The only thing permanent is change and nowhere is this more true than in Hollywood. In this most fickle of industries, many actors get a taste of fame and success, only to disappear into oblivion after a string of successful movies or TV shows.
Some actors make the conscious decision to take a step back from the limelight for their own personal reasons. But most get thrown over, mostly because they had the misfortune of appearing in a box office flop. They occasionally try to make their way back into Hollywood, still waiting for a big break similar to Robert Downey, Jr.’s when his career got a mammoth revival with Marvel’s series of Iron Man films. But others are happy staying below the radar and living normal, paparazzi-free lives.
So what have these erstwhile famous celebrities been up to these days?
10 Josh Hartnett
With box office hits like Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down, Josh Hartnett’s star was shining brightly and steadily. But at the peak of what was a skyrocketing career, he decided to step down and take a break from acting. He turned down many meaty roles, including those of high-profile superhero characters. In an interview, he said he was uncomfortable with all that fame and it wasn’t making him happy. And while he has had occasional bit roles in the past years, none have been in the calibre of his films in the past.
9 Molly Ringwald
She was the IT girl of the 80s, a member of the Brat Pack, with her fiery red hair and awkward yet charming countenance. Molly Ringwald shot to teenage stardom with movie hits like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink. She was even on the cover of Time magazine, further securing her success as an actress. But as she grew older and tried to tackle more mature roles, her career went on the decline. Perhaps the biggest career faux pas she committed was turning down two roles that eventually catapulted its actresses to A-list status: Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman and Demi Moore’s character in Ghost!
8 Bridget Fonda
As a member of one of the most illustrious acting families in Hollywood, Bridget Fonda’s lineage, talent, and good looks guaranteed her long-term fame. She got her big break in The Godfather III, where she played the journalist. She went on to star in other hits like Single White Female, Point of No Return, and It Could Happen To You. But she left behind a stellar career, having been last seen onscreen in 2002 in a TV movie. Fonda never said why she stepped back, but it's assumed it was because she wanted to focus on her family.
7 Ralph Macchio
Mention the name Ralph Macchio to any teenage girl in the 1980s and they’d swoon. He was the ultimate heartthrob, capturing female fans’ hearts and male fans’ admiration when he starred as Daniel Larruso in the Karate Kid series of movies. But thanks or no thanks to Mr. Miyagi, Macchio was so famous for that role that he struggled with breaking out of it. And he never really did. Since then, he has done bit roles in movies and TV shows, but certainly no major breaks have come his way since his Karate Kid days.
6 Emilio Estevez
Like fellow Brat Packer Molly Ringwald, people wonder where Emilio Estevez has gone to. Having achieved success as a teen actor in such hits as The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire and as an adult actor in Young Guns and Stakeout, Estevez has lain low as a lead actor. Charlie Sheen’s big bro has dabbled in directing and aside from a few small parts in movies, Estevez has focused mainly on his career behind the camera as director, writer, and producer.
5 Calista Flockhart
She gained fame for playing the titular character in the hit TV show, Ally McBeal, where she played a quirky lawyer in an equally crazy law firm. Calista Flockhart was nominated for an Emmy several times and won a Golden Globe for her role. But when Ally McBeal ended, Flockhart struggled to maintain her career. She starred in a few forgettable movies and alongside Sally Field in the TV series, Brothers and Sisters, but otherwise, she’s just known lately as Mrs. Harrison Ford.
4 Phoebe Cates
Her beautiful, innocent face made Phoebe Cates one of the most popular teen actresses in the 1980s. She came to be known in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the Gremlins films. However, she had difficulty getting more serious roles and decided to retire from acting, her last film being in 2001. She chose instead to focus on her family. She married fellow actor Kevin Kline in 1989 and they’ve raised two children together.
3 Freddie Prinze Jr.
Freddie Prinze Jr.’s boy-next-door good looks made him quickly rise to fame in the late 1990s. With teen flicks like I Know What You Did Last Summer and She’s All That, Prinze’s career held the promise of reaching great heights. In 2002, he married Sarah Michelle Gellar and though his marriage has been a solid and happy one, the same can’t be said for his career. He has been relegated to small movie roles and TV guest appearances. Today, his priority is his family. Both he and Gellar agreed that one of them would always be around for the children and since it’s Gellar who’s busy now with projects, Prinze is the stay-at-home dad for the moment.
2 Val Kilmer
He’s rumored to be one of the more difficult actors to work with in Hollywood, but we don’t know if that’s the reason Val Kilmer fell off the radar. He gained popularity in the 1980s with films like Top Secret!, Top Gun, and Willow. He was successfully able to move on to more serious acting roles in movies like Tombstone and The Saint. In the late 1990s, though, his career took a nosedive and never really recovered. He’s had steady work as an actor since then, but always in minor roles. He has yet to have another lead role.
1 Meg Ryan
If there’s one actress who’s made for romantic comedies, it’s undoubtedly Meg Ryan. The blonde, blue-eyed beauty shot to instant fame in the hit film, When Harry Met Sally in 1989 and this movie sealed her fate as the unofficial queen of romcoms. She tried to break free of the mold, but was generally unsuccessful in other types of roles. Her foray into the action-suspense genre in Proof of Life ultimately backfired on her because until this day, the movie is more known for her affair with co-star Russell Crowe than her acting chops. Her last film was in 2009 and it was a flop.