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10 Best Movie Star Comebacks

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10 Best Movie Star Comebacks

If they can do it, so can Arnold.

By Rob Vaux     January 15, 2013
Source: Mania.com

 After seven years away from the big screen, Arnold Schwarzenegger is set to begin his comeback this Friday with The Last Stand. He’s not the first movie star to attempt a career resurrection… though admittedly, he’s the only one who can claim he was too busy running a state as an excuse. As he moves forward, he might do well to emulate some of his fellow thespians, who rebounded after flops, scandals, and seemingly certain career oblivion to reestablish themselves as bona fide stars. It’s a lot harder than it looks – we’re still waiting for Nic Cage to get in gear – making their comebacks a source of genuine respect. Congrats for escaping career oblivion you ten. You’ve earned it.

 

10. Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder

Cruise hasn’t entirely pulled out of his tailspin, which limits him to Number 10 on our list. But after seemingly imploding on Oprah’s couch amid an array of baffling public behavior, it looked like lights out for one of Hollywood’s most durable icons. Then came his turn on Tropic Thunder, playing a hysterically amoral studio exec riding herd on a production gone disastrously wrong.  With scenes as funny as this one, he can jump on all the couches he wants.

 

9. Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia

The legendary Bergman spent decades as the ultimate onscreen good girl, with roles in classic films like Casablanca, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Joan of Arc and Gaslight. That was before she began a torrid love affair with director Roberto Rossellini: both of them married to other people at the time. They ultimately divorced their spouses so they could wed, but the damage was done. Bergman was vilified in the press and forced into exile; she even scored a public condemnation on the floor of the U.S. Senate. She continued to make movies in Italy, but the former golden girl clearly wasn’t welcome in Hollywood.

Then she appeared in Anastasia, playing an amnesiac who may or may not be the last survivor of the Romanov dynasty. The film became a huge hit and scored her a second Academy Award… signaling in one fell swoop that all was forgiven.

 

8. Neil Patrick Harris, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Harris didn’t flame out like a lot of childhood stars – there were no drunken tabloid headlines or shootouts with police on his blotter – but it still looked for all the world like the former Doogie Howser would drift quietly into oblivion. Then came Harold and Kumar, where he played a debauched and lecherous version of himself. It was bold, fearless and above all hysterically funny. Suddenly, a certain has-been turned into the hippest cat in pop culture. He hasn’t looked back yet.

 

7. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Blvd.

Some actors made the leap from silent movies to talkies effortlessly. Not so Swanson, an icon of silent cinema whose career dried up with the advent of sound. She wasn’t fazed by the loss, turning instead to other projects: painting, sculpting, theater work, and – most amazingly – helping to rescue Jews from occupied Europe through a front company called Multiprizes. But she was well and truly off the pop culture radar until Billy Wilder cast her as deluded actress Norma Desmond in his poisoned love letter to Hollywood, Sunset Blvd. The film became a classic, earning Swanson an Oscar nomination and letting her take cackling revenge on an industry that cast her aside so many years before.

 

6. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet

Like too many talented actors, Hopper had serious problems with drugs and alcohol… so much so that he spent the better part of two decades as a Hollywood outcast. Francis Coppola coaxed a brilliant performance out of him in Apocalypse Now – even though he was clearly high as a kit on screen – but it served as a glaring exception in an era marked largely by low-budget sleaze. Then – three years after cleaning up – he scored the role of a lifetime as the gas-huffing maniac Frank Booth in David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet. Nothing like a villain for the ages to make people forget about the on-set freakouts. (Okay, the rehab probably helped too.)

 

5. Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man

Few actors have battled their demons more publicly than Downey: a tabloid staple in the 1990s thanks to a string of high-profile drug arrests.  He did a year in prison in 2000, and – plummeting career aside – looked poised for a one-way trip to the morgue before it all ended.

Thankfully, he cleaned up and started work again thanks to his friend Mel Gibson, who cast him in The Singing Detective in 2003. (Gibson, ironically, has yet to rebound from his own publicity woes.) From there, Downey moved very carefully, reestablishing his brand names in offbeat fare like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Good Night and Good Luck. But it wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that he truly came roaring back. His self-destructive Tony Stark made for the perfect fusion of performer and part, as well as turning a second-tier superhero into a mainstream phenomenon. Downey, publicly grateful just to be alive, shows no sign of letting this second chance slip through his fingers.

 

4. Judy Garland, A Star is Born

Garland’s sunny onscreen persona masked a deeply troubled woman whose dark side ultimately claimed her life.  She suffered a nervous breakdown in 1947, resulting in a suicide attempt and a stint in a mental hospital. For years afterwards, she was unable to work: dropping out of one production after another and making another suicide attempt in 1950.

She found some respite on stage, with an acclaimed series of Broadway productions, but her troubles on the movie set apparently returned with 1954’s A Star Is Born… bedeviled by lengthy delays and the sort of “I can’t do this” drama that derailed her earlier films. Luckily for her, the film turned out to be a huge critical and commercial smash. She earned an Oscar nomination for the role, losing to Grace Kelly in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice the Academy has ever perpetrated. The triumph granted her another decade’s worth of film roles – including Judgment at Nuremburg, which scored her another Oscar nomination – before drugs and deteriorating health finally killed her before her time.

 

3. Marlon Brando, The Godfather

Like a lot of folks on this list, Brando’s troubles were of his own making.  A notoriously difficult actor on set, his increasingly bloated and self-indulgent productions branded him box office poison for well over a decade. Then Francis Coppola cast him in the role of his career: Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. In one fell swoop, it restored his artistic legitimacy and won him the Best Actor Oscar in a cakewalk. Of course he promptly chunked it again by having a Native American woman in a headdress show up to collect, but without it, we wouldn’t have Superman, Apocalypse Now, A Dry White Season or The Island of Doctor Moreau. (Oh wait, scratch that last one. It blows.)

 

2. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Rourke, like Brando, was tough to work with: slowly squandering a brilliant career that included the likes of Diner, 9 ½ Weeks, Angel Heart and Rumble Fish. He turned to professional boxing in the 1990s, scoring six wins and two draws at the expense of having his gorgeous face smashed in like a cantaloupe. His comeback started with his pitch-perfect turn as Marv, the thug on a mission in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. But it wasn’t until The Wrestler – playing a washed-up WWE-style star in an eerie case of art imitating life – that he truly put himself back in Hollywood circulation. His films since then have been a mixed bag, but he’s been humbler, better behaved on set, and more than eager to give all the credit to his beloved Chihuahuas. Hard to come down too hard on a guy for that.

 

1. John Travolta, Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction is one of the few movies out there that really and truly changed the medium forever. It also made stars out of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman (to say nothing of the director, Quentin somebody or another), as well as giving Bruce Willis’s career a shot in the arm after a string of prominent flops. But nobody came out of it looking better than Travolta, languishing for over a decade and remembered primarily as a 70s pretty boy . Second winds don’t get much more impressive… and he owes it all to Vincent Vega. 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 24
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hanso 1/15/2013 1:53:17 AM

 Yo, where is Ben Affleck?  That guy was done until he came back as a director with Gone Baby Gone.

doublec 1/15/2013 3:55:25 AM

 Travolta's had several ups and downs in his career, doesn't seem to be an overly hot property at the moment, but he seems to take it all  in that goofy Sceintology stride.

Another actor who could make this list is Burt Reynolds. Like Travolta he's had several ups and downs, usually becoming almost forgotten before making another comeback. 

Wiseguy 1/15/2013 4:09:26 AM

How can Drew Barrymore not be on this list?

ElBaz13 1/15/2013 5:56:44 AM

RDJ should be #1

Sure you have to love Travolta in Pulp, then he followed it with Get Shorty and a few more decent flicks but what's he up to these days? A Christmas CD with Olivia Newton John and Old Dogs?

RDJ is still at the top. 2 Blockbuster franchises. 1 recent Oscar nomination. 1 Golden Globe (Sherlock Holmes)

As for this list. Let's not forget Alec Badlwin. He was a rising star in the late 80s but a lot of his personal life got in the way and he was forgotten. The man reinvented himself with comedy. This guy shines whenever he's on SNL. He's great on 30 Rock and even hosted the Oscars! Not only that. He did a great Russian Santa Clause in Rise of the Guardians.

@Wise

Drew Barrymore didn't make this list because her career went back down after marrying Tom Green

monkeyfoot 1/15/2013 7:16:32 AM

Yeah, I might put RDJ first and Travolta second. Both were pretty much at the bottom of their respective careers and the work of The Fates and some hard work got them at the right place at the time with the right skills and superstars were born. The only reason I'd put Stark above Vinnie Barbarino is that RDJ's star is currently shining brighter.

You also forgot Trek faves William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The Shat was mainly doing conventions but Star Trek restarted as a movie franchise gave him a boost to TJ Hooker, books, commercials, parodying his own personality, and directing. And even more successful at directing was Nimoy whose career went beyond hit Trek movies but also films like Three Men And A Baby.

ElBaz13 1/15/2013 8:11:37 AM

Good one monkeyfoot.

I think Shatner was also nominated for Emmys for his portrayal of Denny Crane on Boston Legal.

violator14 1/15/2013 8:58:32 AM

 How about Sly in Rambo / Expendables? And for that matter, Arnold in Expendables 2.

 

redhairs99 1/15/2013 9:34:27 AM

The Shat's had a number of comebacks too.  The main one being when he reinvented himself with comedy roles on Third Rock from the Sun, which led into more roles on TV series like Boston Legal, his speak-word music albums and Priceline commercials.

redhairs99 1/15/2013 9:36:20 AM

 yeah, Violator, right on with Sly.  I'd put Rocky Balboa in as his official comeback movie, though.  It came before Rambo and Expendibles and was the reason he was able to make those.

FerretJohn 1/15/2013 10:02:22 AM

I wouldn't put Tom Cruise on this list, his personal life aside I can't recall him ever being in a career slump.  Sure, some movies didn't do as well as others but it's not like any of them ever went Direct-to-Video.  And Violator is right, if Stallone isn't here then this isn't a proper Comebacks list.  After Copland Sly hit a serious slump with most of his work going DtV, his best work during that period being a guest appearance with James Caan in Las Vegas.  That ended when Rocky Balboa and John Rambo put him back in the spotlight.

Other choices that hit me were also mentioned by my fellow Maniacs:  William Shatner, raked over the coals by his first divorce and typecast by Star Trek he was nearly living out of a van when Star Trek TMP and TJ Hooker got him back and turned him into a TV icon.  And Burt Reynolds, a box-office main eventer in the 70s until a string of increasingly bad movies in the 80s dropped him to DtV and television work until playing the ridiculously corrupt Senator in Striptease brought him back.

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