Hollywood can be cruel. There are millions of aspiring actors looking for their big break, but those who get it aren’t always on easy street. The industry is full of has-beens, the almost anointed, and burn outs.a
Sometimes failure is the actor’s fault. It’s not for nothing that rehab and the public apology are staples of celebrity culture.
Take T.J. Miller, for example. What should’ve been a banner year for him, with roles in Ready Player One and Deadpool 2, was torpedoed by assault allegations and rumors of on-set intoxication. Calling in a bomb threat seems to be the end of his career.
Other times, an actor fades away for reasons beyond their control. The wrong role in the wrong movie at the wrong time can send an A-lister to the D-list.
Studios don’t hesitate to drop the next big thing when returns disappoint, and actors can find themselves powerless in situations. Take Mira Sorvino, for example. She won an Oscar and disappeared only for #MeToo to reveal that the predatory casting couch culture ruined her career.
Some of the names on this list achieved big things before poor choices made them unmarketable. Others managed to sink multiple chances at stardom. Some were felled by bad career choices, while others dropped due to terrible behavior.
Some have rebounded and, humbled by the fall, found steady work as supporting players.
Finally, some of these actors might again find themselves on the A-list or accepting an award, but for now, here are the 20 Former A-Listers Who Completely Flopped.
20 John Travolta
John Travolta has played some of the most iconic roles in cinema, including Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction. Even his presence on American Crime Story: The Trial of OJ Simpson was memorable.
Yet Travolta’s career has flopped at least twice, with every comeback and iconic role followed by comically bad choices.
Travolta launched into the stratosphere with Saturday Night Fever and Grease, but the hits dried up, and by the late '80s, it looked like one of the biggest stars in the world would be remembered as the face of the Look Who’s Talking franchise.
Pulp Fiction came along and brought Travolta back to the A-list, allowing him to appear in Get Shorty, Face/Off, and Primary Colors. Then he made what is considered to be one of the worst movies of all time— Battlefield Earth. It was a huge failure critically and commercially.
As it was Travolta’s passion project, he was the face of that failure. High-profile gigs still came in for a bit, with him usually playing the hammy villain.
By this time he was a tabloid fixture. Male masseuses accused him of inappropriate behavior, and he endured personal tragedies.
In late 2017, he bought back the rights to his movie Gotti, positioning it for a Cannes debut, a run at Oscar, and a return to edgy relevance, but brutal reviews have made that unlikely.
Thus, despite his career highs, Travolta is one of the few actors to fall so low so many times.
19 Julia Stiles
Julia Stiles’ career closely follows the paradigm of an A-lister who didn’t stay on top: starring roles in extremely popular teen movies, efforts to branch out into drama, a spot in a major franchise, followed by a descent into obscurity and a slight but respectable resurgence on prestige TV.
Stiles' big breaks came in 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance, which endeared her to teens throughout the USA.
At the same time, she tried to establish her artistic chops by appearing in gritty Shakespeare modernizations Hamlet and O (based on Othello), as well as playwright David Mamet’s Hollywood satire State and Main.
These roles led to a supporting but important role in the Bourne franchise, which carried across four movies. She struggled to find a successful formula beyond Bourne.
A remake of The Omen didn’t go anywhere new. Her appearances in romantic comedies baffled critics and her appearances in dramas seemed to miss audiences.
She was in The Silver Linings Playbook in a small role, but her most high profile non-Bourne gig was playing a trauma survivor turned protégé/love interest on Dexter.
Since then, she continues to act in film and TV, but many of her movies find themselves going straight to on-demand.
18 Taylor Lautner
This may seem hard to believe, but there was a time when Taylor Lautner was considered the future of Hollywood male stardom.
At a time when Hollywood was struggling to find young male actors with mass appeal who could fill the void left by aging movie stars, Lautner fit the bill.
His role as Jacob Black in Twilight earned him teenage idol status, and his physical transformation for the second movir in the franchise, as well as his ability to carry what many thought would be a weaker film, impressed studio heads.
He became the third face of the franchise and had his own following of Twilight fans who were proudly on Team Jacob.
By the time the franchise wrapped, many believed that Lautner was about to go big. Highly publicized negotiations to star in Max Steel and Stretch Armstrong fell through.
In 2011, Abduction, his first post-Twilight movie, was released to dismal reviews. His first effort at carrying a movie failed, and his chances at leading man status evaporated overnight.
Lautner still works. He’s shown up in comedies and on TV, with a gig on Scream Queens, but his time on the A-list is one of the most clear cut flops in recent history.
Seemingly pushed onto the A-list by the studio system, he became more famous off-screen than on. When he finally made it on-screen, the results underwhelmed.
17 Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan may be her generation’s cautionary tale of how excess can derail a promising career.
Her remake of The Parent Trap was a family favorite, and Freaky Friday was a hit, but it was Mean Girls that made her a sensation.
The movie balanced humor with keen insights that didn’t seem forced or corny, and Lohan’s heartfelt, down-to-earth performance signaled the arrival of a major talent.
Things started off well-enough with Herbie: Fully Loaded, but then things got messy. Lohan’s reputation for partying came to define her media presence.
Comedies like Georgia Rule underperformed. She took a stab at being a serious actress with gritty dramas like Bobby and Chapter 27, but those movies were non-starters. She was repeatedly in the news, getting arrested for DUIs and drug possession and serving time in jail.
By 2010, her reputation as a party girl and a string of misfires had made pushed her to Hollywood’s fringes. B-movie Machete garnered some press by casting her. She appeared in the racy, risqué crowd-funded The Canyons.
These days Lohan is known more for her pleas on social media. She tried to sue RockStar Games for using her likeness. She’s lobbied for a Mean Girls sequel and a chance to play Batman villain Poison Ivy, but Hollywood doesn’t seem to be listening.
16 Alicia Silverstone
Being young and iconic has its perks, but for an emerging talent it can create impossible expectations. Such is the case of Alicia Silverstone, who made her debut in The Crush before Clueless made her a household name.
It’s hard to overstate how much that movie dominated pop culture in 1995. Its lines were repeated ad nauseum.
The cast was everywhere, and Alicia Silverstone was the next big thing. The Babysitter and True Crime kept her in the public eye, but 1997 was poised to be Silverstone’s big year with two high profile movies.
One of these films was Excess Baggage, a romantic comedy for a post-Pulp Fiction audience that couldn’t commit to tone. With Silverstone taking an interest behind the scenes, the movie's failure to excite was problematic.
The other was Batman and Robin. Much has been written about Batman and Robin over the years, but there are two things to note: it made its budget back, and it earned its reputation as one of the worst movies of all time.
Since then, her career has waned. She’s appeared in sequels like Scooby Doo 2 and Beauty Shop, as herself in Tropic Thunder, and continuously in low budget movies.
In Hollywood’s often cruel way, she didn't so much disappear as become invisible.
She was in the edgy Catfight with Sandra Oh, and critics were pleasantly surprised when she turned up in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, which is perhaps as far from Clueless as you could get.
15 Orlando Bloom
Most franchises create at least one superstar. Star Wars made Harrison Ford, Harry Potter made Emma Watson, and The Hunger Games made Jennifer Lawrence.
The Lord of the Rings franchise was begging for a star, so when Elijah Wood went quirky and Viggo Mortensen went artsy, the mantle fell on Orlando Bloom
As Legolas in the Lord of the Rings, Bloom exuded charisma and humor.
Before the final entry had wrapped, the actor landed a role in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Thus begins the strange case of the career of Orlando Bloom: what do you do when an actor is talented and handsome enough but audiences just don’t take the bait?
Like everything else in the Pirates series, Bloom was overshadowed by Johnny Depp.
Also, Kingdom of Heaven, his turn at a historical epic like Gladiator, made by the people who made Gladiator, landed with a thud. Subsequent director’s cuts have earned the movie some long delayed appreciation, but Bloom shouldered much of the blame for the film’s failure.
He teamed with Cameron Crowe for Elizabethtown and had another high-profile failure as a leading man.
Having tested the waters of comedy, drama, epic, and romance, it seemed like audiences just weren’t lining up for Orlando Bloom movies.
He’s returned to his famous characters, playing Legolas and Will Turner in sequels, but his time as an A-lister with the chance to choose any project is over and done.
14 Brendan Fraser
Brendan Fraser displayed a versatility that charmed the industry. Going from silly comedy like Encino Man and Airheads to emotional and dramatic fare like With Honors.
By the late' 90s, he was positioned to take over Hollywood.
George of the Jungle was followed by a dramatic role in Gods and Monsters which was sandwiched nicely by the sweet comedy Blast From the Past.
With The Mummy, he ascended to the A-list. A sequel came three years later, but by then Fraser’s choices weren’t sticking the landing.
He was in high profile comedies like Dudley-Do Right, Bedazzled, and Monkeybone that didn’t connect with critics or audiences or both, and Fraser shouldered the blame. At the same time, he appeared in acclaimed dramas like The Quiet American, but the good will didn’t extend to him.
By the end of the decade, a third Mummy sequel had been released to diminishing returns (Oscar-winning co-star Rachel Weisz chose not to return, which didn’t help the movie's clout), Fraser had appeared in a Best Picture winning drama (albeit the regrettable Crash).
He had also kickstarted another franchise, Journey to the Center of the Earth, which he promptly kicked off to Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. By 2013, his movies were going straight to DVD.
Fraser recently opened up about difficult experiences that he says damaged his career, and prestige TV has offered Fraser another chance.
His gig on the Danny Boyle-produced Trust has earned him good reviews and put him back in the spotlight though his franchise-headlining days are likely behind him.
13 Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton made a name for herself by being enviable. Rich, young, and glamorous, she set the template for young starlets in the 2000s.
As a dim-witted, divorced from reality TV star on The Simple Life, she was perfect.
Her blasé attitude made it so you never knew if she was in on the joking or making one of her own. Did she know that audiences were laughing at her, and did she even care?
As a brand, Hilton excelled, but her talents seemed to stop there. Her attempt at a pop career was surprisingly bad given how generic it was. As for the movies, Hilton was adept at cameoing as herself, and she became a sort of staple of direct-to-video movies.
Her first major role was in the House of Wax remake, which was marketed heavily with a grisly take on her likeness. This earned her a Razzie Award in a year that was highly competitive.
In 2008, she gave what seemed like an earnest stab at having a presence on-screen. The Hottie and the Nottie was a financial disaster that critics hated and audiences didn’t see.
This signaled the end of Hilton’s attempt take over Hollywood. That year, she also appeared in cult classic Repo: The Genetic Opera, gaining a bit of indie cred.
In spite of all this, Hilton remains the rare celebrity who is most famous for a certain type of movie without actually being a movie star.
12 Hayden Christensen
With the Star Wars prequels more than 10 years behind us, perhaps it’s time to pity Hayden Christensen.
The actor was plucked from obscurity to do a thankless job: embody the youth of one of cinema’s most iconic villains. The writing didn’t do Christensen any favors, and one wonders if any actor could’ve played the role and gone unscathed.
It’s fair to wonder how much studio expectations had to do with Christensen’s career flop. He was a Hollywood actor in a time when Hollywood seemed to struggle with the idea of what big-budget actors should be.
He appeared in the drama Life As A House and earned acclaim and even award nominations, but the film was an overwrought attempt to recreate American Beauty’s success.
He was serviceable in Jumper, a movie about a teen with the ability to teleport. That film was made when X-Men was the gold standard for superhero movies, Batman was just getting dark, and the MCU didn’t exist beyond an Iron Man post-credits scene.
Like most of Christensen’s work, Jumper was a studio attempt to recreate a popular idea without capturing what made that idea special.
Sometimes Christensen could shine. His turn as an ethically repugnant journalist in Shattered Glass channeled the sniveling pathos of Anakin and made it into something disturbing.
Perhaps this is where Christensen found his sweet spot. Since Star Wars, the Canadian actor has mainly appeared in low-budget movies.
11 Jenny McCarthy
Jenny McCarthy’s rise to fame as a flirty, foul-mouthed host of MTV’s Singled Out endeared her to teen fans during the '90s.
She got her start as a model and relayed that into hosting gigs before trying her hand at acting.
Her first major role was in 1998’s Baseketball, a comedy that struggled to decide if it was a zany parody a la Airplane or an irreverent satire a la South Park and suffered as a result. McCarthy followed this with roles in Diamonds and Scream 3, which she parodied in Scary Movie 3.
Most of McCarthy’s acting career up until then had her in supporting roles that riffed on her reputation for toilet humor.
She and then-husband John Mallory Asher put this front and center in 2005’s Dirty Love, which became a sort of underdog at the infamous Razzie Awards.
Despite garnering very little publicity, it went on to beat such widely-despised pictures as Deuce Bigolo: European Gigolo, Son of the Mask, and The Dukes of Hazzard “winning” four out of six awards for which it was nominated.
While her rise to fame has declined, she remains a steady presence on TV, hosting her own TV and radio shows throughout the decade.
However, she has become more well-known for her controversial beliefs about autism and vaccines. Oddly enough, her cousin, Melissa McCarthy, has made it onto the A-list.
10 Amanda Bynes
Amanda Bynes was a child star who seemed like she was close to crossing over into the adult world of stardom.
She made something of a brand on Nickelodeon with shows like All That and The Amanda Show, moving to network TV to do the sitcom What I Like About You.
From there, a movie career seemed in reach, and Bynes went for it. There was What A Girl Wants, Love Wrecked, the Hairspray remake, and a series of literary updates that popped with teen audiences and had critics using the phrase “better than it needs to be.”
There was She’s The Man, an update of Twelfth Night, Snow White rehash Sydney White, and Easy A, which many expected would take her to the top.
Instead, Bynes went the way of many a child star before her.
There was a DUI and allegations of starting a fire. She posted revealing photos of her on her social media accounts and even more revealing Tweets that worried fans.
By 2013, the media had declared it a full breakdown, and Bynes took a leave of absence from show business.
Her people assert that a comeback is in the wings and might even happen this year.
9 Jessica Simpson
Few celebrities are as all-American as Jessica Simpson.
Her blond shiny hair and girl-next-door persona made the transition from pop star to reality star a relative cinch.
Like many of the young, attractive, heavily marketed reality TV celebs of the age, it was difficult to tell which parts of the ditzy routine were real and which were for the cameras.
Either way, the publicity from Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica positioned her as a star on the rise. After appearing as herself in The Master of Disguise, a favorite of worst movie ever lists, she was poised for big things on screen as Daisy Duke in the remake of The Dukes of Hazzard.
A tie-in single, a cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, the video of which relied heavily on Simpson’s physical attributes, helped drum up publicity.
The Dukes of Hazzard succeeded at the box office but was maligned by critics and members of the original.
From the corporate perspective, it was a no-brainer, but beyond making money, it didn't generate any good will among fans or for the cast.
Simpson followed this up with Employee of the Month and Blonde Ambition, both of which failed to resonate with audiences or critics.
By 2008, Simpson seemed to get the message. She was in the much despised The Love Guru as herself and appeared in Private Valentine: Blonde and Dangerous.
Since then, she’s been absent from movie screens.
8 Eddie Murphy
There was a time when Eddie Murphy was the biggest star in the world.
His classic stand-up led to a run on Saturday Night Live, and this led to a film career in which he made some of the 1980s biggest movies like 48 Hours and the Beverly Hills Cop series.
By the '90s, he was churning out sequels, but he had hits with The Nutty Professor and Mulan. He ran into some trouble with the law, getting arrested for unseemly behavior.
The 2000s got weird. He was part of the successful Shrek franchise, becoming one of the only actors to win a major film award (a BAFTA) for an animated performance.
He also starred in one of the biggest flops of all time, The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
In 2006, he almost won an Oscar for Dreamgirls. In 2007, he had another candidate for worst movie ever with Norbit.
His career was defined by saccharine, critically-reviled family movies like Imagine That.
Since then, he has appeared on screen intermittently. He almost staged a comeback, including plans to host the Oscars, but these plans fell through.
His last movie, Mr. Church, briefly sparked talk of an Oscar campaign before critics saw the film.
The status of Murphy’s career isn’t lost on him either. As he told the press, "I think my cool and edge are gone ... Whatever my edge or cool was back then, I’m onto some other area. I don't know what it is.
7 Mischa Barton
For a star who was largely defined by her work on the very Californian show The O.C., it’s strange to think that the Irish-English Mischa Barton had a storied career before that.
Barton started acting at a young age. People might remember her pre-O.C. days mainly for her jump scare cameo in The Sixth Sense and a brief turn in romcom Notting Hill, but prior to that, she appeared on stage in plays written by Tony Kushner, James Lapine, and Catherine Butterfield.
After starting her movie career, she also found a place on TV, appearing in soap opera All My Children.
In 2003, The O.C. debuted and Barton became a huge star. The show was a pop culture fixation, and Barton was at the center of it.
Various publications and trend watchers called her the next big thing, and she seemed eager to jumpstart her movie career. She left The O.C. after three seasons. Her departure coincided with a decline in ratings.
For the next few years, Barton worked steadily in movies that have largely gone unnoticed. Like many TV stars who left hit shows to pursue bigger things, her career failed to set the world on the fire.
Trying her hand at various genres, Barton may often be the best thing in her films, but many of them have limited releases or go straight to DVD. Perhaps she’ll resurface as a character actress in a few years.
Until then, like many O.C. fans, she may wonder might what’ve been.
6 Megan Fox
Megan Fox rose to the A-list with the first two Transformers movies. At a time when highly synergized corporate tie-ins were still looked upon skeptically, Fox helped ground a difficult premise for a live-action film.
Transformers was released in a social climate where the blatant objectification of Fox was one of the less offensive aspects of the movie (at least compared to huckin’ and jivin’ robots), and speculation about Fox’s private life was a favorite Hollywood past time.
Fox was adept at navigating the gossip mill, and for a brief period at the turn of the decade Fox might have been the most famous person in Hollywood.
Then there were reports about Michael Bay having Fox audition by washing his car, which for some reason hurt her more than him.
She compared his on-set behavior to a Nazi and was unceremoniously dropped from the third installment. Her non-franchise career faltered as well.
Jennifer’s Body, one of the most publicized non-starters of the century, didn’t find an audience. Comic book adaptation Jonah Hex failed miserably.
With that, studios started to look at Fox as the kind of actor who can stir tabloid gossip but can’t open a movie.
She switched routes, giving respectable turns in comedies like This is 40 and Friends With Kids.
Eventually, Fox and Bay made nice, and she played April O’Neil in the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The press didn’t pay much notice.
5 Nicolas Cage
What more is there to say about Nicolas Cage? He is a mainstay on lists like this. His lavish spending is the stuff of ridicule.
His descent into B-movie ubiquity is the stuff of even more ridicule. His strange choices are the stuff of parody.
Still, consider this: this time next year, he will probably have released at least four movies, and some of them will have gone straight to the bargain bin, others will have played at Cannes.
Some stars slowly sink into low-budget cinema, Nic Cage ricochets back and forth.
He began his career by dropping his family name— he’s part of the esteemed Coppola clan— and going it alone, making waves as an intense actor who can pull off quirky comedy like Raising Arizona.
In 1995, he won an Oscar for his devastating performance in Leaving Las Vegas.
He followed that by becoming an action star with The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off. There were also serious movies, like Bringing Out the Dead and Lord of War, and terrible ones, like The Wicker Man remake.
Financial troubles pushed Cage into taking more roles to pay off debts. Something even Cage has acknowledged, privately describing himself as "an A-list actor doing A-list work who is being forced into B-list presentations because I had some hits in action films a million years ago."
His most recent movie Mandy premiered to complementary reviews when it bowed at Cannes, with critics noting that it keeps the weird streak going.
4 Jennifer Garner
Jennifer Garner’s big break came with Alias, a hit TV show that paved the way for programs like Scandal.
In 13 Going on 30, she showed a comedic streak and a willingness to dive into the material. She was fast on her way to becoming America’s sweetheart.
Still, it was superhero flick Daredevil that would have a lasting impact on Garner’s life. The movie helped propel her to movie star status, giving her the spinoff sequel Elektra. It was also on that set where she met future ex-husband Ben Affleck.
At first, things looked perfect. Garner’s career was going places. Her role in Juno epitomized what fans loved about her— she was earnest and moving. However, this was followed by a string of comedies that failed to find anything interesting for Garner to do.
By the time she showed up in awards favorite The Dallas Buyers Club, she’d become known for playing generic roles that did little more than service the plot.
As her career plateaued, Affleck’s took on new dimensions as a writer/director.
Also by this time, her private life had become tabloid fodder. Marital troubles set the papers ablaze, and she and Affleck divorced in 2017. It was a publicized, unpleasant matter with photos of each looking miserable splattered in the press.
A role in Love, Simon may be the start of bigger things, but Garner remains more famous for her private life than her on-screen work.
3 Jessica Alba
For the first decade of the 2000s, Jessica Alba was an audience favorite whose action star physicality and wide-eyed vulnerability made for an up-and-coming star.
She broke out with TV’s Dark Angel. A role in dance movie Honey upped Alba’s reputation and appeal. After that, she was off.
She turned up dancing on a bar in Sin City, as Invisible Woman in The Fantastic Four, as an action hero/love interest in treasure hunting actioner Into the Blue, as romantic interests in Good Luck Chuck, the universally loathed and quite racist The Love Guru, and a horror lead in The Eye.
In other words, she was doing what Hollywood stars did-- making movies with mass appeal that traded on her looks and faded from the multiplex with so-so to middling reviews.
Alba seemed to sense as much herself, picking up stranger projects like Machete and The Killer Inside Me.
By 2014, her appearance in the Sin City sequel seemed to signal that the old career bits had made Alba a lot of money but failed to define her as an artist or an actor.
It’s no wonder that she seems more interested in her off-screen business ventures.
While she continues to pop up in movies, most recently the low budget El Camino Christmas, which itself is chockful of “look-where-they-are-now” talent, her time on the A-list has come to an end for now.
2 Wesley Snipes
Given the troubles that Wesley Snipes has had over the last few years, it’s easy to forget how versatile Snipes was.
Trained in martial arts, Snipes had successes in drama (Jungle Fever), action (Passenger 57), and comedy (White Men Can’t Jump).
You’d be hard-pressed to find an actor that could go from playing a Jazz musician, a drug kingpin, a sci-fi villain, and a drag queen in the space of five years.
Snipes also predated the superhero bonanza that now defines the moviegoing experience. He played Blade the vampire hunter for the first time in 1998 in the first successful Marvel adaptation.
All of this makes his fall from grace even stranger. Accused of tax fraud and tax evasion, Snipes eventually served time in prison.
Even before then, reports of demanding behavior and crazy stories from the Blade 3 revealed a career that was very much teetering on the edge.
His tax convictions made him a target of late night comedians and a wary presence in the industry. He has continued working, but even his pre-prison efforts were going straight to video by 2005.
He has since appeared in the third installment of The Expendables franchise, and Spike Lee, the director who gave him some of his juiciest dramatic roles, found a spot for him in Chi-Raq, but his career remains on ice.
1 Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey is part of a very exclusive club, but possibly not the one you’re thinking of. He has a 100 percent Oscar win rate, having won the award both times he’s been nominated for it.
That his career was marked by such acclaim is indicative of how his career has flopped in the reckoning that’s come with the #MeToo movement.
He was once one of the most respected actors in a Hollywood. He was famous on screen and stage. He was a theater director. Now, he’s known as a predator.
He broke through in 1995 with roles in Outbreak, Seven, and The Usual Suspects, for which he won the first of his two Oscars.
Over the next few years, he had a string of respected movies that showed he could do prestige cinema like L.A. Confidential, action like The Negotiator, and even animated family fare like A Bug’s Life.
After his win for American Beauty, Spacey was anointed as one of the finest actors of his generation. He made fancy Oscar bait like The Shipping News and lent credibility to studio fare like Superman Returns and 21.
By 2017, he had enough hits to balance out the misses. When Anthony Rapp recounted a story of inappropriate conduct, it triggered a cascade of allegations that effectively ended Spacey’s career.
He was fired from his flagship TV series House of Cards and replaced in All the Money in the World, the film that was poised to net him his third Oscar nomination.
Can you think of any other former A-listers who have flopped in recent years? Sound off in the comments!