Pick a random Hollywood A-lister, and chances are that they’ve appeared in a superhero flick. However, pick an actor who used to be Hollywood A-lister, and you may just find that it was that superhero flick that marked their downfall.
In a climate where one bad film can make or break an actor, the risk associated with attaching your name to a superhero film - especially one that could flop - has never been higher.
Of course, superhero movies can give their leads the stardom they sought after and make their names-- Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, for instance-- and can resurrect an actor from the proverbial dead-- such as Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. However, they can also have the opposite effect, and put a halt to an actor’s rising star, or established career.
This is what happened to these actors, some bigger than others, all desperately unlucky to plummet from acclaim to notoriety. This could’ve been for any number of reasons: they were typecast-- or they got too big for their boots-- their movie was a shoddy box-office flop or critical disaster, or maybe their off-screen antics were less than desirable. In any case, these were all met with the swift hammer of cape-crusading justice.
Here are the 15 Actors Whose Careers Flopped After Their Superhero Franchise Ended.
15 Gwyneth Paltrow - Iron Man
Here’s a case where off-screen decisions may have derailed a prospering career-- Gwyneth Paltrow’s turn as Iron Man’s wife, Pepper Potts, was never going to make headlines.
What did make headlines, though, was her “conscious uncoupling” of Chris Martin (basically a pretentious way of saying “divorce”), and her "Goop" brand, which gives questionable tips on health and beauty.
Her focus on her health project isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s hard getting back into the movie-biz limelight once you’ve stepped out: even with a spruced-up role in Iron Man 3, where she gets to save the day, there hasn’t been much in the way of work for Paltrow.
14 Nicolas Cage - Ghost Rider
Love him or hate him, you can always rely on Nicolas Cage to provide entertainment. Unfortunately, the Cage that starred in such movies as Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off and Adaptation is no more, and in place is a man whose career’s trajectory has been on a downward spiral.
It’s not that he hasn’t been receiving roles after Ghost Rider, it’s that the roles he has been receiving have all been pretty terrible. Hey, at least it’s keeping in the spirit of the Ghost Rider franchise itself. From Left Behind to Dog Eat Dog, he’s had a pretty terrible run.
The silver lining is that he may in fact be back with a chainsaw-happy role in Mandy-- we’ll have to wait and see.
13 Kevin Bacon - X-Men: First Class
He was the face of Footloose, JFK, Tremors… now he’s the face of those annoying EE adverts that pop up everywhere. Kevin Bacon’s role as Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class was a doozy: threatening and scene-chewing in equal measure, he perfectly complimented the film’s popcorn sensibilities.
Sadly, it was both his last great role and his last big role, as his performance was not enough to find him much work of any merit thereafter.
He’s had stints in R.I.P.D, Patriots Day and Black Mass (along with a brief cameo in Tour de Pharmacy), but it’s hardly the work you’d expect of an actor who almost everyone has heard of. For now, it’s Kevin’s foray into the EE adverts that’s bringin’ home the bacon.
12 Jessica Alba - Fantastic Four
Think back to the mid-noughties, and Jessica Alba was the next "It" girl-- with roles in Sin City, and, of course, Fantastic Four, it seemed like her career would never plummet.
Yet plummet it did-- her casting as Susan Storm in Fantastic Four seemed to signal a launch into Hollywood stardom, but it quickly turned into an opportunity to dig her Hollywood grave and bury herself in it. The problem was that Fantastic Four just wasn’t very good, and its desperate sequel was even worse.
Soon, Alba faded from the limelight, and now it seems like she can only be cast in critical or commercial bombs. From Spy Kids 4 (insufferable) to Mechanic: Resurrection (also insufferable), she’s either choosing her movies unwisely, or these are the only films that she’s being offered a part in. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Alba.
11 Brandon Routh - Superman Returns
In 2006, most people didn’t know who Brandon Routh was. His role as the titular hero in Superman Returns was set to be his big break. Now, in 2018, most people still don’t know who Brandon Routh is.
Though the majority of critics seemed to appreciate Superman Returns, fans weren’t too keen on it, and so he only managed to play Superman the one time. Following that, his time in the limelight was more fleeting-- a brief stint in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the main antagonist in Season 3 of Chuck perhaps being his most recognisable on-screen appearance.
Thankfully, he’s found solace in the form of another superhero-- Ray Palmer (a.k.a. The Atom). This role, after being featured in Arrow, was so popular that it led to his own ongoing series, Legends of Tomorrow. So if you do know who Brandon Routh is, you’ll probably know him as another superhero entirely.
10 Michael Angarano - Sky High
Created before Disney exacted their superhero formula, Sky High was an endearingly bright entry into its pantheon of cape-donning capers. It was your typical high-school movie, just with, you know, superpowers. Its main character was Will Stronghold, played by Michael Angarano.
Angarano was already an established actor through both films (Almost Famous) and TV (Will & Grace), but Sky High resembled something of a stumbling block.
Despite being critically successful, and profitable too (if underwhelmingly so), Angarano’s career never really pushed on from there. His try at another medium-sized blockbuster, The Forbidden Kingdom, was met with a shrug.
Nevertheless, his career hasn’t entirely flopped - he starred in acclaimed medical drama series The Knick, for instance. It’s just very difficult to shake off the feeling that he could’ve been so much more.
9 Dean Cain - Lois & Clark
From 1993-1997, Dean Cain was living the high life: he had the role of a lifetime as Superman in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Unfortunately, it literally was a role of a lifetime - Dean Cain could never recover, and his career was doomed to mediocrity.
From Clark Kent, his career has traversed a downward spiral. He's picked up cameos in television series such as Robot Chicken, Smallville, and CSI: Miami, while taking roles in films you’ve never heard of. It all culminated in the sickly and tepid God’s Not Dead, a role which proved that Dean Cain’s career was once and for all finished.
Well, sort of-- it turns out the Superman connection never left him, as he now plays the adoptive father of Supergirl. Though looking at the rest of his career, and… it’s no wonder he’s called for a revival of Lois & Clark.
8 Topher Grace - Spider-Man 3
To suggest that Venom’s appearance in Spider-Man 3 was less than welcome would flatter it. As a victim of studio influence, director Sam Raimi was forced to cram him in.
Having to share the screen time with Sandman and the new Green Goblin was never going to afford Grace enough time to shine, and so his role became the butt of many jokes.
It also didn’t help that he was miscast, lacking the bulk necessary to pull off Venom convincingly (the bulk that, say, Tom Hardy has). As such, Spider-Man 3 was the harbinger of doom for his career, in spite of his best efforts at making a comeback (his roles in Interstellar, American Ultra and War Machine provided little fanfare).
Without any antidote to the venom, Grace’s career doesn’t ever look likely to pick up again-- a far cry from his entrance into stardom with That ‘70s Show.
7 Ioan Gruffudd - Fantastic Four
Following on from leading the team in Fantastic Four as Captain Fantastic, Ioan Gruffudd’s has had as hard a time of his career as anyone has trying to spell his name. The Welsh actor began his Hollywood rise with a part in Titanic, and with roles in 102 Dalmatians, Black Hawk Down, and King Arthur, things were only looking up for Gruffudd.
Unfortunately, Fantastic Four marked the turning point in his career - as is notorious with Hollywood, one big flop is all it takes to destroy an actor’s prospects. From then on, he received nothing in the way of lead roles-- save for Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer . Instead, he resorted to voice acting cameos (Ben 10, American Dad!) and bit-part roles in comedies (Horrible Bosses).
His attempt at breaking back into recognition is an underwhelming one - the TV series Liar hasn’t been so successful with critics thus far.
6 Tom Welling - Smallville
Here’s perhaps the biggest transition from superhero franchise to role wasteland that a career has ever faced: after starring as Clark Kent in Smallville, a television series spanning ten years and ten seasons, Tom Welling has received practically nothing in the way of acting gigs.
Since Smallville, Welling has appeared in three movies-- Parkland, Draft Day, and The Choice-- each either a critical or box office flop. Of course, perhaps a downturn in roles is expected; after devoting ten years of his life to one series, Welling felt like he needed a hiatus.
Unfortunately, what was a self-imposed six months of taking a break turned into an inadvertent two years, as he finally appeared on screens again in aforementioned box-office disaster Parkland. He’ll always be remembered as Clark Kent in Smallville, but it seems like Welling has no chance of making it big again.
5 Adam West - Batman
When you think of Adam West, there’s only one role you think of: West’s name has become synonymous with Batman. His turn as the Dark Knight (or, rather, camp knight) in the TV Series Batman (1966-1968) and the feature-length film version Batman: The Movie (1966) has lingered with his career ever since.
With such an iconic role under his utility belt, it’s easy to see why West couldn’t shrug off his Batman image, and thus found a post-Superhero career hard to come by. He was typecast, and his efforts to diminish that image lead to a fair share of box-office flops (such as the first film following on from Batman, in The Girl Who Knew Too Much).
Indeed, he made most of his money thereafter by donning the cape for public appearances-- and, when roles had dried up, he reverted back to Batman with shows such as the animated TV series The New Adventures of Batman.
4 Aaron Eckhart - The Dark Knight
If you had a huge role in Christopher Nolan’s box-office juggernaut and critical darling, you’d also think that you had a career of fantastic roles and opportunities to look forward to. Sadly, this wasn’t the case with Aaron Eckhart, whose turn as Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight won praise, but not subsequent work.
It’s perplexing how someone can go from The Dark Knight to I, Frankenstein in just six years, but that’s exactly what Eckhart managed. On top of that, roles in Battle: Los Angeles and Olympus Has Fallen hardly flatter him-- it’s not that work has dried up for him, it’s that good work has dried up for him.
With a role in 2016’s Sully, things may have seemed on the up for him, but his screen presence was amiss in 2017 and he only has television series The Romanoffs lined up for this year.
3 Edward Norton - The Incredible Hulk
It’s difficult not to see The Incredible Hulk as a failure on Marvel’s part. Underwhelming both critically and at the box office, it led to the character being recast (Edward Norton out, and Mark Ruffalo in), and the movie being wiped clean from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Norton stated that he left the project of his own accord, citing that he “wanted more diversity” with his career. A shame, then, that the diversity rarely arrived; his career was stuttering.
The problem is that he’s notoriously difficult to work with. Marvel’s decision to kick him out of the role was reasoned by noting that they needed “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.” In other words, he’s a jerk.
His career has since taken a plummet, relying on Wes Anderson and a role in Birdman (where he plays an actor that’s difficult to work with) to prop himself up.
2 Halle Berry - Catwoman
It wasn’t just Catwoman that halted her career-- Gothika was also a critical failure. However, it was for Catwoman that she received her Razzie award (where she infamously turned up to give her thank-you speech). She can act-- of course she can, she's won an Academy Award-- but Hollywood seems to be finished with her nevertheless.
1 Tobey Maguire - Spider-Man
While some fans point to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for the rise of the superhero genre, it was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy that kick-started the boon. Donning the Spidey-suit was Tobey Maguire, who most fans agreed made for an excellent Peter Parker.
Perhaps the issue was that he wasn’t quite as convincing as the cocksure Spider-Man, and the queasy song and dance number in Spider-Man 3 certainly didn’t help. From then on, the roles seemed to dry up: he’s been in six feature-length films since Spider-Man 3.
As it stands, the one high-profile movie he has to his name this decade is The Great Gatsby-- and that was hardly a critical darling.
Can you think of any other actors whose careers flopped after their superhero franchise ended? Let us know in the comment section!