An actor’s dream is winning an Oscar at the Academy Awards. The award opens doors for actors, and they’ll be given choice parts in critically-acclaimed roles or in blockbuster films and franchises that will give them even greater visibility. Or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen, for there seems to be an Academy Awards curse. Specifically, the fact that actors disappear from the spotlight and find it hard to win back the fame they had after winning an Oscar.
When have we last seen Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a prominent starring role after winning a Best Supporting Actor in 1996? Do people, above all millennials, even know who he is? And what about Natalie Portman? She won an Oscar for Black Swan in 2010 and was reportedly taking a break after that movie to be with her new husband and to give birth to her first son. Over five year later, Portman has not been able to repeat her success and has flown under the radar by starring in lackluster films like No Strings Attached with Ashton Kutcher. If you’re having trouble remembering that movie, you’re not alone.
So it seems that, after actors win the Oscar, their careers go downhill. They may star in movies, or end up in TV shows, but history shows that they receive no buzz and their work is never seen by a wide audience. The 10 actors we’ll talk about all have won the coveted award and then disappeared into obscurity.
10. Jodie Foster
In 1976, Foster was only a teen when she received an Academy Award nomination for her role as a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver. As an adult, she continued to find success, winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her lead in the critically-acclaimed The Accused in 1988. In 1991, she once again won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in the psychological thriller The Science of the Lambs. But a string of box-office failures followed, and it took 11 years for Foster to gain success again by starring in three successful action thrillers in which she played mostly the same type, a woman who’d do anything to protect her life or her family from outside forces. The first was Panic Room in 2002, followed by Flightplan in 2005, and The Brave One in 2007. After that, Foster became a director and starred in several duds before she disappeared for good.
9. Natalie Portman
Portman was a precocious 16-year-old when she was cast in The Phantom Menace, the Star Wars prequel. In 1999, she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Anywhere but Here. After that, she returned to the Star Wars franchise by starring in two of its movies, one of which was the final prequel. The Closer (2004) earned her a Supporting Actress nomination by the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. But a string of box-office duds followed, and it wasn’t until eight years later, in 2011, that Portman regained fame by starring in Black Swan, for which she won both the Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Actress. But it was downhill after that. Portman followed Black Swan by starring in films that no one ever saw, including No Strings Attached. Four years after winning the Oscar, Portman is nowhere to be found on the screen or on stage.
8. Halle Berry
Berry is most famous for portraying “Storm,” a superhero in X-Men (2000), and its sequels, X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In 2001 she struck gold by receiving the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Monster’s Ball. Besides the success of the X-Men series, Berry floundered after receiving her Oscar. A high-profile role in “Catwoman,” which reportedly cost a $100 million dollars to make, failed with audiences, grossing only $17 million during its first weekend. Then came a string of movies that no one saw, including Cloud Atlas. Her most visible role after X-Men and Monster’s Ball was in the TV series Extant, which wasn’t exactly a ratings hit, although it did return for a second season in 2015. Besides a lucrative endorsement deal with Revlon, Berry has failed to achieve commercial or critical success in movies and in TV shows to this date.
7. Charlize Theron
Theron received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a serial killer in 2003’s Monster, which garnered her an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress. Critical acclaim followed. For North County (2005), Theron was nominated for Best Actress by the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. While she didn’t win both awards, she was nominated again by the Golden Globes for 2011’s Young Adult. Besides finding success playing Snow White’s evil stepmother in Snow White & the Huntsman in 2012, as well as its prequel in The Huntsman, which will be released in the spring of 2016, Theron never captured the success she found after she won that Oscar, starring in box-office flops like Aeon Flux and Hancock. Since 2011, Theron has failed to capture critical acclaim in any of the roles she took on. If not for her endorsement of Christian Dior’s “J’adore,” Theron would be nowhere to be found.
6. Cuba Gooding Jr.
Gooding Jr. found early success in 1991’s Boyz n the Hood. The film was a critical success and an unlikely box-office hit. Small, supporting roles in movies like A Few Good Men (1992) and Outbreak (1995) followed. But his breakthrough role was in the 1996 Tom Cruise sports comedy Jerry Maguire. Gooding Jr. played a football player who ended up signing on with sports agent Cruise. The movie was that rare thing: it not only was a box-office success but also a critical success, and Gooding Jr. ended up winning Best Supporting Actor by the Academy Awards. In that film, he also launched an indelible movie catchphrase, which was “Show me the money!” A year later, Gooding Jr. had a supporting role in As Good as it Gets. After that, it was all downhill. Besides highly-visible roles in Pearl Harbor (2001) and Snowdogs (2002), every film Gooding Jr. made failed to break the box office or failed to achieve critical acclaim. His career trajectory was so bad that some movies he made ended up as direct-to-DVD films.
5. Adrien Brody
Brody won an Oscar for The Pianist in 2002, where he played a musician trying to survive WWII. He was 29 at the time, making him the youngest actor to win a Best Actor award. Brody followed that success when he starred in the King Kong remake (2005), which was a box office success. That year, he also starred in the critically acclaimed The Darjeeling Limited by the quirky director Wes Anderson. Between 2005 and 2014, Brody all but disappeared from the Red Carpet, with the exception of small roles in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011) where he portrayed Salvador Dali, and in another Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). But Brody became a punch line, since his most visible role since winning an Oscar was for a commercial. He appeared in a highly-visible ad for Stella Artois that premiered right after half-time of the Super Bowl XLV.
4. Joe Pesci
Pesci found success by partnering with Robert DeNiro and director Martin Scorsese. He starred in a total of three films with them, which included Raging Bull (1981), Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995).
Pesci won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Goodfellas. During that period, Pesci also found success by starring in Lethal Weapon (1989) and its two sequels (1992 and 1998). He also starred in blockbuster comedies, including My Cousin Vinny in 1991 and Home Alone in 1990 and its sequel in 1992. It was in 1999, a year after Lethal Weapon 4 was released, that Pesci announced that he was retiring from acting so that he could concentrate on his musical career (in 1998, he released his second album, thirty years after his first one.) For the most part, Pesci stood by his word, starring only in Love Ranch (2010) alongside Helen Mirren, as well as a commercial for Snickers ( 2011).
3. Helen Hunt
Hunt had a very successful career in the 90s. She starred in the hit, critic-loving TV comedy Mad About You. For that role, Hunt managed to do the impossible: win four consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999.
While still starring on TV, Hunt found success in the film industry by starring in the blockbuster hit Twister (1996) and in the critically-acclaimed As Good as it Gets. For the latter, Hunt won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1998, which means she won an Emmy and an Oscar in the same year, something unheard of in the industry. After the Oscar and the end of Mad About You, Hunt starred in three hit movies — Pay It Forward, What Women Want, and Cast Away — all in the same year (2000). But the Oscar curse took over after that, and it took Hunt 13 years to reemerge from obscurity by starring in 2013’s The Sessions, which garnered her an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination. But fame still eluded Hunt, and basically, since 2000, she’s been flying under the radar.
2. Jennifer Connelly
Connelly was loved by critics for her roles in Mulholland Falls (1996), Inventing the Abbotts (1997), Dark City (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and Pollock (2000). Then, in 2001, she struck gold by winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the Ron Howard film, A Beautiful Mind, which also starred Russell Crowe. The film was both critically-acclaimed and a commercial success. She followed A Beautiful Mind by starring in two high-profile roles. In 2003, she appeared in Ang Lee’s Hulk. In 2004, she starred in the well-received House of Sand and Fog.
She had a small part in Little Children (2006) and starred in Blood Diamonds (2006), but her other movies after that were duds. While 2016 will see her starring in American Pastoral, based on the book by Phillip Roth, Connelly has failed to find the fame she had after winning her Oscar.
1. Holly Hunter
Hunter shot to fame in 1987 after being nominated for an Oscar for her role in Broadcast News. But she followed that film with a string of duds, including Steven Spielberg’s Always. It took seven years for Hunter to regain her fame by starring in The Firm and The Piano, both released in 1993. Hunter did what seemed impossible by being nominated for an Oscar twice in the same year for those two films. She was nominated as a Best Supporting Actress for The Firm and won Best Actress for The Piano. After that, the Oscar curse plagued Hunter. She appeared in several unsuccessful films in supporting roles from 1994 to 2003. It took her nine years for her to get back on track after being nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 2003’s Thirteen. While she appeared in the TV series Saving Grace in 2007, Hunter dropped out of the picture when the show ended in 2010.