As one of the most competitive professions in the world, the acting world is insanely difficult to succeed in. Akin to a tight-rope act, every project an actor takes on has the potential to make or break his or her career. Rarely do actors get a second chance at the big time, but when they do, it can be thrilling to watch them overcome the burden of low expectations.
Audiences love a comeback story, just as much behind the scenes as they do in front of the camera. Today we’re taking a look at a batch of actors that that had a fall from grace, whether it was because of drugs, bad movie choices, or even puberty, but somehow retooled themselves for a new generation and came back better and stronger than they ever were before.
Here is Screen Rant’s list of 13 Forgotten Actors Who Made A Comeback.
13. Jason Bateman
A former child star, with major roles in popular TV shows like Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family, Jason spent the ’90s appearing in forgettable movies and canceled shows. In 2001, however, Batemen found the perfect role as Michael Bluth in the cult classic sitcom Arrested Development. Although AD had a hard time attracting fans at first, and was canceled after only three seasons, it earned great reviews, won Emmys and made it seem plausible that Jason Bateman could be cast as a leading man.
Since the cancellation of Arrested Development, Bateman has starred in hit comedies like The Switch, Identity Thief, along with Horrible Bosses and its sequel. He’s also turned in standout roles in smaller, independent productions like The Gift and Juno, proving that not only is he a bankable funnyman, but also a multifaceted and talented actor. In 2013, he even returned to Arrested Development, the series that made him famous (again) after Netflix picked up the series for a belated fourth season.
12. Joaquin Phoenix
Perhaps it was due to his upbringing as a member of a religious cult, along with his brother, the late River Phoenix, but there always seemed to be something tortured about Joaquin’s performances. After exceptional performances in movies like Gladiator and Walk the Line, Phoenix was at the top of his game, critically and commercially. But then he made a curious decision: to give up acting and become a rapper.
His friend, Casey Affleck, directed a documentary based on this decision, called I’m Still Here, which followed the actor over a couple years as his life descended into chaos and he became a celebrity laughing stock (you may remember his infamous appearance on Late Night With David Letterman). After I’m Still Here was released to an ambivalent response, Affleck and Phoenix admitted that it was a ruse, but Phoenix had now spent a very long time tarnishing his stellar reputation.
Nevertheless, he returned not much later with The Master, a masterpiece directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that reestablished him as one of the finest actors of his generation. In his subsequent movie Her, he managed to make a man falling in love with his computer both engrossing and heart-wrenching. Best of all, we’re certain that he is likely to serve up many more awe-inspiring performances.
11. Rob Lowe
Introduced to the masses as “Sodapop” Curtis in The Outsiders, this talented actor stood out, even beside co-stars Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez. In 1988, however, Lowe was embroiled in a particular nasty sex scandal when a videotape surfaced of the young actor engaged in a threesome with two women, one of whom was only 16-years-old.
Enter Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing. In 1999, Lowe was given a second chance by the famous television writer, who cast the former heartthrob as Sam Seaborn in his massively successful presidential drama. Showing dramatic chops that we didn’t even know he possessed, Lowe was a perfect addition to the show’s strong ensemble. Seemingly inspired by small screen success, Lowe has been a stalwart of television ever since, and has given impressive, humorous performances in Parks and Recreation and, more recently, The Grinder.
10. Burt Reynolds
Movies like Deliverance, The Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit owe a lion’s share of their audience to the appeal of Burt Reynolds. Inarguably one of the biggest celebrities of the ’70s, Reynolds spent the following decades relegated to taking on whatever roles he could get. After appearing in the Demi Moore vehicle Striptease as a congressman slathered in Vaseline, we were left yearning for the man’s early work. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long.
In 1997, the year after appearing alongside Demi Moore, Reynolds gave the performance of his career under the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson. As Jack Horner, a porn director who acted as a father figure for his stars, Reynolds received his first and only Academy Award nomination. If it weren’t for his failure to capitalize on the resulting momentum, he would be probably have a higher position on this list.
9. Mickey Rourke
Starring in 9 ½ Weeks, a film that hugely influenced the bedroom lives of many, Rourke was a symbol of masculinity in the 1980s. But after several era-defining roles in movies like Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, and Barfly, Rourke faded from the spotlight. In 1991, he even quit acting altogether and became a professional boxer. Returning to acting a few years later, Rourke couldn’t find much more than bit parts.
In 2005, however, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller banked on Rourke’s imposing physical presence for their adaptation of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels, casting him as Marv, a brawler with a heart of gold. Soon after, Rourke took over as the protagonist of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler as a washed-up former professional wrestler. It was the best and most touching performance of his career, and even earned him an Oscar nominations. Since then, Rourke has appeared in sequels like Iron Man 2 and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, but for the most part has slid back into obscurity, perhaps waiting for another chance to prove his acting mettle.
8. Ben Affleck
Whether you were introduced to Ben Affleck as a recurring player in Kevin Smith’s movies, as the overgrown bully in Dazed and Confused or Good Will Hunting, Ben’s rise to fame seemed thunderous. By the early 2000s, he was headlining blockbuster action films like The Sum of All Fears and Daredevil; but his relationship with pop star Jennifer Lopez had also turned him into a tabloid mainstay. Between the unfavorable tabloid coverage, which culminated in the maligned box office bomb Gigli, which starred both Affleck and Lopez, and the tepid responses to movies like Paycheck and Surviving Christmas, Affleck more or less disappeared from the big screen.
In the following years, Affleck remade himself as a director, first with the acclaimed Gone Baby Gone and then with The Town and the Oscar-winning Argo, both of which he starred in as well.After starring in David Fincher’s smash hit Gone Girl and being tapped to play Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s clear his career is back on track.
7. Neil Patrick Harris
In recent years, Neil Patrick Harris has become a respected entertainer who is also a spokesperson for magic and a frequent award show host. That is a hell of a transition for a man who spent years being known to people as Doogie Howser, M.D.. Playing the famous teenaged doctor in a long-running American series, Neil continued to ply his trade when the series ended, to virtually zero fanfare for many, many years. Nobody could have guessed that a cameo as himself in a stoner comedy would turn it all around for him.
In Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, the titular duo comes across the former child star who, as an adult, is a slave to every vice, bad habit, and hedonist impulse imaginable. Truly hilarious at playing a drug-addled, womanizer in the film, he seamlessly transitioned to playing a similar role on television’s How I Met Your Mother as a the slick corporate player Barney Stinson. Arguably the most popular player on the long-running series, he was more famous than he’d ever been before and, this time, he wasn’t known strictly as a child doctor.
6. Kiefer Sutherland
The son of renowned actor Donald Sutherland, Kiefer was basically born into the business. Adept at playing both heroes and villains in movies like The Lost Boys, Stand by Me or Young Guns, he performed admirably no matter what the role. In the ’90s, however, he faded from view, becoming more of a character actor than a movie star as he aged into his 30s.
In 2001, however, Kiefer booked the lead role as a counter-terrorism operative in a new TV show that took place in real time. Running for nine years (with a comeback “event” series in 2014), 24 was a huge success, and it owed its massive ratings to Sutherland’s ability to constantly ratchet up the pressure. Not content to rest on the laurels of Jack Bauer, he continues to take on challenging roles at every turn. He’ll soon be starring in a series called Designated Survivor, as a cabinet minister who is sworn in as the President of the United States when everyone ahead of him is killed in the line of duty.
5. Drew Barrymore
When Steven Spielberg made a little movie about an extra-terrestrial, it seemed very unlikely that the main character’s little sister would steal the show. If the world had met the little bundle of adorableness that was Drew Barrymore, expectations may have been very different. After her star-making role, the heir apparent to the Barrymore acting dynasty headlined a handful of movies but became a Hollywood cautionary tale when she hit puberty, known for her hard-partying ways and entering rehab when she was only 14-years-old.
In the tense opening scene of the movie Scream, Barrymore regained a career overnight. Within a few years she had starred in popular movies like The Wedding Singer, Ever After and Charlie’s Angels. For the first time since she was a child. Barrymore was a bonafide movie star. In recent years, she’s moved into producing, and even directed Ellen Page in the acclaimed coming-of-age film Whip It.
4. John Travolta
During the mid to late ’70s, there were few stars bigger than John Travolta. Nominated for two Golden Globes, an Oscar, and several others awards, the critics seemed to love him as much as audiences. After starring in iconic films like Carrie, Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy, Travolta seemed like an actor on the rise. That is until his Midas touch turned sour.
For most of the ’80s and early ’90s, Travolta couldn’t star in a hit film unless he was being upstaged by a talking baby.
Luckily for Travolta, a movie nerd who remembered his glory days wanted to work with him. Cast by Quentin Tarantino as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, an Oscar-nominated movie that changed the industry in a lot of ways, Travolta was once again a hot commodity. After the most acclaimed film and performance of his career, he starred in hits like Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, and Face/Off, although his career slowed down once again in the 2000s.
3. Sylvester Stallone
Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Seagal are names that make perfect sense together. But there is obviously one ’80s action megastar missing from that list: Sylvester Stallone. Unlike those other fellas, the Italian Stallion has an impressive background of writing scripts, creating characters and directing films. Starring in two of the biggest film franchises of all time, Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a box office titan for decades.
For Stallone, there was no meltdown that tarnished his reputation or a movie so bad that he became box office poison, he was just an actor whose star steadily declined after years of mediocre action films. In response, Stallone went behind the camera to direct Rocky Balboa, the sixth film in the series and the first Rocky movie in 16 years. He followed this up by directing another Rambo movie, the fourth, and finally by convincing a group of ’80s action legends to star in The Expendables, which was a huge hit. Most recently, he reprised the role of Rocky Balboa once again in Creed.
2. Matthew McConaughey
Did anyone really think the dude from Failure to Launch was going to win an Oscar? Cast as the charismatic but creepy Wooderson in Dazed and Confused, McConaughey’s role in the film was small, yet unforgettable. Tackling racial injustice in both Amistad and A Time to Kill, he seemed poised to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best actors of his generation. Then, something went horribly, horribly awry as he devoted his considerable star power to a multitude of middling romantic comedies.
Pulling himself up by his bootstraps, he starred in a number of indie dramas like Killer Joe, Mud, Bernie and Magic Mike to reminded everyone of his long dormant talents. In 2013, this move toward dramatic fare really took off, as he starred in Dallas Buyers’ Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, True Detective, and Interstellar and won an Oscar in the process. Some commentors dubbed this period the “McConnaissance,” which is a worthy term for his career at the moment.
1. Robert Downey Jr.
After starring as Tony Stark in five consecutive Marvel movies, we know that Robert Downey Jr. is rolling in dough. Anchoring the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe from the moment it debuted, he has become the franchise’s shining star. It’s hard to believe that his career was so poor, he couldn’t even get insured for a project. After various successes in his early years, including Chaplin, Weird Science, Less Than Zero, and Natural Born Killers,
After spending some time in prison for drug possession, Downey started working on smaller films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Zodiac, slowly building up his credibility, but it wasn’t until he starred in Marvel Studios’ Iron Man that he fully turned his career around. Now he’s one of the best paid actors around, and people can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Did we miss any other actors that came back from dire circumstances? Let us know in the comments!
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