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The Congress – In Cinemas Friday – Top 10 actors and actresses who made their comebacks in the last century

12 August 2014

Robin Wright returns to the big screen later this month in The Congress. Playing a version of herself, she stars as an ageing actress who is given the chance to revitalize her career by preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood.

To celebrate the release of the movie on August 15th, we take a look at the biggest actor and actress comebacks of the last century...

Robert Downey Jr.  

Making his first acting debut at the tender age of five in Pound, Robert Downey Jr trundled through the 80s as a teen star until he reached the 90s. Playing the titular role in the 1992 film Chaplin earned Downey Jr an Academy Award nomination. However, he experienced a fast fall from grace after being charged with substance abuse in 2000 and 2001, after which he made a few eyebrow raising films such as The Singing Detective and Gothika.

Downey has since made up for his short absence from the film world with a blitzing comeback beginning with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, playing a thief who witnesses a murder, then stumbles into an interview and impresses studio execs with his outburst of remorse for the robbery.

After finding his feet, Downey Jr went from strength to strength playing the Marvel superhero Iron man. This led to the box office shattering The Avengers, where Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark leads Marvel heroes in a fight against super villain Loki and his army. Iron man 3 and The Avengers both earned over the $1 billion mark and according to Forbes, Downey Jr is estimated to be worth $75 million. Not bad Robert Downey Jr. Not bad.

Winona Ryder

A 90s icon known for her bewitching dark eyes and committed performances, Winona Ryder’s fall was as theatrical as some of her roles. After a promising beginning in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, Ryder’s star seemed set to rise as she wowed critics with her role in Girl, Interrupted and won a leading role in Francis Ford Coppola’s acclaimed Dracula.  

Winona however, gradually fell into the trap of choosing poor film choices. Finally, in the early 2000s her demise was sealed by a shoplifting scandal, which saw Ryder stopped with prescription drugs, only lacking the prescription. Although she made comebacks with Star Trek and Darren Aronofsky’s academy award winning Black Swan, Winona still has a long way to go before achieving her pre-breakdown fame.

Drew Barrymore

Like many actors and actresses who experience the rise and fall of stardom, Drew Barrymore was a child star. She was catapulted to fame playing little Gertie in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. However, Barrymore later admitted to having a turbulent start, beginning smoking aged just nine, drinking aged eleven and taking cocaine by thirteen. By fourteen she was in rehab.

After recovering, Barrymore continued with her acting career, using her bad teenager image to gain roles such as Ivy in Poison Ivy (1992) and Bad Girls (1994). However her real comeback was in Charlie’s Angels (2000), after which she began to move towards more comedic roles such as 50 First Dates, which was also produced by her very own production company, Flower Films. Onwards and upwards it seems. 

John Travolta

John Travolta first found fame through his acting and dancing talents, starring in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, both huge box office successes. However, the 80s did not welcome Travolta’s dance moves as well as the 70s had, and Travolta struggled to find work. Although Travolta starred in the box office hit Look Who’s Talking alongside Kirsty Alley, it was Quentin Tarantino’s cult black comedy Pulp Fiction that was a straight adrenaline shot to the heart of Travolta’s action career.

Since then, Travolta’s career has gone from strength to strength starring in Face/Off, Swordfish and even going drag in Hairspray as Edna Turnblad. Unfortunately, after personal family tragedy and rumours of affairs, Travolta’s personal life hasn’t made quite the same comeback as his career. 

Alec Baldwin

Like many an actor on this list, Alec Baldwin found his career rocked by personal allegations. His divorce with actress Kim Basinger in 2002 was big tabloid news and suddenly the funny-man with the scary temper was not such an appealing choice for studio execs. During this time, Baldwin picked up small parts in Fun with Dick and Jane and Elizabethtown.

For a time it seemed that the eldest of the Baldwin brothers had been removed from the acting scene. It was only when he was cast in a small role in The Departed that Baldwin was accepted back into the arms of the Hollywood elite. Baldwin won a role in Tina Fey ‘s (creator of Mean Girls and Saturday Night live veteran) critically acclaimed sitcom 30 Rock.

His personal life has been up and down since (particularly with the voicemail incident, where he left daughter, Ireland a raging voice message after a pre arranged visit fell through). However, his acting career has continued to fight through with the studio execs of 30 Rock pledging their allegiance to Alec. 

Matthew McConaughey

From 2013 to 2014, we have been lucky enough to witness what critics have labeled the McConaissance. Matthew McConaughey spent just under a decade doing the Rom-Com rounds in Hollywood using just his cheekbones and physique to charm his way through each role. During his descent he starred in Sahara, a film that lost paramount pictures roughly $78.3 million and certainly didn’t leave studio execs thirsting for more McConaughey. Sahara left McConaughey lost in the desert for a while, as he trundled through lackluster films such as Fool’s Gold and The Wedding Planner.

What few people remember before the Rom-Coms is McConaughey’s quality performances in A Time To Kill and Dazed and Confused. Some have argued Magic Mike, where McConaughey parodies aspects of himself, his use of jawbone acting, being shirtless etc. signaled the McConaissance. In reality it was The Lincoln Lawyer, where McConaughey signaled his return to his most visited and loved role of the socially concerned lawyer, which signalled his rebirth. Since then he has foregone his muscular physique to portray AIDS sufferer Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. His short scene in The Wolf of Wall Street stole the show as he beat his chest like a primal animal and schooled DiCaprio in the dog eat dog world of Wall Street. We thought we had the best of McConaughey, but his gritty performance as Detective Rust Cohle in True Detective told audience members and critics alike that the McConaissance has only just begun. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt entered the acting world aged just seven, starring in terrible TV movies (Who could forget the family favourite, Hi Honey – I’m Dead?) Really, we only started to take note of Gordon-Levitt when he had a small role in the 90s teen fave 10 Things I Hate About You.    

In reality, Gordon-Levitt never really hit our radar until he starred alongside soon-to-be Hollywood darling Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of summer. Gordon Levitt then landed himself a prized role alongside DiCaprio in the mind-warper Inception. However, it is his role in The Dark Knight Rises that has Gordon-Levitt set for incredible things and promises that it is not the last we are going to see of him in the near future.  

He has proven himself past his acting ability as the co founder of collective production company HitRECord and wrote Don Jon, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. He also landed the role of Johnny in the sequel to Sin City, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. It has also been leaked that Gordon-Levitt wass one of the front-runners to play the marvel superhero Ant-Man. The rise and rise of JGL, everybody.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando is a cultural icon in his own right, known for his passionate and captivating performances. In the 50s, Brando was the most highly sought after male actor, culminating in his 1954 Oscar win for On the Waterfront. Brando first rose to fame when the Broadway play A Streetcar Named Desire was brought to film in 1951. Basking in the film’s success, Brando dominated the decade. However, the 60s were a dry decade for Brando, bringing little to no commercial success.

It was only in the 70s playing the cotton ball mouthed Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s hugely successful film The Godfather, that Brando was back. He won his second Academy Award for his role, and after a brief hiatus, was such a big deal that he was reportedly paid $3.7 million ($14 million in inflation adjusted dollars) for playing a small role in Superman that required just 13 days of work. Looks like they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. 

Michelle Williams

She rose to fame in the teen drama Dawson’s Creek playing city girl Jen Lindley. With all popular teen dramas, many actors and actresses find themselves in the honey trap of staying in the show too long and being type-casted as a particular character (for example, Mischa Barton, who is still best-known for her role in The O.C, which ended in 2006). Williams went under the radar after her Dawson’s Creek role, seeking crucial acclaim from a small amount of viewers by earning her stripes with independent films.

She then reached the surface again in the controversial romantic drama Brokeback Mountain, a film that catapulted Williams back into the feature film game after she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She continued her winning streak of successful film choices with Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Blue Valentine in the same year. In 2011, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Williams is one of the few actresses to transition from teen drama to critically-acclaimed award winner.

Mickey Rourke

After a slow start, Mickey Rourke rose to fame as the talented and chisel-faced star of 80s blockbusters such as Body Heat and The Pope of Greenwhich Village.  By the end of the 80s he reached what appeared to be the apex of his acting career, starring alongside Robert De Niro in the psychological thriller Angel Heart, a film he received much critical claim for. However, shortly after, Rourke followed his childhood aspirations, taking a break from the acting world to become a professional boxer.

Upon his return to acting, he made a number of poor choices throughout the 90s such as Double Team (a late 90s action travesty, starring alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme… need we say anymore?) However, Rourke’s willingness to pick up small roles in the early 2000s led to lucky breaks in Man on Fire and Rodriguez’s final addition to the Mexico Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Finally, Rourke landed a standout role in Rodriguez’s acclaimed Sin City and then in quick succession the lead in The Wrestler, an Academy Award nominated role. Rourke has been unstoppable ever since, landing roles in the high grossing Iron Man 2 and The Expendables, a film brimming with action star comebacks from the 80s.

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