Joss Whedon is the creative mind behind several successful television shows and feature length films. Whedon has found himself behind the camera and behind the pen of such ambitious projects as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both the hit series and the not-so-hit movie that came before it), the show’s spinoff Angel, the online musical mini-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, and even the first two blockbuster Avengers movies for Marvel. With a pedigree like this, it would seem like Whedon is just a natural at producing one cinematic triumph after the next every time he is at the helm. This wasn’t always the case, especially in regards to the 2002 ratings flop, Firefly.
15 years ago, on September 20th, 2002, the space western odyssey Firefly premiered on Fox and the ratings were less than stellar. It didn’t help that the show would air on Friday nights—which is considered a guaranteed kiss of death for any television show—and episodes often aired out of order. By December, ratings were low enough for Fox to decide to kick the show off their schedules. Despite cancellation, the show grew a massive cult following thanks to its charming cast of characters and fascinating, yet never fully realized, premise. The public outcry from fans (who call themselves Browncoats) to bring Firefly back to their screens eventually helped Whedon and his team bring the show to the big screen for Serenity in 2005. Despite a poor box office run, the film was beloved by critics and fans alike. Much of the praise for both the show and the film has stemmed from its sharp leads. Given how much time has passed since Firefly left the airwaves and Serenity left the theater, it seems appropriate to check in on what the cast has been up to after all this time.
15. Summer Glau
Summer Glau used her breakout role as the self-destructive and unpredictable River Tam as a platform to kick off an exceptional career in the science fiction genre. Long after the Serenity ship closed its doors for the last time on the Fox network, Glau has remained a prevalent part of geek culture throughout all visual mediums. In film, she provided the voice for Supergirl in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse and later played one of the lead roles in RPG homage, Knights of Badassdom. In television, Glau has found herself playing a wide multitude of recurring roles for shows like Dollhouse, Arrow, Grey’s Anatomy, The Cape, The 4400, and most notably, a starring role on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. When she’s not playing every nerd’s dream girl, she has a family of her own to look after. A few years ago, she got married to actor Val Morrison and the two had their first child together in January 2015.
14. Zac Efron
Though Zac Efron only appeared on Firefly for a brief couple minutes in the episode “Safe,” his star has risen so high since the show’s end that he’s worth mentioning on this list. This was also Efron’s very first acting role. In the aforementioned episode, Efron played a younger version of Simon Tam in a flashback. Had the show continued, Efron likely would have appeared a few more times whenever another flashback scene called for the young Simon to appear on screen. For Efron at least, the cancellation of Firefly was perhaps a blessing in disguise as the show’s end allowed Efron to pursue bigger roles. Efron’s ambitious pursuits eventually led him to Disney’s doorstep when he took the starring role of High School Musical. After the surprise hit spawned a franchise that made Efron a star, he has maintained a status as one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading men. Efron owes a lot of that success to Joss Whedon giving the young star his first performance.
13. Christina Hendricks
After beginning her acting career in 1999, Christina Hendricks’ first big break came in 2002 when the actress won the part of a con artist who tricks Mal into marrying her on Firefly. From there, Hendricks bounced around from one short lived show after the next and one guest spot on a hit show after the next. This pattern continued until the creators of Mad Men knocked on Hendricks’ doorstep for the part of Joan Holloway. The part made Hendricks an instant star and helped her snag 6 consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. As much both Firefly and Mad Men were essential to giving Hendricks a successful TV career, she has also found much success in the film world with roles in Drive, Lost River, and most recently, The Neon Demon, Bad Santa 2, and Zoolander 2. In 2009, she married actor Geoffrey Arend.
12. Michael Fairman
Michael Fairman rarely appeared on the show, but when he did, he exuded a menacing presence that was worthy of his villain status. On Firefly, he spent the episodes “The Train Job” and “War Stories” playing a recurring villain, Adelai Niska. As Niska, Fairman played a vile kingpin who was keen on torturing his victims. While Fairman is most recognized for his role as Niska, he has retained an extensive and noteworthy career that spans various television performances. Apart from Firefly, Fairman is perhaps best known for his many soap opera stints in programs such as Ryan’s Hope, General Hospital, and The Young and the Restless. Fairman has also held recurring roles for primetime shows like Sons of Anarchy, Crash, and L.A. Law. At the age of 82, Fairman continues a steady acting career. Most recently appearing in the 2016 independent film, After the Reality, and in 2015 replaying a recurring role on the Comedy Central series, Workaholics, as Gramps DeMamp. Up until 2011, he was a member of the Church of Scientology before being declared a Suppressive Person.
11. Richard Brooks
Richard Brooks struck fear into the hearts of many viewers in his unassumingly chilling portrayal of bounty hunter Jubal Early in the Firefly episode, “Objects in Space.” The part was originally intended to be a recurring one, but alas, “Objects in Space” was the final episode for Firefly and Early’s fate was never completely developed. Still, thanks to a disturbingly eccentric and villainous performance by Brooks, the show managed to end on a bang despite simultaneously being an anti-climactic end. In addition to acting, Brooks used the end of Firefly to focus on his musical ambitions. As a singer, Brooks released his first solo R&B album, Smooth Love, in 2012 via Flat Top Records. Shortly after, he joined the cast of the BET drama, Being Mary Jane, in a recurring role. He remained a member of the show’s cast until 2015. His 2nd directorial effort, Steele Justice, is currently in post-production being prepped for a 2017 release.
10. Mark Sheppard
Mark Sheppard was lucky to snag the recurring role of Badger on Firefly given that before Joss Whedon decided to hand over the part to Sheppard, Whedon planned to play the role himself. It can be argued that Firefly was Sheppard’s biggest break in his career as a wide array of television roles fell into the English actor’s lap afterwards. Most notably, he followed up his stint on Firefly with his role as demon King of Hell, Crowley, on Supernatural. The role was originally intended for just a few guest spots, but Sheppard was so impressive that he was promoted into a recurring role. In due time, he was promoted again to series regular and has remained a substantial part of the show ever since. His Supernatural role proved all the more substantial when the show provided Sheppard with the opportunity to meet his wife after a chance encounter at a Supernatural convention. The two started dating in 2014, married in 2015, and had their first child in 2016.
9. Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon is known for making special cameos in just about every work that he has a part in crediting. For Firefly, in the episode “The Message,” Whedon made an uncredited cameo as a family member at Tracey’s funeral, though his face is not clearly visible on-screen. Apart from cameos, Whedon hasn’t pursued a serious acting career, but the opportunities he has found behind the camera have only flourished since the end of Firefly. Immediately after Firefly, he continued working on his shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, all while working on his Firefly feature film adaptation, Serenity. Once he finally scrubbed his hands clean of the Firefly universe, he moved on to other projects, like the ill-fated Dollhouse series and the surprise hit Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Eventually, he found himself on Marvel’s doorstep to work on The Avengers films. In between both, he found time to work on personal projects, like Much Ado About Nothing, Cabin in the Woods, and In Your Eyes. After falling out with Marvel on the set of Age of Ultron, Whedon left Marvel to pursue his own projects. He is currently working on a script listed under IMDB as “WWII Horror Project.” With a working title like that, the film is bound to be another Whedon classic once the project sees the light.
8. Ron Glass
This one is a bittersweet entry to talk about in light of recent events. On November 25th, 2016, Ron Glass passed away at the ripe age of 71 due to respiratory failure. Along with playing Firefly’s favorite devout Christian with a mysterious past, Shepherd Book, Glass leaves behind a long, illustrious career in the acting world. Apart from playing Book, Glass is best remembered for playing Detective Ron Harris on the classic wacky series, Barney Miller. Though he rarely appeared in movies, Glass has a long withstanding pedigree in television with notable appearances in TV shows like Good Times, Amen, Friends, The Proud Family, Rugrats: All Grown Up, Dirty Sexy Money, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. His final performances came in 2014 when he provided voice work for the video game Ancient Space and a guest spot on CSI. Though he is gone, Glass will never be forgotten and his accomplishments is something every actor should aspire for. To loosely quote Glass’ character, Book, it’s not about where you’re going in life, because “how you get there is the worthier part.”
7. Sean Maher
While Sean Maher may have not been the standout personality on the Serenity ship, his role as River Tam’s overbearing surgeon of a brother, Simon, was memorable enough to leave an impression with fans. Maher’s performance was subtle enough that he occasionally felt like a background character, which made his shocking moments where he’d erupt onto the scene without notice even more memorable. In both film and television, Maher has kept a rather low-key presence and has put his career at second place in favor of raising two adopted children with his partner. At one point in 2007, he even took a break from acting to pursue being a stay at home dad to his newborn baby girl. In 2011, he used his role as a closeted gay man on the short-lived NBC flop, The Playboy Club, as his “coming out ball,” as he told Entertainment Weekly. For the most part in more recent years, he has been the voice actor behind Dick Grayson/Nightwing in DC Comics animated films.
6. Jewel Staite
Just as the Serenity ship could not operate properly without being run by its trusty mechanic, Kaylee, the cast of Firefly would not be complete without the actress who played her. As Kaylee, Jewel Staite displayed a natural whimsy that was a welcome contrast to the mostly brooding characters. When Firefly wrapped up, Staite’s career remained constricted to appearances on television and very few film roles. When she was in movies, Staite was mostly in underground independent movies. At one point, Staite picked up a recurring role on the short-lived series, Wonderfalls, and then bounced back with another recurring role on the sci-fi escapade, Stargate Atlantis. While Staite has sustained a quiet acting career in more recent years, she has managed to live a happy family life away from Hollywood. In July 2016, she married her boyfriend, Charlie, and the year before in December, the couple’s first child was born.
5. Adam Baldwin
While he is not a member of the eccentric Baldwin brothers, Adam Baldwin didn’t need their last name to trot out a successful career for himself. Thanks to acting talent alone, he has prolonged a lengthy career in the business over the years. He’s one of those actors who you may not know by name, but you always recognize them when they show up and when they do appear on screen, they manage to blow you away. Even before he showed up on Firefly, Baldwin managed to turn heads for the Stanley Kubrick classic, Full Metal Jacket. When the show was over, Baldwin popped up in a good chunk of hit shows and movies. In television especially, Baldwin has made an impression with superb recurring performances on series like Angel, Chuck, and The Last Ship. Apart from acting, Baldwin has proven to be a passionate member of the video game community, which led to him inadvertently create the #GamerGate movement that was shrouded in controversy in 2014 based on unethical game journalism.
4. Alan Tudyk
Following his comedic turn on Firefly, Alan Tudyk has maintained a remarkable career as a character actor in both film and television. Even if you are not familiar with the show Firefly, there are a wide array of characters from all shapes, sizes, and genres that will come to mind once you see Tudyk’s face. He was Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball. He gave a terrifying turn in another Whedon vehicle, Dollhouse. He played Dale’s better half in the cult hit, Tucker & Dale vs Evil. If you do not recognize his face, you’ll certainly know him by his voice as Tudyk has provided voice acting for numerous animated works. This includes the Ice Age franchise, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, Moana, several characters in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and most recently, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as K-2SO. Outside of acting, Tudyk married dance choreographer, Charissa Barton, in September 2016.
3. Gina Torres
Gina Torres‘ tough as nails performance as Serenity’s second in command and Walsh’s wife, Zoe, became a consistent highlight for fans watching every week. As disappointing as it was for many to see Torres’ run as the character end after the show’s anti-climactic end, that did not mean it was the end of Torres’ career as she has continued to act steadily over the years. Immediately following the end of Firefly, Torres played a small but recurring part in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Shortly after, she co-starred alongside Chris Rock in the comedy, I Think I Love My Wife. She would seldom appear in movies afterwards, but many TV spots would follow. The most substantial being one of the main characters of Suits from 2011 until 2016. She also held a recurring role on Hannibal where she and real life husband, Laurence Fishburne, played a married couple.
2. Morena Baccarin
Before she was seen attempting to peg Ryan Reynolds from behind in Deadpool, Morena Baccarin was a member of the Serenity ship on Firefly. On the show, she played Inara, a Companion. In 2517, a Companion is the proper terminology for an escort or prostitute. As sultry as the part was, Baccarin proved to hold equally impressive acting chops. Thanks to her stupendous acting abilities, Baccarin had no trouble finding work when Firefly was over. After a string of guest spots and brief parts in shows and movies, Baccarin landed one of the lead roles on ABC’s V from 2009 until 2011. Afterwards, she blew audiences away with her supporting turn on Homeland that earned Baccarin her first Emmy nomination. As previously mentioned, Baccarin played love interest, Vanessa, to Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson in Deadpool recently. Baccarin has also spent the last couple years playing the recurring role of Leslie Thompkins in Gotham, where she met her fiancé, Ben McKenzie, who plays James Gordon on the show. Their first child together was born on March 2nd, 2016.
1. Nathan Fillion
While Nathan Fillion‘s acting career spans long before he joined the cast of Firefly, he first won the hearts of millions across the globe with his charismatic turn as Captain Malcolm Reynolds. The endless wit and charm that he expressed in the role helped open the doors for various other roles for Fillion to play. This includes numerous guest spots and starring roles in television, movies, and he’s even dabbled in voice acting. One of these post-Firefly roles saw Fillion re-team with Joss Whedon in 2012 for an adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy romp, Much Ado About Nothing. More prolifically, Fillion starred alongside Stana Katic for the crime dramedy, Castle. The show just wrapped up its 8th and final season in May 2016. Most recently, Fillion co-starred and co-produced an internet series alongside fellow Firefly alum, Alan Tudyk, called Con Man, based on the duo’s experiences at conventions. The show just began its 2nd season in December 2016. Fillion is set to play a significant part in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.