This week, a small-scale indie Australian surfing movie called “Drift,” which details two surfing brothers struggling to overcome their debt-ridden backgrounds and avoid a descent into criminality, opens in limited release. It shares almost nothing in common with the Biggest-Movie-Of-All-Time “Avatar” except its star, Sam Worthington, who in fact plays third lead here behind two largely unknown Aussie actors as the brothers. If it seems like a far cry from Pandora for Worthington, well, that’s because it is. Nothing to do with the quality of the film, but just in terms of the whisper-quiet buzz it’s getting, which Worthington’s presence alone should have beefed up if his stock in Hollywood meant anything at all. Yet despite a concerted effort that happened back there, Worthington just hasn’t ever become a bankable studio lead, and so here we are.
It’s hardly the first time (and won't be the last) Hollywood has decided that a certain actor is gonna be huge and has done all it can to make that happen, and yet it hasn’t. It’s kind of strange and a little unfair that in a town where we’re regularly assured that every waiter is an actor waiting for his break, some never get a shot while others get more than one, even if audiences don’t embrace them the first time out. But it also shows how strange an echo-box tinseltown can be—sometimes all that needs to happen is that Studio X hears Studio Y loves This Guy for their next big star, and Studio X then has to cast him, and so on. Then a few years later This Guy has six movies coming out, and is on every magazine cover, and audiences, unless they fall in love with him instantly, feel a little aggrieved that they’re so forcefully being sold an unknown quantity.
The circumstances differ, but the phenomenon is the same, so we’ve taken a look at the careers of 10 actors who, despite repeated attempts, We The Audience in our fickle magnificence have simply not deemed worthy of the A-list.
Attempts At The Big Time: "Blade Trinity" (2004), "The Amityville Horror" (2005), "Just Friends" (2005), "Definitely Maybe" (2008), "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), "The Proposal" (2009), "Buried" (2010), "Green Lantern" (2011), "The Change-Up" (2011), "Safe House" (2012), "R.I.P.D." (2013)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? The archetypal example on this list, Reynolds has been tapped as a potential megastar for close to a decade, and every so often looks to have made the leap... nearly. The Canadian actor's been acting since he was a teenager and his ABC sitcom "Two Guys And A Girl" in 1998 helped land him his first lead role in college-com "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" in 2002. It was a charismatic and funny turn, and he soon started cropping up elsewhere—proving to be the highlight of the otherwise execrable "Blade Trinity" and finally getting a studio lead in "The Amityville Horror."
And so he entered his bankable phase, thanks to some modestly successful comedies like "Waiting..." and "Just Friends" that performed well on video, even if more expensive prospects like 'Smokin' Aces" and "Definitely Maybe" didn't land. 2009 proved Reynolds' biggest year yet; a showy turn in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," an acclaimed supporting part in indie "Adventureland," and most crucially, a giant rom-com hit opposite Sandra Bullock in "The Proposal." He seemed to have arrived in a big way, and lined up a trio of promising prospects—one-man-show indie "Buried," R-rated comedy "The Change-Up" and superhero tentpole "Green Lantern." But the Reynolds train was held up when all three underperformed massively, the latter two in the same summer of 2011. By that point, however, Reynolds was already signed to a couple of other projects and the first of these, "Safe House," proved to be a solid hit, saving the actor's bacon for a moment.
It was the second of the pair, however, that may prove fatal: "R.I.P.D.," the "Men In Black"-esque supernatural action-comedy was once one of Universal's big summer hopes, but by the time of release, they seemed to have given up on it (knowing, as the rest of us do now, that the film was lousy), and it absolutely bombed, now destined to take a place in the all-time flop hall of fame. Worse, Reynolds was also the lead in animation "Turbo" the same weekend, which underperformed as well. Strictly speaking, neither was directly Reynolds' fault—"Turbo" suffered from animation fatigue in the market, while Universal had no faith in "R.I.P.D" whatsoever. But studio executives have already cooled on offering Reynolds tentpole leads—he bowed out of the "Highlander" remake a while back and "Deadpool" is never, ever gonna happen.
To his credit, he's course-correcting, looking to work with interesting filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, Marjane Satrapi, Anna Fleck and Ryan Boden, and Tarsem on upcoming projects. And we hope it works out as Reynolds is a likable presence, popular in comedies and can be very strong in smaller roles. But short of a Matthew McConaughey-like turnaround (and let's not forget, much of this would have applied to him a few years back and now he's the lead in Christopher Nolan's new film), we suspect it's going to be a long time before Hollywood tries to push him as a major box-office draw again.
Any Thoughts? Reynolds told Details Magazine in 2011: "I'm in a very lucky and fortunate place... I remembered walking down that very same street maybe 10 years ago, just shrouded in a sea of abject failure. I had, like, a stick with a handkerchief with some dry, stale bread in it and that was all."
Attempts At The Big Time: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), "John Carter" (2012), "Battleship" (2012), "Savages" (2012)
Where Did It All Go Wrong: Poor Taylor Kitsch has, despite only a handful of credits to his name, become something of a byword for this kind of actor, after Hollywood stacked a lot of chips on him last summer, most of which they failed to recoup. The Canadian former model had a few movie credits to his name—teen comedy “John Tucker Must Die," "The Craft"-with-bros thriller "The Covenant" and the infamous "Snakes On A Plane"—when he was cast as running back Tim Riggins in the TV translation of "Friday Night Lights." The series was a huge critical hit and Kitsch was an immediate standout, brooding and charismatic. A few seasons in, the actor got his first big movie role—an extended cameo as fan favorite character Gambit in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." It proved to be a less auspicious start than he might have hoped, but despite the movie being terrible, the role was small enough that it didn't harm Kitsch's rep too much.
Indeed, quite the reverse: soon afterwards, Kitsch was cast as the title character in Andrew Stanton's "John Carter," a much-anticipated Disney tentpole. And once that wrapped, the actor also landed the lead role in another $200 million megamovie, "Battleship." Both shot as long as two years in advance of release, meaning Kitsch had a lot of hype in the run-up to their releases in the spring of 2012 (barely two months apart), hype that only increased when he won a sought-after lead in Oliver Stone's "Savages."He was either going to be Hollywood's next big star, or a spectacular cautionary tale... The buzz around "John Carter" turned poisonous as release neared, and that was borne out when the hugely expensive film took a nine-figure write-down after severely underperforming.
"Battleship" may have seemed a safer prospect, but when it was released, in the aftermath of the behemoth "The Avengers" and accompanied by awful reviews, it too was a major dud, also losing north of $100 million for its studio. Again, neither failure can be laid squarely at Kitsch's feet, but he certainly didn't boost their box office in a way that a more established star might have. "Savages" performed a little better, relatively speaking. The far cheaper film made nearly $50 million but it didn't suggest that Kitsch had gathered any kind of following, and besides, it was too little too late and his name was already tainted. After a decade that saw the biggest movies dominated by the off-beat charms of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr., Kitsch was just a little too bland, or at least the characters he was given were.
Wisely, or perhaps by necessity, the actor's steering clear of further tentpoles for the moment. He's reteaming with "Battleship" helmer Peter Berg for awards candidate "Lone Survivor," he'll be at TIFF with Don McKellar's "The Grand Seduction," and is playing a gay rights activist in Ryan Murphy's HBO movie "The Normal Heart." In other words, he's taking the baby steps into features that he skipped the first time around, and hopefully showing off some more of the acting chops his TV stint had us all convinced of, back when.
Any Thoughts? With the two blockbuster failures in the past, Kitsch was finding a silver lining as he told the AP: "Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that [it] died, and I'm not tied to these things for the next 10 years. I'm free to do whatever I want now. If I want to do something in January, February, March, April, I don't have to go through two studios to be greenlit."
Attempts At The Big Time: "American Outlaws" (2001), "Hart's War" (2002), "Minority Report" (2002), "The Recruit" (2003), "Daredevil" (2003), "SWAT" (2003), "Alexander" (2004), "Miami Vice" (2006), "Fright Night" (2011), "Total Recall" (2012), "Dead Man Down" (2013)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? Farrell's a rarity in that he's had not one, but two shots at the big leagues, from bright young thing to comeback kid, and despite some fine performances over the years, broader audiences have consistently failed to respond to him when he's been anointed a tentpole lead. The Irish actor broke out aged 24 in Joel Schumacher's "Tigerland," giving an intense performance that promised big things. And big things soon arrived: while early leads "American Outlaws" and "Hart's War" whimpered, he convincingly squared off against Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report," and carried solo show "Phone Booth" impressively, and the film became a modest hit. Things seemed to be ticking along decently. "Daredevil" and "S.W.A.T." both made some coin, albeit not as much as he was perhaps hoping. But Farrell then headlined a pair of hugely expensive tentpoles, in "Alexander" and "Miami Vice," and both flopped.
The actor, who'd been having substance abuse issues, wasn't licked yet, though; he cleaned up, regrouped, and returned with a strong performance in the storming "In Bruges" that reminded everybody why they'd been so excited about him in the first place. A few other smaller gigs followed, some of which worked, some didn't, and a financially disappointing return to bigger fare with Peter Weir's "The Way Back" was mitigated by an against-type, combover-wearing cameo in comedy hit "Horrible Bosses." But since then, things have been bleaker with a couple of major summer flops in "Fright Night" and "Total Recall," which made less money than the twenty-years-earlier Paul Verhoeven original.
Films more in his wheelhouse didn't perform much better either, with "Seven Psychopaths" and "Dead Man Down" both failing to find much of a theatrical audience. Ultimately, Farrell is not dissimilar to Jude Law; like him, Farrell's really a character actor in the hot bod of a leading man, whose finest hours have come in smaller-scale fare like "The New World," "Ondine" or "A Home At The End Of The World." But while Law's now found his place, mostly happy to play second fiddle to Robert Downey Jr. or take meatier character parts for noted filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh or Joe Wright, Farrell—who never really established a new persona once he shook off the hellraiser mantle—is still being pushed as a headliner. He was to star in the since canceled "Arthur & Lancelot" for Warner Bros., and has "Winter's Tale" on the way from the studio. But unless the latter proves an unexpected smash, expect to see less of that sort of thing and more like his upcoming supporting turns in "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Miss Julie." And to be honest, that may be for the best.
Any Thoughts? On the eve of the release of "Total Recall," Farrell told The Observer: "I'd done a certain amount of big budget films that didn't perform that well. Consequently, there weren't that many big films that were coming knocking for me. I was probably due an arse kicking. I really was... I can't say that I sat down and said, 'Right, I am going to reinvest.' I know from talking to some friends and different people that it looks as though I've tried to redesign my career, but it's not really like that."