Well, he did say, “I’ll be baaack.” After a decade or so running California (into the ground, critics might say), Arnold Schwarzenegger has re-traded politics for the real snake pit of cynical PR and double-dealing, the movie business. Ahead of ‘The Governator’s return in new action flick The Last Stand, we train the IGN telescope on the best – and worst – attempts of once-bright stars to shine again.
15. Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights (1997)
With little more than a smirk and a ‘tache, Reynolds strutted through ‘70s and mid-‘80s Hollywood as box-office stud and critical joke – until Paul Thomas Anderson cast him as porn guru Jack Horner in his breakout master(baiting?) piece. Reynolds nails Horner’s tragicomic pathos but sadly it was the renaissance equivalent of a one-night stand, Reynolds spunking away PTA’s deliverance on yet more C-movie trash.
14. Eddie Murphy – Dreamgirls (2006)
In comedy, timing is everything. Which might explain why Murphy’s star so often fritzes like strobe lighting. How did he follow his acclaimed, all-singing, all-dancing, Oscar-nominated James Brown-esque Dreamgirls turn? With the racist, misogynist, career-low of Norbit, released before the Academy’s ballots even closed. In one truly foul swoop, Murphy’s comeback trail fizzled out and a once-great talent short-circuited himself yet again.
13. Drew Barrymore – Scream (1996)
The Spielberg-appointed E.T. moppet from acting royalty turned “Little Girl Lost”, Barrymore’s drink-and-drugs tell-all autobiography – written aged fifteen – chronicled how her child star credit had expired A few coquette-ish ‘90s roles turned a corner, but her pre-credit shock demise in Wes Craven’s meta-slasher reminded everyone of her game spirit and inherent likability. To Barrymore’s credit she then consolidated herself as both rom-com go-to girl and feisty girl power filmmaker.
12. Al Pacino – Sea of Love (1989)
When audiences revolted at notorious historical epic Revolution and his mangled Cockney accent, ‘70s movie legend Pacino surrendered. Retreating to the stage, it took four years for Al to return to the big screen, in the relative safety of this slick, steamy Noo Yawk thriller. Though subsequent classics like Heat are perhaps outweighed by too many roles of SUDDEN SHOUTINESS, would you swap late-period Pacino for anyone? Fuggedaboudit. HOO-HA!
11. Ben Affleck – Gone Baby Gone (2007)
From Oscar-winning screenwriter (with BFF Matt Damon) aged 25 to high-profile fiascos (Gigli) and celebrity punchline ‘Bennifer’ (with not-BFF J.Lo) – Ben Affleck’s lantern-jawed leadenness onscreen didn’t bode well. Which makes his re-invention as an accomplished writer-director even more impressive: gripping Boston crime stories Gone Baby Gone and The Town followed by this year’s award-magnet, licensing him to echo his movie’s kiss-off to his own critics: “Argo f*** yourself.”
10. Jason Bateman – Arrested Development (2003-6)
A run of successful smart-arse kid roles, an abortive cash-in movie career (Teen Wolf Too) and glut of failed sitcoms sent Bateman’s adult career into a permanent state of – ba-dum-tish! – arrested development. Ironic, then, that the same-named virtuoso cult comedy (and smart supporting film roles like Juno) showcased his quietly twisted straight man skills, relaunching Bateman from can’t-get-arrested to one of America’s most wanted comic talents.
9. Neil Patrick Harris – Harold & Kumar
Another child star, best known as TV’s kid genius Doogie Howser M.D., Harris seemed stymied by his lovable, butter-wouldn’t-melt persona. How better to explode it than playing “Neil Patrick Harris”, a sordid, womanizing party animal in a stoner comedy? One of the best “as himself” cameos ever, Harris destroyed preconceptions so thoroughly that he’s now one of Hollywood’s few openly gay leading men. Now that’s genius.
8. Gloria Swanson – Sunset Boulevard (1950)
“I am big; it’s the pictures that got small,” “We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces.” Silent movie legend Swanson’s own fate cruelly echoed her fictional counterpart Norma Desmond’s in Billy Wilder’s poisonous Hollywood valentine, cast aside by the ‘talkies’. With Sunset, though, their fates diverge: Swanson’s swan-song is a defiant triumph, the veteran more than ready, unlike delusional Desmond, for one final, glorious close-up.
7. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008)
Stallone’s punchdrunk ‘80s action heyday seemed a supersized embarrassment; his previous reboot as a serious actor (1997’s Copland) lasted precisely one film. So, in true Rocky Balboa style, the Italian Stallion embraced his heritage, rising from the canvas for a one-two KO combo of his two iconic heroes. In a career anything but expendable, come the apocalypse, look for Sly to go toe-to-toe with the cockroaches.
6. Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler (2008)
Another ‘80s burnout who re-found himself in the ring, Rourke’s redemption in Darren Aronofsky’s searing drama actively played on the actor’s failings (and own fighting career) as a “broken-down piece of meat”, while still proving that genuine talent always deserves a rematch. Rourke’s track record since is predictably patchy, but for one thrilling moment, as Oscar rival Sean Penn declared, Mickey Rourke was back.
5. Marlon Brando – The Godfather (1972)
‘Method’ actor poster boy who redefined post-war American acting, a decade on Brando’s stock had so plummeted, he was required to audition for Francis Ford Coppola’s mafioso saga. Forget the tissue-stuffed cheeks and shoe-polish-blackened hair, it’s sheer star charisma and craft that put Brando back on Hollywood’s map – a place he may have disdained (refusing his Best Actor Oscar) but even his subsequent excesses couldn’t deny.
4. Frank Sinatra – From Here to Eternity (1953)
Speaking of The Godfather, the jury’s still out as to whether the sub-plot of the mob shoehorning an actor into a film (the infamous “offer they can’t refuse”), is inspired by Sinatra’s sensational dramatic comeback as a doomed soldier in From Here to Eternity. What’s irrefutable is that Ol’ Blue Eyes was near unemployable onscreen until this last-minute substitution won him an Oscar and helped re-establish Frank as the eternal ‘Chairman of the Board’.
3. Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man (2008)
Reeling between prison, rehab, and even a neighbour’s child’s bed, RDJ wasted endless second chances, becoming uninsurable. Eventually cleaning himself up, Marvel’s gamble on Downey as billionaire playboy Tony Stark paid off, the actor’s funky insouciance (like Depp in Pirates) helping to forge a genuine blockbuster. He’s now entrusted with two studio franchises – Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes – all while maintaining his hipster cool. Back in black indeed.
2. Dennis Hopper – Blue Velvet (1986) and Hoosiers (1986)
Arguably Keith Richards’ only rival in excess, Hopper cruised into belated stardom with counter-culture classic Easy Rider, then imploded with self-indulgent follow-up The Last Movie. After 15 years drinking and snorting his way into oblivion, from nowhere, two mid-80s roles saved him. Hoosiers’ reformed drunk got Oscar attention but his terrifying Frank Booth in David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet made Hopper Hollywood’s favourite bad boy both on and off screen.
1. John Travolta – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Career fairy godmother (Pam Grier, David Carradine, etc) Quentin Tarantino’s greatest salvage job! Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever/Grease peak was ancient history and, wisecracking baby comedies aside, he was a sad cautionary tale. QT alone saw the star wattage had dimmed but not died as Travolta’s iconic befuddled hitman shot him straight back to the A-list pinnacle. A true Hollywood fairytale stranger than any pulp fiction.
The published article can be read on IGN – ‘The Greatest Movie Star Comebacks‘