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April 11, 2011  | by: Angela Raiford

Vanessa Hudgens

Petite, fashionable, and forever attached to Zac Efron and High School Musical, Vanessa Hudgens is finally pushing her way out. Well, Sucker Punching her way out.

In 2006, Hudgens was an instant hit as she helped put the art of the TV musical back on the map with the unbelievable success of High School Musical.  However, since the release of Hudgen’s first — but not her last — nude photo scandal, her name and career has been downgraded. (Nude photos have been plaguing the young star for quite a few years. The first leak was a self-portrait in 2007, followed by nude cell phone photos in 2008.  These photo slip-ups continue to haunt Hudgens even now.)

But this year, Vanessa Hudgens has forced those nasty scandals down the drain and brought her profession into the foreground. First up for her was the quirky play off Beauty and the Beast, Beastly. The movie starred the luscious Alex Pettyfer, who has been circling tabloids for his snooty backstage demeanor. Beastly didn’t fare well in theaters after having its release date pushed back a few times and only gained $26.8 million since its wide release on March 4th.

Luckily for Hudgens, success was on the way.  Kind of.  Although her new film Sucker Punch has not held a top five spot in the movie ranking since it’s March 25th release, it has already netted $29.9 million. But last week the film was in seventh place (a stunning 68% drop), barely clinging on to the top ten as more family-friendly films like Hop and Diary of a Wimpy Kid took hold. Along with ticket sales, critics have been slashing the film for poor direction and failed character exploration.

Hudgens as Blondie in Sucker Punch

Despite all that, Sucker Punch has brought a much-needed edge to Vanessa Hudgen’s career.  Although the film isn’t doing well in other respects, reviews are not dismissing the acting itself. With a budget of $82 million and intense Marine Corps training for all the actors involved, Hudgens is a top-notch tough chick in the film. Commanding the audience with her exhilaration and intensity, Hudgen’s portrayal of the dancer Blondie is as energetic as she is in real life. She even called the gun training for the film “the most empowering feeling you can get.”

With Sucker Punch, Vanessa Hudgens has made quite the departure from the angelic role model of her past acting roles, like her screen debut as the squeaky clean best friend of Evan Rachel Wood’s character in Thirteen and the charming girl of Brady Corbet’s dreams in Thunderbirds.  And she makes no apologies for it.  In an interview with Strictly Cinema, the starlet said, “I’m growing up into a young woman, am very proud of who I am, and I’m staying true to myself.  If kids look up to me for that, I think that’s a really great thing.”

Hudgens is still growing as an actress, and her past lack-luster roles are merely a stepping stone.  Even if past script choices for Hudgens have been pretty bad, it should be said that her movies post-Disney are better than what they could have been.  After all, what is her HSM co-star Ashley Tisdale doing now? A direct-to-DVD movie entitled Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure. I, for one, think it’s a huge step back for Tisdale, who could be trying for more movie roles after the success of her CW show Hellcats. And besides Zac Efron, of course, where exactly are the other members of the HSM singing and dancing troupe?

The justification for Hudgens’ previous (low-brow) films comes from the fact that hopping off the Disney bandwagon doesn’t immediately pull you into Oscar-nominated thrillers or dramas.  Even though we see her as A-list or a paparazzi favorite, there is still a Hollywood ladder to climb to get the better roles.  Vanessa Hudgens is climbing the right one.

Maybe Zack Synder’s Sucker Punch can’t bring the cash, but maybe it can propel her into a more thriving movie career, just like 300 did for Gerard Butler. Because let’s be serious, before 300, we were all, “Gerard who?”  Now we’ve got him stocked in our chick flick, action, and comedy DVD cabinets.

Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Hutcherson Filming Journey 2 in Hawaii

The everlasting question of actors will always be what is next. So what’s next for Vanessa Hudgens? Besides being the current fit model (have you seen her abs? wow!) on SHAPE magazine’s April cover, she’s setting up for a pretty big family feature. The role is alongside Dywane Johnson and rumored new boyfriend Josh Hutcherson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth. The first Journey starred Brendan Fraser and was a hit in theaters, and the sequel it should be a nice smooth ride to the top of the box office for Hudgens. And in all honesty, I am quite excited to see the Hudgens-and-Hutcherson chemistry on screen!

Sure, Vanessa Hudgens is as easy to love as she is to hate, but no matter what your opinion is, Hollywood wants her to stick around. And so do I, because there’s nothing like having a perky little guilty pleasure in your life.  With Hudgens on the rise, I’m ready to reassure all of you: there’s no longer any need to hide your High School Musical DVDs!

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