With the acting world as artificial as it is genuine, it can be easy for actors and actresses across the globe to fall in and out of what’s popular and what’s not. Loved one minute and loathed the next, actors have it tough, having to select each role with as much care and precision as they can possibly handle. Risking a bad choice can ultimately ruin a person’s career, with hundreds of actors falling farther down the ladder of approval each day. Not to mention the risk of what you think is the role of a lifetime, actually being a huge flop, waiting to swallow you up and spit you right back out again. Fame can unfortunately be a fickle game, with recovery seemingly impossible. However, what of those who do make it? Those that get offered a role that was thought to be impossible after being discarded and left on the pile of down-and-out prima donnas.
Unfortunately, the world of Hollywood can be inundated with self-admiration and unruly egos, but now and again, a star will rise through the narcissistic crop of self-pride and pity, get shot down, and bounce right back up again, rather like a Hollywood movie itself. And those that do rise from the ashes, jaunt right back up again into our good books, only to crash back down to earth on the off chance that they make a bad movie again. So, to celebrate those that do make it, here are 15 of the best actors with killer comeback movie roles. They don’t call it a comeback for nothing.
15. Rob Lowe
As Hollywood’s favorite blue-eyed boy during the 1980s, Rob Lowe had the world at his feet. God’s gift to women, a founding member of the popular 80s group the Brat Pack, Lowe could do no wrong. However, after a few dicey decisions and a couple of canceled TV shows, Lowe shuffled on down the pecking order, even turning up on shows such as Brat Pack, where are they now?. With sex scandals, videotapes, and a whole load of trouble damaging his already failing career, Lowe was out, or so he thought.
Garnering public approval after making fun of himself on NBC’s popular Saturday Night Live, Lowe was picked up by quick-talking screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and cast in the immensely popular The West Wing. However, it was his turn in Amy Poehler‘s, Parks and Recreation as the dimwitted but lovable Chris Traeger. A role that really made the world understand just how funny Rob Lowe could be. Proving that movie stars can indeed transgress to television smoothly, Lowe’s career only continues to strive.
14. Drew Barrymore
We all know the story, shoved into show business at an early age, divorced parents, drugs, alcohol and rehab, all before she was 13 years old. However, after being emancipated from her parents at the tender age of 14, Barrymore seemingly got her life together. Starring in a number of successful movies from the outset, such as E.T, Far From Home and Irreconcilable Difference, Barrymore had well and truly put her past behind her, or so we thought. With a couple of flops to follow, Barrymore went off the rails once more.
However, with a second stint in rehab under her belt, Barrymore came out a new and improved woman, garnering success with a number of positive reviews. Affirming herself in the highly popular Charlie’s Angels franchise, and appearing in a scene-stealing performance in Scream, Barrymore only continues to make boys and girls alike fall madly in love with her.
13. Natasha Lyonne
Thrust into show business at only six years old, Natasha Lyonne spent her childhood growing up in New York, Miami and Israel. Expelled from school for selling marijuana, Lyonne began distancing herself from her parents, living independently from the age of 16. Getting her big break in Woody Allen‘s, Everyone Says I Love You, not long after, Lyonne went on to star in a number of successful independent films, from Slums of Beverly Hills to the cult favorite But I’m a Cheerleader.
After being cast as Jessica in the American Pie series, Lyonne became a high profile star, however, things began to take a turn for the worst when Lyonne was arrested for drunk driving in 2001, resulting in 50 hours of community service. After a number of arrests and an eviction by her landlord/actor friend Michael Rapaport for noise complaints and bad behavior, Lyonne was down and out.
As we now know, she eventually sorted out her drug problem, and Lyonne was welcomed back with open arms, managing to secure a gig on the highly popular Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. As a fan favorite, Lyonne only continues to get better, with a number of movies lined up over the next couple of years.
12. Matthew McConaughey
Texan charmer and all around nice guy, Matthew McConaughey is one of the world’s most favored actors. First garnering attention for his role in Dazed and Confused in 1993, McConaughey next wowed audiences in the smash hit Sci-Fi movie, Contact.
However, going on to star in a number of chick flicks, and box office comedies, McConaughey was slowly moulding himself into the Mr. Darcy of romantic comedies. Unsatisfied with his new movie image, McConaughey began the turn-around of the century, and is now dubbed the ‘McConaissance’ by the majority of his fans.
With Dallas Buyers Club the highlight of the ‘McConaissance’, McConaughey even earned himself an Academy Award for his role as a Texan cowboy, diagnosed with AIDS during the mid eighties. Going on to star in the hit science-fiction flick Interstellar, and the very well received TV drama True Detective, we can only imagine what lies in store for the soon-to-be king of Hollywood.
11. Winona Ryder
Making her debut in the cult classic Beetlejuice, Winona Ryder quickly established herself as one of the most gifted young actresses in Hollywood during the mid eighties. Stepping away from the classic American beauty look, Ryder immersed herself in a number of movies that showcased her talents rather than her looks.
With success in films such as Edward Scissorhands, Little Women, and Girl, Interrupted, Ryder also entered into a relationship with one time co-star Johnny Depp, becoming the ultimate IT couple of the Hollywood Hills. However, upon the end of her relationship, Ryder became extremely depressed, later recalling it as her “first real break-up”. After a turbulent few years, including an incident in which she was caught shoplifting, Ryder faded into obscurity.
Slowly working her way back up during the last few years, Ryder hit the jackpot when she was cast in the Netflix smash hit, Stranger Things earlier this year. Earning rave reviews, Ryder’s career seems to have been given a new lease on life, with only more and more exciting things to come from one of America’s most beloved actresses.
10. John Travolta
Every teenager’s dream during the 70s, John Travolta was the ultimate pin-up for girls and boys alike. Starring in classics such as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Urban Cowboy, Travolta was the star of the decade.
Taking a turn for the worst, Travolta made some unwise choices when he accepted a number of flops and box office failures. Famed for turning down roles in highly acclaimed movies such as American Gigolo, Forrest Gump, and Chicago, Travolta was digging his Hollywood grave deeper and deeper.
Thankfully, all was not lost, as Quentin Tarantino, fresh off his success with the highly acclaimed Reservoir Dogs, cast Travolta in the enormously successful Pulp Fiction, even earning him an Oscar nod for best actor. With popular movies such as Get Shorty and Face Off to follow, Travolta certainly came back with a bang. Though he has seemingly gone off the radar again, we can only hope he’ll grace our screens once more.
9. Kirsten Dunst
Much like Drew Barrymore, just without the drugs and alcohol, Kirsten Dunst‘s early career was very promising. Nominated for a Golden Globe at only 11 years old for her riveting performance in Interview with a Vampire, good things were expected of the gold-haired starlet.
Not meeting the expectations we all anticipated, Dunst just plodded on through picture after picture, garnering some commercial success as Mary Jane Watson in Spider Man. After her role with Spidey, Dunst took a step back, disappearing from the limelight to focus on her next career move. Recalling the period, Dunst said, “I definitely took a little bit of a break. And also, when you’re in your twenties you need figure things out and take a step back. I had been acting so long, all my life. I think I just needed a little bit of some perspective”. Obviously a good idea. Dunst smashed back into the spotlight, surprising audiences everywhere with her turn in the highly acclaimed TV drama, Fargo, proving that the transition from movie star to TV star might not be such a bad career move after all.
8. Katharine Hepburn
Often referred to as one of the best actresses this world has ever seen, Katharine Hepburn wasn’t always the star that we now know her to be. Although starting out well, and even earning herself an Oscar for best actress, Hepburn’s career slowly slid downhill due to a number of box office failures and ferocious flops. Labeled ‘box office poison’, no film studio in Hollywood would hire her.
Determined, Hepburn planned her own comeback by gaining the rights to the highly successful The Philadelphia Story, in which she also starred. Famed for her on- and, subsequently, off-screen relationship with co-star Spencer Tracy, the pair was so popular, that the partnership resulted in just under ten movies. Going on to win four Academy Awards (a record number), Hepburn went on to receive critical acclaim in almost every movie she touched, often topping polls of greatest actresses throughout history.
7. Ben Affleck
Known for a number of years as the joke of Hollywood, poor Ben Affleck was constantly compared to his successful co-worker and best friend, Matt Damon. Starting out well with an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, Affleck, like some of the other actors we’ve seen, made some poor decisions. Embroiled in a love/hate relationship with Jennifer Lopez, or ‘Bennifer’, rather than being known for his work, it was Bennifer that the media wanted. Things only got worse when Ben and Jen starred together in the box office bomb Gigli, which scathed reviews all over the world. Taking a break from the acting world, Affleck buried himself back into writing, and produced the smash hit mystery thriller Gone Baby Gone, starring younger brother Casey Affleck. He was granted mega star approval upon the release of his movie Argo, in which he also starred and directed, and made one of the biggest comebacks of Hollywood history— Affleck won an Academy Award for best picture.
6. Kiefer Sutherland
Hollywood bad boy Kiefer Sutherland has probably undergone one of the biggest character transformations in Hollywood history, rising from the ashes of diva status, to in demand action hero. Son of legendary actor Donald Sutherland, Kiefer had big boots to fill.
Playing the super villain from the get-go, Sutherland starred in classics such as The Lost Boys and Stand by Me. After narrowly missing out on the role of Batman to Michael Keaton, Sutherland faded into the darkness. Developing an increasingly bad reputation that was backed by a variety of other actors, including Freddie Prinze Jr. who labeled him an ‘a-hole’.
Things started looking up as Sutherland was cast in the highly popular 24, earning a number of awards and nominations throughout the show’s nine seasons. Frequently cited as one of the best shows on television by a number of critics, Sutherland has often been praised for his portrayal of leading man, Jack Bauer.
5. Mickey Rourke
In stark contrast to most failing actors, Mickey Rourke was an actor that seemingly had the whole world behind him during his ‘break’. Being the guy that the general public was most likely to root for, the universe rejoiced when Rourke finally made that long awaited comeback. Hitting Hollywood full on with his breakthrough role in 9 ½ Weeks, Rourke influenced the lives of many with his bedroom antics and sex appeal. With movies such as Rumble Fish and Barfly to follow, Rourke was well and truly on his way towards Hollywood royalty.
Throwing it all away to try his hand at boxing, Rourke faded into obscurity, later attempting a comeback only to find a bunch of closed doors. However, needing someone of a certain size, Robert Rodriguez cast Rourke in the successful Sin City, which gave him critical acclaim. But it was his turn in The Wrestler that really got Hollywood’s attention again, with his portrayal of a washed up professional wrestler earning him an Oscar nod for best actor.
4. Michael Keaton
Shooting to fame in Tim Burton‘s Beetlejuice, Keaton, just like Winona Ryder, earned praise world wide. Continuing a working relationship with Burton, he was then cast as Batman in the Batman revival movies during the early 90s. Again receiving acclaim, Batman was hugely successful, thrusting Keaton into Hollywood royalty as an all around A-lister.
After a few questionable decisions, Keaton began making cameos, rather than cementing himself as an actor. In 2014, Keaton was offered the role of a lifetime and cast in the highly acclaimed, Birdman, about a washed up movie star intent on making it back on Broadway. Clinching the Golden Globe for his performance, Keaton narrowly missed out on the Oscar, despite having displayed one of the best performances of his career to date. Going on to star in big movies such as Spotlight, which again won a variety of awards, and a rumored Beetlejuice 2 following him around, the future looks bright for everyone’s favorite Batman.
3. Sylvester Stallone
After working as an actor for a number of years, Sylvester Stallone was in the big leagues with the 1976 smash hit, Rocky. Gaining inspiration from a boxing match and his love for the sport, Stallone wrote the script in just under 4 days, with the sole intention that he would play the lead role himself. Highly successful at the box office, the movie went on to win the Academy Award for best picture, director, and best film editing.
Following the success of Rocky, Stallone became a household name during the eighties, starring in movies such as First Blood, unleashing the Rambo franchise, and a number of Rocky sequels. However, after a few box office disappointments, Stallone went into an acting hiatus, saddened over the reception of the work he had begun to produce.
After reviving Rocky and Rambo once more, Stallone slowly crawled back onto the Hollywood hall of fame, starring in The Expendables in 2008. But, it was his reprisal of Rocky Balboa, in the 2015 movie Creed, that really showed the Academy Awards just what he was capable of, earning himself a best actor nomination in the process.
2. Robert Downey Jr.
Everyone’s favorite drug addict, Robert Downey Jr. has certainly had his fair share of ups and downs when it comes to the Hollywood movie industry. Earning critical acclaim throughout the eighties, Downey Jr. was a star in demand. From roles in the popular nerd flick Weird Science, to his ground-breaking performance in Less Than Zero, Downey Jr. was certain to make it big in the wonderful world of show business.
However, with things not quite going according to plan, Downey Jr. became embroiled in the wonderful world of drugs instead, completely putting a stop to his promising career. Hitting rock bottom in the late 90s, Downey Jr. was arrested for substance abuse and swiftly sent to rehab.
Finally moving on, Downey Jr. began to get his career back on track, adding a few mediocre successes under his belt. Starring as Iron Man in the action flick of the same name, Downey Jr. is now raking in the raving reviews, putting him firmly at the front of Hollywood’s mainstream, and now one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors in the biz.
1. Marlon Brando
Regarded as one of the best actors the industry has ever seen, Marlon Brando will go down in history as the man that completely honed the craft. With 5 Oscar nominations and worldwide praise during the 1950s, Brando was famed for such spectacular performances as, A Street Car Named Desire, and On The Waterfront.
However, with a costly attitude and rumors of him being difficult to work with, Brando slid into obscurity, and like Katharine Hepburn, was labelled box office poison. Not wanting to see a star slip away, film director Francis Ford Coppolla persuaded Brando to take on the role of Don Vito Corleone for his movie The Godfather. Mesmerizing the world once more, Brando captivated audiences, earning himself an Oscar in the process, although famously turning it down. Back in business, Brando began acting in decent movies again, with Apocalypse Now once more showcasing his talents.
With rumors of him playing up on set, despite the $1 million paycheque, Brando was slipping back to his old ways. Passing away in 2004, Marlon Brando will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest actors that ever lived, albeit a nuisance to work with.