10 Greatest Hollywood Comeback Performances

More often than not actors in Hollywood stumble, this usually occurs when they make bad choices in choosing projects or bad choices in life. However, many actors also manage to turn around this bad stoke of luck and in the process rejuvenate their careers. Over the years we have witnessed many against-all-odds Hollywood comebacks, here are my ten favorite ones.


10. Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights

MARK WAHLBERG & BURT REYNOLDSMark Wahlberg with Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights

Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star on the planet at one time, even if his movies did not receive critical acclaim they always made money. But poor career choices saw Reynold’s career sink to unimaginable lows and in the end he was content with appearing in just about any movie he was asked to star in. In 1997 however Paul Thomas Anderson brought out a superb performance from Reynolds as Jack Horner after casting him in his second feature Boogie Nights. It didn’t last though and it wasn’t long before Reynolds was back to starring in C movies.


9. Joaquin Phoenix – The Master

Joaquin Phoenix  master

Joaquin Phoenix had established himself as one of the top actors in the business by 2005. The actor had experienced a steady rise through his performances in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Quills, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, Hotel Rwanda and finally an Oscar nominated turn as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. In 2005 though Phoenix experienced a near death encounter when he barely survived a car accident while being intoxicated. The actor checked himself into rehab and returned in 2007 with strong performances in We Own the Night and Reservation Road but ultimately Paul Thomas Anderson can be credited for bringing about his comeback (again) when he cast him in his 2012 film The Master, Phoenix went on to earn his third Academy Award nomination for his performance, this was followed by more great performances in Spike Jonze’s Her and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.


8. Dennis Hopper – Blue Velvet, Hoosiers

Dennis Hopper and Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet

Dennis Hopper hit the big time with his counter-culture indie hit Easy Rider but saw his career sinking due his severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. His pretentious and self-indulgent follow-up to Easy Rider, The Last Movie did not help either. After a dry 70’s the actor came back from rehab and saved his career with two amazing performances in 1986. His first performance as a reformed drunk in Hoosiers got him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but ultimately it was his unforgettable turn as Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet that made sure the comeback was complete.


7. Marlon Brando – The Godfather

the-godfather-007

Marlon Brando took Hollywod by storm in the 50’s after turning in one great performance after another in films like: A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Viva Zapata! which earned the actor four consecutive Oscar nominations between 1952 and 1955 and another one in ’58. However, the actor lost his momentum towards the 60’s by starring in some middling and mediocre films which led to him auditioning for the role of Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Brando got the role and turned in one of the greatest acting performances ever. Brando went on to win his second Oscar, and cement himself as one of the best actors in the business. He followed his performance in The Godfather by an Oscar nominated one in Last Tango in Paris, a wonderful cameo in Superman and a superb supporting turn in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.


6. Michael Keaton- Birdman

Film Spirit Awards

Michael Keaton was known to most of us as the guy who played Batman in the Tim Burton movies. After strong performances in Tim Burton’s Bettlejuice and Batman movies the actor failed to truly establish himself as a leading man and fell to small supporting roles and became more of a character actor rather than one who headlines movies. That was until Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman, where the actor gave a masterful, commanding performance as Riggan Thompson, an actor once famous for playing a superhero in a big-time movie franchise who struggles to stay relevant and looks to write, direct and star in a theater adaptation of a Raymond Carver play. Another reason why Keaton completely nailed the role was because the character of Riggan Thompson seemed to be loosely based on Keaton himself. While Keaton lost the Oscar to Eddie Redmayne his performance will be remembered for time to come and will hopefully play a vital part in reviving his career.


5. Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

mickey-rourke-in-the-wres-001

Mickey Rourke was a particularly familiar face in the 1980’s and starred in many great movies like: Diner, Body Heat, Angel Heart. In 1991, however the actor decided to become a professional boxer. It wasn’t until 1994 that he returned to acting but his career wasn’t the same and the actor saw himself downgraded to smaller supporting roles. Rourke’s first good role in ages was that of Marv in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City but it wasn’t until Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler that the actor truly found his groove. Rourke delivered a powerful and compelling performance that earned him a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Like Keaton’s role in Birdman this role also seemed to be loosely based on Rourke’s career, a burned out fighter looking for one last shot at redemption. Sadly however Mickey Rourke has not managed to follow his performance in The Wrestler with more good ones and has since then faded away into obscurity .


4. John Travolta – Pulp Fiction

john-travolta-and-samuel-001

John Travolta burst out onto the scene in the 70’s with two iconic performances in Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Towards the 80’s however the actor experienced a serious career downfall and apart from an under-rated performance in Bran De Palma’s Blow Out the actor had pretty forgettable decade filled with many flops. In 1994 however Quentin Tarantino took it upon himself to single-handedly resurrect Travolta’s career by casting him as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction despite the studio being against it. Tarantino had been a fan of Travolta ever since he saw Blow Out and admitted he hadn’t seen the actor in a good role since that movie. The move paid off and Travolta delivered a resounding performance that got him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, his first one in 17 years. Travolta found himself reinstated as an A-lister and followed Pulp Fiction with Get Shorty, Broken Arrow and Face/Off. Unfortunately it was all ruined by Battlefield Earth.


3. Ben Affleck- The Town

actor-and-director-ben-af-007

I don’t think anyone expected Ben Affleck to make the comeback he did. The star started out as an actor in the early 90’s but rose to fame when he and his childhood buddy Matt Damon wrote and starred in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting for which they won an Academy Award for Best Writing/ Original Screenplay. While Damon carried on his momentum to become one of the greatest actors of his generation Affleck could not and after Good Will Hunting the actor’s career began to experience a steady decline. By 2004 he had become the laughing stock of Hollywood due to his performances in some notoriously bad movies like: Pearl Harbour, Daredevil and Gigli. He won the Raspberry award for Worst Actor the same year and to most people Affleck’s career in Hollywood was done. The actor went into acting exile and his first show of promise finally came in 2007 when he directed his brother Casey Affleck in Gone Baby Gone. After Gone Baby Gone it was evident that he could make good as a director and in 2010 he directed himself in heist thriller; The Town. Not only was The Town an amazing film but Affleck delivered a magnificent performance as well. He continued directing and in 2012 he starred and directed Argo which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Indeed Ben Affleck’s Hollywood comeback was complete and the actor-director has since starred in David Fincher’s latest venture Gone Girl and most importantly is next up to play Batman.


2. Matthew McConaughey- Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey never exactly experienced a fall from grace like Mickey Rourke or John Travolta it’s just that his career never really took off. He was known to most people for his endless string of romantic comedies and an occasional dramatic turn. However, In 2011 the actor began to experience a career resurgence that is known to most of us as the ‘McConaissance’. McConaughey delivered consistently fantastic performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe, Mud, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and finally an Oscar winning one in Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey physical transformation in Dallas Buyers Club was remarkable and his performance even more so. McConaughey has since established himself as a bonafide A-lister and Post- McConaissance we had the pleasure of seeing even more phenomenal performances in True Detective and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and it doesn’t look like the actor’s streak is ending anytime soon, he’s up for Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees next.


1. Robert Downey Jr.- Iron Man, Tropic Thunder

Robert Downey Jnr in Iron Man

Among all the success stories however Robert Downey Jr’s remains the most inspiring. Downey hit the big time in the early 90’s with roles in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Oliver Stone’s controversial Natural Born Killers and Richard Attenborough’s Charlie Chaplin biopic Chaplin which got him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Downey was one of the hottest prospects in Hollywood but in the blink of an eye he threw it all away. This was because of his subsequent struggle with drugs which led to him being arrested a number of times between 1996-2001. The charges included possession of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. In 2001, he was faced with two choices, go to jail or go to rehab. The actor chose the latter and finally cleaned himself up and returned to mainstream films in the mid 2000’s with solid performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night, and Good Luck and David Fincher’s Zodiac. However it wasn’t until 2008 that he truly solidified himself as a movie star after a career defining performance in Iron Man and a superb, unhinged one in Tropic Thunder which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Downey Jr. has since become one of the most popular and recognizable faces on the planet and was the highest paid actor in Hollywood in 2013 with wages of $75m.


-Khalid Rafi

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