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9 Veteran Actors Whose Biggest Box Office Successes Were Not Signature Films

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | June 19, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | June 19, 2011 |

One of our sterling Eloquents, TheOtherGreg, was perusing the Clint Eastwood Wikipedia entry and stumbled upon a fan fact that he suggested could be extrapolated into a potentially interesting SRL: After adjusting for inflation, the two biggest box-office hits on Eastwood’s resume were not signature roles, but his two comedies: Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can.

I’d assumed that quite a few actors and actresses might have films that fell under that category, given the ease with which they sell out these days. I even went so far as to pony up and pay for the Premier Pass on BoxOfficeMojo (which gives us box office returns adjusted for inflation (which should quiet branded)).

The reality was not as dispiriting as I expected. Given the number of sell-out films some classic actors have made late in their careers, I anticipated the worst. But, adjusting for inflation really does make a huge difference. For Steve Martin, for instance, it means that The Jerk is his biggest film to date (and not Cheaper by the Dozen). For Dustin Hoffman, Meet the Fockers doesn’t even come close to The Graduate, which made $600 million when adjusted for inflation. Paul Newman and Robert Redford would’ve had to sell out hard late in their careers to top the $700 million adjusted from for The Sting. And when adjusted, Jack Nicolson’s Anger Management doesn’t even approach Batman or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Inflation also saved Meryl Streep from Mamma Mia!; when adjusted, Kramer vs. Kramer more than doubled the gross of the Abba musical. Even John Travolta, whose biggest unadjusted movie is Wild Hogs was saved by the $600 million adjusted gross of Grease.

Grease made $600 million in today’s dollars? Holy greased lightening.

But there were a few actors, unfortunately, whose biggest box-office hits were not signature roles. I think that with the exception of DeNiro, however, the rest don’t necessarily deserve the sell-out tag. Here are the nine actors whose biggest hits were not signature roles, and notice that I was reaching by the end.

Robert DeNiro.

Best Known For: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull

Biggest Hits: Meet the Fockers ($347 million) and Meet the Parents ($242 million)

Clint Eastwood

Best Known For: Dirty Harry, Unforgiven

Biggest Hits: Every Which Way But Loose ($286 million) and Any Which Way You Can ($206 million).

Denzel Washington

Best Known For: Malcolm X, Training Day, Philadelphia

Biggest Hits: Pelican Brief ($190 million) and Remember the Titans ($168 million)

Nic Cage

Ideally Known For: Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona

Biggest Hit: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Colin Firth

Best Known for: The King’s Speech, Bridget Jones Diary, Love Actually

Biggest Hit: Mamma Mia

Mel Gibson

Best Known For: Lethal Weapon, Mad Max, Braveheart

Biggest Hit: Signs ($308 million)

Anthony Hopkins

Best Known For: Silence of the Lambs, Remains of the Day, Shadowlands

Biggest Hits: How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($378 million) and Mission Impossible II ($314 million)

Nicole Kidman

Best Known For: Moulin Rouge, The Others, The Hours

Biggest Hits: Happy Feet, Batman Forever

Ed Norton

Best Known For: Rounders, Primal Fear, Fight Club

Biggest Hit: The Incredible Hulk