Showbiz is a fickle lover. Just ask the thousands of men and women who come to Tinseltown to make it big, and end up on the plane home a year later. Acting, in particular, proves a cruel mistress, inviting judgment for looks, talent and generally just about anything else, and that's all before even making it to an audition!
Even worse, some actors land on the cusp of megastardom, winning a great part in a huge production, or scoring great reviews and getting marked as an up-and-comer to watch. Then the unthinkable happens: nothing. The great fame predicted for these men and women never quite happened, despite lauds and predictions to the contrary. Getting shot down by the business is torture enough, but touching megastardom only to have it slip away is just as painful.
Here are 16 Stars Who Were Going To Be The Next Big Thing...But Vanished.
16 Gretchen Mol
Mol shot to stardom in the 1990s in a series of independent films like Rounders and Girl 6. She became a darling of Miramax Svengali's Bob & Harvey Weinstein, who tried to make her one of their homegrown stars like Kevin Smith and Matt Damon. A 1998 Vanity Fair article proclaimed her the "It Girl of the 90s" and featured her in cover photos. Roles in films like The Thirteenth Floor, Sweet and Lowdown and Puccini for Beginners soon followed.
Despite an acclaimed turn in The Notorious Bette Page, starring roles dried up, and Mol never quite lived up to her hype. She gravitated toward playing supporting parts on TV and in films like 3:10 to Yuma, earning strong reviews along the way. She fared best, however, on the series Boardwalk Empire, where she was a series regular for all five seasons. The 43 year old continues to work on lower-profile film and television, shying away from the stardom predicted for her.
15 Brandon Routh
Routh leapt from obscurity to star status after he won the coveted role of Superman in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. The long in-development fifth big screen outing for Superman had labored in development hell for years, with directors like McG, Tim Burton and Brett Ratner all signing on only to depart. Just as many major actors vied for the part, with the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Matt Bomer, Brendan Fraser, Josh Hartnett, Jude Law and even Will Smith considered for the part. Singer took up the directing duties and wanted an unknown, picking Routh as his lead.
What should have been sure-fire stardom faded away when Superman Returns opened to lukewarm box office and mixed audience reception. A planned sequel never happened, and Routh all but vanished before finding some success on television.
14 Estella Warren
Warren began her career as a championship swimmer, and had the bikini body to accompany her water wings. A modeling scout spotted her during one swim competition, and Warren’s career skyrocketed, as she landed photo spreads in Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated and even landed the #1 spot on Maxim’s Hottest Women list.
Hollywood came knocking shortly thereafter, but Warren’s screen resume came up short. She appeared in a string of early-2000s duds, including Planet of the Apes, Kangaroo Jack and Driven before fading into small parts on TV and in B-movies. It's been years since her last noteworthy appearance on screen.
13 Mischa Barton
Barton became a breakout star when the Fox teen drama The O.C. made a splash. Entertainment Weekly named her “It Girl” of 2003, and with model looks and dramatic chops to spare, big screen stardom looked imminent. Paired with Christopher Plummer, she earned rave reviews for her performance in Richard Attenborough’s Closing the Ring.
Then things got weird. A drunk driving arrest landed Barton in the tabloids, and series of dud movies hurt her stock. In 2009, she was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward for two weeks. Following her release, she faded into unremarkable TV and modeling jobs, and as of late, you've probably only seen her in the headlines in relation to her well-documented financial woes.
12 Rupert Evans
British heartthrob Evans hit the scene with 2004's Hellboy, where he played boyish FBI Agent John Myers. A solid turn in that surprise hit, coupled with his good looks and acting charisma seemed to portend mega stardom.
Then…nothing happened. Evans took on a few film roles, but gravitated to the stage, where he participated in several West End productions. Film roles evaporated in the meantime, and Evans never emerged as the breakout star many foresaw. That said, as the lead on Amazon’s Man in the High Castle, he may have just found his second coming. Amazon series may not have quite the following as their Netflix-based rivals, but they're no less watchable, and High Castle is far and away the cream of the crop.
11 Taylor Kitsch
Few leading men have the opportunities afforded to Kitsch, and even fewer manage to botch them all.
Kitsch hit the scene with a turn as troubled high school football player Tim Riggins on the acclaimed NBC drama Friday Night Lights before transitioning to the big screen. Unfortunately, his movie outings met with a chilly reception. First came X-Men Origins: Wolverine in which he landed the coveted role of Gambit. X-Men fans hated the movie, and singled out Kitsch as one of the weaker elements (though certainly not the weakest). Then came Battleship, the disastrous movie adaptation of the popular board game. As if things couldn’t get worse, John Carter proved one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history, sealing Kitsch’s reputation as box office poison.
After a solid turn in the last season of True Detective, however, we may just yet see greatness from the 35 year old actor. Next up, he'll be making his directorial debut and starring in Pieces, an original drama that he also wrote.
10 Taylor Lautner
Speaking of people named Taylor, Mr. Lautner caused a sensation when he appeared the picture of male perfection in the Twilight movies. Lautner became a sex symbol overnight after beefing up for the series' second entry, and Hollywood predicted major stardom for the actor. Simply put, it didn’t happen.
Lautner didn’t distinguish himself in the ensemble comedy Valentine’s Day, nor did his work in his first solo starring vehicle, Abduction. Personal troubles, including backing out of several major film productions, made Lautner into something of a punchline. Following the conclusion of the Twilight series, his star faded. He can currently be seen in the second season of the Netflix comedy, Cuckoo.
9 Sam Worthington
2009 marked an outstanding year in the career of Sam Worthington. The Aussie actor landed a pair of leading roles in two blockbuster productions: Avatar and Terminator: Salvation. Action hero superstardom looked close at hand.
But it didn’t happen. The Avatar sequels languished in development hell, while Terminator: Salvation almost killed the entire series. Critics began to question Worthington’s acting chops as he started appearing in a series of B-movies. Attempts at redemption in derided movies like Clash of the Titans propelled Worthington to the b-list rather than to the top of the showbiz heap.
8 Garrett Hedlund
Hedlund’s good looks and easy going charisma made him a natural candidate for stardom, and when he landed the lead in Disney’s mega production of Tron: Legacy, it looked like he might hit it big.
Unfortunately Tron: Legacy, though a moderate success, didn’t quite live up to studio expectations given its enormous budget, and cancelled any sequels which would have featured Hedlund in a major role. The actor turned down roles in hits like The Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Gray to appear in lower-profile films like Country Strong and On the Road. Worse, a second attempt at major stardom came with Pan opposite Hugh Jackman, which earned the actor awful reviews and proved one of the most expensive flops in Hollywood history.
Still just 31 years old, Hedlund can easily turn things around with just one great role. Here's hoping he finds it.
7 Gemma Arterton
Brit babe Arterton made a splash in the James Bond opus Quantum of Solace, earning strong critical notices for her performance despite appearing in one of the weaker Bond films in recent years. Hollywood expected her to become a major star as she continued to earn glowing reviews in several British TV and stage productions.
Arterton then had some awful luck, landing parts in a series of major bombs including Prince of Persia and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Gravitating back to British stage work, Arterton showed little interest in Hollywood thereafter…a sentiment shared by the industry.
Like Hedlund, though, Arterton has plenty of time to return to the mainstream. At just 30 years old, she can easily still turn it around.
6 Kate Bosworth
Waifish blonde Bosworth had a breakout role in Blue Crush, in which she played a surfer. She earned rave notices for her physical and dramatic range, with Rolling Stone declaring her a “star in the making.” She followed up with a dramatic turn in Wonderland which earned mixed reviews, and in the rom-com Win a Date With Tad Hamilton, which flopped.
Kevin Spacey helped Bosworth win the coveted role of Lois Lane in Superman Returns, which proved a major misfire. Critics savaged Bosworth as being terrible in the part, and attempts at redemption in 21 and The Girl in the Park did little to save her reputation. She's still appearing in various small-scale projects, though it appears her time to truly shine may have come and gone.
5 Piper Perabo
Perabo had a pair of high-profile roles in 2000, appearing in the big-budget adaptation of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and the comedy-drama Coyote Ugly. Rocky and Bullwinkle bombed, while Coyote Ugly nabbed negative reviews and mediocre box office. Nevertheless, the latter film made Perabo into something of a name, and her future looked promising.
Perabo went on to earn some great reviews for a series of indie films, though her Hollywood outing have not fared well: Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Cheaper by the Dozen and The Cave met with critical derision, and Perabo gravitated toward unremarkable supporting turns thereafter.
4 Chad Michael Murray
Former child star Murray became a teen heartthrob and the breakout star of the CW show One Tree Hill, and the transition to film with the somewhat well-regarded rom-com A Cinderella Story suggested movie stardom would follow.
Murray’s next role in House of Wax opposite Paris Hilton earned awful reviews and flaccid box office receipts. The producers of One Tree Hill then dropped Murray from the show in order to save money, and a series of forgettable TV films did little to fuel his career. Landing the lead in the reviled remake of Left Behind with Nicolas Cage didn’t help his prospects as a leading man, and he’s since gravitated to supporting roles on television.
3 Kristin Kreuk
Kreuk became an unlikely star when a casting director spotted her on her college campus and asked her to read for a part. Her big breakout came shortly thereafter when she won the part of Lana Lang on the CW superhero soap Smallville. The show became a ratings hit, and Kreuk herself achieved teen idol status alongside co-star and on-screen flame Tom Welling, becoming the face of Neutrogena skin care.
Film work proved more elusive, and Kreuk lost out on several major parts to lesser-known actresses. Work in telefilms also proved unremarkable. After leaving Smallville, Kreuk landed the lead on another CW show, Beauty and the Beast. The show has run for three seasons (with a fourth and final year set to debut in June), and follow up parts for Kreuk have yet to materialize.
2 Thora Birch
Birch became one of Hollywood’s most recognizable child stars with roles in Hocus Pocus and Clear and Present Danger. She made the successful transition to adult stardom with American Beauty, playing a troubled teenager opposite Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey, to great reviews. She continued to win great notices playing the lead in Ghost World, a part which nabbed her a Golden Globe nomination.
Then Birch ran into trouble. A series of roles in unremarkable films slowed her career momentum, and her attempt at a stage comeback in a production of Dracula fizzled when her manager/father’s behavior got her fired from the show! After taking a few years off, she returned to acting with a role on the series Colony, though major film parts continue to elude her.
1 Armie Hammer
Hammer did steady work on television which earned him positive notice, and movie stardom appeared assured given his rugged good looks and natural charm. He earned great reviews for his dual performance as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, and roles in J. Edgar and Mirror, Mirror seemed to confirm his impending stardom.
His prospects as a leading man, however, proved more limited. Hammer won the role of Batman in George Miller’s Justice League only to see the movie fall apart just before shooting. His next major role as the title character in The Lone Ranger proved less than becoming; the movie bombed, as did Hammer’s next high-profile film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. As such, superstardom has eluded the actor, but there's no denying that the 29 year old is far from a lost cause.
Did we leave out any of your favorite would-be A-Listers? Which of our selections have the best chance of turning things around? Let us know in the comments section.