It takes a lot of work for an actor to become a big star and even if they manage to reach A-lister status there's no guarantee that they can stay there. An actor can make it big with one big movie and then pick one bad script and their career is ruined. Sometimes a script may look promising at first but once it's all said and done, the final cut can be a real dud. As much as some actors would like to erase some bad movies off of their IMDB, they have to live with their mistake--and sometimes it can completely ruin their career.
While there are some actors who have never been able to get back to their A-lister status, most of them have still managed to have careers on the C-list or D-list. For a few lucky actors, their careers weren't ruined forever and all it took was one movie to bring them back. Some actors whose careers were ruined by movie roles ended up making a comeback as directors such as Sofia Coppola and Ben Affleck. Not everyone is so lucky though.
Once an A-lister gets demoted to the C-list of D-list, it's hard to convince anyone in Hollywood to give them a solid role. That's not to say however, that there are occasional exceptions. Marlon Brando couldn't find any work until he was cast (thanks to the fact that director Francis Ford Coppola demanded it) in The Godfather even though he was once one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Some once beloved actors have fallen so far from grace that it seemed like they could never come back...and then they did.
20 Ruined: Alicia Silverstone Was Clueless
Alicia Silverstone was hyped as the next big thing in Hollywood in the early 90s and she starred in her first movie, The Crush, in 1993 and the mega-hit Clueless in 1995. Unfortunately for Silverstone, her career was stolen out from under her by her Clueless co-star Brittany Murphy who went on to become a big star while Silverstone was left in the dark. Things may not have turned out so bad for her if she hadn't appeared in the 1997 movie Batman & Robin which not only tanked her career but also Uma Thurman's and Chris O'Donnell. George Clooney was the only one to make it out alive. At the time, Batman was a popular franchise and it looked like it was going to be a big hit...but it failed miserably. Silverstone is still in the business but she hasn't landed a decent role since.
19 Saved: Easy As American Pie
Everybody loves a comeback story. Natasha Lyonne landed a role in Everyone Says I Love You when she was just 16 and went on to star in the hugely successful American Pie movies. Unfortunately, she struggled with addiction and was arrested for a DUI in 2001. By 2005, she was in the hospital for hepatitis C, a collapsed lung, and a heart infection. Fortunately, Lyonne got sober and everything she struggled through helped her to nail the role of Nicky Nichols in Orange is the New Black. The role in the hit Netflix series has garnered her praise from critics and given her a chance to redeem herself. Since 2013, her star has been on the rise and she has managed to land roles in big movies that she hadn't been able to get before. Looking back on her past, Lyonne has said, "Isn’t everyone entitled to an existential breakdown?"
18 Saved: Saving The World And His Career
Marvel Studios released their first film in 2008 and Marvel soon became one of the most lucrative franchises of all time. Their first movie was Iron Man and it was Robert Downey Jr.'s comeback role after he had some ups and downs in his career due to his addiction. In 2008, RDJ was ready for his comeback and he was the perfect choice for the role of Tony Stark. He managed to beat out Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Nicolas Cage for the part. Thanks to RDJ's undeniable screen presence and star power, this was the movie that changed the game for Marvel Studios and it brought forth a slew of superhero movies such as Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers. However, RDJ may have saved Iron Man but Iron Man also saved his career as well. After years of being fired from movies and TV shows because of his addiction, he was able to get sober and revive his career.
17 Saved: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
John Travolta has had multiple ups and downs in his career with some impressive films on his filmography and some total flops. He first made it big in 1977 in Saturday Night Fever and then again in 1978 with Grease--both box office hits. But after some bad career moves and some truly terrible movies, his career was in a slump by the 90s. Things weren't looking good for him until his career was saved when Quentin Tarantino casted him in Pulp Fiction in 1994 despite the studio's insistence that he was a has-been. After seeing him in Brian de Palma's Blow Out back in 1981, Tarantino knew that he wanted Travolta to play the hit man Vincent Vega and he got his wish. Travolta's career was revived and he began to appear in successful movies such as Get Shorty in 1995 and Face/Off in 1997. Then it all went downhill again in 2000...
16 Ruined: Up Then Down Again
All it took was one box office flop to completely ruin John Travolta's reputation as an actor and that movie was Battlefield Earth. Travolta was convinced that this movie was going to be a hit and he put in a lot of effort to make it happen. Unfortunately for him (and all of us) Battlefield Earth hit theaters in 2000 and it is known as one of the worst movies of all time. The reason why Travolta wanted this movie to be made in the first place was because it was based on a book by L. Ron Hubbard's of the same name. Hubbard was the founder of the Church of Scientology and Travolta is one of its most famous members. Battlefield Earth was hated by critics and audiences alike. Roger Ebert described it as not just bad but "unpleasant in a hostile way." It was enough to tank Travolta's career for good
15 Saved: Stranger Things Have Happened
Winona Ryder was already a huge movie star by the late 80s after starring in Beetlejuice, Heathers, Edward Scissorhands and then in the early 90s, she starred in Dracula, Little Women, Reality Bites, and The Age of Innocence. By 1999, she needed a comeback with Girl, Interrupted but the spotlight was stolen from her by co-star Angelina Jolie. Her career took the biggest hit of all in 2002 when she was not only caught shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue but she also starred in Mr. Deeds which was a total flop. Over the next decade or so, Ryder only managed to land small roles. Luckily, she was cast in Stranger Things, and it turned out to be the perfect role for her.
14 Ruined: No Love For Mike Myers
Though Austin Powers and Shrek were both big wins for Mike Meyers' career, his time as a leading man came to an end in 2008 with the release of a movie that was not only painfully unfunny but also incredibly vulgar and racist. The Love Guru was a flop both commercially and critically and it decimated the SNL alum's career. This cinematic failure caused Meyers to disappear from the silver screen for ten years--though still voicing Shrek in the various sequels. He hasn't made an appearance in movies or TV until he started hosting The Gong Show as Tommy Maitland, a fictional character. This may be a sort of comeback for Meyers but it's unlikely due to the fact that he is uncredited. If the show advertised the fact that it was actually hosted by Meyers, people may not have tuned in. That should give you an idea of how bad The Love Guru was.
13 Ruined: The Force Isn't Strong With Him
In all honesty, the dialogue in the Star Wars prequels is so bad that even the best actor in the world couldn't make it sound great. Considering Hayden Christensen lacked talent, charisma, and screen presence, he made the films even more difficult to watch. The prequels on their own were nothing to brag about, but Christensen continued to drag the movies down. Following that, he was hated on for years. While he also helped to ruin Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the movies also ruined his career as well. However, with his career probably wouldn't have fared much better if he hadn't been cast in the Star Wars prequels considering he's not a very good actor.
12 Ruined: Career Failure
Natalie Portman had a successful acting career before she was cast in The Phantom Menace and the other Star Wars prequels. Her career took a big hit from the blow. Though she was in three of the biggest movies ever (at least at the time), she couldn't get a director to take her seriously anymore because of how terrible the films were. Most people in Hollywood thought she was a bad actress--even though she had already impressed audiences and critics with her work in Leon: The Professional. We know now that Portman was not a bad actress, she was just given some of the worst scripts of all time. Unlike Hayden Christensen, Portman actually had the acting chops to make it in Hollywood but she just needed another chance. However, it would take some time, and a few roles, for her career to recover from the prequels.
11 Saved: V For Victory
It took more than just one movie to help save Natalie Portman from the curse of the Star Wars prequels but, luckily for her, she had some important people on her side. A director vouched for Portman which got her cast in Cold Mountain which was a step in the right direction. Her role as an exotic dancer in Closer helped audiences to see her as more than a kid and more than Padme. However, it was V for Vendetta that freed her from the curse and made her an A-list leading lady. By 2005, she finally got the credibility she was looking for and five years after that, she would win an Academy Award for best actress for her role in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. Now with the new, hugely successful Star Wars sequels, the horrible memory of the Star Wars prequels have almost been wiped from our minds forever.
10 Saved: A Glorious Role
Christoph Waltz had been in the business for a long time before he got his big break. Though he was a mildly successful actor in Europe, it wasn't until he was cast in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds that he became an A-list star in Hollywood. After giving a flawless performance as one of cinema's most memorable villains, he won multiple awards including an Oscar for best supporting actor, becoming the first actor in a Tarantino movie to ever win an Academy Award. His stint at playing a villain helped him gain recognition in Hollywood, and he was offered roles following that. He went on to play a James Bond villain, the lead in a Tim Burton movie, and another character in Tarantino's film, Django Unchained. This year, Waltz is starring in Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel with many more projects on the horizon.
9 Ruined: Don't You Dare!
According to Ben Affleck, starring in Daredevil was the biggest mistake of his career...and apparently, he didn't learn from it. Ben Affleck became a hot commodity in Hollywood after he co-wrote and co-starred in Good Will Hunting along with Matt Damon. He then went on to appear in Reindeer Games, Boiler Room, and Armageddon and then saw big numbers at the box office with Pearl Harbor...while also losing some of his integrity as an actor. After hitting rock bottom with the release of Gigli, Daredevil just seemed to push him over the edge. For many years, Affleck's career was going nowhere and even though he's gained some credibility in Hollywood, he's not the least bit likeable. Let's be honest, not even his role as Batman is enough to save him.
8 Saved: He Spread His Wings
Michael Keaton used to be everywhere. He stared in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice which put him on the map, and then went on to star as the caped crusader in Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. While he made some good movies without Burton such as The Paper, he also appeared in some pretty terrible B-movies before losing his A-list status. He never entirely disappeared from Hollywood but he didn't star in a movie for years until Birdman in 2014 which earned him an Academy Award for best actor. Because Keaton was so good in the part and the movie was not only commercial success but it also earned an Oscar for best picture. It was enough to revive Keaton's career and he went on to appear in Spotlight which also earned an Oscar for best picture and star in more mainstream movies such as American Assassin.
7 Ruined: A Mistake She Dearly Regrets
Joan Crawford once said that of all the actresses in Hollywood, Faye Dunaway was the only one with enough "talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star." Years later, Dunaway would play Crawford in a film that would destroy her career. Dunaway first got her start in Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 before going on to star in Chinatown, Three Days of the Condor, and Network--the last of which earned her an Academy Award for best actress. However, when she starred in Mommie Dearest, her performance was considered so campy and ridiculous that she became a laughing stock and she fled to Europe to take some time off from acting. Unfortunately, while the movie itself wasn't detrimental to her career, not getting back on the horse right away caused a lot of damage. Regardless, she is still considered one of the greatest actresses of all time. Still today everyone knows her famous "wire hangers" line in Mommie Dearest.
6 Saved: A Wild Leap Of Faith
Unfortunately, once an actress reaches her thirties, she is no longer a star--at least according to Hollywood. However, Reese Witherspoon wasn't just an It-Girl, she also won an Academy Award for her performance in Walk the Line. But even after her Oscar win, she was still seen as a star only fit for romantic comedies and not real dramas. However, in 2014, she changed that around when she decided to make her own movie through her own production company, Pacific Standard. The movie was Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir, and Witherspoon cast herself as the lead. The movie garnered positive reviews and helped to prove that Witherspoon could do more than romantic comedies.
5 Ruined: Brought Down To Earth
Will Smith has been one of Hollywood's biggest leading men for decades and Smith wanted to share that stardom with his son, Jaden. In 2006, Jayden played Smith's son in the Pursuit of Happyness and then went on to appear in the 2008 flop, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Apparently, Smith was able to convince Hollywood that his son had enough star power to star in a movie on his own and Jaden starred in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid which was mildly successful. Jaden's career was looking up until everything came crashing down with After Earth. The science fiction action film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan which was his first movie after the cinematic tragedy that was The Last Airbender. After Earth didn't fare much better than his previous flop since the weight of the film fell on Jaden's young and experienced shoulders. It became apparent that Jaden wasn't the big star his dad thought he was and his career ended before he had even become an adult.
4 Ruined: Hulk Smashed Their Careers
How could two movies based on a hugely popular super hero be so bad that they ruined two actors' careers? Ang Lee’s The Hulk hit theaters in 2003 and it was such a huge flop that it ruined Eric Bana's integrity as an actor. 2008's The Incredible Hulk did not fare much better but that was mostly due to Edward Norton's obsession with creative control. Norton was rewriting scenes, arguing over edits, and getting into disagreements with the director about almost everything. He was so difficult that he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers. Norton's career was not completely destroyed but it did give him a reputation for being difficult which has kept him from landing big roles.
3 Saved: A Wondrous Revival
Over the past few years, Warner Bros. and DC released Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, and, most recently, Justice League. Although they never brought in the money that the Marvel films have, they still did well for themselves. Warner Bros. had pulled out all the stops but they still hadn't tried one thing: a Wonder Woman movie. Before 2017, there had never been a Wonder Woman movie even though there have been about a dozen Batman movies. However, the goddess would turn out to be their saving grace, pulling in $821 million worldwide for DC. This is thanks, in no small part, to Gal Gadot who was the perfect actress to play Diana thanks to her undeniable charm, earnestness, and morality. Of course, it's also in thanks to the director, Patty Jenkins who finally made a DC movie that wasn't dark and depressing.
2 Ruined: His Career Was Abducted
Taylor Lautner became a hunky teen heartthrob after appearing in the wildly successful Twilight movies as the werewolf Jacob. He was at the height of his career in 2011 after his high-profile relationship with Taylor Swift came to an end, and the Twilight series wrapped up. Lautner was supposed to be the next Tom Cruise. However, once his big movie, Abduction flopped (it earned 4% on Rotten Tomatoes), everyone realized that the Twilight star wasn't a very good actor after all. He had the charisma and screen presence of a cardboard box. High-profile projects moved on without him or were abandoned. Though Lautner still appears in various TV shows and movies, he ruined his only shot at being a leading man, but what can you expect from the star of Sharkboy and Lava Girl?
1 Ruined/Saved: Our Real National Treasure?
Forget the Nicolas Cage you know today, and think of the Nicolas Cage who once was. In the 80s and 90s, he was considered a good actor and won an Academy Award for his role in Leaving Las Vegas. He was known for starring in off-beat films, fun but campy action movies, while also working with Hollywood icons such as Charlie Kaufman and Martin Scorsese. However, in 2005 Cage starred in his most mainstream movie yet: National Treasure which launched him into a whole new world of A-list status while also losing credibility as an actor. After that came a slew of terrible movies such as Ghost Rider, Wicker Man, and Left Behind. Overtime, Cage went from being a respectable actor to a total nut-job who appears in roles that are nothing short of random. Good thing we still have Raising Arizona to remind us of the good ol' days.