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From Shambles to Success: 10 Best Comebacks in Hollywood

best actor comebacks in hollywood
Source: Lionsgate Movies/YouTube; Marvel Entertainment/YouTube

Feb. 16 2024, Published 12:05 a.m. ET

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Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser, who faced health setbacks and took a hiatus from Hollywood, made a career comeback in the film The Whale, which earned a six-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

The role earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor in 2023.

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Eddie Muphy

Eddie Murphy waited a couple of years before starring in another movie following Mr. Church in 2016. His latest work, Dolemite Is My Name, helped him score a nomination at the Golden Globes.

Despite the public saying it was his successful comeback project, he told The Hollywood Reporter why he thought it wasn't.

“The whole return thing. Nobody leaves now. Now they have all these cable channels and satellite movie channels and social media,” he explained. “You really can’t leave, even if you wanted to leave, you can’t leave. Your image is always out there.”

Murphy continued, “It’s the latest thing I’ve done. But there is no return or anything. You never leave.”

John Travolta

From having instant success with his early movies and shows, John Travolta experienced a sudden drop in his career following the commercial failure of Blow Out. Fortunately, Quentin Tarantino tapped him to play the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.

“John’s always been one of my favorite actors,” the filmmaker said of Travolta. “It made me a little sad that the work he’d done in the last five years hasn’t reflected the actor of his talent.”

Travolta was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards in 1995. He also won Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero) at the David di Donatello Awards and Actor of the Year at the 1995 London Critics Circle Film Awards.

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Keanu Reeves

Despite the success of The Matrix franchise, Keanu Reeves had a hard time extending his success, resulting in some flops. But in 2014, John Wick became a box office success.

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Marlon Brando

The Godfather saved Marlon Brando and his career from falling into darkness, although Paramount did not initially want him to lead the role.

The company considered a long list of actors to portray the role in the film — Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and George C. Scott, to name a few — but Francis Ford Coppola fought for him and chose Brando in the end.

“I mean, [Brando] was not just a great actor... he was, aside from his acting, a kind of genius. […] He wasn’t difficult to work with, he just worked a different way,” Coppola said of rumors about Brando. “You didn’t talk to him about acting or, I think, 'your motivation blah blah blah,' you didn't talk about that.”

He continued, “In fact you didn’t even have to talk to him, you’d just put a prop in his hand and he’d then use that prop to accomplish what you really wanted.”

Brando transformed into a moneymaking actor again.

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Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton decided not to accept any main roles for nearly two decades after the success of his early works like Night Shift, Beetlejuice and the Batman franchise. He shifted his journey when he played the role of a superhero named Birdman in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film Birdman.

The flick won the Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.

Birdman also received the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay, while Keaton brought home his first-ever Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

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Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke had to leave his acting career due to issues about his alleged poor on-set behavior. After focusing on boxing, he reclaimed his glory in The Wrestler — which earned him an Oscar nod.

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Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage played the fictionalized version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and his performance caught critics’ eyes — so much so, they soon showered him with positive responses.

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Robert Downey Jr.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe saved Robert Downey Jr.’s then-falling career following years of battle with drug abuse and dealings with the law. He scored the role of Tony Stark, a.k.a Iron Man in the franchise, and he continued playing the character until Avengers: End Game.

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Winona Ryder

After her public scandals and personal issues, Winona Ryder came back strong in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Although she did not play a major role, she told The Guardian she was fine with minor appearances.

"I took some years off, and I didn’t realize that was very dangerous in terms of my career," she said. "I was constantly being told, 'You have to keep working so you stay relevant.' When I was ready to come back, I was like, 'Oh, where did everyone go?' A lot of actors have ups and downs. I think mine were — people might see them as awful — but I learned, and I appreciated the time away."

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