2003 saw Butler billed third in Timeline, a film that grossed about half of its $80 million budget, and was panned by both critics (11% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (45%). That's right: Butler's first three big Hollywood movies all underperformed at the box office and were all critical failures. In spite of this, Hollywood saw something in Butler, so he was tried out in other types of roles. 2004 saw him in a well-received (81%) drama called Dear Frankie, and as the Phantom in a new Phantom of the Opera film. Dear Frankie went largely unseen - it's a small drama, though, and wasn't given a wide release. The Phantom of the Opera, meanwhile, was more of a success, especially internationally. It made around $155 million worldwide - over $100 million of which was from the international markets - and made just enough to make back its $70 million budget. It wasn't a critical success (32%), but audiences liked it (84%). Maybe something had been found.
A rather dull 2005 and 2006 saw Butler in just two films - an inspirational sports drama in 2005 called The Game of Their Lives and as Beowulf in 2006's Beowulf & Grendel. Neither of those films made it into more than 100 theaters, and neither grossed more than $400,000. But, hey, sometimes you have to take a step back to take a leap forward, and that's what Butler did in 2007. 300 was the film that made Butler a household name. In it, he got into incredible shape, shouted memorable lines like "This is Sparta," and genuinely look and sounded like he could be the next big action star. 300 made a great deal of money ($456 million on a $65 million budget), was a moderate critical success (60%), and was loved by audiences and internet meme creators - the latter of which I presume because there are no circumstances in which yelling "This is Sparta!" does not immediately make something funnier.
His career would soon come spiraling down.