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10 Actors Who Hit Career Derailing Box-Office Free Falls

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | July 26, 2013 |

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | July 26, 2013 |

Sadly, it’s just not going to work out for Ryan Reynolds as an action star. It’s too bad, because he is such a likable presence, and with the right action-comedy script, I think he could’ve been huge. Alas, that script never arrived. Instead, the back-to-back whammy of The Green Lantern and R.I.P.D. has put his career as an action star in serious jeopardy. The comedy in between, The Change-Up, has even hurt his comedy prospects (at least Safe House was a modest success, suggesting that Ryan Reynolds could thrive in a career in which he played second-fiddle to Denzel Washington, although I’m sure that is true of almost any actor). R.I.P.D. was a huge flop, a bigger box-office disappointment than even The Lone Ranger, as the $180 million budgeted film came in with $13 million over the weekend, good for only 7th place. I doubt international box-office is going to close the gap on this one, either. That wasn’t Reynolds’ only other disaster, however, as the animated pic, Turbo (for which Reynolds provided the lead snail’s voice) also came in low with $30 million over five days, which isn’t so great for a $130 million film sandwiched between Despicable Me 2 (which came out ahead of Turbo in its 3rd week) and Smurfs 2, which arrives in a couple of weeks. Bad box office plus short legs equals failure.

In fact, it was The Conjuring, which cost only $20 million, that was the big hit of the weekend, nearly doubling the budget with a $39 million opening in a summer starved for a decent horror pic (and “decent” was about how The Conjuring measured up). Meanwhile, Red 2 also came in soft with just over $21 million on an $85 million budget, although the locations and the cast suggests that Red 2 could play well internationally (it was at least obvious they were trying very hard to appeal to an international audience).

It was a bad weekend for summer blockbusters, and we are getting to that part of the summer where audiences have grown weary of the same things, which doesn’t bode particularly well for Wolverine next week, although August 9th’s Elysium should play well as a nice change of pace.

But back to Reynolds, the latest in a string of actors either poised to be the next big thing, or attempting fight outside their weight class, only to hit a string of box-office failures that derailed — at least temporarily — their careers. I suspect that, should Reynolds want to rebound, he should go back to doing what he does best: Modestly budgeted romantic comedies with limited expectations and comic relief in action flicks. Reynolds is like that All-Star pitcher for a team like Kansas City who gets paid $25 million a year to pitch for the Yankees and crumbles under the expectations. Go back to Kansas City, brah.

Some of the folks below have rerouted their careers successfully, while some are still working on it.

The studios moved too quickly on the next great action star, Taylor Kitsch, and his films — more than Kitsch himself — let him down, when John Carter, Battleship, and The Savages put him back in his place. Studios won’t bet $100 million budgeted movies on him again anytime soon. Hello Redbox!


Action Star in the Making, Ben Affleck, hit a snag with Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas. He, however, reinvented himself as the indie actor (Hollywoodland) we knew he could be, and a prestige film director (The Town, which has allowed him to climb back to the A-list in roles more suited to him: Dramatic leading male in $40 million films geared toward adults.


Coming off of Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan was poised to be the next leading lady of rom coms, until Herbie Fully Loaded, Just My Luck, I Know Who Killed Me,Georgia Rule, and a host of personal problems essentially killed her film career. She has, however, reinvented herself as a coked-out troublemaker. It has been surprisingly lucrative.


Coming off of Juno, Superbad and “Arrested Development,” Michael Cera was the future of hipster movies, until Year One, Youth in Revolt, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World pushed him back where he belongs: Art-house films that no one watches and “Arrested Development.”


I’ll never quite understand what happened to what was supposed to be the British George Clooney, but Clive Owen hit a bad streak with Shoot ‘Em Up, The Boys Are Back, Duplicity, and The International that dropped him from the the future A-listers of America to VOD actor. It’s mystifying.


An Oscar winner, Billy Bob Thornton could’ve thrived as a character actor or a art-film lead for the rest of his career but he got greedy and tried his hand at dumb studio comedies. The 2006-07 trifecta, Mr. Woodcock, The Astronaut Farmer, and School for Scoundrels put any hopes of Thornton as a leading man in the toilet, and now he’s working on a comeback as in the role that suits him: Character actor.


After a huge early career, John Travolta flamed out, but after Tarantino saved him, Travolta went back to doing what he does best: Paycheck roles. Lucky Numbers, Battlefield Earth, and Swordfish were the seeds for his second fall, although it has not been as hard as the first (at least, professionally) thanks to playing second-fiddle in a Denzel movie (Denzel is the human box-office trampoline).


Jacinda Barrett, the former “Real World” cast member, was poised to be the leading lady of the future, for one year at least (2006). Poseidon, The Last Kiss, and School for Scoundrels dismissed any notion of that. She’s back to periodic TV work and being the wife of Gabriel Macht.


The studios thought they might have had something with Josh Lucas after Sweet Home Alabama. Stealth and Poseidon proved them wrong. Now he’s struggling with TV work and playing the Patrick Dempsey role from Sweet Home Alabama in lesser romantic comedies than Sweet Home Alabama.


Maybe Colin Farrell could’ve been the next Tom Cruise, but the streak of Daredevil, Phone Booth, S.W.A.T. and the nail in the coffin, Alexander, put those ambitions aside. He limped back up two years later and got swatted back down with Miami Vice. Last year’s Total Recall suggests that Hollywood had not completely given up on Farrell as a big-budget leading man, but perhaps they should have. Despite many tries, he’s never had a big hit as a leading man (he is still generally fantastic in smaller movies with lower expectations).


Finally, Uma Thurman has been in free-fall essentially since 2005’s Be Cool, starting with Producers and My Super Ex-Girlfriend, hitting a low point with Motherhood, a movie that had an opening weekend of £88 in the UK. Poor Uma.

Eddie Murphy should be mentioned, although he has managed to hit a few branches in the midst of his 15-year-long free-fall with hits like Dreamgirls, Norbit, and Tower Heist. Robin Williams, likewise, had a more gradual descent. Mike Myers, on the other hand, didn’t have a box-office free fall so much as a disappearing act: Cat in the Hat was followed up five years later by The Love Guru, which put the kibosh on his comedy career.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.