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12 Movie Stars Who Experienced Career Resurrections

Features
by The Playlist Staff
October 31, 2013 4:27 PM
10 Comments
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Marlon Brando
How Bad Did Things Get And Why? It’s hard to countenance now that Brando was ever less than a towering figure in Hollywood, but while he owned the 50s (Oscar nominated for his second-ever film “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and Oscar-winning three years later, in 1954 for “On the Waterfront”) by the early 60s, his cachet was eroding fast. He was blamed for ballooning budgets on both his first (and last) directorial outing “One-Eyed Jacks” and 1962’s “Mutiny on the Bounty,” (which also featured Brando affecting possibly the feyest British accent ever to grace a film). His erratic personal life started to make as many headlines as his acting (weird side note: he divorced the mother of his two children Movita, an actress who’d starred in the 1935 production of “Mutiny on the Bounty” to marry and have two children with Tarita, who starred in his version). Anyway, he began to get a reputation for unreliability and arrogance and also for a fluctuating waistline, none of which were appreciated as the cost of his particular genius by a studio system that wasn’t as embracing of his maverick style as the more independently-minded 70s would be. So while the rest of the 60s did find him working, and occasionally on pretty decent films, he also showed up in more tedious titles like “The Appaloosa” and “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” and had lost a lot of his firebrand relevance by the end of the decade.
What Turned it Around?The Godfather,” simply put. As indelible and definitive as Brando’s appearance now feels, his status as “unbankable” at the time made his casting a hard sell for Coppola. But the director prevailed, and Brando, embracing middle age (playing older, in fact) and a “character” role, won his second Oscar and reestablished his claim to the Greatest Actor of All Time trophy in one fell swoop.
How Did He Fare After? That Brando’s resurrection brought him an entire new generation (or two) of fans, cemented his legacy and led to a couple of other iconic, brilliant roles is inarguable. But what he did with it outside of his Coppola collaborations (and we should remember that a huge amount of the stress and drama of the “Apocalypse Now” shoot was due to Brando) is a little more dubious. Showing his ambivalent, not to say contradictory attitude to fame, Brando took a ten-year break at the height of his comeback, and the ten-odd titles he made subsequent to “Apocalypse Now” and prior to his death in 2004 show vastly diminishing returns, with the nadir being “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,” “Free Money” or “The Island of Dr. Moreau” depending on who you talk to. In fact, Free Money is an apt descriptor of this last period in Brando’s career—with many of these final titles seemingly more about a cash infusion than a love of the material. But perhaps if our laurels were as assured as his were by this point, we’d have phoned it in too.
What Did He Have To Say About It? “Acting is an illusion, a histrionic form of sleight of hand... it's a bum's life”

Diane Lane
How Bad Did Things Get And Why? Like most child stars, career troubles were a walk in the park for Lane, who struggled with combative parents at a young age to the point where she had to seek emancipation from the courts. Nevertheless, she appeared to be taking a step into the big-time in the eighties, racking up credits as an adult actress in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” and “The Outsiders.” But a brief retirement followed the twin failures of “Streets Of Fire” and “The Cotton Club,” as the then-19 year old seemed burnt out on the industry. She would later return to the big screen after an Emmy nomination for her work on TV’s “Lonesome Dove,” though she was usually merely an accessory in thankless roles like the ones offered in “Judge Dredd” and another Coppola collaboration, “Jack.
What Turned it Around? Lane found herself gravitating to the indie world, and in 1999 she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for “A Walk On The Moon.” Not only did this place her back on the map, but it also established her as a sultry older woman, carving out an interesting and strangely underpopulated niche for herself as Hollywood's go-to "woman approaching middle age who could still be sexy" (yes, we know she was 34 but this is Hollywood). While a showy role in mega-hit “The Perfect Storm” followed, Lane earned her strongest plaudits with an Academy Award-nominated turn in steamy thriller “Unfaithful,” a surprise given that the film was fairly soapy material that received mixed reviews from critics, but a mark of how popular she was becoming among her peers.
How Well Has She Fared Since? Lane continued to work steadily, though her age has relegated her to a very narrow field of roles for a lead actress, and she has often found herself in supporting turns instead. She was front-and-center for middling pictures like “Under The Tuscan Sun,” “Untraceable,” and “Secretariat,” but she was probably seen by more audiences as slightly more mature window dressing in blockbusters like “Jumper” and this year’s “Man of Steel.” Her failure to rise to the A-List says less about her talent and likability (she received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her 2011 cable movie “Cinema Verite”) and more about the cruelty of the industry towards women her age (Lane turns 49 in January).
What Has She Got To Say About It? "I think the secret to happiness is having a Teflon soul. Whatever comes your way, you either let it slide or you cook with it."

Robert Downey Jr.
How Bad Did Things Get And Why? It’s a testament to Robert Downey Jr.’s enduring talent and popularity that even at the height of what were some pretty serious substance abuse issues, he still enjoyed a career that many B-list actors would consider themselves blessed by, and even turned in consistently good performances from “Wonder Boys” and in his Globe-winning stint on “Ally McBeal”. But then it’s also a testament to just how much A-list potential he always had that second and third leads in things like “U.S. Marshals” “The Gingerbread Man” and “In Dreams” always seemed beneath his abilities, and that’s not even mentioning possible career low point, 1996’s “Danger Zone,” starring Billy Zane. But more than many on this list, Downey Jr. did it to himself, sliding into addiction and being frequently arrested and occasionally incarcerated for drug use. By the time of his being fired from “Ally McBeal” in 2001, the cycle of rehab followed by relapse had made him uninsurable, and therefore all but unhireable.
What Turned it Around? Most importantly, Downey Jr. got sober, and had enough friends in the business that were willing to take a flier on him whatever his insurance status—starting ironically with Mel Gibson who put up the bond himself to cover Downey Jr. for “The Singing Detective” Gradually he worked his way back to the kind of profile he’d enjoyed prior to his arrests, but this time the crucial difference was in the quality of roles he was taking—from well-received indies like “A Guide to Recognizing your Saints” and “Good Night and Good Luck,” to small but impressive roles in big films like “Zodiac” and of course, showing the early glimmering of his trademark wisecracking but flawed hero in our beloved “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” People had noticed that Downey Jr., now back, was better than ever, and the big break seemed inevitable, but how many could have guessed it would be as big as it was? 2008 was Downey Jr.’s epochal year, when he outstripped the term “comeback” and established himself as a bigger star than he had ever been before, with both a brilliantly hilarious turn in “Tropic Thunder” and a career-defining role as Tony Stark in “Iron Man”.
How Well Has He Fared Since? Well, he’s one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, so we’d say he’s doing okay. The lynchpin of Marvel’s most successful franchises (“Iron Man” and “The Avengers”) it’s perhaps now getting to the stage where we’d like to see him do something other than trade quips and blows with other superheroes, and sure enough, his next two films are due to be next year’s comedy “The Chef” for Jon Favreau and thriller “The Judge” with Robert Duvall. In fact, if anyone were to write the book on managing a career resuscitation (in 2008 he cancelled plans for a memoir and returned the advance incidentally), it should be Robert Downey Jr. Except he’s probably too busy.
What Has He Got To Say About It? This is a quote from RDJ at the 2011 American Cinematheque Awards. It’s about Mel Gibson, but it says as much about him: "I humbly ask that you join me—unless you are completely without sin, and in which case you picked the wrong fucking industry—in forgiving my friend of his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate that you have me and allowing him to continue his great and on-going contribution to our collective art without shame."

Ben Affleck
How Bad Did Things Get And Why? Affleck was one of Hollywood's golden boys, having risen from seeming obscurity to win an Oscar for writing "Good Will Hunting" (alongside his childhood pal and creative partner Matt Damon). After that, Affleck would mix in the odd prestige pic every once in a while (like "Shakespeare in Love") but more or less went for the gold: high concept, big-budget studio movies with diminishing results (things like "Armageddon," "Forces of Nature," "Pearl Harbor" and "Reindeer Games"). He seemed to be saying "yes" more than saying "why?" In 2001 he entered rehab for alcohol abuse and by all accounts got clean. Not that it changed his regrettable string of professional decisions, which continued with "Daredevil," "Gigli," "Paycheck" and "Jersey Girl" (a movie that its director, Kevin Smith, won't even defend). If this string of decision-making had continued, Affleck was ripe for the role of the handsome, talented, smart leading man who just fades into obscurity, a dude of whom people would ask "Whatever happened to…?"
What Turned It Around? Affleck started directing. In switching over to the other side of the camera (often times while still maintaining a presence in front of it), Affleck got a creative second wind. It's been pretty exciting to watch; for many years the exploits Affleck would get into in his personal life (lovingly chronicled by every gossip magazine and tabloid in the land) were more interesting than what he was doing in the movies. But all that changed. And in his self-directed roles, he's given himself the best material he's had as an actor for years.
How Has He Fared Since? Starting with 2007's "Gone Baby Gone" and continuing with 2010's "The Town" and last year's Best Picture-winning "Argo," Affleck has honed his craft as a filmmaker while putting in supporting roles in smaller movies (things like Joe Carnahan's "Smokin' Aces" and Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder"). For a while Affleck was everywhere—not just at the movie theaters but in the checkout aisle at the grocery store, too, and now every time he pops up as a director or actor, it feels like something to prize. Not that every decision he makes is golden; the online gambling thriller "Runner Runner" released this fall, after he'd directed and starred in the gripping, Best Picture "Argo," proved to be a nearly historic bomb. Still: the future looks bright for him as an actor too. Next year he'll star in director David Fincher's hotly anticipated adaptation of the literary phenomenon "Gone Girl" and don the cape and cowl for Zack Snyder's untitled "Man of Steel" sequel. If that wasn't enough, he'll either be prepping or shooting his next directorial effort, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's historical mystery "Live by Night." If the renaissance of Affleck the actor hasn't quite happened yet, it sure feels like it's about to.
What Has He Got To Say About It? In a Hollywood Reporter cover story last year, Affleck summed things up succinctly: "I was frustrated with the movies that I had done. I knew that I had something to offer. I said: 'Here are the things I'd like to do: I want to direct movies, and I want to be in a movie that I'm enormously proud of. I want to have kids.' I set out goals. It was a bold thing because when one is accustomed to falling short, as I had been, one becomes fearful of making predictions. But I did."

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10 Comments

  • Leslie | November 15, 2013 9:03 PMReply

    Julia Roberts' comeback after My Best Friend's Wedding and wasn't Katherine Hepburn famously "box office poison" for some portion of her career?

  • Richard | November 14, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    Josh Brolin surely worth a mention.

  • luke | November 7, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    The Phantom Menace was well received by critics when it was released, with many praising the effects, designs and action,. Critics mainly blasted the weak plot and the inclusion of Jar Jar Binks, as well as Jake Lloyds acting skills. Fan reaction was at first mixed to positive but steadily worsened over time into becoming somewhat of a joke in Star Wars fandom. Neesons career wasn't ruined by the film-in fact it was a a further boost in his career as he became more of a household name.

  • nico | November 2, 2013 7:20 PMReply

    ellen burstyn! she made kind of a comeback with "requiem for a dream"

  • BRYAN MILLS | November 1, 2013 5:58 AMReply

    Neeson was never fu**d up like rourke or travolta

    comeback ?

    he was never gone to begin with

  • Juan Meyer | November 1, 2013 12:45 AMReply

    As strange as it might sound, although she has never been away, Meryl Streep made a comeback. During the Nineties she worked hard to turn around her career with comedy, She Devil, Defending your Life, Death Becomes Her and even action The River Wild. She was admired but not loved. The Bridges of Madison gave her a break. But I would say she didn't really explode till The Devil Wears Prada, when she finally became bankable.

  • Sven | November 1, 2013 5:10 AM

    I agree!

  • Anonymouse | October 31, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    I think Mickey Rourke's is the most heartbreaking and most likely to return to his prior destructive tendencies. I think he was robbed of the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Wrestler. Kudos to Sean Penn for acknowledging so during his speech.

  • DUDDI | October 31, 2013 8:36 PMReply

    It's "Mad City" (co starring the great Dustin Hoffman) for Travolta not "Broken City" (2013; starring Wahlberg & Crowe)

  • Tim | October 31, 2013 7:16 PMReply

    Jack: As good as it gets?

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