10 Forgotten Actors Who Made Great Comebacks | ScreenRant

It's rare, but Hollywood can sometimes be a forgiving place. Usually, when an actor fades from public consciousness, it stays that way. Sometimes, however, an actor will land a project that bounces them back up to the A-list.

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A lot of the success stems from an actor finding a role that is well-suited to their personality. A child star can find the perfect role as a child then later find the perfect role as an adult. Other times it's an actor who did very well in one decade, only to have their popularity sink in the next. The movie industry is an unpredictable one, but these actors managed to make it back to the top — for a while, at least.

10 Neil Patrick Harris – Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)

Doogie Howser, M.D. child star Neil Patrick Harris made a very successful transition to having a career in the industry as an adult.

The starting point was a cannabis comedy. In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Harris plays a hilarious fictional versional himself. His reprisal of the playfully biographical character in the sequels also felt organic in their absurdity. Just one year after the first Harold & Kumar, Harris scored big with his acclaimed roles as Barney Stinson on the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Since then, he's played Count Olaf in Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events series and has a role in the upcoming The Matrix Resurrections.

9 Eddie Murphy – Dreamgirls (2006)

Eddie Murphy's career has had its ebbs and flows. He did very well in the 1980s with films such as 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop. The '90s weren't as kind to Murphy, with such films as Vampire in Brooklyn and Metro failing to impress.

His comeback came in the form of Dreamgirls. He even received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his intense and focused performance as James "Thunder" Early. Along with Jennifer Hudson, Murphy was seen as one of the film's standouts. His star then faded again only to bounce back once more with the biopic Dolemite Is My Name.

8 Jason Bateman – Arrested Development (2003)

Jason Bateman had an admirable career as a late-1980s teen star in TV series Little House on the Prairie and Silver Spoons. However, the 1990s weren't nearly as notably prolific for the star.

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Bateman began to really shine when cast as the "straight man" in a comedy. Horrible BossesIdentity ThiefGame NightOffice Christmas Party and Extract all contain variations of this archetype, and those projects wouldn't even serve as the full list. But Bateman's second career wind all started with his role as begrudged and hilarious patriarch Michael Bluth in Arrested Development. The series showed that Bateman is the perfect foil to abnormal surrounding events.

7 Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights (1997)

Burt Reynolds was and always will be a Hollywood icon. With films like DeliveranceSmokey & the Bandit, and The Longest Yard, Reynolds was one of the most proficient and lucrative stars of the 1970s.

The 1980s didn't produce such a result. Then, in the late '90s, Reynolds came back in a major way. His performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights is one of the film's best. Reynolds received a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as determined pornographic film director Jack Horner. While Boogie Nights would be his last revered film, Reynolds worked steadily until his death in 2018.

6 Drew Barrymore – Scream (1996)

As a former child star known primarily for starring in E.T., Drew Barrymore reinvented her Hollywood career with Poison Ivy in 1992. Still, it wasn't until 1996 that she made a major splash on the silver screen as an adult.

Bit role in Batman Forever aside, Scream was Barrymore's reintroduction to the viewing public, and she was prominently featured the film's promotional materials. Then, she dies 15 minutes in. Her good-natured charm was hard to lose so early on, but audiences got a lot more of it just two years later with The Wedding Singer. As Casey Becker, Barrymore reminded moviegoers of her star power and was rewarded with success.

5 Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler (2008)

Mickey Rourke did some fantastic work in the 1980s and early 1990s (i.e. Angel Heart and Diner) before fading from public consciousness. There's an argument to be made that Mickey Rourke's brief but astronomical comeback truly began with Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. There, though, he was shrouded in prosthetics. 

In Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Rourke plays washed up wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson. His performance is so nuanced and shocking in how true it feels to the viewer. This is the role Rourke was born to play. The fact that his career resurgence only lasted for about two years is a true shame.

4 John Travolta – Pulp Fiction (1994)

John Travolta made a name for himself in the 1970s, breaking out on TV series Welcome Back, Kotter and becoming an A-lister with awesome dance moves in Grease and Saturday Night Fever. He then disappeared from the spotlight in the '80s. And while Travolta's star power has again faded, there was a time when he bounced back to the A-List with a witty neo-noir.

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Pulp Fiction rescued Travolta from his mid to late-'80s lull (the highpoint of which was the Look Who's Talking trilogy). Quentin Tarantino's sophomore hit proved that Travolta could do comedy and intimidating gangster, and he could do both simultaneously. It was Pulp Fiction that led to the Elmore Leonard adaptation Get Shorty and the underrated Clinton-era film, Primary Colors.

3 Marlon Brando – The Godfather (1972)

The 1950s was essentially the decade of Brando: A Streetcar Named Desire, Julius Caesar, The Wild One, On The Waterfront, Guys and Dolls.

The 1960s didn't produce quite the same results for the legendary actor. Not one of his films from the decade has gone on to be seen as a classic. Then, in 1972, he bounced back in a major way. The Godfather is widely seen as one of (if not the) greatest films of all time. Brando was a big part of that reception with one of his most intimidating roles as Don Corleone. Furthermore, his performance in Last Tango in Paris that very same year also received praise (if not also controversy).

2 Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe (2011)

Matthew McConaughey first made a name for himself in the rom-com genre: The Wedding PlannerHow to Lose a Guy in 10 DaysFailure to LaunchFool's GoldGhosts of Girlfriends Past. While nobody could deny the actor's charm, he was seen as a bit of a one-trick pony in Hollywood.

2012's The Lincoln Lawyer is credited as the launch of the McConaissance, but in actuality, McConaughey's epic comeback came in the form of Killer Joe. The film (which received a very limited release due to an NC-17 rating) has persisted in being underseen. A decade later it stands as the example of how McConaughey can flip his good-ol'-boy charm on its head and take on serious fare. Two years after Killer Joe's release, McConaughey would go on to win a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Dallas Buyers Club.

1 Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man (2008)

Robert Downey Jr. had an endlessly publicized fall from grace after having a prolific decade in the '80s. His troubled personal life got him more attention than his skilled work in the '90s, in films like Chaplin and Bowfinger.

Iron Man was more than a comeback; it felt like the true beginning of Downey's career. To viewers all over the world, he truly is Iron Man, and it's very difficult imagining someone else in the role. This film made him a household name across the globe. His continued work with the character only solidified that stature.

NEXT: 10 Things That Happen In Every Robert Downey Jr. Movie



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