The film industry can be brutal. One minute an actor can be on top of the world and garnering both critical and financial success, but a few poor film choices later and they are out in the cold and stricken from the “A-list.” Once an actor has become forgotten, it is very hard for them to comeback and rejuvenate their career. Often you will see forgotten actors take on all kinds of cringe-inducing roles to keep their career afloat, but every now and then a forgotten actor will claw their way back to the top and revitalize their career.
10. Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin has never been too far from the public eye, but his career was halted following a public divorce from Kim Basinger which finalized in 2002. Baldwin was enjoying life as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the early ’90s with his roles in The Hunt for Red October, The Marrying Man and Glengarry Glen Ross, but due to the drama in his personal life he attempted to seclude himself from the public eye in the late ’90s and limited his roles. In 2006, however, he came roaring back to superstardom thanks to Tina Fey and 30 Rock, where he played one of the great modern TV characters—Jack Donaghy. In the early 2000s, Baldwin also re-established himself on the big screen with roles in The Cooler, The Aviator and The Departed.
9. Mickey Rourke
After becoming a great Hollywood “tough guy” and the symbol of masculinity in the ’80s, Mickey Rourke’s career soon became overshadowed by his personal life. In 1991, Rourke quit acting and pursued a career in boxing (he was once a successful amateur boxer). Although he went undefeated in eight fights with six wins (four by knockout), he also suffered several nasty injuries including a broken nose, toe and ribs, a compressed cheekbone and a split tongue. This required plastic surgery, but Rourke would later state that he chose the wrong guy and that the surgeon had left his face “a mess.” However, this would work to his advantage and help to launch his career again after being cast as the menacing and bruising character of Marv in Robert Rodriguez’s brilliant Sin City, where he stole the show. He then gave the performance of a lifetime in 2008’s The Wrestler.
8. Katharine Hepburn
When we think back to the greats of Hollywood, we often do not remember them having dips in their career. This is the case for even the best of performers, and perhaps most notably the legendary leading lady Katharine Hepburn, who has a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress. She initially found success in the early 1930s for performances such as Eva Lovelance in Morning Glory, which would earn her the first of her Academy Awards. However, things would take a turn for worse after the success of Little Women, when she endured a slump of commercial failures such as Spitfire, The Little Minister, Break of Heart and Quality Street. She came roaring back with the screen and stage version of The Philadelphia Story in 1940, however, and then formed a legendary screen partnership with Spencer Tracy and created dozens of classic films and earned the utmost respect.
7. Jason Bateman
Jason Bateman rose to fame in the ’80s as an adolescent actor in TV shows such as Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family, but like so many young performers who find fame and fortune, drugs and alcohol nearly ruined his life and career. Bateman stated that his addiction throughout the ’90s was “like Risky Business for 10 years” and he made sporadic appearances in terrible films and cancelled TV shows during this time. He managed to get his career back on track in 2003 when he was cast as Michael Bluth in the fantastic comedy series Arrested Development, which became one of the great modern comedies. He won several awards for his portrayal, and he has since cracked the big screen with roles in Juno, Hancock, Up in the Air, Horrible Bosses, Paul and The Gift. Through these roles, he has proven a talented and versatile performer.
6. Neil Patrick Harris
In order to succeed in the entertainment business, you sometimes have to not take yourself too seriously. Neil Patrick Harris rose to fame as the teenage titular doctor in Doogie Howser, M.D. The series ran from 1989 to 1993, after which Neil Patrick Harris seemed to disappear off the radar, save for a few small TV appearances which left most believing he was just another one hit wonder child star. Over 10 years later, Neil Patrick Harris was back on the scene when he parodied himself in the Harold & Kumar film series. He then landed the role of Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, and since 2009 he has hosted the Tony Awards four times, the Primetime Emmy Awards twice and the 2015 Academy Awards. He is now one of the most recognizable faces on Broadway and television despite being near anonymous for 10 years.
5. Drew Barrymore
Unfortunately, becoming a child star is often the perfect recipe for a disaster, as countless young actors who become famous at such a young age quickly find themselves involved with drug and alcohol problems. In most cases, there is no way back for these performers who once showed so much potential. One performer who thankfully did manage to make a comeback was Drew Barrymore, who rose to fame in the ’80s as a kid in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Irreconcilable Differences and Firestarter. Sadly, Barrymore started using drugs and alcohol at a very young age and twice found herself in rehab at just 13 years old. She managed to transition into a successful adult actor years later with films such as Poison Ivy, Scream and Everyone Says I Love You, and these paved the way for her to star in popular rom-coms including The Wedding Singer, Charlie’s Angels and 50 First Dates.
4. Marlon Brando
Much like Katherine Hepburn, Marlon Brando is held in such high regard that many people do not realize that there was a period in his career where he almost became forgotten. He exploded onto the scene with his unforgettable portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and he built on this in On the Waterfront, The Wild One and Julius Caesar. The ’60s were a difficult decade for Brando, however, as he appeared in a string of box office flops. He did not appear in a successful film for 10 years, but then stunned the world and picked up his second Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather. This is considered by many to be the greatest film ever and his most iconic performance. He was also nominated for an Oscar for Last Tango in Paris, establishing himself as a star once again.
3. John Travolta
It is now difficult to imagine anyone other than John Travolta as Quentin Tarantino’s iconic Vincent Vega character in his 1993 classic Pulp Fiction, but it was a role that was meant for Michael Madsen. At the time, John Travolta had faded into obscurity despite being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the mid to late ’70s (most notably through Grease and Saturday Night Fever). His career would then flounder with appearances in both financial and critical failures, but fortunately for Travolta, Tarantino is a movie buff who remembered his previous golden days. He was cast to play Vincent Vega in what would become one of the best films of all time and earn him an Oscar nomination. After this, his career was suddenly alive and kicking again with roles in films such as Get Shorty, Face/Off, Primary Colors and Swordfish. He is still working consistently today and considered an A-lister.
2. Joaquin Phoenix
Ordinarily, if a respected actor announced that they were quitting acting to pursue a career as a rapper then there is no way back for them, but Joaquin Phoenix managed to do just that. Considered to be one of the most highly acclaimed working actors, with breathtaking performances in films such as Gladiator, Quills, Walk the Line and Two Lovers along with two Academy Award nominations, he then suddenly made the shock announcement that he was quitting his career as an actor in an infamous appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. It was later revealed that this was all for a mockumentary that he and Casey Affleck were filming called I’m Still Here, but the stunt backfired and caused the movie to fail at the box office and Phoenix took a self-imposed break from acting. It was a long way back, but Phoenix dazzled in 2012’s The Master and has since impressed in other films such as Her, Inherent Vice and Irrational Man.
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. is one of the highest paid actors today thanks to his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and other huge films such as Tropic Thunder and Sherlock Holmes. His career blossomed in the late ’80s and early ’90s in films including Weird Science, Less Than Zero, Soapdish and Natural Born Killers, but like many other young stars (and a few on this list) a drug addiction took its toll and he even spent time in jail for drug possession. After spending time in a court ordered drug treatment program, Downey was able to kick his addiction and looked to get his career back on track. Close friend Mel Gibson paid his insurance bond for 2003’s The Singing Detective, and this paved the way for his comeback. He soon had roles in Gothika, A Scanner Darkly, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Zodiac before appearing in multiple blockbusters.