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Avatar 2: How Zoe Saldana's box-office success has seen her become the industry's most bankable star

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She is a well-known Hollywood actress, but some might argue that Zoe Saldaña has yet to enjoy the same superstar recognition seen by the likes of Reese Witherspoon or Kate Winslet.

Despite this, the 44-year-old star has just broken a box-office record that even Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio would be envious of, following the success of Avatar: The Way of Water.

Now that the movie has topped more than $2 billion at the worldwide box office, Saldana has officially starred in four of the six highest-grossing movies ever.

She is the first actor to enjoy this achievement thanks to her parts in 2009’s Avatar, 2018’s Avenger: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.

Zoe Saldana has become the first actor to have been in four films which made more than $2 billion at the box office

Zoe Saldana has become the first actor to have been in four films which made more than $2 billion at the box office

In the coming years, Saldana could well see her record rise after she is due to star in further Avatar sequels, as well as making another appearance in a Marvel film.

Such historic success comes after the star has worked tirelessly in the industry for more than 23 years.

After landing early roles in 2000 flick Centre Stage and starring alongside Britney Spears in 2002’s Crossroads, Saldana then made the game-changing move into science-fiction films.

Her roles in the Star Trek film series, as well as Avatar and the MCU have led her down a path that has seen her become the second-highest grossing film actress of all time, only behind Scarlett Johansson.

Here, FEMAIL looks back at how the talented actress used her dance background and a willingness to forgo CGI and performance capture to become Hollywood’s go-to sci-fi franchise star.

Switching lanes: How the actress discovered her love for acting after turning her back on ballet 

Around the age of nine, Saldana, her mother and her two sisters moved from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic after the death of her father

Around the age of nine, Saldana, her mother and her two sisters moved from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic after the death of her father

Her mother, Asalia Nazario, is Puerto Rican, while her father, Aridio, was Dominican

Her mother, Asalia Nazario, is Puerto Rican, while her father, Aridio, was Dominican

As a teen, Ballet became Saldana's passion, but she quit and turned her attention to acting

As a teen, Ballet became Saldana’s passion, but she quit and turned her attention to acting

Her dancing background helped her to land her first role as a ballet dance student in Center Stage (2000)

Her dancing background helped her to land her first role as a ballet dance student in Center Stage (2000)

Zoe Saldana was born in June 1978 in New Jersey, and spent her early childhood growing up in Queens, New York City.

However, when her father died in a vehicle crash around her ninth birthday, the young child, her mother and her two sister all moved to the Dominican Republic.

It was in the Dominican Republic that she developed her love for dance, and enrolled into the ECOS Espacio de Danza Academy to study all forms of dance.

Ballet became her passion but as she revealed in a Vanity Fair interview, she quit ballet because she did not ‘have the feet,’ and she had too much pride and ambition to just be in the corps de ballet.

Her family returned to New York after her sophomore year, and it was at this time in 1995 that she began to perform with the Faces theater group in Brooklyn. 

After continuing to perform with the New York Youth Theater, she was recruited by a talent agency and began to look for work in the industry.

In 2002, Saldana landed a breakthrough role as Kit in Crossroads, starring alongside singer Britney Spears

In 2002, Saldana landed a breakthrough role as Kit in Crossroads, starring alongside singer Britney Spears

Despite negative reviews, the film - which also starred Taryn Manning - was a box office hit

Despite negative reviews, the film – which also starred Taryn Manning – was a box office hit

Zoe Saldana pictured at the Crossroads premiere in 2002

Zoe Saldana on the red carpet in New York City in 2002

The film helped launch Saldana’s career and she soon joined her first film franchise with a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (pictured in 2002)

It didn’t take long before her acting experience and dance training helped her to secure the role of ballet student Eva Rodriguez in 2000 flick, Centre Stage.

From there she nabbed a role as Kit in Crossroads, starring alongside singer Britney Spears.

Produced by MTV Films and written by Shonda Rhimes, the film received mostly negative reviews.

However, following its release in February 2002, it was a box-office success, grossing $61 million worldwide on a $12 million budget.

Reflecting on her time on the film set, Saldana told Entertainment Tonight: ‘It was just amazing. I was surrounded by amazing women, from the director, Tamra [Davis], to the producer, [Ann] Carli, and Shonda, the writer, Shonda Rhimes! Come on! 

‘And Britney [Spears], and Taryn [Manning], and myself, and Anson Mount… It just felt like it was such a beautiful experience.’

Making a name for herself: Saldana did everything from rom-coms to dramas before finding her lane in sci-fi action films

Saldana worked consistently throughout the noughties with rom-coms like Guess Who

She also starred in action-thrillers such as The Terminal

Saldana worked consistently throughout the noughties with rom-coms like Guess Who (left) and action-thrillers such as The Terminal (right)

As she built up her career, Saldana featured in more hit movies such as Takers, Death At A Funeral and Colombiana (pictured)

As she built up her career, Saldana featured in more hit movies such as Takers, Death At A Funeral and Colombiana (pictured)

2009 was a game-changer for the star as she played Nyota Uhura in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek

2009 was a game-changer for the star as she played Nyota Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek

Film lovers also got to enjoy her now iconic performance as indigenous hunter Neytiri in James Cameron's Avatar in 2009

Film lovers also got to enjoy her now iconic performance as indigenous hunter Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009

After starring alongside Nick Cannon in 2002 film, Drumline, Saldana joined her first film franchise with a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. 

The actress worked consistently throughout the noughties with rom-coms like Guess Who (2005), and action-thrillers such as The Terminal (2004) and Vantage Point (2008).

The year 2009 was a game-changer for the star as she played Nyota Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. The film raked in more than $385 million at the box office, and was followed by the equally successful 2013 sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. 

The follow-up film brought in more than $228 million at the box office and even led to the release of a video game, which saw Saldana voice her character.

However, the most notable role Saldana had in 2009 was her now iconic performance as indigenous hunter Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar.

The game-changing 3D movie became the highest-grossing film of all time after its release and became the very first film to gross more than $2 billion worldwide.

Saldana was praised for the amount of physical work she did for the role which used specially designed motion capture filming techniques to capture both the movements and expressions of the cast.

For her part in the movie, the actress won gongs at the Empire Awards, Saturn Awards and Teen Choice Awards.

Following on from those box-office successes, Saldana featured in more hit movies such as Takers, Death At A Funeral and Colombiana.

Box-office bank: The actress signed up for multiple big budget projects that raked grossed hundreds of millions worldwide

In 2014, Saldana officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, Guardians of the Galaxy

In 2014, Saldana officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, Guardians of the Galaxy

Saldana portrayed the character, Gamora, using makeup and performed many of her stunts in the films

Saldana portrayed the character, Gamora, using makeup and performed many of her stunts in the films

She played Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and in 2019's Avengers: Endgame - both films have gone on to top more than $2 billion at the box office

She played Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame – both films have gone on to top more than $2 billion at the box office

The actress reprised her role as Neytiri for Avatar: The Way of Water, which has been enjoying similar success to its predecessor

The actress reprised her role as Neytiri for Avatar: The Way of Water, which has been enjoying similar success to its predecessor 

In 2012, Saldana made a rare career misstep after signing on to portray legendary performer Nina Simone.

The actress was engulfed in controversy when it was announced that she would be playing the music icon in a film titled Nina (2016).

Saldana, who is a lighter-skinned woman of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Haitian descent, wore a full bodysuit, prosthetic nose and false teeth for the role. 

The actress was also accused of donning blackface for the part, having worn dark makeup during filming.

Simone’s estate condemned the casting on Twitter, urging Saldana to ‘take Nina’s name out of your mouth for the rest of your life.’ 

Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly also said that the project was ‘not how you want your loved ones remembered.’

In 2020 live stream published to her Instagram, a tearful Saldana expressed regret over starring in the film.

‘I should have never played Nina,’ Saldana said. ‘I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago – which was a different leverage but it was leverage nonetheless – I should have tried everything in my power to cast a black woman to play an exceptionally perfect black woman.’

She continued: ‘I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a black woman – and I am. But it’s Nina, and Nina had a life and a journey that should be honored to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual… She deserved better, and I am so sorry.’

Saldana tearfully apologized for playing Nina Simone in 2020, years after facing widespread backlash for her casting as the music icon in the 2016 film, Nina

Saldana tearfully apologized for playing Nina Simone in 2020, years after facing widespread backlash for her casting as the music icon in the 2016 film, Nina

For the role, her skin was darkened and she wore a prosthetic nose

Legendary singer-pianist Nina Simone pictured in 1965

After she was cast, many fans pointed to Simone’s work as a civil rights activist and actively battling colorism because Saldana’s skin was darkened and she wore a prosthetic nose (left)

The movie also faced criticism from the jazz singer's daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who highly criticized the'inaccurate' story

The movie also faced criticism from the jazz singer’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who highly criticized the ‘inaccurate’ story

In 2014, Saldana officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Unlike her Avatar role, Saldana portrayed the character, Gamora, using make-up and once again performed many of her stunts.

Upon its release, the film become the third-highest grossing film in the MCU and the highest-grossing superhero film of the year.

The actress reprised her role as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek Beyond (2016) before she returned to screens again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

She was seen as Gamora again in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War hit the big screen and fans got even more of green-skinned alien in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.

Endgame is currently the second highest-grossing movie in the world, while Infinity War is the fifth highest-grossing movie of all time.

Since the Marvel films dominated the box office, Saldana has done multiple voice role projects, however fans still got to see her on their screens with the release of Netflix’s The Adam Project.

The time-travel action film also starred Ryan Reynolds and Jennifer Garner, and enjoyed great success with viewers.

Elsewhere, the actress stepped away from the action with her part as Irma in the star-studded comedy thriller, Amsterdam, in 2022.

The best is yet to come? Saldana is gearing up for the release of another MCU project, while filming three more Avatar sequels

Saldana will return as Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is due for release in May 2023

Saldana will return as Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is due for release in May 2023

Director James Cameron confirmed there will be Avatar sequels after saying that the latest film would definitely make the profit needed to continue the franchise

Director James Cameron confirmed there will be Avatar sequels after saying that the latest film would definitely make the profit needed to continue the franchise

Saldana's recent Netflix series From Scratch swept the nation - proving her career will be just fine if she decides to step back from action films

Saldana’s recent Netflix series From Scratch swept the nation – proving her career will be just fine if she decides to step back from action films

Saldana reminded the world that she can easily makes waves without the body paint thanks to the success of her 2022 drama series, From Scratch.

The Netflix project, which premiered on October 21 and dethroned The Watcher as the streaming platform’s most-viewed title at the time, told the story of an American student named Amy who falls in love with an Italian chef named Lino while she’s studying abroad in Florence.

After Lino decides to move to America to be with his new love, their relationship is quickly put to the test when his parents reveal that they don’t approve of the whirlwind romance.

People quickly got caught up in Lino and Amy’s adorable love story, with the show leaving many ‘weeping’ and ‘sobbing’ from its heartbreaking twist.

She will next be seen as Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is due for release in May 2023.

Meanwhile, James Cameron confirmed there will be Avatar sequels after saying that the latest film would definitely make the profit needed to continue the franchise.

The director, 68, quipped on HBO Max’s Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? that he ‘can’t wiggle out’ of creating the final three Avatar movies.

‘It looks like with the momentum that the film has now that we’ll easily pass our break even in the next few days, so it looks like I can’t wiggle out of this and I’m gonna have to do these other sequels,’ he said. 

The director added: ‘I know what I’m going to be doing the next six or seven years.’

This would mean Saldana could potentially be part of three more record-breaking movies, if the franchise continues to be such a big success with viewers.

Big wins in her personal life: How Saldana found love with Italian artist Marco Perego and welcomed three children

Saldana began dating Italian artist Marco Perego in 2013 and the pair tied the knot three months later

Saldana began dating Italian artist Marco Perego in 2013 and the pair tied the knot three months later

The pair have three sons who are usually kept out of the spotlight, but in 2023 Saldana revealed the faces of all three of her children in a fun video clip

The pair have three sons who are usually kept out of the spotlight, but in 2023 Saldana revealed the faces of all three of her children in a fun video clip

After failed romances with My Fashion Database CEO Keith Britton and Bradley Cooper, Saldana began dating Italian artist Marco Perego in 2013.

Three months later, the couple tied the knot in a ceremony held in London, with the couple revealing that they had both changed their last names to Zoe Saldana-Perego and Marco Perego-Saldana.

The actress and her husband share three sons: twin boy Cy and Bowie born in 2014, and their third child, Zen, born in 2017.

Saldana has revealed that her children are multi-lingual because their parents speak Spanish, Italian and English around them.

Speaking to People about how she usually keeps their kids out of the spotlight, Zoe said: ‘Marco and I have a great deal of respect for the privacy of our kids, they’re dependent on us so they’re not in a position to make choices for themselves.’

She continued: ‘We have to choose for them and part of that is giving them the anonymity that they need so that they can feel safe and not aware of anything around them. When cameras are in their faces, it would probably be traumatizing for a child who has yet to understand what’s going on. 

‘This is the path that we’ve chosen, we have to wait for their choices to be heard so in the meantime, we need to protect their environment and we’re all about that.’

Saldana later told the publication that her kids are still yet to watch much of her work because they are still ‘too young’.

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