The Comeback Kids: Movies That Resurrected Actors’ Careers

Breaking out as a star is no easy task. And maintaining that star status can be just as daunting, even for the most successful celebrities. Fame is fickle and fleeting, and often celebrities who were once on top of the world find themselves licking their wounds after starring in a film that tanked. But luckily some of those celebs manage to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and finagle their way back into the limelight with an amazing comeback role. Here’s a list of celebrities that seemed be down for the count, only to come back even stronger than ever in some amazing films.

Rom-Com To Oscar-Winning

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Matthew McConaughey was definitely working a lot throughout the early 2000s, but he wasn’t being taken seriously as an actor. When he starred in The Ghost of Girlfriends Past in 2009, it seemed as his fate was sealed as a B-grade romantic comedy actor. He decided to change the course of his career, which initially left him in a sixth-month-long dry spell. But then he starred The Lincoln Lawyer, and critics were finally beginning to take notice of his acting abilities. That followed with a string of serious roles, including The Dallas Buyer’s Club, which earned him the Oscar for Best Actor.

Coming up: someone whose career was revitalized with Game of Thrones.

Rise And Fall A Few Times

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John Travolta has experienced a number of ups and downs throughout his 40+ year career. After some television success, he gained immediate fame in film for Saturday Night Fever and Grease. His career gradually began to fade in the 1980s until 1989’s Look Who’s Talking. The sequels didn’t do so well, and suddenly Travolta’s career was plummeting again. Then Pulp Fiction was released in 1994, earning $200 million in the boxing office. His performance of Vincent Vega was praised by both fans and critics, and he was nominated for an Oscar. He then had a string of hits, along with some flops, but has still managed to maintain his A-list status.

As we’ll see in an upcoming slide, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you climb back up.

Long Live The Queen

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While British actress Lena Heady had been acting since she was 17, she had stayed under the radar for most of her career. Her first big budget film was The Brothers Grimm in 2005, but she wasn’t really noticed until her role as the Queen of Sparta in 2009’s 300. She seemed to disappear after that, though she did in fact star in a number films and television shows. It wasn’t until she was cast as Cersei Lannister in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones that she became a household name, earning the Best Supporting Actress Emmy nomination three years a row.

Rock Bottom

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At 16 Natasha Lyonne was launched into fame when Woody Allen cast her in Everyone Says I Love You. She then starred in 30 films during the following ten years, including the popular American Pie films. She then disappeared, falling heavily into drugs and alcohol. She was arrested for a DUI in 2001, and in 2004, was charged with mischief, trespass, and harassment of a neighbor. In 2005 she was admitted into an intensive-care unit for a collapsed lung and hepatitis C. Despite even her own self doubt, she got clean and landed the role of Nicky Nichols on the Netflix smash series Orange is the New Black.

As we’ll see, child stars seem to have it the hardest sometimes…

Making Waves

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In 1993, Neil Patrick Harris became a household name as the star of Doogie Howser, MD. He star then seemed to fade away, with the exception of a role in Starship Troopers, which just made him more of a childhood actor turned joke rather than a serious adult star. But when How I Met Your Mother came out, Harris again achieved star status through his role of the lovable Barney. He then became acknowledged for his stage and singing talents, starring in Broadway’s Cabaret and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In 2015, he was the first openly gay actor to host the Academy Awards.

Brat Pack Member

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Rob Lowe was a star and heartthrob throughout the 1980s, having starring in The Outsiders and St. Elmo’s Fire. It all came crashing down in 1989 when he got caught filming a sex tape with two girls in a hotel room, one of whom was only 16. The act took place in Georgia, where it wasn’t illegal, but it still scarred his reputation. Then in 1992 he got a role the comedic hit Wayne’s World, which led to a string of other successful comedies, including Austin Powers and Tommy Boy. Next he landed the role of Sam Seaborn on TV’s The West Wing, and has remained successful on television since.

Superhero Success

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Robert Downey Jr., started his career on Broadway, then shifted into A-list actor status from such 1990s classics as Weird Science and Less Than Zero. Hespent the 90saddicted tocoke and heroin and was arrested a number of times, ending in a three-year sentence. He spent one of those in a California substance abuse treatment facility and some time in a state prison, not to mention he had to pay a pretty hefty fine. He got clean in 2003 and made a huge comeback when he landed the role of fan favorite Tony Stark in Iron Man, and has made hit movie after hit movie ever since.

Art Imitates Life

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Michael Keaton began his career as a stand up comedian, but soon found success starring in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, Batman and Batman Returns. His fame started to dwindle afterward though. While he did manage to appear in some successful films like Jackie Brown and Multiplicity, he wasn’t considered an A-lister anymore. Then in 2014 he landed the role of Riggan Thomson in Birdman, who, ironically, is a washed-up celebrity who became famous for starring in a string of Superhero movies. The film won an Oscar for Best Picture and Keaton was nominated for Best Actor, also winning the Golden Globe.

Beaten And Bruised

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Mickey Rourke was a successful amateur boxer turned successful actor, and became sex symbol from 9 1/2 Weeks and Rumblefish. After getting a lot of flack for his character in Wild Orchid, he became his own worst enemy, turning down a number of successful films like Pulp Fiction and Platoon. He instead returned to boxing, which he did well in, though he needed plastic surgery to fix his messed-up face. He then successfully returned to the big screen in Sin City and Domino, which led him tothe award-winning role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler. This really shot him back to celeb status.

Icon Status

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Betty White, who is now 96, became an icon in the 1960s for not only her comedic roles, but for being the first woman to ever produce a TV sitcom. Her fame continued into the 70s with The Mary Tyler More Show, and grew even more in the 80s with Golden Girls. She then disappeared in the 90s, had some brief highlights in the early 2000s, but really made her comeback in 2010 when she nailed a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live. Suddenly she was a beloved star again, and has since made a number of film and TV appearances.

Tabloid Joke Retracted

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After Good Will HuntingBen Affleck was an immediate celebrity, starring in big budget blockbusters. It all went downhill once he won Sexiest Man of the Year in 2002, and became one half of “Bennifer” (the nickname of his relationship with Jennifer Lopez) followed by the disastrous Gigli. Desperate to get back the respect he once garnered, Affleck decided to direct, making Gone Baby Gone in 2007, followed by The Town. But it was 2012’s Argo, which Affleck directed and starred in, that really got him the accreditation he longed for. The film won a number of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Back As Bluth

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Little House on the Prairie launched Jason Bateman’s career, though he really became famous for his role on Valerie, where he also earned the nod of DGA’s youngest director ever. After a few failed films and shows, including Teen Wolf 2, Bateman had difficulty with the transition from teen star to adult actor, and seemed to disappear once the 90’s rolled around. He spent the majority of the decade boozing and doing drugs. Then in 2003, he got the role of Michael Bluth on the popular series Arrested Development, earning himself a Golden Globe. He then starred in a number of successful films, like Juno and Horrible Bosses.

Child Star Turned Bad, Turned Good

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Not every childhood-actor-gone-bad has an unhappy ending. Take Drew Barrymore for instance. She spent a chunk of her childhood starring in huge films, such as ET, Cat’s Eye, Firestarter, butsoon became more known for her wild ways than her acting. In 1989 she was admitted to rehab two times, first for cocaine and then for trying to commit suicide. She disappeared until 1995, when she starred inBoys On the Side, followed by the cult classic Scream, rekindling her career. She has since starred in, written, directed and produced numerous successful films and television series.

Suffering a tragedy can really derail a career, as we’re about to read.

Overcoming Tragedy

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When his older brother River died in a heavily publicized overdose, child star Joaquin Phoenix, then known as Leaf, withdrew from the public eye. He returned to acting at 15, but didn’t achieve real celeb status until 2015, when he starred in Gladiator. He then acted in a number of acclaimed films and was praised for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. Things then unraveled. He checked into rehab in 2005, wrecked his car while intoxicated in 2006, and publicly made a spectacle of himself numerous times. He gained notoriety once again in 2012 after starring in two critically acclaimed roles, in The Master and Her.

Back With A Bang

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With acclaimed actor Donald Sutherland as his father, Kiefer Sutherland was bound for fame. He made his first appearance in the classic 1986 film Stand By Me and was soon in constant demand. He starred in a number of films that are considered cult classics, like Young Guns and The Lost Boys. He then retired in the 90’s to buy a ranch in Montana, and began competing in cattle-roping contests, actually winning a number of them. He returned to acting with a bang in 2001, landing the role of Jack Bauer in the hit series 24.

From Drama To Comedy

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Alec Baldwin had a string of dramatic, successful, leading roles in a number of major movies throughout the 1980s and early 90s, including The Hunt For Red October, and The Shadow. After his messy divorce and vicious custody battle with Kim Basinger in 2002, he stepped out of the limelight but continued to take on supporting roles in a number of lesser-known films. Then in 2006, he was cast as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, and proved to the world that he was a master at comedy. He also went on to host Saturday Night Live a great many times.

Mulder Forever

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After starring as FBI Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files for nine years, David Duchovny found it difficult to land a leading role. He made a few appearances here and there, but nothing very substantial for a number of years. Then in 2007, Duchovny was cast as Hank Moody, the leading role of a sex-crazed writer in the critically acclaimed Showtime series Californication, winning a Golden Globe (and ironically had to be treated for a sex addiction offscreen). Then The X Files was rebooted, and Duchovny returned to the role that made him famous.

The Dreamiest Comeback Kid

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Patrick Dempsey found success playing the awkward cute guy in a series of comedies throughout the 80’s and early 90’s (Loverboy, In The Mood), then faded from the spotlight. He was resurrected as a full-grown heartthrob in 2002 with Sweet Home Alabama, and then landed the role that would define his career: Dr. Derek Shepherd aka “Dr. McDreamy” on Grey’s Anatomy.He then starred in a number of successful rom-coms, but once he left Grey’s in 2015, his fame faded again. He’s now prepping for yet another comebackas the lead role in the TV adaptation of Joel Dicker’s best-selling novel, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.

Dory’s Glory

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Ellen DeGeneres’ quickly rose to fame in the 1980s as a stand-up comedian. Her sitcom Ellen first aired in 1994, making Ellen a household name. Then in 1997, Ellen and her TV character came out as lesbians. It was highly controversial, as there were no openly gay leads in any sitcoms at the time. Ratings dropped and the show was canceled the following year. She attempted another sitcom, but it flopped. She then was the cast as the voice of Dory in Disney’s Finding Nemo, which was a huge success. That lead to her hosting a daytime talk show in 2003, which is still currently one of the top-rated talk shows on television.

A Lifetime Of Comebacks

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At 71, Sylvester Stallone has had a long and rocky career. In 1976, he became a megastar with Rocky, andthe 1980s were filled with success from Rocky and Rambo sequels. (Despite this, the Razzie Awards gave him the Worst Actor of the 1980s award.) Things then started to go downhill as all his films seemed to tank. He then made another Rocky and Rambo in the early 00s, which seemed to jumpstart his career, only things got even worse for him after that. That was, until he wrote, directed and starred in The Expendables in 2010, once again making him an action hero. He was then nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for his work in Creed.