While a big chunk of Hollywood is comprised of the reliable veterans who have been producing quality and/or profitable work for years, the movie industry is always on the lookout for the next generation of exciting newcomers.
Whether it’s a child star about to make the transition to a more grown-up career, or an adult who has been paying their dues for years and seems to be on the verge of their big break, there’s always a list of hungry “next big thing” actors set to be tomorrow’s A-listers.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go so smoothly. For one reason or another, even the most hyped actors sometimes fail to cross over to superstardom. Sometimes it’s a matter of an actor’s bad attitude sinking their career before it takes off, and other times it’s simply poor career choices. Much of it has to do with luck, and there are some actors who might do everything right and still just not have the touch of luck needed to become a true Hollywood megastar.
Just to be clear, we aren’t implying that these actors haven’t continued to work and find roles. But each one of these performers had a period of time where they were thought to be on the cusp of the A-list, but they just couldn’t hack it.
Here are 20 “Next Big Thing” Actors Whose Careers Flopped.
20. Hayden Christensen
The actor who is bestowed with the honor of playing Anakin Skywalker as he transforms into one of the most iconic villains in movie history should’ve had Hollywood stardom handed to him on a silver platter.
Prior to Attack of the Clones, Hayden Christensen earned raves for his role in 2001’s Life as a Hous, with Golden Globe and SAG award nominations. So even if his acting as Anakin wasn’t wowing anybody, he had presumably already proved that he could act.
In between Episode II and Episode III, he starred in the biopic Shattered Glass, which had garnered strong reviews. But that’s where his good fortune ended. His first post-Star Wars film, Factory Girl, was savaged by critics. He then earned a Razzie nomination for his role in the film Awake, and followed that up with the disappointing Jumper.
The most noteworthy thing he’s done in the decade since is being spliced into the umpteenth remaster of the original Star Wars trilogy to appear as the ghost of Anakin.
19. Liv Tyler
From her debut as a naughty schoolgirl in the music video for the Aerosmith song “Crazy”– kind of inappropriate since that’s her dad’s band– Liv Tyler’s career took off at light speed. Within three years, she starred in the iconic ’90s teen movie Empire Records and the acclaimed drama Stealing Beauty. She quickly followed that up by transitioning to mega blockbusters, appearing in Armageddon and the Lord of the Rings movies.
After that, although Tyler continued to steadily work, she didn’t quite keep up that level of A-list success. Once poised to be a high-profile leading lady with a long career headlining movies in the same vein as a Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep, Tyler’s roles began to move more into the supporting space. She flirted with a return to that top stratum of stardom when she appeared as the love interest in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, but like so many of the female co-stars in Marvel origin movies, she didn’t stay in the MCU for very long.
Tyler has recently settled into TV work, being a regular on the HBO series The Leftovers— a respected show, but still a step back for an actor once starring in billion-dollar movies.
18. Sam Worthington
For a couple of year, Sam Worthington seemed poised to join the top tier of Hollywood action stars. He was the lead character in a little movie called Avatar, was top-billed in the Clash of the Titans remake, and starred alongside Christian Bale in the fourth Terminator film. That’s quite the lineup, especially considering all three of those movies were released in a two-year time frame.
Things seemed to sour rather quickly for Worthington, however. The follow-up to Titans under-performed at the box office, and the planned third movie was scrapped. Terminator was also considered a financial disappointment, and the next installment was a complete reboot of the franchise with mostly new actors. Further attempts to sell Worthington as an actor who could top-line a movie– Man on a Ledge, Texas Killing Fields, Drift— failed to drum up much excitement, effectively bringing his short stint as a superstar to an end.
To be fair, Worthington was in Avatar, currently the highest-grossing movie of all time, and is signed on to be in its two sequels. He’s not a name we’ll stop hearing anytime soon– but one-franchise-wonder is not the path that Worthington seemed to be on.
17. Thora Birch
After spending the ’90s as a successful child and teen actor, appearing in the beloved Halloween film Hocus Pocus and playing Jack Ryan’s daughter in two Tom Clancy movies, Thora Birch wasted no time proving to the world that she was all grown up in 1999’s American Beauty.
Following that brave, vulnerable performance, Birch took a major step backward via her ill-advised appearance in the disastrous 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie. Fortunately, she quickly recovered, getting top billing in the soon-to-be-classic indie dark comedy Ghost World.
Unlike her main Ghost World co-star, a then-upcoming actress named Scarlett Johansson, Birch’s career seemed to come to a screeching halt after Ghost World. Birch has since said that Hollywood in the 2000s wasn’t really interested in women who preferred unique, thoughtful roles, and therefore wasn’t interested in her.
16. Taylor Lautner
At 25, it might seem a little premature to already call Taylor Lautner’s career a flop. But seeing as how he was starring in big theatrical films at age 13 (The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl), the fact that his star path has already gone cold only a couple of years after the megahit Twilight series doesn’t bode well for Lautner’s future prospects.
An argument can be made that Lautner’s Twilight co-stars haven’t exactly set Hollywood on fire, either. Neither Kristen Stewart nor Robert Pattinson have done anything approaching the success or notoriety of Twilight– but they’ve still done far more than Lautner.
Pattinson has earned critical praise for several non-Twilight films, including Water for Elephants and The Lost City of Z, and has won over acclaimed director David Cronenberg, who has since put Pattinson in two of his films. Stewart has had at least one blockbuster movie post-Twilight— Snow White and the Hunstman— and has won the French equivalent of an Oscar, proving she is more than a one-tricky pony.
15. Shannyn Sossamon
After spending a couple of years being a model and playing a few small parts on Mr. Show, newcomer Shannyn Sossamon beat out the already-established Kate Hudson for the 2001 cult hit A Knight’s Tale. Despite the lukewarm reviews for her performance– co-star Heath Ledger got most of the praise– Sossamon was well on her way to becoming a star.
The following year, she co-starred in the hit 40 Days and 40 Nights and, more notably, the black comedy The Rules of Attraction, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Among an ensemble of many of the era’s top teen stars, Sossamon was one of the standout performers of Attraction‘s cast, even earning praise from Ellis himself who is famously critical of the movies based on his stories.
However, following the commercial failure of her reunion with Ledger in The Order, Sossamon’s career stalled. In addition to dealing with a social anxiety disorder that made interviews and press difficult for her, Sossamon also became a mother in 2003 and decided to take a break from acting. While her career has recovered in recent years, she never quite reached the heights she was originally heading toward.
14. Emile Hirsch
Following almost a decade of one-episode appearances on a number of television shows, Emile Hirsch transitioned into movies with roles in The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys and The Emperor’s Club. He and Elisha Cuthbert– who could’ve also been included on this list– shared a star vehicle in the 2004 raunchy comedy The Girl Next Door. While Cuthbert quickly fell off the Hollywood radar, Hirsch continued to build toward superstardom with acclaim roles in Lords of Dogtown, Alpha Dog, and the Oscar-nominated Into the Wild.
The first cracks in the foundation of Hirsch’s budding career came when he played the titular character in the Wachowskis’ high-profile flop Speed Racer. After spending a few years struggling to recover from that setback, Hirsch was involved in a 2015 assault against a studio executive at a nightclub, for which he spent two weeks in jail and was ordered to pay a fine and serve community service.
Beating up Hollywood executives doesn’t do much for your reputation among the people who give you movie roles, and Hirsch has yet to appear in any movies that have matched the success or acclaim of his mid-2000s peak.
13. Leelee Sobieski
Beginning in the late-90s and into the early-00s, Leelee Sobieski established herself as a reliable supporting performing in a variety of movies. While she did her share of shallow big-budget fare and sappy teen romances, Sobieski exhibited early on her willingness to take chances, as evidenced by risky roles in movies like Eyes Wide Shut and the Hitler-sympathizing Max.
Sobieski always seemed just on the cusp of breaking through, likely by design. It takes an actor of confidence to be willing to settle into that of being a strong supporting player. Whether it’s a waste of her talent to have never gone full-on superstar, as, she had the looks and talent to do, is debatable, but there’s no denying she didn’t hit the A-list.
After a stint doing roles in small films, Sobieski more or less retired from acting in 2012, telling Us Weekly that she not only wanted to focus on being a mother, but also that “90% of acting roles involve so much sexual stuff with other people, and [she didn’t] want to do that.”
12. Chris O’Donnell
1992 was a great year for 22-year-old actor Chris O’Donnell. In only his third film role, O’Donnell was billed just below Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon in School Ties, and was nominated for a supporting actor Golden Globe behind Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. A few years later, he scored the role of a lifetime– playing Robin in Batman Forever.
As it turned out, his entry into the world of Batman was a double-edged sword. Batman Forever was already seen as a step down from the Tim Burton-directed Batman movies, but it was still generally well-received. The same can’t be said for 1997’s Batman & Robin, a complete creative disaster that still stands as one of the worst big-budget movies of the last 20 years. While the movie didn’t do much to affect the career of George Clooney, it had a major impact on O’Donnell’s rise to megastar status.
O’Donnell has yet to add another acclaimed movie role to his resume. He bounced back in 2009 when he began his permanent stint on CSI: Los Angeles, but it’s a far-cry from where he could’ve ended up without Batman & Robin messing things up for him.
11. Amanda Bynes
Amanda Bynes was one of the biggest stars to emerge from Nickelodeon’s late-90s “Teen Nick” era, going from being part of an ensemble to having her own show named after her. She parlayed that success into starring in teen comedies like What a Girl Wants, She’s the Man, and Sydney White.
Despite the relative success of those films, Bynes still seemed poised for bigger and better things. She gave well-received performances in the Emma Stone comedy Easy A and the 2007 remake of Hairspray. However, in both cases, they were movies that were star vehicles for other actresses, and Bynes still hadn’t quite made the transition into full-on Hollywood superstar.
All of that came to a halt when, in 2010, Bynes announced she was stepping away from acting. Initially, it seemed to be for noble reasons, with her planning to study fashion design. But soon, Bynes’ personal life began to fall apart as she exhibited increasingly odd behavior on social media that suggested serious mental health issues. Bynes has expressed an interest in returning to acting, but nothing has come of it thus far.
10. Stephen Dorff
The most prominent thing that Stephen Dorff has done in the last few years are his strange e-cigarette commercials where he implored smokers to take their freedom back– probably not where he hoped he’d end up when he was a child actor in the ’80s.
A 14-year old Dorff made his debut in the cult horror film The Gate, but he hit the ground running after his 20th birthday. If nothing else, nobody can accuse Dorff of being unwilling to pay his dues, powering through an impressive twelve movies between 1993 and 1998. While none of them did much to catapult Dorff into the Hollywood A-list, his first chance at true fame came he played the main villian in the hit 1998 comic book movie Blade.
That breakthrough still didn’t come, though. Even as Dorff continued to be extremely prolific, he’s never quite “gotten there” in terms of a true breakout role. The inconsistent quality of his films doesn’t help, as for every Public Enemies or World Trade Center, there are a dozen clunkers like Bucky Larson and Alone in the Dark.
9. Rosanna Arquette
While the predatory behavior that Harvey Weinstein has reportedly inflicted on dozens of young actresses didn’t end up impacting the careers of all of his accusers, there are a few who definitely seem like their ascent was stopped short because they pushed back against the powerful producer.
It’s easy to make the case that Rosanna Arquette had the most promising career out of anyone who was allegedly blacklisted after crossing him. After spending the ’80s building up an impressive resume, Arquette– sister to David, Alexis, and Patricia– deserved to become a big star. And even as brother David and sister Patricia eventually became household names, Rosanna’s career seem to sputter out, with her having to settle for smaller roles for the bulk of her career.
8. Skeet Ulrich
The groundbreaking 1996 horror movie Scream not only revitalized the career of director Wes Craven – it also launched most of its stars into a period of mainstream success. Neve Campbell, Liev Schreiber, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, and Rose McGowan all saw Scream‘s success bring them varying levels of increased stardom.
And then there’s Skeet Ulrich. Playing the cute teenage boy who was revealed to be a murderer in Scream‘s climax, Ulrich seemed just as poised as his cast mates to follow Scream with a vibrant Hollywood career. For some reason, things didn’t quite pan out that way for Ulrich, and he didn’t even get the short-lived burst of success that most of his co-stars got.
After a string of completely forgotten movies, Ulrich finally began to flirt with television, landing a lead role on 2006 series Jericho. Despite positive reviews, it only lasted two seasons.
Following a 15-episode stint within the Law & Order franchise, Ulrich is now a series regular on the CW’s Riverdale— his first steady, high-profile gig in ten years.
7. Bridget Fonda
For a time, Bridget Fonda– daughter of Peter and niece of Jane– seemed poised to not only carry on the legacy of her family name, but surpass it. It can be argued that, during her most popular period, Bridget was the most successful Fonda there’d ever been (well, outside of the workout video industry).
After a strong start near the end of the ’80s and into the ’90s, Fonda made her first big splash in the 1992 psychological thriller Single White Female, her first major headlining role. That same year, she also top-lined the Cameron Crowe coming-of-age dramedy Singles.
The next few years saw more success, with Fonda starring in the Nikita remake Point of No Return and the romantic comedy It Could Happen To You. Fonda’s critical peak came later in the decade, as she scored roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan.
6. Linda Fiorentino
Linda Fiorentino had a promising start to her career in the ’80s, but it began to descend into one cheesy erotic drama after another at the turn of the decade– some just barely above late-night Cinemax quality.
It seemed as though her rise to stardom was already at an end, until she lucked into an erotic film that was actually good: 1994’s The Last Seduction. Following raves and several awards, Fiorentino was suddenly taken seriously again and parlayed her newfound respect into a revitalized career that eventually landed her a role in the sci-fi blockbuster Men in Black. It seemed as though she was finally poised to become a superstar.
Following a role in the successful indie comedy Dogma, Fiorentino’s career stalled for a second time. Rumors of being difficult began to plague the actress, with Tommy Lee Jones refusing to work with her again being the alleged reason she wasn’t cast in the Men in Black sequel– an allegation that Fiorentino denies. Dogma director Kevin Smith has also had no trouble going on record over his conflicts with Fiorentino.
5. Gretchen Mol
It doesn’t happen terribly often, but sometimes a movie trailer will precede an actor’s name with, “And introducing…”, supposedly announcing the arrival of a new talent that we should keep our eye on. Gretchen Mol is one such actress who got that honor, meaning that she was definitely being positioned as the next big thing.
For a while, the hype seemed warranted. She had roles in Donnie Brasco, Rounders, and got the Woody Allen seal of approval by being cast in his 1998 film Celebrity. Things slowed down a bit in the 2000s, until Mol got to play bondage model Bettie Paige in The Notorious Bettie Paige in 2005. It’s the kind of role that should have not only brought in a flood of well-deserved awards, but finally nudged Mol over the line into superstar territory that she had spent the previous decade merely teetering on.
But it didn’t. Despite dipping her toe into the water of massive mainstream success a few more times, Mol mostly remained on the fringes, with only her role on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire drawing any significant acclaim.
4. Ione Skye
While the enduring image of the beloved 1989 Cameron Crowe classic Say Anything… is of John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler holding a boombox over his head, it’s important not to forget the heartbreaker who was the object of that grand romantic gesture: the enchanting Ione Skye.
Though she made a strong debut in River’s Edge, Skye’s defining role as a teen actress was her sole appearance in a Cameron Crowe movie. She also earned raves for her first big role as an adult, the acclaimed indie drama Gas Food Lodging, a role which seemed to suggest that Skye had her sights set on a long, illustrious career full of interesting roles. Her oddly small role in 1992’s Wayne’s World didn’t seem worthy of her growing star power, which proved to be something of an omen as her star power wasn’t actually growing at all.
Skye would only appear in a couple more big-named movies– though never in especially big roles– after that, her peak long behind her. The actress, who rarely gives interviews, told website Mondo Video in 2010 that she admittedly didn’t do enough to “strike when the iron was hot” to keep her star rising.
3. Sean Young
During her relatively short commercial peak, Sean Young got to add a variety of beloved films to her oeuvre, including Blade Runner, Wall Street, Stripes, and No Way Out.
However, Young’s biggest role in the entire decade of the ’90s was as the villain in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. How did Young manage to fall so far? By most accounts, it’s the actress’s difficult and erratic behavior that prevented her from maintaining her initial career trajectory. One example of Young’s odd behavior was when the actresses constructed her own Catwoman costume and wore it for Tim Burton in order to petition for the part for Batman Returns.
While Young always has her own side of the story regarding her many rejections and dismissals from movies, it gets to the point where it’s doubtful that the problem is everyone else. She got to partially reprise her role in Blade Runner 2049— but that movie has turned out to be a huge flop, so that didn’t help her very much.
2. Taylor Kitsch
After being the breakout star of the acclaimed NBC drama Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch had his sights set on Hollywood. Unfortunately, betting on Kitsch has yet to prove anything but disastrous for the movie industry.
Following a few supporting roles in failed movies like Snakes on a Plane and X-Men Origins: Wolverine— where he played a version of Cajun card-wielder Gambit– Disney still saw fit to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make Kitsch a superstar. The result, 2012’s John Carter, was one of the biggest flops in the company’s history, not even making a profit when considering worldwide grosses. Kitsch then headed up yet another expensive flop, the 2012 film Battleship— yep, based on the board game. Kitsch then spread his bad luck to TV, being part of the panned second season of HBO’s True Detective.
Things have gone a little better for Kitsch now that he’s settled into being a supporting actor, actually managing to be in a couple of profitable movies like Lone Survivor and American Assassin. All it took was for Hollywood to stop trying to make him into the next big thing.
1. Shelley Duvall
Perhaps nobody on this list has had a farther fall than Shelley Duvall. The once-promising actress, who earned widespread acclaim for her chillingly believable portrayal of the wife of a murderous husband in the masterpiece The Shining, was recently featured on Dr. Phil, barely recognizable and suffering from all manner of mental health problems.
Despite being a part of such an iconic movie, people often forget that The Shining wasn’t a major success upon its initial release. The same can be said for most of Duvall’s most well-known roles, including 1980’s live-action Popeye adaptation, the 1981 Terry Gilliam fantasy epic Time Bandits, and the 1987 Steve Martin comedy Roxanne. It would take years– and in some cases, decades– for Duvall’s films to be appreciated, meaning that at the time, she was mostly an actress starring in films that weren’t quite hitting.
Once she started appearing in movies like the Hulk Hogan comedy Suburban Commando and a direct-to-video Casper movie, it was clear that Duvall never reached the heights of fame and success that she deserved.
What other “next big thing” actors didn’t quite make it? Let us know in the comments.
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