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This oddball production received decent marks from critics but, as to be expected with something whose premise has "cult hit" written all over it, wasn’t successful enough to score a second season. Even if it didn’t last long, Comrade Detective serves as another example of the kind of work Tatum has shifted over to recently. As the succeeding years have seen him join animated productions like America: The Motion Picture, it doesn’t look like Tatum will be giving up on his forays into voice acting any time soon.

There are a limited amount of filmmakers Tatum wants to work with

Though Tatum kicked off his time as an actor starring in mass-appeal films like Step Up and the G.I. Joe movies, he’s since become very selective about the directors he works with. Generally speaking, he has made sure to work with widely-acclaimed auteurs when he engages with mainstream entertainment. This has resulted in him teaming up with directors like Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Steven Soderbergh, Bennett Miller, Quentin Tarantino, and Joel and Ethan Coen over the span of just five years. It’s an impressive roster of talent that reflects how Tatum isn’t just going to work with anyone if he’s stepping in front of the camera.

Tatum made his selective nature regarding filmmakers apparent in a New York Daily News interview, in which he discussed how much creative control he wants over his future leading man vehicles. "I really don’t want to be in any more movies that I don’t produce," Tatum explained. "Unless it’s with one of the 10 directors that I really want to work with, I don’t have any interest in not being on the ground floor of creating it." Taking this unique route through Hollywood has ensured that Tatum has appeared in a number of acclaimed movies over the years, and further explains his recently sparse presence on screen.

Acting has never been Tatum’s sole focus

At the end of 2012, in the wake of headlining three massive hits, Channing Tatum said that he was looking to shift his career in a new direction. He wasn’t just going to be a leading man, he asserted — he was looking to explore new creative avenues. "By the end of next year, [production partner Reid Carolin and I are] going to shut things down and write the first thing that we’re going to direct," Tatum explained to Entertainment Weekly." We’re going to be like, alright, no more acting parts for a minute, let’s take a few and really get caring about that section of our career." This was the start of Tatum not only expressing his desire to explore directing, but also him making it clear that he is willing to put his acting career on the back burner in order to pursue what makes him fulfilled as an artist.

In the years since this announcement, Tatum has often gone on brief hiatuses, which he openly ascribes to his inclinations to direct and not just spend his life headlining motion pictures. As a result, Tatum has made it apparent that his artistic ideals aren’t entirely yoked to acting There’s a lot more going on with Channing Tatum, and that has meant that his time away from the silver screen has been a conscious choice, rather than a reflection of his acting opportunities drying up.

Difficulties in launching passion projects

In the last few years, Tatum has discovered that even a big star like himself can’t get every big project off the ground. Case in point: In 2012, an Evel Knievel biopic starring Tatum began to pick up steam, buoyed by Tatum’s own enthusiasm for both the project and the real-life daredevil. Though various names were attached to the project and Tatum himself even began practicing elaborate motorcycle stunts, Tatum’s Knievel movie never actually managed to get off the ground. No official reason has been given, but one thing has become clear as the years have rolled on: Whatever momentum the project had has dissipated.

Later on in 2016, Tatum found another passion project to throw his weight behind — this time of the comedic variety. Tatum was looking to partner up with longtime buddy Joseph Gordon-Levitt on an original musical called Wingmen. An R-rated comedy about pilots, Gordon-Levitt told Collider in August 2017 that "we’re working on it, and we’re having a blast." However, despite all the enthusiasm the two had for this quirky endeavor, it has been years since fans received any further updates on this film. With passion projects like Wingmen never quite coming to fruition, so too have further chances for Tatum to headline major movies withered on the vine.

Shifting into producer mode

Tatum isn’t just an actor — he’s also someone who wants to have a creative say in the projects he headlines. Starting with 2011’s 10 Years, Tatum has regularly produced the movies he appears in. Whether they’re comedies like 21 Jump Street or Soderbergh movies like Logan Lucky, Tatum is someone who wants a certain level of control over the projects he chooses to be a part of. This is, as longtime Tatum fans know, an extension of his own creative instincts, which most visibly drive his directorial ambitions. Moreover, when actors function as producers, they gain (ideally, anyway) an enhanced level of assurance that the movies they appear in won’t sully their reputation.

In recent years, Tatum’s work as a producer has only increased, as the actor has placed a great level of importance on his own production company. Tatum’s production company, Free Association, has already worked on some of his leading man projects, including Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. In recent years, the company has also backed films that don’t involve Tatum, like the Kevin Hart vehicle Fatherhood. Tatum’s commitment to further growing this outfit was cemented when Free Association and MGM signed a first-look deal in the wake of the studio acquiring the distribution rights to Tatum’s directorial debut Dog. Keeping a company like that running smoothly is no easy task: Even with two other people running Free Association alongside him, Tatum’s producing habits have ensured he can’t just focus on headlining.

Transition into directing

As early as 2012, Channing Tatum was open about how he wanted to become a director. In response to rumors that Magic Mike XXL would be his directorial debut, Tatum expressed to Vulture that he wanted "to start with something very small … make a lot of mistakes, make them real early, and then go jump in [on the sequel]." Considering the quasi-autobiographical nature of the first Magic Mike movie, it made sense for Tatum to feel like his first foray into filmmaking should be set in the Magic Mike universe. After all, directing is an inherently personal artistic task. Why not, then, dive right into directing with something that echoes your own life?

In the end, Tatum’s personal connection to this story wasn’t enough to make Magic Mike XXL his directorial debut, however: The gig on that film went to Gregory Jacobs. But Tatum’s aspirations of becoming a filmmaker continued to burn brightly. These ambitions even, at one point, looked like they may include his long-gestating Gambit movie, prior to that project’s demise. Tatum’s long hunt for a directorial debut came to a close when he signed on in November 2019 to both helm and star in the comedy Dog. With this film under his belt, Tatum finally made the leap from hunky leading man to filmmaker. It’s an endeavor that was years in the making.

The saga of Gambit

You’d think a big-name actor like Channing Tatum would have managed to score a role in a superhero movie at this point. But he hasn’t — mainly because Tatum has had his eyes on a specific superhero for years now, in the form of Gambit. This Cajun member of the X-Men has been piquing Tatum’s interest since September 2013. Tatum officially hopped into the role in May 2014, and, a year later, Rupert Wyatt signed on to direct.

After that, however, Wyatt left the project, which began Gambit’s long, strange struggle to secure a director. Doug Liman and Gore Verbinski both signed on to direct the film before ultimately leaving. These issues went hand-in-hand with the fact that the script and budget for Gambit kept getting overhauled. Gambit was also always being reconceived, with initial plans to turn it into an expensive blockbuster being scuttled before subsequent plans saw it reimagined as either a heist movie or a romantic comedy. These behind-the-scenes problems meant the production was constantly delayed, with release dates in October 2016 and June 2019 coming and going. All of this happened despite Tatum’s unwavering enthusiasm for Gambit. In fact, in the last few months of its existence, Tatum even considered taking on the director’s chair himself! One undeniable truth has emerged from the morass of this movie: Tatum’s years of effort in trying to get Gambit off the ground kept him plenty busy, and thus unable to work on other potential acting gigs.