The movie industry is a results-oriented business heavily influenced by momentum. With a few surprise hits and the buzz that always accompanies success, actors and actress can suddenly find themselves fielding offers for the most hyped upcoming projects and demanding truly ridiculous salaries. Barring death, arrest or in certain eras, exposed communist tendencies, the A-lister will remain at the top of the heap for as long as he or she produces quality projects and gets box office support from the general public.
Unfortunately, just as with athletics, there is a serious downside to being in an industry so obsessed with stat sheets. When the ball starts rolling downhill, it can be extremely difficult to stop. In just a year or two, Hollywood’s biggest names can go from naming their salaries and determining their futures to playing supporting roles like concerned wife and goofy co-worker in bigger budget movies or leading roles in indies hardly anyone will ever see. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance for actors and actresses to stem negative tides by putting themselves in positions to succeed with other talented people, even if it means taking a few swings in gritty, exciting supporting roles to remind everyone how talented they are. Take Alec Baldwin. He may have flamed out as a leading man, but through repeatedly making wise choices, he’s become beloved, rich and respected by his peers.
With a little bad luck and a few bad choices, losing streaks can and will happen to anyone. Even Tom Hanks hit a dry spell in the early 90s (Joe vs The Volcano and Bonfire Of The Vanities back to back), but he willed himself out of it with the help of A League Of Their Own. That’s what all of the men and women on this list need: their own A League Of Their Own. They need some success, some momentum in the right direction. In short, they need to remind everyone why we liked them so much in the first place.
Here are some of Hollywood’s best and brightest who really, really need a hit.
Uma ThurmanThanks to her iconic role in Pulp Fiction, a handful of very well received performances and her high profile former relationships with Ethan Hawke and Gary Oldman, Uma Thurman is still very much a famous actress. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been the leading lady in anything that could be considered a hit since Kill Bill Volume 2 all the way back in 2004. Even worse, she hasn’t really contributed anything to any films any of us actually enjoy in the time since, apart from the mediocre remake of The Producers, the forgettable Super Ex-Girlfriend, a bit part in The Lightning Thief and a pretty good five episode arc on the infuriating since cancelled musical series Smash. If you take those away, we’re down to leads in films like Playing For Keeps, Motherhood, Ceremony, Bel Ami and various TV movies.
Uma is more than capable of contributing a major role to a likeable film with a big budget, but she’s really not particularly good at carrying comedic weight or being the woman the audience is meant to relate to. She should focus her efforts on picking up a supporting part that allows her to steal a few scenes as an intimidating and eccentric woman no one can take their eyes off of.
Nic CageLet’s just say what we’re all thinking. What the hell happened? Nic Cage was a pretty sure bet for about a decade in the mid-90s to mid-00s when he was cranking out gems like Leaving Las Vegas, National Treasure, The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off. Even his lesser films like Snake Eyes and Lord Of War were pretty fun in their own ways, but since about 2010, he’s been making a lot of shit you’ve never even heard of.
Quick. I’ll hit you with four movies. Three of them have been released in the last two years. One of them I just made up. Ready? Stolen, Trespass, Alarm Code and Seeking Justice. Which one is fake?
It’s a lot harder than you thought, right? The correct answer is Alarm Code. To my knowledge he has not starred in that film, but if the Left Behind reboot or the one he’s currently shooting in China don’t work out, it’s certainly possible he’ll get there eventually.
Katherine HeiglImmediately following the release of Knocked Up, there was a wide assumption around Hollywood and among the general public that Katherine Heigl would steadily climb the movie ranks until she was one of the biggest actresses in the business. That didn’t happen. Weighed down by a series of bad movies (Killers, Life As We Know It, One For The Money), a widely circulated interview about her problems with Knocked Up and a less than ideal exit from Grey’s Anatomy, all of which did not go over very well with fans, Heigl pretty much sputtered out of the gate.
At this point, it’s unclear whether Heigl will ever develop into a movie star, leading or supporting, but she’s worked pretty hard to rehab her image. Beyond that, there’s no denying she does have some talent. What she needs is a second really good film role. She needs to remind people of why they fell in love with her on Grey’s to begin with. If she can just get one, it could very well get the snowball rolling in the right direction again.
Luke WilsonLuke Wilson has played key roles in a lot of good movies. Let me hit you with an incomplete list: The Royal Tenenbaums, Idiocracy, Legally Blonde and Old School. As a very relatable every man type, he works both as a main character and as a sensible love interest, but somehow, he’s gone more than a half decade without contributing to a single thing of value other than as a support in the underrated HBO series Enlightened.
I would call myself a Wilson fan, and I’ve only seen one of his movies since 2007’s Blades Of Glory. Among my favorites that I just learned exist are one opposite Anna Paquin and Ryan Phillippe called Straight A’s, another opposite Samuel L Jackson called Meeting Evil that Wikipedia claims grossed $181 and the third gem pictured above called Tenure that goes by the tagline "He’s having a mid-term crisis."
Christina RicciBecause of her general personality, her abundance of tattoos and her interests, Christina Ricci was never going to be Julia Roberts, but with a ton of acting talent and a willingness to walk out onto ledges, she was well on her way to carving out a career as an actress in gritty dramas and off-beat films like Black Snake Moan, Monster and Penelope, but sometime around Speed Racer’s release date, the wheels came off. In fact, a strong case could be made that the best thing Ricci has done since 2006 was a one-episode story arc on The Good Wife.
What Ricci needs more than anything else is a supporting part in an extremely well-received, possibly even Academy Award nominated movie. She needs to play like the hyper-emotional sister of the main character or a drug addict in a few scenes. That would lead to her toplining some high profile independent movies, which should ideally lead her to finding some more strange and wonderful bits of acting we can all enjoy on IFC at two in the morning.
Jack BlackTwo years ago, Jack Black was wonderful as real life murderer Bernie Tiede in the underseen Richard Linklater black comedy Bernie. With the role, the actor proved he could be funny without being quite so ridiculous. Unfortunately, that film, which grossed less than ten million dollars, is the only positive non-animated, non-cameo entry in his film catalog since Tropic Thunder all the way back in 2008. Remember that one with Michael Cera about cavemen? Fail. Remember that one about bird watching? Fail. Remember that adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels? It couldn’t cross $50 million in the United States but did manage to turn a profit overseas. So, fail-ish.
Luckily for Black, however, there is arguably more reason to be positive about his future prospects than any other person on this list. Rather than continue on the same trajectory, he’s decided to take a step back and grab the primary supporting role in the upcoming Jake Kasdan comedy Sex Tape, which will co-star Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz as a married couple on a frantic search for the title object. There’s a very good chance the end result will prove to be exactly what the comedian needed to get his non voice work career back on track.
Julia StilesI am all for former leading actors taking smaller roles in order to create a different kind of career with a supporting bend to it, but there’s a difference between being the third lead and being the seventh lead, as Stiles was in last year’s brilliant Silver Linings Playbook. Even more troubling, she hasn’t had any other role of any kind in anything that made any real dent at the box office since 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, unless you count her one season guest role on Showtime’s Dexter, which was widely viewed.
I get why Stiles never developed into a leading lady in romantic comedies. She doesn’t have that goofy, struggle against the current zaniness that’s needed, but she’s good enough in her own weird way that she should be regularly landing major parts in bigger movies. That hasn’t happened recently. Hopefully, moving forward she can net something meaty and full of spunk that she can be proud of.
Kate HudsonFor an actress like Kate Hudson, whether or not critics are enjoying her films is less important to her long-term career health than whether or not romantic comedy fans are enjoying her films. The answer to that latter question is a mixed bag. How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days is certainly well remembered and Bride Wars has some defenders, but apart from those two, Hudson really hasn’t made firm contact with a rom com, which is a huge problem since that’s how she makes her living. If she wants to continue in said career forever, she’s going to need to stop giving us movies like Something Borrowed and A Little Bit Of Heaven.
Moving forward, the actress has a thriller coming out with James Franco and Zack Braff’s much discussed Kickstarter film Wish I Was Here. Ideally, at least one of those films will remind audiences of why the actress was such a huge hit after Almost Famous or at least why she was considered a steady hand after How To Lose A Guy….
Christian SlaterChristian Slater is creepy. There’s also a bizarre rhythm to the way he speaks, and he’s always excited about playing weirdos. For all those reasons and dozens more, he was never going to be the type to turn his breakout success in Heathers into a George Clooney-type career. That being said, I think we can all agree Slater is a hell of a lot better than the lead role in an animated Chinese family comedy called Back To The Sea or fourth billing on a straight-to-DVD Wes Bentley thriller called Rites Of Passage.
I don’t understand why Slater isn’t appearing in two moderately successful films a year, once as a loose canon villain with mental health problems and plenty of unchecked aggression and once more as a weirdo blue collar professional who is enlisted to help a team either a) steal something, b) execute an elaborate revenge plan or c) assistant coach a youth sporting team.
Vince VaughnVince Vaughn’s situation is far from dire. He’s still toplining films with relatively large budgets, and they’re kinda sorta doing okay. If we’re looking for an honest to God hit, however, we’d have to go all the way back to 2009 when Couples Retreat grossed $170,000,000 off a $60,000,000 budget. If we’re looking for something with good reviews, we’d have to go all the way back to 2005 and Wedding Crashers.
There’s just been way too much mediocrity lately, and as a result, Vaughn has gone from a pretty good bet as he was in the early 00s to a talented comedian that makes passable movies. With all due respect to Four Christmases, not very many people are pulling that movie out and watching it anymore, and sadly, I would be shocked if the upcoming Delivery Man improved on the middling reputation.