The top 10 celebrity comebacks

Top 10 celebrity comebacks. By Simon Miraudo.

Third time’s the charm? Mel Gibson tries to resurrect his flailing career once more this week in Get the Gringo. His previous efforts – The Beaver and Edge of Darkness – were roundly rejected by audiences who were more entertained/horrified by his off-screen exploits (which, surely, you don’t need reminding of here). In … honour? … of his latest endeavour, we thought we’d look back on ten actors who have survived controversy, drug abuse, sex scandals, obsolescence, love-fuelled furniture-vaulting, and even the Look Who’s Talking franchise and made triumphant returns to the world of cinema (and escaped being filed alongside Fatty Arbuckle in the ‘Gone for Good’ section of Hollywood’s history books)

10. Christian Bale

Restart point: The Fighter

The former child star actually transitioned nicely into the world of adult filmmaking (whereas most child stars usually wind up in the world of, you know, adult filmmaking). Bale scored the role of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s reboot, but even up until The Dark Knight s record-breaking run, he wasn’t quite a household name. That all changed when he yelled at the DOP of McG‘s Terminator: Salvation, instantly solidifying his reputation as a mean ol’ grouch that doesn’t like people getting in his eyeline. Two years later, he scored an Oscar for his transformative work in The Fighter, charming us all with his Academy Award speech. His career wasn’t ever really in danger, but it’s worth noting that three years later we’re still saying, “Oh, goooood for you.”

9. Joaquin Phoenix

Restart point: I’m Still Here

Later this year we’ll see Joaquin in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, the actor’s first role since his fake-meltdown. But the mockumentary he and Casey Affleck made amidst his faux-freakout (during which time he quit acting and tried to start a rap career) was good enough to be considered a comeback in itself! I’m Still Here is an underrated examination of the vapidity of celebrity. We welcome Phoenix back with open arms.

8. Anne Heche

Restart point: Cedar Rapids

Anne Heche is known firstly as the ex-partner of Ellen DeGeneres, and secondly as an actress, which is evidence that her fledgling career was stifled by her heavily scrutinised private life rather than elevated by it. When her relationship crumbled and the offers dried up, Heche began to imagine herself as a prophet named Celestia, awaiting a spaceship to whisk her to a better world. There’s no evidence of Celestia in the 2011 comedy Cedar Rapids, where she plays an insanely charming insurance saleswoman who treats small-town boy Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) to a weekend he’ll never forget.

7. Rob Lowe

Restart point: The West Wing

Brat-Packer Rob Lowe spends only half a page of his recent biography Stories I Only Tell My Friends on the sex-tape scandal of 1988, and only a little bit more on his stint at The West Wing (which he left at the end of Season Four following ongoing disagreements with show runner Aaron Sorkin, and disappointment with his diminished role). Never mind. Sam Seaborn remains one of television’s best characters, on one of television’s all-time greatest shows. And besides, we now get to enjoy Lowe as Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation, so we’re not complaining.

6. Tom Cruise

Restart point: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Scientology. Oprah’s couch. Trapped in the Closet. Tom Cruise is, sadly, as much a punch-line as he is a major cinematic draw-card. His standing as one of the last movie stars was temporarily threatened following his most recent ‘adventures’ and steadily decreasing box office, but the super-successful Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol bucked the trend. Cruise took a paycut on the film, agreeing to back-end profits. Good call.

5. John Travolta

Restart point: Pulp Fiction

The Saturday Night Fever star was desperately in need of a life raft following an entire decade of box office flops, embarrassments, and not one, not two, but three Look Who’s Talking flicks. Salvation came in the form of Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction, for which he received a Best Actor nod. Travolta has since appeared in a number of smashes (with a couple clunkers in between), but most importantly, has avoided controversy his entire life. Oh, right…

4. Drew Barrymore

Restart point: Scream

Gertie grew into one of Hollywood’s most notorious bad girls, picking up a drug habit and starring in saucy thrillers like Poison Ivy. Today, she’s one of America’s most adorable sweethearts, and that’s thanks mostly to her parts in the rom-coms The Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed, and 50 First Dates. However, credit needs to be given to her opening scene cameo in Scream, where she successfully straddled the line of cinematic sex-pot and virginal victim; cleansing the demons of the past and paving a way for a new career going forward. On-screen gutting = rebirth? Sure, why the hell not!

3. Mickey Rourke

Restart point 1: Sin City
Restart point 2: The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke has had more than a couple bites of the apple, seemingly squandering his chance at superstardom every time. Once considered one of the sexiest actors alive, he turned to boxing and destroyed his face. This worked in his favour in Robert RodriguezSin City, where he played the gruff – and unkillable – Marv. Perhaps it was due to his unrecognisable turn, but he seemingly disappeared again when the dust of that hit flick settled. A couple years later, he was brought back to life in Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler, scoring an Oscar nom in the process. He’s since played a villain in Iron Man 2, but we’re not betting that this comeback will last either.

2. Bill Murray

Restart point: Rushmore

Wise-cracking rebel Bill Murray, with the help of indie auteurs Wes Anderson (Rushmore) and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), reinvented himself as a solemn, haunted, yet still funny older fellow in his later years. The irony is, of all the celebs on this list, he seems like the one who cares least about ‘coming back’.

1. Robert Downey Jr.

Restart point: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

You cannot deny that The Avengers, despite being an ensemble flick, is anchored by Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark. Certainly a large proportion of the audience saw it exclusively because they love his work in the Iron Man films, which have collectively grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide. Let’s also consider the billion dollars his two Sherlock Holmes movies have grossed, again thanks to his innate charisma. Downey Jr.’s days as a troubled, drug-addled, gun-carrying screw-up are long gone, and today’s generation of RDJ-obsessives likely aren’t even aware of his past. He wouldn’t have been trusted with the Iron Man franchise if he hadn’t first shown off his chops in Shane Black’s hilarious neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, on which he gave up his salary to cover his insanely-high insurance premium. He has since offered invaluable supporting turns in Good Night and Good Luck, Zodiac, and Tropic Thunder, for which he earned his second Oscar nomination (sixteen years after Chaplin). It’s good to have him back.

Discuss: OK, who did we miss?

One Response to “The top 10 celebrity comebacks”

  1. Cool list, but everything is so recent! What about Gloria Swanson’s Oscar-winning turn in “Sunset Boulevard” (playing… well, herself, basically)? Or Katharine Hepburn going from box-office poison to “Bringing Up Baby”?

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