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Hollywood Hype Machine / Would-Be and One-Time A-Listers

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These examples fit for people who were once big names (often for years), and then faltered, or people who failed to hit the A-List, but nonetheless managed to have decent careers.

  • Where do we even begin with Adam Sandler?
    • Sandler made his first hit as a cast member for Saturday Night Live for five seasons, at a time when the show was about to head for another Dork Age since the infamous season six. After leaving SNL, he made his feature film debuts in Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, both of which were released a year from each other. Despite both film receiving mixed reviews, they both scored modest box office returns. His next film was Bulletproof, which was critically panned and nearly fizzled out his career, but then got a huge push when he became star of The Wedding Singer, which became Sandler's first blockbuster hit. This paved the way for Sandler becoming a Critic-Proof star, with The Waterboy and Big Daddy becoming big hits against a backdrop of otherwise mediocre reception. With the exceptions of Little Nicky, Eight Crazy Nights and Reign Over Me (the latter of which was a rare departure from comedy to drama), Sandler's films managed to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars and turn big profits regardless of poor critical reception.

      However, by the early 2010's, audiences began to lose interest in Sandler's crass humor, and his films began to underperform. Jack and Jill went on to be regarded as one of the worst films ever produced, and That's My Boy became Sandler's first biggest flop since Eight Crazy Nights. Additionally, studio executives began to grow irritated with how terrible his movies were becoming to the public eye, and his usual friendliness with everyone he works with ended up going downhill one day when Sandler marched into Sony's studio offices demanding that $200 million be set aside for a potential Candy Land movie, a move that ended up sending the film into Development Hell. He did one final attempt to save his floundering career with Pixels, but it instead became one of the most hated films of 2015 and bombed spectacularly, ensuring that audiences were no longer attracted to Sandler's comedy as they were a decade ago. Following this flop, Sandler began to divest himself heavily from Sony and has almost completely disappeared from the silver screen aside from voice parts in the Hotel Transylvania films, and has been relegated to doing films for Netflix. Time will tell if his critically acclaimed perfomance in Uncut Gems will get him out of this rut.
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    • His career behind the camera hasn't worked out well, either. Aside from his own films, most of Sandler's off-screen production ventures, such as The Master of Disguise and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, were universally panned and did poorly at the box office, and also helped derail the careers of those who starred in them. All of them were produced through his company, Happy Madison Productions, which has become synonymous with abysmal low-brow humor.
  • Eddie Murphy was the hottest comedian around back in The '80s. He started out on Saturday Night Live during one of its toughest Dork Ages, perhaps being the reason SNL escaped cancellation. He would soon bring his wit to the big screen in films like 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Beverly Hills Cop II, and Coming to America (his only misstep was 1986's The Golden Child, just in terms of quality), as well as his standup specials Delirious and Raw, and even a couple of hit songs such as "Party All the Time". But after the failure of his 1989 vanity project Harlem Nights, in which he directed and starred with his comic idols Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, Murphy's career plummeted in The '90s, with Another 48 Hours, The Distinguished Gentleman, Boomerang (1992), Beverly Hills Cop III, and Vampire in Brooklyn all bombing (though Boomerang has been Vindicated by History). He had become a walking punchline, infamously mocked by David Spade on SNL in 1995 when he said "Look, kids! a falling star! Make a wish!", which really made him mad. He bounced back with his 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor, and Metro, Dr. Dolittle, Mulan, Life, and Bowfinger were all successful to varying extents. But in the 2000s, Murphy did way too many family-friendly films that, with the exception of the Shrek series, were poorly received. Films like Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Meet Dave, and Imagine That, were panned by audiences and critics, and 2002's The Adventures of Pluto Nash was one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history. He received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls in 2006, but the much-maligned 2007 film Norbit probably torpedoed his hopes of winning. He was praised for starring in Tower Heist in 2011, but 2012 brought A Thousand Words (filmed several years before its release), which was universally panned and had the "privilege" of being his first film to go Direct-to-DVD in Britain. After that, he had only had an appearance at the SNL 40th anniversary special and one film, Mr Church, a more dramatic role that was critically panned and a box office failure. Things may be coming around though — in 2019 he starred in Dolemite Is My Name, which was critically acclaimed, especially for his performance, and followed that up with a triumphant guest hosting gig on Saturday Night Live's Christmas Episode. He's even planning a return to stand-up.
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  • Similar to Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey was the big comedian of the 1990s. Carrey started off playing supporting or minor roles in movies in The '80s, but after the back-to-back successes of Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in 1994, his star shot up like a rocket. Unfortunately for him, while his comedic roles brought a major bank, it made him severely typecast as an actor. Attempts at more dramatic fare, such as The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while earning him praise from critics, under-performed if not flopped at the box officenote  compared to his broad comedies. Unlike most however, Carrey's status is more self-imposed, making a conscious decision to pursue more serious works rather than just continue with the comedies that made him incredibly popular. After making Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, he repeatedly refused to star in sequels to his comedic works (except for Dumb and Dumber To), which was likely a wise choice given the critical receptions those films wound up getting.
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  • Jude Law spent years as a bit player as well as earning two Oscar nominations for both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain before receiving a huge, notable Hollywood marketing push in 2004, starring in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the remake of Alfie, and half a dozen other films. Chris Rock engaged in some Lampshade Hanging at his expense at the Oscars ceremony, making fun of how this "Tom Cruise Lite" was receiving so much hype and so many pictures for what seemed to be no reason ("If you can't get Tom Cruise... just wait!"). Of course, every film either bombed or was a disappointment, and then he got caught cheating on his then-fiance Sienna Miller with his children's nanny, shattering any hopes for him as an A-Lister. Even with his career damaged, however, Law has continued plugging away, with major roles in Sherlock Holmes (2009), Repo Men, and other recent Hollywood films. It's a serviceable career, although not nearly the highly bankable, Cruise-style A-lister that the studios were hoping he would be. This might changed after he was cast as the younger version of Albus Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and as Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel (2019) which shows that he's still around.
  • Orlando Bloom appeared in The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies and was one of the biggest stars of the early-mid '00s. Since then, his career has suffered several hits, including critical thrashing and Hype Backlash, but he works steadily in highly regarded (if small) productions, for which he is finally starting to receive positive attention from the critics. His career appears to be thriving, but it's doubtful it will reach its former stratospheric heights. By all accounts, this seems to be his intention (he reportedly turned down Jake Gyllenhaal's role in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time).note  He recently came back into prominence with Carnival Row.
  • Faye Dunaway exploded onto the scene with Bonnie and Clyde and a subsequent Oscar nomination. She was hyped up throughout the 60s/70s with hits like The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), The Towering Inferno, The Three Musketeers (1973), Chinatown, and Network (for which she won an Oscar). She got singled out by Joan Crawford, who said that she was the only actress of her generation who "has what it takes" to become a star. Prophetic words - as Faye was chosen to play Joan herself in the adaptation of her daughter's tell-all book Mommie Dearest. What was anticipated as a hard-hitting and gritty biopic ended up a hammy unintentional comedy with the portrayal of Joan turned into a deranged cartoon character. Her hopes of winning an Oscar vanished, and the film's reception as a So Bad, It's Good camp classic destroyed the star's reputation - along with stories of her being a massive primadonna on set (rumour has it that the cast and crew found her so horrible they told her there wasn't a wrap party). She all but vanished from leading roles afterwards, with her most notable credits since being Supergirl and Dunston Checks In.
  • Brendan Fraser first got noticed with Encino Man, and then became a star with George of the Jungle and The Mummy (1999). However, many of his movie choices ended up flopping, and doing too many action movies took a toll on his body (Fraser also thinks [being the target of a sexual assault case also blackballed him in some circles) Even if he barely stopped, Fraser's career faded from the spotlight - as put by a profile, "He was there on the poster, year after year, and then he wasn't, and it took him turning up in a supporting part in the third season of a premium-cable show, The Affair, for many of us to even realize that he'd been gone."
  • Jennifer Lopez practically became an A-list star overnight after her performance in Selena was praised by critics, and she followed it up with several critically acclaimed films such as Out of Sight and The Cell. She also became noteworthy for being one of the few thespians who was able to successfully juggle both a singing and acting career, in 2000 she became the first person to have both the number one album and star in the number one film in the same week. Though some critics were disappointed when she later switched over to starring in middling romantic comedies like The Wedding Planner, Monster-in-Law, and Maid in Manhattan, but her films were still successful box-office wise for the most part, and even the critically mauled Gigli didn't seem to stall her career much. But then she took a four-year break from her film career, and her first film since her break, The Back-Up Plan received worse reviews then any other film she's starred in so far, so while Lopez is still getting work in films (and television), it took 2019's Hustlers for a return to her former A-list status to be considered by The Machine.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger started out as a low-budget actor with forgettable films like Hercules in New York in his name, but soon found luck when a little-known director named James Cameron tapped him to play the title role in The Terminator. Although the movie received initially mixed reviews, it soon became such a massive pop culture behemoth that its sequel in 1991 grossed seven times its predecessor. He soon scored more action roles throughout the 1980's and 1990's, with major box-office hits like Predator, Total Recall (1990) and True Lies becoming quintessential action flicks of the era. Unfortunately, his stint as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin didn't fare as well, and it ended up freezing his star power for the rest of the 90's. He made one final stint as T-800 in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines before deciding to take a break from acting and serve as the Governor of California for eight straight years, and then returning to film. His recent films though haven't been particularly successful with even his return to the Terminator series, Terminator Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate, proving to be a commercial disappointment. He even hosted a celebrity season of The Apprentice in 2017 but left after one season.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones made a major splash with her Fanservice-y role in The Mask of Zorro, and instantly became a household name (internationally, anyway - she had already been fairly well-known for a while in the UK). Unfortunately, before she could get much work, she hooked up with Michael Douglas and practically vanished for years, only making the occasional movie like Chicago (for which she won an Oscar). She doesn't seem to mind her current obscurity, but she could have been as A-List as anybody given enough of a push. However, she recently went public about her struggles with bipolar disorder (as well her husband's cancer diagnosis a few years back) which could be a fair explanation for why she has not worked as much as she used to.
  • Johnny Depp was THE Turn of the Millennium leading man. Making his debut as Freddy Krueger's first victim and hitting it big time with 21 Jump Street, he spent much of the 1990s starring in critically-acclaimed and/or financially successful films, such as Edward Scissorhands (his first film with Tim Burton), Benny & Joon and Donnie Brasco. However, he wouldn't hit the A-list until the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which turned his Jack Sparrow character into a pop culture icon, catapulted him to the top. Magazine covers of him soon followed, and nearly every film he starred in thereafter turned a major profit for the studios who released them.

    However, with the live-action Alice in Wonderland film being critically mauled while financially successful, Hype Backlash kicked in. Audiences grew tired of Depp's Large Ham tendencies in his roles, and the drug and alcohol abuse that plagued his career since the mid-to-late '80s became an issue again. In 2011, while Rango and the fourth Pirates movie were hits, The Rum Diary and Dark Shadows, the latter film released the following year, tanked. Then came The Lone Ranger (2013), in which he — despite being Caucasian — played the title role's sidekick Tonto to much controversy (especially as he played him as a Jack Sparrow-style buffoon). The film received poor reviews and became Disney's biggest Box Office Bomb, leading to a studio write-down of $190 million and the end of their long-time relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Depp's star power faded overnight, with Transcendence and Mortdecai total flops. Although he did receive critical praise for Black Mass, that was a brief respite. In 2016 came a high-profile domestic violence case against him from his former wife, Amber Heard, who published shocking pictures of bruises on her face, allegedly from him, to back up her claims (though counterclaims that she abused him have also been made). This, combined with audience disinterest in Alice Through the Looking Glass, led to its box office failure. He's never recovered from this scandal; his days as a leading man came to a halt when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales became the lowest-grossing film of the franchise, resulting in Disney publicly distancing themselves from him and Warner Bros. downplaying his role in the marketing campaign for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Between the #MeToo movement increasing scrutiny of him due to his domestic violence issues, the struggles of the Fantastic Beasts films, and his reputation for being financially irresponsible and difficult to work with, his career may well end with that of the series.
  • Following her Star-Making Role in When Harry Met Sally..., Meg Ryan starred in a string of successful romantic comedies and dramas over the course of the 1990s (most notably her three films with Tom Hanks, with Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail both grossing over $100 million at the domestic box office). She very quickly became "America's Sweetheart" as a result. However, Ryan's reported affair with her Proof of Life co-star Russell Crowe (while Ryan was still married to, albeit separated from Dennis Quaid) did serious harm to Ryan's "good girl" image. She gained even more negative publicity when she appear on the UK talk show Parkinson while promoting the erotic thriller (and very much a Playing Against Type role) In The Cut. The interview was awkward and uncomfortable, with host Michael Parkinson later calling her "terrible" while Ryan shot back saying she felt like he was a "disapproving father" towards her with his tone. Not helping were the ill-advised cosmetic procedures, which further diminished her "girl next door" appeal. Following the 2004 boxing drama Against the Ropes (which flopped at the box office and was panned by critics for being a stale Rocky clone), Ryan wouldn't appear in another movie for three years. She would resurface in the independent movie In the Land of Women and direct-to-DVD movies like The Deal and Mom's New Boyfriend. That was already a massive slide from where she'd been previously, but quite possibly the biggest nail in her coffin was her next major theatrically released film, 2008's The Women. Response from critics was overwhelmingly negative, with the film garnering a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Ryan herself would also be nominated for a Worst Actress Razzie (alongside co-stars Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Debra Messing).

    Ryan had been the queen of The '90s, but between problems in her personal life (which would irreparably damage the public's perception of her) and poor choices in roles, she's now disappeared from the Hollywood landscape (literally too, as she's now living in New York). While some of her earlier films are still well liked for nostalgic reasons, it's also clear many of them haven't aged well. Ryan herself meanwhile isn't looking to make a comeback anytime soon either, as she's stated in later interviews that she's felt liberated since losing her America's Sweetheart image and generally likes keeping a low profile and living a normal life.
  • Mel Gibson was an A-list superstar and a beloved heartthrob in the '80s and '90s, especially as he successfully branched out into directing. While he'd always been known to have fairly controversial views, he kept them under wraps well enough that audiences were able to ignore them and turn out for his movies in droves. His career peaked in 2004 with The Passion of the Christ, a retelling of Jesus' crucifixion which, despite controversy (especially over its portrayal of Jews), was one of the most successful independent films of all time, financed largely through Gibson's own efforts. Not long after The Passion, however, things changed virtually overnight thanks to the revelation of his racism, anti-Semitism, and Jerkass treatment of his girlfriend across a number of widely publicized incidents, which only made the controversy over The Passion that much more notable.

    Despite all of that, Hollywood was still willing to work with him, but the general public's perception of him diminished. Edge Of Darkness and The Beaver flopped at the box office, and another film, Get the Gringo didn't even get a theatrical release. Warner Bros. gave the greenlight to a project Gibson planned to direct about the Maccabees (which was seen by many as an attempt by Gibson to atone for his anti-Semitic past); however that project flamed out in pre-production due to Creative Differences, as well as personal differences between Gibson and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (the former still hated Jews and the latter was a staunch crusader against anti-Semitism, which became the subject of Eszterhas' autobiography Hotter Than Mel.
  • Ginnifer Goodwin received something of a Kate Hudson-esque push, getting numerous romantic comedy roles and magazine covers. But she didn't do a film after Something Borrowed until 2016's Zootopia (a five year gap). She was however chosen as the headliner of ABC's Once Upon a Time which has been a consistent hit with viewers. She appears to be slowing down after giving birth, and has had consistently less screen time in recent years, but remains part of the main cast at least.
  • Mila Kunis was well-known to audiences for her roles in That '70s Show and Family Guy, but she got a big breakthrough with Forgetting Sarah Marshall - taking much of the spotlight away from Kristen Bell (mentioned above). She won lots of acclaim for her role as Lily in Black Swan, and was named the Sexiest Woman Alive in 2013. Although her next big blockbuster Oz the Great and Powerful made plenty of money, her performance was widely panned. Not helping matters was her first headlining role - Jupiter Ascending - being a Box Office Bomb. She has Family Guy to fall back on, and plenty of magazine covers, so time will tell.
  • Chevy Chase was the original breakout star of Saturday Night Live thanks to a winning combination of deadpan humour and slapstick. He was even dubbed "Funniest Man in America" and his status as the original host of the Weekend Update led to a rumour that he would replace Johnny Carson as the host of The Tonight Show. After leaving SNL, he was one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1980s, thanks to the likes of Caddyshack, the Vacation series, Fletch, Spies Like Us and ¡Three Amigos!. He even appeared with Paul Simon in the video for "You Can Call Me Al". In The '90s, however, things went south — his movies began consistently underperforming, and his attempt at a late night talk show was such a disaster that it was cancelled after just six weeks in 1993. As well, his reputation for being difficult to work with was catching up with him; he was even permanently banned from guest-hosting Saturday Night Live in 1997. After years of minor roles, he experienced a Career Resurrection in Community — but that was short-lived due to him feuding with Dan Harmon and complaining about the quality of the show. He recently announced that he's clean and sober and willing to work, but nobody in Hollywood wants to work with him due to his notorious status. (The movie Accepted joked about this with a class called "The Rise and Fall of Chevy Chase".)
  • Jeff Goldblum didn't quite made it to the A-list during his "prime" years of The '80s and The '90s. After a near-decade toiling away in minor, supporting, and ensemble roles, plus one unsuccessful (if cultishly-loved) TV vehicle in Tenspeed And Brown Shoe, 1983's hit dramedy The Big Chill gave him a leg up. While The Fly (1986) proved a bravura Star-Making Role, '80s Hollywood just didn't have a surfeit of leading roles that suited his unconventional looks, unusual speaking cadence, and eccentric intensity on offer (aside from the flop Vibes, and only because Dan Aykroyd quit)note  and he ended up working primarily in independent or European productions. Then came 1993 and a scene-stealing supporting turn in Jurassic Park. Overnight he became the go-to performer for Motor Mouth and/or Tall, Dark, and Snarky turns. But while there was a little hype put behind him, he remained a supporting player — sometimes to actors getting or just past a full Hype Machine push (Hugh Grant in Nine Months, Will Smith in Independence Day, Eddie Murphy in Holy Man...) — with but two exceptions, Hideaway and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He also became easy to mock, having come to define the Gibbering Genius trope. At the Turn of the Millennium he was working consistently and frequently but rarely as a lead, the most high-profile exceptions being two TV shows (Raines, which was tossed away by the network, and the later seasons of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, in which he was stuck in the shadow of original/alternate lead Vincent D'Onofrio).

    But all those roles plus his memorable talk show appearances (he's a favorite of Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert, and James Corden) endeared him to late Generation X-ers and millennials. In The New '10sas he entered his sixties — he became an affectionate source of Memetic Mutations, and he cheerfully played up and into his natural eccentricity to please fans. Combined with creatives who'd grown up with his films wanting to work with him (in particular Taika Waititi, who cast him as the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok), by the end of the decade he had his own Disney+ show (The World According to Jeff Goldblum) and fame that many who were chewed up and spat out by the Hype Machine would envy.
  • Keanu Reeves first made a splash with the Bill & Ted stoner comedy films. Soon after he got a big push with Point Break (1991) and Bram Stoker's Dracula, and 1994's Speed cemented him as an A-List star, but his limited acting range was frequently mocked and his stature diminished. Then came 1999 and the release of The Matrix; Reeves became a bigger star than ever before, only for that to fade as quickly as it came. The highly-anticipated Matrix sequels left a bad taste in both audience and critics' mouths, leaving the franchise functionally dead. Coupled with, again, criticism of Reeves' acting range (or lack thereof) the rest of his films in the '00s were flops or underperformers, reaching a low point with the Troubled Production 47 Ronin in 2013. And then he made a huge comeback with the John Wick films, making him a household name again in the age of social media (helped along by, as in Jeff Goldblum's case, longstanding affection for his best work — where Goldblum has been dubbed a "Zaddy", Reeves is "The Internet's Boyfriend"). 2019 was humorously dubbed the year of the "Keanussance" between the third John Wick film and Always Be My Maybe, Toy Story 4 and Cyberpunk 2077. The heat continued into 2020 with the well-received Bill & Ted Face the Music.
  • After supporting roles in film, television and Michael Jackson's "Bad" music video, Wesley Snipes was one of the most sought after black actors of The '90s, proving adept as an action hero, dramatic and comedic actor with the likes of Major League, Mo Better Blues, King of New York, New Jack City, Jungle Fever, Passenger 57, Demolition Man and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. He really struck gold when he starred in Blade which gave him a signature role and is credited with kick-starting the comic book movie boom. Then, towards The New '10s, his career took a downturn. Not only was he appearing in unsuccessful films, but his career was now being eclipsed by his conviction for tax evasion, for which he spent three years in prison. There was also a damning article covering his prima-donna behaviour on the set of Blade: Trinity which didn't help his reputation at all. Since getting out of prison, he's been confined to Direct-to-DVD features. Marvel later announced that they were rebooting Blade for the Marvel Cinematic Universe without his involvement. He has managed to get the occasional mainstream role like The Expendables 3 or the poorly-received Gallowwalkers. He had a well-received turn in Dolemite Is My Name that led many to speculate that a comeback was iminent.


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