Two of last year’s biggest commercial flops, Amsterdam and Babylon, share certain DNA. They’re both big-budget, adult-oriented, period dramas of a kind that aren’t supposed to be made any more (except the fact that there are two of them suggests they are) from edgy auteur writer-directors who had big hits a few years back and have been busily spending the credit that they acquired from their success ever since. Both mix comedy and seriousness in a fashion that ought to attract critical plaudits but has brought little public interest. And they’re both long: Amsterdam is...

Two of last year’s biggest commercial flops, Amsterdam and Babylon, share certain DNA. They’re both big-budget, adult-oriented, period dramas of a kind that aren’t supposed to be made any more (except the fact that there are two of them suggests they are) from edgy auteur writer-directors who had big hits a few years back and have been busily spending the credit that they acquired from their success ever since. Both mix comedy and seriousness in a fashion that ought to attract critical plaudits but has brought little public interest. And they’re both long: Amsterdam is two and a quarter hours, and Babylon is a frankly staggering 189 minutes, which is near-Avatar levels of endurance. And, finally, both star Margot Robbie.

It would be deeply unfair to lay the blame for the pictures’ commercial under-performance at Robbie’s door. After all, she was praised for her appearances in both films, even being nominated for a Golden Globe for her typically committed performance as Nellie LaRoy in Babylon, an aspirant movie star in the silent era of Old Hollywood. And she deserves credit for picking interesting, challenging projects, even if her immersion in the obligatory superhero pictures as Harley Quinn led to two disappointing films one after the other.

Yet a decade into her mainstream career, the dread question has to be asked: does anyone want to see films with Margot Robbie?

Her Hollywood debut in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013 was a wonder, a charismatic, screen-burning turn that near as dammit stole the film from its star Leonardo DiCaprio. She was then sidetracked into the kind of generic roles opposite older men that any young star could expect, such as with a pre-cancellation Will Smith in the con dram Focus and a deeply uninspiring role as Jane Porter (of “Me Tarzan, you Jane” fame) in The Legend of Tarzan.

It wasn’t until 2017 and another brilliant performance as the disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya that she was able to reclaim the mantle that she had so dynamically established her claim to: she was nominated for an Academy Award, and should have won it. Her career should now have ascended into the stratosphere. Rumors that she would follow in the career footsteps of her fellow Antipodean Cate Blanchett seemed all too accurate.

Yet since then matters have gone awry. She’s appeared in films you’ve never heard of (Dreamland? Terminal?), was an uneasy Elizabeth I in Mary: Queen of Scots (perhaps nullifying the Blanchett comparisons) and seemed bored when she had to reprise her homicidal manic pixie dream girl character Harley Quinn for a third time. Only an Oscar-nominated supporting role in the media exposé saga Bombshell, in which she played a victim of sexual abuse on a cable TV show, truly gave a showcase to her talents. No doubt she had as high expectations for Amsterdam and Babylon as the rest of us did. Alas, they have not been met, commercially or critically.

Some people may, of course, be looking forward to her appearance in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie later this year, which may yet be the signature role that has so far eluded her. I am not, but on the other hand it could be a massive commercial hit, with its cynical and enervating mixture of Day-Glo fantasia and faux-nostalgia. If so, Robbie’s star in the Hollywood pantheon will be re-established, and, hopefully we can expect more interesting work from her in the future.

Yet if Barbie stiffs, it’s impossible to know what will happen. At a mere 32, she’s too young to be written off. But many of us might look to I, Tonya and Wolf of Wall Street, and sigh at an industry that has been trying, almost desperately, to force Margot Robbie to be a movie star. She’s far too talented, interesting and quixotic for that. Let her be herself, and the great work will yet come.