What Comes Next
Winning an Oscar or starring in a box office smash can be a prelude to superstardom, but it's no guarantee. Click through for 22 actors whose "breakthrough" role somehow didn't take them to the next level.
Louise Fletcher, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
It's not as if there were no big stars vying to play Nurse Ratched in this celebrated 1975 film set in a psychiatric ward. Among those considered: Jane Fonda, Geraldine Page and Angela Lansbury, for starters. But the role went instead to a relative unknown, Louise Fletcher, whose performance earned her a Best Actress Oscar. She has made more than 60 movies since then, but most of them went by unnoticed.
Mark Hamill, "Star Wars"
The movie gods bestowed upon him an iconic role in one of the biggest-grossing movies in Hollywood history. At the same time, they took his career to the dark side. It's called being typecast. Hamill auditioned to play the role of Mozart in the film version of "Amadeus," having performed the part on Broadway, but a studio exec reportedly told the producers, "I don't want Luke Skywalker in this film."
Katharine Houghton, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"
She played Sidney Poitier's fiancée in this 1967 movie about an interracial couple and their parents. Portraying Houghton's socialite mother was her real-life aunt, Katharine Hepburn, who won the Best Actress Oscar for the role. Despite Haughton's Hollywood lineage, only a handful of films followed. She eventually became a playwright.
Christopher Atkins, "The Blue Lagoon"
Atkins was 19 when he starred opposite a 14-year-old Brooke Shields in this story of two more or less naked adolescents marooned on an island paradise.The high school lifeguard and sailing instructor reportedly beat out 2,000 contenders for the role. Although it was Atkins' first film, it wasn't his last—he's made dozens, just not as a star or minus his clothes.
Keir Dullea, "2001: A Space Odyssey"
The actor received art-house recognition with 1962's "David & Lisa" and, six years later, his career went into orbit when he got the lead role in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece. The film has withstood the test of time. As for its star, it was a case of "Kier Dullea, gone tomorrow."
Gwen Verdon, "Damn Yankees"
After winning a Tony for her stage performance as Lola, the vampy devil's assistant, Verdon played the same role in the 1958 movie. But her sexiness didn't come across, despite her flaming red hair, pinup body and come-hither voice. We can only dream of Marilyn Monroe having been cast instead, breathlessly singing, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." Sigh.
F. Murray Abraham, "Amadeus"
Milos Foreman could have had any actor to portray the scheming composer Antonio Salieri in the film version of Peter Shaffer's play. Al Pacino even did a screen test in costume and makeup. Yet the director chose Murray, a New York stage actor, to play Mozart's jealous rival. Critics raved, and Hollywood gave Murray the Academy Award for Best Actor. They just didn't give him many big starring roles after that.
Tom Hulce, "Amadeus"
Fortune smiled on the relatively unknown actor when he was cast as Mozart opposite F. Murray Abraham's Salieri. Hulce's giddy interpretation of the composer earned him a Best Actor nom. Although he got plenty of work, his career didn't soar, and Hulce retired from acting in the mid-'90s to become a theater director and producer. In 2007, he won a Tony Award as lead producer of the Broadway musical, "Spring Awakening."
John Raitt, "The Pajama Game"
Bonnie Raitt's father, a tenor with one of the most beautiful voices in musical theater, starred on Broadway in the original production of "The Pajama Game." Unfortunately, he seemed stiff and unnatural opposite Doris Day in the 1957 movie adaptation. "The Pajama Game" put his film career to bed.
Natasha Kinski, "Tess"
The German actress was ravishing to look at in Roman Polanski's 1979 film adaptation of the Thomas Hardy classic "Tess of the d'Urbervilles." But even though she won a Golden Globe for Best New Actress of the Year, her subsequent movies like "One from the Heart" and "Paris, Texas" failed to fill theaters. Richard Avedon photographed Kinski in the nude with a python curled around her body. That the public wanted to see.
Sam J. Jones, "Flash Gordon"
Producer Dino De Laurentiis cast former Playgirl magazine model Sam J. Jones in the title role of this 1980 sci-fi movie, in which he takes a rocket ship to Planet Mongo to do battle with its ruler, Ming the Merciless. But it was the critics who proved truly merciless. Jones keeps busy today signing autographs at comic book conventions.
Dennis Christopher, "Breaking Away"
In this joyous coming-of-age film, Christopher plays an Indiana teen who finds passion in all things Italian—especially competitive cycling. The actor's movie career didn't break away, though. In 2012, Quentin Tarantino gave him a minor comeback by casting him in "Django Unchained."
Jennifer Grey, "Dirty Dancing"
The role of Baby, Patrick Swayze's dancing protégé, made her a shining star in 1987. Then Grey's promising career suffered a near total eclipse after she underwent rhinoplasty—or, as she has put it, "the nose job from hell." The surgery left her almost unrecognizable. "I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous," she told a British newspaper.
Chaim Topol, "Fiddler on the Roof"
Zero Mostel owned the role of Tevye in Broadway's "Fiddler on the Roof." But he got a "nyet" when it came to the 1971 film. Director Norman Jewison said he didn't cast Mostel because he dominated scenes. Instead, Jewison cast Chaim Topol, a little-known Israeli stage actor whose Hollywood career quickly went from sunrise to sunset.
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
Director David Fincher chose a barely known English stage actress to star in the 2014 film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's hugely popular mystery novel. Even though Pike received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role, her Hollywood career seems to have already come and gone, girl.
Klinton Spilsbury, "The Legend of the Lone Ranger"
After the release of this 1981 flop, Spilsbury's career went "Hi-yo, Silver, and away!" for good. Over the years, there have been occasional sightings of him, sans mask, as a model, a waiter, a photographer, dating a drag queen and living on a desert ranch.
Kim Stanley, "Séance on a Wet Afternoon"
A famous stage actress, Stanley starred in Broadway productions of "Picnic," "Bus Stop," "A Touch of the Poet" and "Far Country" before she finally got the lead in a movie. She received an Academy Award nomination for playing a manipulative clairvoyant, but not many film roles followed. Even the best of fortune tellers couldn't have foreseen that.
Neil Diamond, "The Jazz Singer"
Perhaps the only good thing about this corny 1980 remake of the 1927 Al Jolson classic—a film that helped usher in talkies—is that it introduced three of Diamond's signature songs: "America," "Love on the Rocks" and "Hello, Again." But that wasn't enough to salvage the project. After this dud, it was, "You don't send me screenplays, anymore."
Art Carney, "Harry and Tonto"
For most of us, it's hard to imagine Carney as anyone other than sewer worker Ed Norton on "The Honeymooners." Yet Paul Mazurski cast him as the lead in this film about an elderly widower who takes a cross-country road trip with his orange tabby, Tonto. Although Carney won a Best Actor Oscar for the part, it didn't turn him into a leading man.
Maggie McNamara, "The Moon Is Blue"
Otto Preminger cast McNamara, a model turned actress, as the lead in this edgy romantic comedy. Although she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and landed on the cover of Life magazine, McNamara made just a few minor films after that. She may be best remembered for playing a Hollywood star who dies in a plane crash in a 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone." McNamara, who later quit acting and worked as a typist, died of a barbiturate overdose at age 49.
Brandon Routh, "Superman Returns"
Warner Bros spent a decade planning a 2006 relaunch of the Superman franchise when director Bryan Singer cast Routh, an unknown Christopher Reeve type, as the superhero in blue tights. Although signed for two sequels, Routh had to hang up his cape after he proved to be box office kryptonite.
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