The word ‘comeback’ gets thrown around a lot in pop culture – form music to TV to movies and more, people come back so often that sometimes you can’t be sure that they were ever gone in the first place. The most popular recent example of this is Robert Downey, Jr., most recently seen in a little film you might have heard of called The Avengers. But, despite his problems with substance abuse, was RDJ ever low enough to merit a ‘comeback?’
Downey got his star in the mid-80s with Weird Science and a short stint during Saturday Night Live‘s awkward years, and then saw it rise over the course of the next decade, reaching its then-peak around the early-mid 90s with Chaplin, Soapdish and Natural Born Killers. Though his fame waned over the next half-decade (Restoration, U.S. Marshals), he was never far from the headlines or the spotlights and the quality of films he appeared in never fell too low, as Bowfinger and Wonder Boys were just around the corner, with another stint on TV – this time on Ally McBeal – also coming around this time. I could keep going, but you get the point. Though it might have seemed in any given year as though he was headed for the “Where Are They Now?” file, he never actually went there.
On the flip side, the bright shining example of a star whose light truly faded away only to burn brighter than ever is John Travolta. In the 11 years after Staying Alive, Travolta acted in 10 films, many of which you’ve never heard of, most of which you’ve never seen and three of which featured talking babies and Kirstie Alley. It wasn’t until the year after Look Who’s Talking Now that Quentin Tarantino not only rescued Vinnie Barbarino but made him an immediate A-lister, a status that Travolta promptly took advantage of, starring in no less than 749 films over the next 15 years. Now THAT was a comeback.
So what I’m looking for here are stars that were big names once upon a time and are now lucky to star in an independent film. Some made bad decisions personally, some made bad ones professionally, some neither or both and others might have merely lost luster with audiences over the years. First, some that were considered but excluded:
Chris Tucker, Bridget Fonda, and Linda Fiorentino: Found God. Got politics. Had kids. I don’t know if these are the reasons this trio has combined to appear in something like three total films since 2002, but I do know this: their exodus from Hollywood was their own doing. For Tucker, after the megabucks that the Rush Hour films took in, you know he’s gotten calls (or at least used to get calls) constantly to return to film (he finally will with The Silver Linings Playbook later this year). The ladies? I have no idea, and they were never megastars, but I miss seeing them nevertheless.
The adorable looks might have faded a bit but the talent didn’t…did it? If you can name a single film that Hall has been in in the last five years not named The Dark Knight, then I suppose it’s nice to meet you, President of the Anthony Michael Hall Fan Club. I just looked, and there’s only one – it’s called Aftermath and looks to have never been released. First off, I should say kudos to Chris Nolan for casting Hall (and Eric Roberts, while we’re at it). I don’t know if Hall has other priorities or if there will forever be a John Hughes stink on him or what, but despite solid, critically-acclaimed work turned in over the years in projects such as 61* and the TV series The Dead Zone, the Tiger Beat cover boy of the 80s hasn’t sniffed the A-list since Reagan was president. He might not be due for a Travolta-like renaissance, but we could certainly use him in our life as a veteran character actor, at the least.
Watching Heathers recently, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic for Slater’s career. Sure, he might have copped a bit of Jack Nicholson’s schtick (intentionally or not, I have no idea), but he had charisma, right? An appeal all his own, on display in fare such as True Romance, Interview with the Vampire and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? I’m not imagining things here. And yet, by the year 2000 – and not long after a stretch of bad flicks like Hard Rain, 3000 Miles to Graceland and Very Bad Things, his fame had all but dropped off, relegating him to wannabe-comeback TV series that never panned out (if they were good or not, I couldn’t tell you, as I never watched a single one, either). What say we get Helen’s little brother in something quality and boost him up again, shall we?
I suppose Val learned nothing from his Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang co-star RDJ.
It’s easy to say that we all know what happened to onetime-hunk Kilmer – he got fat, right? But the answer must be more complicated than that – this is an actor that made a series of bad decisions, not to mention one that has long had a reputation as being difficult to work with. Yet he’s also, without question in my mind, the most talented actor on this list, a kickass character actor stuck in a leading man’s body with a leading man face. (Easy joke: I suppose he needn’t worry about that any more, am I right?) Why this man is relegated to appearing in direct-to-video nods/ripoffs to his former glory (see: Kilmer starring in Wyatt Earp’s Revenge), I’ll never understand.
Yeah, Heathers spoke to me here as well.
Right about now is when you might be saying, “But she was in Black Swan! And Star Trek!” True, Ryder hasn’t dropped off the face of the planet like some of these former stars, and considering the stink of her personal issues, such a drop might even be expected. But having said that, you can’t tell me that the onetime face of a generation – the star of Reality Bites, Girl Interrupted and Edward Scissorhands – has anywhere near the cache she once has. Ryder is 40 – just 40! – so please, tell me why she’s only capable of getting the mom/over-the-hill roles anymore? Here’s a picture of her from three months ago – does she look used up and incapable of playing the lead anymore? Is there a viable reason why Jennifer Aniston is starring in crap heap after crap heap while Ryder is starring in a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie?
Okay, so there’s a solid reason why you won’t see Wesley at your local cineplex any time soon. From Wikipedia:
“On December 9, 2010, Snipes reported to federal prison to begin his three-year sentence.
On June 6, 2011, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Snipes’ appeal. Snipes is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution, McKean, a medium security federal prison in Pennsylvania, and is scheduled for release on July 19, 2013.”
Yeah, he’s busy. But he hasn’t been all that busy over the last decade. Wait, let me revise – he’s been busy starring in a bunch of direct-to-video action thrillers. My question is why? Why doesn’t love Wesley Snipes? Simon Phoenix…Sidney Deane…Willy Mays Hayes…BLADE! So long as his movies perform well, what does Hollywood or the rest of America care about his tax problems? Nic Cage has tax problems, too, and yet there he is starring in what feels like eight big-budget films per year.
Can we make a trade? Can Cage be relegated to video work?
Remember, we here at Man, I Love Films don’t do definitive lists. We do our favorites and we want to hear yours. So, make sure and tell us about them in the comments section below.