20 Actors Whose Careers Were Ruined By Just One Role
Despite them so often portraying superheroes and entities beyond our understanding, just like the rest of us mere mortals, actors are entirely fallible. In fact, though it usually takes a string of bad movies in order for stars to be turfed out of Hollywood, sometimes it takes only one.
Whether through bad luck, bad direction or simply bad acting, a select few actors have met their downfall at the hands of one particularly spectacular cinematic flop. Sometimes, the movie is simply too awful for the actor to move past or, in other cases, the actor did their job too well (by this we mean that their performances were so unforgettable, that they were typecast forever). Take the following actors, whose careers were ruined by just one role.
20. Demi Moore – Striptease
80s ‘it’ girl Demi Moore earned early recognition as a key member of the Brat Pack, and later for her performance in 1990’s Ghost and 1992’s A Few Good Men. As a result, Moore soon became Hollywood’s highest-paid actress at the time – but it seems the fame went to her head. In 1996, Moore got what was then the biggest payday for an actress in history – $12.5 million – to play the lead role in the erotic black comedy Striptease.
This, however, proved to be a poor investment on the part of studio Columbia, as the film was a spectacular box office flop. Hollywood soon turned against the once sought after actress, with Moore’s reputation only sullied further by the failure of her next project, G.I Jane. These days, Moore is perhaps best known as a media personality, and for her highly publicised relationships with celebs including Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher.
19. Sean Connery – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Sean Connery was, of course, the original James Bond, playing the role seven times over the course of 21 years – which means that, unlike the others on this list, he could actually be considered somewhat infallible. However, this didn’t stop Connery’s career receiving a spectacular knock after he starred in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. An adaptation of the Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill comic book from Blade director Steven Norrington, the film centred on a super-team of Victorian-era literary heroes, with Connery in command as H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain.
Unfortunately for Connery (and indeed everyone involved), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen turned out to be not so extraordinary; after a reportedly troubled production, the messy final film was met with decidedly awful reviews. After the film’s release, Connery promptly stepped back from the acting world, before officially announcing his retirement in 2005. As for the less famous actors in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, let’s just say their film roles are anything but extraordinary nowadays.
18. Linda Blair – The Exorcist
As possessed child Regan MacNeil, Linda Blair has terrified generations of The Exorcist viewers in the years since the spooky classic’s release. The 1973 film from director William Friedkin has long been hailed as one of the greatest horror films ever, netting a slew of Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nod for the then-13-year-old Blair. (She missed out on that award, but won a Golden Globe.) Unfortunately, Blair was subsequently pigeonholed in Hollywood due to her close association with demons, ghosts and horror in general – all because of one film.
Blair would go on to reprise her role as Regan in 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, but this failed to replicate either the commercial or critical success of the original. After making a slew of low-rent exploitation thrillers in the early 80s and ill-advised Exorcist spoof Repossessed in 1990, Blair gradually faded into obscurity, amid rumours of alcoholism and drug abuse.
17. Alicia Silverstone – Batman & Robin
Alicia Silverstone captured hearts across the world with her performance in 1995’s Clueless, long held up as one of the best comedies of the decade. However, just two years later, it would all go horribly wrong for the young actress. Fresh from the success of the teen flick, Silverstone took on the role of Batgirl in 1997’s Batman & Robin.
Unfortunately, the film was a critical and commercial flop of epic proportions, and Silverstone was left red-faced and clutching the 1997 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. While Silverstone is still a jobbing actress, thanks to Batman & Robin she’s never regained the level of stardom she once briefly enjoyed.
16. Jamie Kennedy – Son of the Mask
After finding fame as Randy Meeks in the hit horror franchise Scream, Jamie Kennedy took things to the next level by booking the role of Tim Avery in 2005’s Son of the Mask. Unfortunately, the film didn’t do for Kennedy what the original Mask did for Jim Carrey: it was panned, and Kennedy was the recipient of some particularly scathing reviews. Prompted by critics’ reactions to Son of the Mark, Kennedy released a documentary in 2007 titled Heckler, in which Kennedy is critical of the reviewer’s power to singlehandedly ruin an actor’s career.
This documentary did nothing to revive Kennedy’s acting career, which has only continued to decline since. In recent years, Kennedy’s most prominent work has been in a number of low-budget, direct-to-DVD sequels to 1990 monster comedy Tremors, alongside the original film’s Michael Gross. A supporting role in what could have been his comeback film, 2019’s Ad Astra, was regrettably cut.
15. John Travolta – Battlefield Earth
To say that John Travolta’s acting career has been one of highs and lows is putting it mildly. After being plunged into the limelight following the success of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, Travolta’s career slowly declined throughout the 80s. However, it all turned around for the star after his performance in Pulp Fiction (1994). Unfortunately, this success was not to last, and Travolta’s career again took a severe hit after he took on the role of an alien leader in 2000’s Battlefield Earth.
Though a long-held passion project of the actor, Battlefield Earth was received badly by audiences and critics alike, and Travolta couldn’t deflect the blame seeing as he had largely spearheaded the movie himself. Outside of a few rare hits, Travolta hasn’t been hot in years post-Battlefield, and now works primarily in cut-price direct-to-DVD action thrillers.
14. Tom Green – Freddy Got Fingered
After starting off as a rap artist, Green’s career took a surprising turn when he decided to turn his attention to acting and comedy work. Green built up a following after releasing a comedy show on cable access TV, which was soon noticed by MTV; this resulted in The Tom Green Show, which first aired in 1999 and became a huge success. Soon enough, Hollywood beckoned: after bit parts in Road Trip and Charlie’s Angels, 20th Century Fox offered Green the chance to star in his very own movie.
This would of course turn out to be 2001’s infamous Freddy Got Fingered. Rather predictably, the film was panned and failed to turn a profit. Green has barely been seen on the big screen since; recent years have instead seen the Canadian funnyman return to stand-up and the small screen, primarily through his own YouTube channel.
13. Mike Myers – The Love Guru
In the early 90s, Myers was on top of the world thanks to Saturday Night Live and the Wayne’s World movies. The success of the Austin Powers and Shrek movies would ensure he maintained this profile into the 2000s. However, in 2008, Myers’ career took a significant turn when he decided to co-write, co-produce and star in The Love Guru. This film didn’t enjoy a fraction of Myers’ early success, with low box office returns and terrible reviews: Roger Ebert, for one, described the film as a “dreary experience”.
Outside of 2010’s Shrek Forever After, Myers hasn’t taken another leading role in a major film since The Love Guru, only taking the odd cameo here and there (including in 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody). Myers has now returned with Netflix show The Pentaverate, which could prove to be the shot in the arm his career needs.
12. Madonna – Swept Away
Since breaking through into acting with 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna was for many years one of the few pop stars to successfully balance careers in both music and film. This came to a screeching halt, however, in the wake of 2002’s Swept Away, directed by her then-husband Guy Ritchie. The American pop legend and the British filmmaker together formed one of the most talked-about celebrity couples of the time, so when their first collaboration proved a dismal failure, it did not go unnoticed.
With box office takings of a little over $1 million, Swept Away was a colossal bomb and landed Madonna with a Worst Actress Razzie – making it a double ‘win’ for Madge, as she was also named Worst Supporting Actress that same year for her cameo in Bond movie Die Another Day. Though her music career continues in earnest, aside from guest appearances on TV comedies Will & Grace and Saturday Night Live, Madonna has not acted again since.
11. Ben Affleck – Gigli
Once the teen crush of many, one-time megastar Ben Affleck was subject to constant media scrutiny upon entering a relationship with actress Jennifer Lopez, with whom he starred in 2003’s Gigli. Affleck’s performance as a low ranking mobster was uniformly panned, as was the film itself. Lopez didn’t fare much better, and the pair’s acting careers subsequently took a spectacular nosedive. The couple didn’t help matters by reuniting the following year on comedy drama Jersey Girl, which also bombed (though not as hard as Gigli).
Affleck took a break from the world of acting, only to make a dramatic comeback as a director, most notably calling the shots on 2013’s Best Picture Oscar-winner Argo. Affleck’s career looked as though it might just have survived the fall after he signed up to play the DC Extended Universe’s new Batman – but when this didn’t go as well as hoped, Affleck once again stepped back from acting in 2017 following a relapse into alcoholism.
10. Elizabeth Berkley – Showgirls
Elizabeth Berkley’s meteoric rise and fall has been perhaps more publicised than her acting career itself. The former star of TV sitcom Saved by the Bell turned to Hollywood after rising to fame in the hit teen show, and soon landed herself the lead role in Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 film Showgirls. However, the film was controversial upon its release for its explicit content and bizarre tone. It opened to poor reviews, with Berkley singled out for her notoriously over-the-top performance.
After the film flopped, Berkley’s agent turned his back on the young star, leaving her to fend for herself amid wild speculation and personal attacks. Luckily for Berkley, Showgirls has since risen to cult status and she has managed to forge something of a career for herself, albeit in minor roles in TV shows such as CSI: Miami and Law & Order.
9. Chris Klein – Rollerball
Of all the young actors launched to fame by 1999’s American Pie, few seemed as guaranteed for stardom as Chris Klein. Tall, handsome and muscular, Klein was a prime candidate for action hero status – and the plan had been that 2002’s Rollerball (a glossy remake of the 1975 sci-fi drama) would get him there. Sadly for Klein, this was not to be. Despite having legendary Die Hard director John McTiernan calling the shots, Rollerball proved an outright disaster on all fronts.
Klein’s career failed to recover. After missing out on the third American Pie movie, 2003’s American Wedding, he would return to the franchise with 2012’s American Reunion – but beyond that he’s enjoyed very little success. Sadly, Klein’s professional struggles have gone hand-in-hand with personal troubles, including a drinking problem which is said to be responsible for his bizarre performance in his now-notorious rejected audition tape for 2008’s Mamma Mia!
8. Kevin Costner – The Postman
In the early 90s, Kevin Costner was arguably the biggest movie star in the world, following such popular hits as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Bodyguard and Dances with Wolves – the latter of which he also directed, winning multiple Oscars for his trouble. Later in the decade, Costner’s star seemed to be on the wane a little, not helped by 1995’s expensive mega-flop Waterworld – but it was The Postman that really hammered the last nail in. As well as casting Costner in the lead, the 1997 post-apocalyptic drama marked his first official directing job since Dances with Wolves (though Costner has long been said to have co-directed Prince of Thieves and Waterworld).
However, The Postman was a long way off being a Dances with Wolves-esque success story: derided by critics and ignored by audiences, it made a paltry $20 million in ticket sales off the back of an $80 million budget. Costner has continued to work, acting in many more films and directing 2003’s well-reviewed western Open Range – but he’s never come close to regaining the red-hot leading man status he enjoyed in the early 90s.
7. Eddie Murphy – Norbit
Over the years, Eddie Murphy’s career had endured in the face of some notable flops, widespread critical drubbings, and a surprising left-field turn into family-friendly movies. However, 2007’s Norbit – in which Murphy (ever the multi-tasker) plays the feeble man of the title, plus his overweight and aggressive wife, as well as an aged Chinese-American – seemed to be the last straw. While Norbit was fairly successful commercially, its bald-faced political incorrectness stunned critics, resulting in some venomous notices in the press.
At the time of the film’s release, Murphy had a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls – and it has been speculated that widespread disgust over Norbit may have cost him that accolade. The roles dried up shortly thereafter, and Murphy went into a professional hiatus – until 2019 Netflix movie Dolemite is My Name, which earned Murphy his best reviews in years and helped get belated sequel Coming 2 America off the ground.
6. Lindsay Lohan – I Know Who Killed Me
When the topic of conversation is Hollywood stars who have had a meteoric rise and even-more-spectacular fall, the name Lindsay Lohan is never going to be far from our lips. After a successful career as a child actor, hits like Freaky Friday and Mean Girls seemed to indicate Lohan would go on to great things in adulthood – but her well-publicised personal issues soon put paid to that. While Lohan’s off-camera problems already threatened to knock her career off course, taking the lead role in 2007 horror movie I Know Who Killed Me didn’t help matters one little bit.
Met with savage reviews and paltry box office returns of $3.5 million, I Know Who Killed Me was a flop and a half, and pretty much killed stone dead any chance Lohan had of being taken seriously as a dramatic actress. In the years since, Lohan has taken a few minor supporting roles, notably in 2010’s Machete, but nothing she’s done has garnered much attention outside of the gossip columns.
5. Orlando Bloom – Elizabethtown
Orlando Bloom’s professional beginnings are the stuff of every actor’s dreams: only two days after graduating drama school, he landed the plum role of Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. High-profile roles in Pirates of the Caribbean, Troy and Kingdom of Heaven followed, and it seemed like nothing could stop the young actor. Accepting the lead role in 2005’s Elizabethtown surely seemed a no-brainer; after all, it meant co-starring with Spider-Man’s Kirsten Dunst and working with Cameron Crowe, acclaimed writer-director of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.
Unfortunately, Elizabethtown proved to be a critical and commercial failure, with particular scorn aimed at Bloom for his performance. Bloom would reprise his Pirates of the Caribbean role in three of that film’s sequels, and would play Legolas once more in The Hobbit movies – but beyond that, notable film roles have been thin on the ground, although he has since enjoyed some TV success thanks to Carnival Row.
4. January Jones – X-Men: First Class
In the wake of her success on acclaimed TV series Mad Men, film stardom seemed on the cards for January Jones. In this day and age, there’s no surer path to big screen stardom than appearing in a comic book movie – so Jones seemed on to a winner when she took the role of fan favourite Emma Frost in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. X-Men: First Class proved a commercial success, and earned mostly positive reviews – although many of these notices came with a caveat regarding Jones, whose lacklustre performance was singled out for scorn.
Jones’ reputation wasn’t helped by widely reported rumours that she and married First Class director Matthew Vaughn had an affair during production. Jones has only appeared in three films post-First Class, and has since returned to her old stomping ground of television.
3. Cuba Gooding Jr – Boat Trip
After Cuba Gooding Jr won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1996’s Jerry Maguire, it looked like the sky was the limit for the talented actor. However, the bulk of the roles Gooding took in the years following this accolade were not what anyone would call Oscar-worthy, with the actor embarking on a downward spiral that reached its nadir with 2002’s Boat Trip. The film casts Gooding as a straight singleton anxious to find new romance, and who inadvertently finds himself on a boat cruise for gay men.
It’s hardly surprising based on that premise that Boat Trip offended critics and bombed hard at the box office, severely tarnishing Gooding’s star status. Gooding continued to scrape by in the years that followed, mostly in similarly low-rent comedies – but his permanent relegation from the A-list would seem to be confirmed by numerous recent charges of sexual misconduct.
2. Pamela Anderson – Barb Wire
Thanks to her role on TV’s Baywatch, her close association with Playboy magazine and her high-profile love life, Pamela Anderson was one of the most talked-about women in Hollywood in the 90s. As such, hopes were high that Anderson’s star power would translate into big box office returns for 1996’s Barb Wire, a futuristic action thriller based on the comic book of the same name. However, while Barb Wire may have garnered plenty of tabloid attention thanks to Anderson’s involvement, the film was met with universally negative reviews, and was almost completely ignored by cinemagoers, taking a measly $3.8 million worldwide.
Barb Wire proved to be Anderson’s first and last leading role in a theatrically-released film. Most of her subsequent film roles have only been cameos, with the former centrefold appearing as herself in such films as Scooby-Doo, Pauly Shore is Dead and Borat. Otherwise, the bulk of Anderson’s subsequent acting work has been on television, notably in action series VIP and animated comedy Stripperella.
1. Nicolas Cage – The Wicker Man
From the very beginning of his career, Nicolas Cage’s performance style has always been best described as intense. Often, this has served Cage well, earning him an Oscar for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas and a string of $20 million paydays at his peak.However, 2006 saw Cage’s intensity reach hitherto-unseen heights, when he teamed up with writer-director Neil LaBute for a remake of 1973 British horror classic The Wicker Man. To say the results caught viewers unawares is putting it mildly. While Cage had never been one for understatement, his histrionic turn as Detective Edward Malus left the few people that went to see the film in fits of (presumably) unintentional laughter.
With The Wicker Man, Cage had over-stepped the mark from kind-of crazy-but-still-genius actor into just plain crazy – and from that point on, neither critics nor audiences could take him seriously anymore. This professional misstep, combined with some well-publicised financial struggles (not helped by a slew of bizarre and extravagant personal investments), have left Cage mostly working in low-budget direct-to-DVD movies – although he’s enjoyed some critical kudos with acclaimed horror movies Mandy and Color Out of Space.