Back in the day, didn’t we think Brad Pitt would be the next Robert Redford? Didn’t someone? The 90s offered us a slew of would-be classics who’d seemingly stay on our radar for years to come; surprisingly, many have either dropped out of sight or gone on to do less than interesting work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they suck dirt — just that they aren’t quite the acting powerhouses we thought. There are a few standouts who remain consistently great, but it looks like the generations that followed Redford and Newman don’t have quite the same stamina.
13. Mel Gibson
Though we can hardly stomach the sight of him now, back in the day, Mel was the shit. He was a batshit crazy, natural talent. Now he’s just a batshit crazy bigot. Le sigh. And yes, he came to prominence in the 80s, but the 90s gave us (what we thought was) an evolved Gibson.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: Hamlet, Braveheart, Maverick
Last 3 Films: Machete Kills, Get the Gringo, The Beaver
Prognosis: Awful. It’s not happening.
12. Jim Carrey
At first glance, Carrey was a powerhouse comedian, all stretchy faces and glowing teeth. But after a few dramatic entries, we realized there was more beneath the surface funny —a next-generation Robin Williams, perhaps?
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: The Mask, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon
Last 3 Films: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Kick-Ass 2, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Prognosis: Not good. Carrey veered back toward cartoon-land, and with his next Dumb and Dumber on the way, it doesn’t seem like he’s leaving anytime soon.
11. Val Kilmer
Val is an 80s boy, but in the 90s he really hit his stride and went from supercute boy to Serious Actor. “The next Brando” was on endless repeat.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: The Doors, Thunderheart, Tombstone
Last 3 Films: Palo Alto, Planes, Standing Up
Prognosis: Slight Comeback Kid possibility. Though it’s not entirely likely, Kilmer *could* pull out strong third quarter. He’s dropped a lot of weight (seriously, check out his Twitter), which has nothing to do with his acting, but may have had to do with his stepping away from the spotlight for quite a while. From the way his IMDB page looks, things are looking serious again.
10. Edward Norton
Pitt’s Fight Club co-star seemed destined for greatness, with an intensity that demanded our attention, but as quickly as Norton arrived, he fizzled out and faded away.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: Primal Fear, American History X, Fight Club
Last 3 Films: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Bourne Legacy, Moonrise Kingdom
Prognosis: Rather terrible. If we can hardly think of the last time Norton made a lasting impression (2006?), the thrill must truly be gone.
9. Johnny Depp
The anti-actor’s actor, Depp took away our collective breath with a one two punch of good looks and real talent. There’s no doubt he’s still a great actor, but it’s his stylistic choices that throw his train off the rails.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cry Baby, Edward Scissorhands
Last 3 Films: Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows
Prognosis: Unstable. Johnny *could* come back around. Though his longtime alliance with Tim Burton stranded the actor in cartoonland, the right roles could set things straight. Unfortunately, his upcoming films look to be quite a mix: Into the Woods, Mortdecai, Black Mass, Through the Looking Glass, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
8. Will Smith
Behind the guy who seems like a genuinely nice person stands (with the right role) a damned good actor. After breaking through from music to television, he marched right into film-work, but there’s definitely been a quality imbalance.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: Six Degrees of Separation, Men in Black, Enemy of the State
Last 3 Films: Winter’s Tale, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, After Earth
Prognosis: Iffy. Smith has the chops; but whether he picks the wrong projects, or just isn’t offered great roles, he’s not showing off his skills. He *should* do some independent film, remind us (and the industry) how good he can be, and focus on his own career instead of shepherding his kids through the industry.
7. Brad Pitt
We all fell in love with Pitt’s laid-back, easy style of acting; he seemed a natural who’d be carrying films as long as he likes. But somewhere along the way, the light in his eye has faded…maybe it’s all those kids? Pitt has been gravitating toward smaller parts and more behind-the-scenes producing gigs (although rumor has it, he may be up for True Detective season 2).
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: Thelma and Louise, Kalifornia, Legends of the Fall
Last 3 Films: The Counselor, 12 Years a Slave, World War Z
Prognosis: Not great. Pitt always gives a decent, serviceable performance, but he doesn’t command the lead like he used to. 2009’s Inglourious Basterds was probably Pitt’s last great hurrah. I don’t think anyone sees him carrying a film at 76 (like Redford just did with All Is Lost).
6. Tom Cruise
Although Cruise started his career earlier, he really seemed to hit his stride in the 90s; that’s the decade we started taking him seriously — hey, he’s not just a movie star, he can really act. Though we make light of his personal life, Cruise has reinvented himself as a decent action/science fiction lead. Who knows, he may just outlast them all?
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice (90s Serious): Mission Impossible, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia
Last 3 Films: Oblivion, Jack Reacher, Rock of Ages
Prognosis: Shaky, yet stable. There’s no doubt Cruise will ride out the next decade as a solid box office man, but can he get us to take him seriously again? He needs a solid drama, hold the cheese.
5. Robert Downey Jr.
Another 80s kid graduated to the big time in the 90s, RDJ made it through hell and back; right now he’s sitting on top of the world. But he’s veering dangerously close to Johnny Depp-land, with his over-the-top (alter) ego threatening to overshadow the acting.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: Chaplin, Natural Born Killers, Richard III
Last 3 Films: Chef, Iron Man 3, The Avengers
Prognosis: Middling. He could stay in the comic world as long as age allows, make a ton of money and be in audience good graces…but would he still be considered one of the greats? For that, RDJ needs to step out of the suit and rediscover himself. I’m not sure it’ll happen.
4. Tom Hanks
I don’t know who could have predicted that funny guy from Bosom Buddies would travel the road he did, but good on Tom. Without “classic good looks,” and too darned nice not to be eaten alive by the machine, Hanks has somehow managed to brilliantly navigate his way through Hollywood, stay down to earth, and be consistently great.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice (90s Serious): Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump
Last 3 Films: Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, Cloud Atlas
Prognosis: Great. Hanks continues to take on and effectively carry strong (if not outstanding) films.
3. Ralph Fiennes
Fiennes is an underrated powerhouse who’s paced himself well; he knows how to keep himself in our consciousness without over-exposing.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: Schindler’s List, Strange Days, The English Patient
Last 3 Films: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Invisible Woman, Skyfall
Prognosis: Excellent. Ralph’s a long-game contender.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
Pretty boy Leo could have been just that and made a name for himself, but he also happens to be a damned great actor…despite the Academy passing him by. Someday, Leo, someday…
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet, Titanic
Last 3 Films: The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, Django Unchained
Prognosis: Excellent. Whether or not he’s ever able to overcome his Lucci-dom, there’s no doubt DiCaprio will keep trying to outdo himself.
1. Daniel Day Lewis
Let’s face it, DDL was born to act, and he’s had our attention from day one (My Beautiful Laundrette, My Left Foot ) — he’ll have it until his last onscreen breath.
First Made Us Sit up and Take Notice: The Last of the Mohicans, The Age of Innocence, In the Name of the Father
Last 3 Films: Lincoln, Nine, There Will Be Blood
Prognosis: A Number One, Top of the Heap.