This week, a small-scale indie Australian surfing movie called “Drift,” which details two surfing brothers struggling to overcome their debt-ridden backgrounds and avoid a descent into criminality, opens in limited release. It shares almost nothing in common with the Biggest-Movie-Of-All-Time “Avatar” except its star, Sam Worthington, who in fact plays third lead here behind two largely unknown Aussie actors as the brothers. If it seems like a far cry from Pandora for Worthington, well, that’s because it is. Nothing to do with the quality of the film, but just in terms of the whisper-quiet buzz it’s getting, which Worthington’s presence alone should have beefed up if his stock in Hollywood meant anything at all. Yet despite a concerted effort that happened back there, Worthington just hasn’t ever become a bankable studio lead, and so here we are.
It’s hardly the first time (and won’t be the last) Hollywood has decided that a certain actor is gonna be huge and has done all it can to make that happen, and yet it hasn’t. It’s kind of strange and a little unfair that in a town where we’re regularly assured that every waiter is an actor waiting for his break, some never get a shot while others get more than one, even if audiences don’t embrace them the first time out. But it also shows how strange an echo-box tinseltown can be—sometimes all that needs to happen is that Studio X hears Studio Y loves This Guy for their next big star, and Studio X then has to cast him, and so on. Then a few years later This Guy has six movies coming out, and is on every magazine cover, and audiences, unless they fall in love with him instantly, feel a little aggrieved that they’re so forcefully being sold an unknown quantity.
The circumstances differ, but the phenomenon is the same, so we’ve taken a look at the careers of 10 actors who, despite repeated attempts, We The Audience in our fickle magnificence have simply not deemed worthy of the A-list.
Attempts At The Big Time: “Blade Trinity” (2004), “The Amityville Horror” (2005), “Just Friends” (2005), “Definitely Maybe” (2008), “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009), “The Proposal” (2009), “Buried” (2010), “Green Lantern” (2011), “The Change-Up” (2011), “Safe House” (2012), “R.I.P.D.” (2013)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? The archetypal example on this list, Reynolds has been tapped as a potential megastar for close to a decade, and every so often looks to have made the leap… nearly. The Canadian actor’s been acting since he was a teenager and his ABC sitcom “Two Guys And A Girl” in 1998 helped land him his first lead role in college-com “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” in 2002. It was a charismatic and funny turn, and he soon started cropping up elsewhere—proving to be the highlight of the otherwise execrable “Blade Trinity” and finally getting a studio lead in “The Amityville Horror.”
And so he entered his bankable phase, thanks to some modestly successful comedies like “Waiting…” and “Just Friends” that performed well on video, even if more expensive prospects like ‘Smokin’ Aces” and “Definitely Maybe” didn’t land. 2009 proved Reynolds’ biggest year yet; a showy turn in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” an acclaimed supporting part in indie “Adventureland,” and most crucially, a giant rom-com hit opposite Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal.” He seemed to have arrived in a big way, and lined up a trio of promising prospects—one-man-show indie “Buried,” R-rated comedy “The Change-Up” and superhero tentpole “Green Lantern.” But the Reynolds train was held up when all three underperformed massively, the latter two in the same summer of 2011. By that point, however, Reynolds was already signed to a couple of other projects and the first of these, “Safe House,” proved to be a solid hit, saving the actor’s bacon for a moment.
It was the second of the pair, however, that may prove fatal: “R.I.P.D.,” the “Men In Black“-esque supernatural action-comedy was once one of Universal‘s big summer hopes, but by the time of release, they seemed to have given up on it (knowing, as the rest of us do now, that the film was lousy), and it absolutely bombed, now destined to take a place in the all-time flop hall of fame. Worse, Reynolds was also the lead in animation “Turbo” the same weekend, which underperformed as well. Strictly speaking, neither was directly Reynolds’ fault—”Turbo” suffered from animation fatigue in the market, while Universal had no faith in “R.I.P.D” whatsoever. But studio executives have already cooled on offering Reynolds tentpole leads—he bowed out of the “Highlander” remake a while back and “Deadpool” is never, ever gonna happen.
To his credit, he’s course-correcting, looking to work with interesting filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, Marjane Satrapi, Anna Fleck and Ryan Boden, and Tarsem on upcoming projects. And we hope it works out as Reynolds is a likable presence, popular in comedies and can be very strong in smaller roles. But short of a Matthew McConaughey-like turnaround (and let’s not forget, much of this would have applied to him a few years back and now he’s the lead in Christopher Nolan‘s new film), we suspect it’s going to be a long time before Hollywood tries to push him as a major box-office draw again.
Any Thoughts? Reynolds told Details Magazine in 2011: “I’m in a very lucky and fortunate place… I remembered walking down that very same street maybe 10 years ago, just shrouded in a sea of abject failure. I had, like, a stick with a handkerchief with some dry, stale bread in it and that was all.”
Attempts At The Big Time: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009), “John Carter” (2012), “Battleship” (2012), “Savages” (2012)
Where Did It All Go Wrong: Poor Taylor Kitsch has, despite only a handful of credits to his name, become something of a byword for this kind of actor, after Hollywood stacked a lot of chips on him last summer, most of which they failed to recoup. The Canadian former model had a few movie credits to his name—teen comedy “John Tucker Must Die,” “The Craft“-with-bros thriller “The Covenant” and the infamous “Snakes On A Plane“—when he was cast as running back Tim Riggins in the TV translation of “Friday Night Lights.” The series was a huge critical hit and Kitsch was an immediate standout, brooding and charismatic. A few seasons in, the actor got his first big movie role—an extended cameo as fan favorite character Gambit in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It proved to be a less auspicious start than he might have hoped, but despite the movie being terrible, the role was small enough that it didn’t harm Kitsch’s rep too much.
Indeed, quite the reverse: soon afterwards, Kitsch was cast as the title character in Andrew Stanton‘s “John Carter,” a much-anticipated Disney tentpole. And once that wrapped, the actor also landed the lead role in another $200 million megamovie, “Battleship.” Both shot as long as two years in advance of release, meaning Kitsch had a lot of hype in the run-up to their releases in the spring of 2012 (barely two months apart), hype that only increased when he won a sought-after lead in Oliver Stone‘s “Savages.”He was either going to be Hollywood’s next big star, or a spectacular cautionary tale… The buzz around “John Carter” turned poisonous as release neared, and that was borne out when the hugely expensive film took a nine-figure write-down after severely underperforming.
“Battleship” may have seemed a safer prospect, but when it was released, in the aftermath of the behemoth “The Avengers” and accompanied by awful reviews, it too was a major dud, also losing north of $100 million for its studio. Again, neither failure can be laid squarely at Kitsch’s feet, but he certainly didn’t boost their box office in a way that a more established star might have. “Savages” performed a little better, relatively speaking. The far cheaper film made nearly $50 million but it didn’t suggest that Kitsch had gathered any kind of following, and besides, it was too little too late and his name was already tainted. After a decade that saw the biggest movies dominated by the off-beat charms of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr., Kitsch was just a little too bland, or at least the characters he was given were.
Wisely, or perhaps by necessity, the actor’s steering clear of further tentpoles for the moment. He’s reteaming with “Battleship” helmer Peter Berg for awards candidate “Lone Survivor,” he’ll be at TIFF with Don McKellar‘s “The Grand Seduction,“ and is playing a gay rights activist in Ryan Murphy‘s HBO movie “The Normal Heart.“ In other words, he’s taking the baby steps into features that he skipped the first time around, and hopefully showing off some more of the acting chops his TV stint had us all convinced of, back when.
Any Thoughts? With the two blockbuster failures in the past, Kitsch was finding a silver lining as he told the AP: “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that [it] died, and I’m not tied to these things for the next 10 years. I’m free to do whatever I want now. If I want to do something in January, February, March, April, I don’t have to go through two studios to be greenlit.”
Attempts At The Big Time: “American Outlaws” (2001), “Hart’s War” (2002), “Minority Report” (2002), “The Recruit” (2003), “Daredevil” (2003), “SWAT” (2003), “Alexander” (2004), “Miami Vice” (2006), “Fright Night” (2011), “Total Recall” (2012), “Dead Man Down” (2013)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? Farrell’s a rarity in that he’s had not one, but two shots at the big leagues, from bright young thing to comeback kid, and despite some fine performances over the years, broader audiences have consistently failed to respond to him when he’s been anointed a tentpole lead. The Irish actor broke out aged 24 in Joel Schumacher‘s “Tigerland,” giving an intense performance that promised big things. And big things soon arrived: while early leads “American Outlaws” and “Hart’s War” whimpered, he convincingly squared off against Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg‘s “Minority Report,” and carried solo show “Phone Booth” impressively, and the film became a modest hit. Things seemed to be ticking along decently. “Daredevil” and “S.W.A.T.” both made some coin, albeit not as much as he was perhaps hoping. But Farrell then headlined a pair of hugely expensive tentpoles, in “Alexander” and “Miami Vice,” and both flopped.
The actor, who’d been having substance abuse issues, wasn’t licked yet, though; he cleaned up, regrouped, and returned with a strong performance in the storming “In Bruges” that reminded everybody why they’d been so excited about him in the first place. A few other smaller gigs followed, some of which worked, some didn’t, and a financially disappointing return to bigger fare with Peter Weir‘s “The Way Back” was mitigated by an against-type, combover-wearing cameo in comedy hit “Horrible Bosses.” But since then, things have been bleaker with a couple of major summer flops in “Fright Night” and “Total Recall,” which made less money than the twenty-years-earlier Paul Verhoeven original.
Films more in his wheelhouse didn’t perform much better either, with “Seven Psychopaths” and “Dead Man Down” both failing to find much of a theatrical audience. Ultimately, Farrell is not dissimilar to Jude Law; like him, Farrell’s really a character actor in the hot bod of a leading man, whose finest hours have come in smaller-scale fare like “The New World,” “Ondine” or “A Home At The End Of The World.” But while Law’s now found his place, mostly happy to play second fiddle to Robert Downey Jr. or take meatier character parts for noted filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh or Joe Wright, Farrell—who never really established a new persona once he shook off the hellraiser mantle—is still being pushed as a headliner. He was to star in the since canceled “Arthur & Lancelot“ for Warner Bros., and has “Winter’s Tale“ on the way from the studio. But unless the latter proves an unexpected smash, expect to see less of that sort of thing and more like his upcoming supporting turns in “Saving Mr. Banks“ and “Miss Julie.” And to be honest, that may be for the best.
Any Thoughts? On the eve of the release of “Total Recall,” Farrell told The Observer: “I’d done a certain amount of big budget films that didn’t perform that well. Consequently, there weren’t that many big films that were coming knocking for me. I was probably due an arse kicking. I really was… I can’t say that I sat down and said, ‘Right, I am going to reinvest.’ I know from talking to some friends and different people that it looks as though I’ve tried to redesign my career, but it’s not really like that.”
Attempts At The Big Time: “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D,” (2005) ‘The Twilight Saga‘ (all 5 films, 2008-2012), “Valentine’s Day” (2010), “Abduction” (2011), “Grown-Ups 2” (2013, uncredited cameo)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? One image always comes to mind when we think of Taylor Lautner’s career in relation to those of his two more successful “Twilight” co-stars: a little fat wheezy kid constantly playing catch-up yelling “Hey guys! Wait up!” between blasts on his inhaler. While human protein shake Lautner is himself anything but tubby, and as far as we know, untroubled by asthma, his short resume outside the “Twilight” films really does gasp for air, and this is despite the guy’s obvious ambition and work ethic. The terrible would-be actioner “Abduction” not only starred Lautner, but was the debut production of his very own shingle Tailor Made Entertainment. Which is clever and funny because his name is Taylor!!?!! LOL.
But Lautner’s transparency about what he wants is almost endearing—not for him the auteur-driven “serious actor” path to which Robert Pattinson aspires. Lautner wants to be an action star, and for a while there, Hollywood seemed to want that too. In fact, in the faraway land of 2009/2010, Lautner caused something of a bidding war for which based-on-a-toy action star he would take on. First signed as Mattel’s “Max Steel” for Paramount, when he was still in the thick of his role as moony werewolf Jacob Black, suddenly reports of Lautner being the Next Big Thing were everywhere, and Universal, itself with Hasbro’s “Stretch Armstrong” in the cards, also took the bait. At first, it seemed like The World’s Highest-Paid Teen Actor TM might do both, but the rivalries not just between movie studios, but between the two biggest toy manufacturers made that untenable, and Lautner quietly disengaged from “Max Steel.” Sadly for him, Universal then saw the numbers on “Abduction” and cooled considerably on ‘Stretch,’ which has since found a new home at Relativity, sans Lautner.
So look, Lautner’s obviously not our cup of tea, and he literally has not got a single decent film to his name (depending on how you feel about “Sharkboy and Lavagirl”), but it does seem he’s something of a victim of the weird Hollywood buzz machine. Something bright and shiny like a Hasbro movie might have been just the ticket to find him a new audience, but testing his suitability for that with the deathly dull “Abduction” seems off. That was never a film that Lautner’s established female fanbase wanted to see, and why were teen boys (presumably the core potential audience) going to flock to watch the guy who played the permanently friendzoned werewolf who fell in love with a baby in “Twilight”?
With an icy silence surrounding his erstwhile Michael Bay team-up and his next mooted YA project “Incarceron” the only thing inked on Lautner’s dance card is the upcoming “Tracers” (logline: a bike messenger fleeing danger gets drawn into the world of parkour by a beautiful stranger). However he did have a potential gig with Gus Van Sant and writer Dustin Lance Black, both of whom need a hit after their last films and have the chops to maybe give Lautner an indie career. It just remains to be seen if he can show us anything other than abs and his “Blue Steel” face in terms of acting range to warrant such a chance.
Any Thoughts? “Number one, nothing comes without hard work… And two, you have to be persistent. You’ve got to keep pushing, keep driving, because in this business, you’re going to hear ‘no’ a lot more than you hear ‘yes… You never know, in this business, when it’s going to come to an end,” he said in a 2010 interview with Michigan’s MLive.
Attempts At The Big Time: “The Great Raid” (2005), “Terminator Salvation” (2009), “Avatar” (2009), “Clash Of The Titans” (2010), “The Debt” (2010), “Last Night” (2010), “Man On A Ledge” (2012), “Wrath Of The Titans” (2012), “Drift” (2013)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? It might seem a touch unfair for the star of the biggest-grossing movie of all time, James Cameron‘s “Avatar,” to make this list. And indeed, for about six months in 2010, it looked like Sam Worthington might be on the way to being a legitimate box-office draw. But when you compare his career path to that of the male lead of Cameron’s previous billion-dollar grosser “Titanic,” it’s clear that Worthington is not going to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio. The Australian actor started out with a few small roles in Southern Hemisphere-shot pictures like “Hart’s War” and “Dirty Deeds” before legitimately impressing in the indie “Somersault.” A small role in the WWII picture “The Great Raid” followed, along with the lead in a not-so-great contemporary version of “Macbeth,” but then along came Cameron.
“Avatar” was in post for years, but Hollywood didn’t wait to cast Worthington in some of their biggest tentpoles, with the actor wrapping both “Terminator: Salvation” and “Clash of the Titans” ahead of the release of “Avatar.” The ‘Terminator’ picture was actually released six months ahead of it and while it didn’t perform badly, few were particularly enthusiastic about the movie, or the actor’s turn as secret robot Marcus Wright. He was better in “Avatar,” if not immediately making a case for all the hype and only a few months later, ‘Clash’ surfed the ‘Avatar’ 3D wave to big box office numbers too. It was about as solid a start to an A-list career as you could ask for, but things have been tougher since.
To his credit, Worthington moved towards tougher fare but while “The Debt” was a modest hit (and features one of his better turns), “Texas Killing Fields” and “Last Night” both mostly disappeared on the festival circuit and Worthington never seemed at home in either. 2012 was worse, with the actor leading two studio pictures in the first few months of the year, “Man On A Ledge” that tanked and sequel “Wrath Of The Titans” which significantly undergrossed its predecessor and pretty much killed the franchise (if anything, Worthington had gotten worse in the second film). He flirted with various other big projects in the intervening years—a “Dan Dare” reboot, “Quatermain,” “Dracula: Year Zero,” comic book adaptation “The Last Days Of American Crime“—but few materialized (including a pair of more recent sci-fi actioners) and his only movie this year is this week’s surfing movie “Drift.”
Now, he looks to be returning to the kind of indie fare he got his start in, with civil war drama “The Keeping Room” and Philip Noyce‘s “For The Dogs” coming up, but it’s a mark of how his star has fallen that his next studio flick is playing second fiddle to Arnold Schwarzenegger in David Ayer‘s “Sabotage.” Worthington’s competent enough, but he’s never seemed entirely comfortable with the American accent, and can come across as bland. Still, there’s always future “Avatar” movies, although any profile boost from those will be negligible.
Any Thoughts? Worthington expressed regrets over “Clash Of The Titans” in 2012 to the Daily Telegraph: “I was disappointed with my performance. I was a fucking bland action dude. I don’t think I created a character and I screwed up. When it comes to 3D, I’ve been in the movie that got revered the most [Avatar] and the movie that got slated the most.”
Attempts At The Big Time: “Stormbreaker” (2006), “Wild Child” (2008), “Tormented” (2009), “I Am Number Four” (2011), “Beastly” (2011), “In Time” (2011), “Magic Mike” (2012)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? After the success of ‘Harry Potter,’ and with a swathe of young adult adaptations brewing, the end of the last decade saw cheekboned English public schoolboys being shipped to the U.S. in volume. Some became instant pin-ups (see: R-Patz), some barely seemed to get off the starting blocks (spare a thought, and ideally some change, for “Eragon” lead Ed Speleers), but few appeared to have the world at their feet in the way that Alex Pettyfer did. The actor was just fifteen when he filmed junior-James-Bond British actioner “Stormbreaker,” a modest hit at home, which was followed by Emma Roberts teen-com “Wild Child” and horror “Tormented,” before he was snapped up by DreamWorks to star in hotly-tipped young-adult sci-fi “I Am Number Four.”
With that film in the can, and supernatural romance “Beastly” also on the way, he suddenly became the toast of Hollywood: DreamWorks were developing a biopic of racing driver James Hunt (soon to be played by Chris Hemsworth in Ron Howard‘s “Rush“), and Pettyfer was offered the lead in YA adaptation “The Mortal Instruments,” with Screen Gems allegedly so high on him that they wouldn’t greenlight the film without him. Pettyfer soon bailed on the project (which got made anyway) in favor of the film that became “The Seventh Son,” and was linked with a host of other high-profile gigs, including “Jack The Giant Slayer,” “The Bourne Legacy,“ “The Hunger Games,” and even the chance get peed on by Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy.”
But suddenly, whispers started, culminating in a hit piece in The Hollywood Reporter that, essentially, said Pettyfer was a bit of a dick. Bad behavior on the set of “I Am Number Four,” and on the marketing trail for “Beastly” was reported, as well as Pettyfer allegedly asking for a $10 million payday for ‘Mortal Instruments,’ and most of the other gigs dried up, including “The Seventh Son.” Steven Soderbergh came to the rescue, offering Pettyfer a co-lead in stripper picture “Magic Mike,” alongside Channing Tatum. But Pettyfer seemed to blow it. He’s fine in the movie, but rumor has it he alienated both Soderbergh and Tatum on set, to the extent that he was excluded from the later stages of the press tour. The story’s not necessarily over: Pettyfer has a few gigs coming up, including a supporting turn in Lee Daniels‘ “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and the lead in the “Endless Love” remake, but they’re not quite the world-beating offers he was getting a couple of years back. Lesson to prospective A-listers: don’t let it go to your head too fast.
Any Thoughts? Pettyfer told VMan Magazine, around the time of the release of “Beastly”: “L.A. is growing on me a little bit but it’s still a shit hole. I think it’s this insidious pool where nearly everyone lives in fear. Geographically it’s fantastic, but socially it’s disgusting. I wish they’d run all of the cunts out… Being an actor is like being in prison. You go, you serve your time, you try and replicate Johnny Depp‘s career and then you move to Paris.”
Attempts At The Big Time: “The Craft” (1996), “Scream” (1996), “The Newton Boys” (1998), “Chill Factor” (1999), “Ride With The Devil” (1999)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? Something of a blast from the past, but Skeet Ulrich (now principally a TV face most recently seen on “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” and featured in a pilot from “Homeland” creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa called “Anatomy Of Violence” that wasn’t picked up) was in many ways the Taylor Kitsch of his day. He started off as an extra before studying at NYU and landing with the Atlantic Theater Company. After a CBS special, Ulrich had a clutch of roles in 1996 that got him noticed: as Winona Ryder‘s boyfriend in “Boys,” Sharon Stone‘s brother in death row drama “Last Dance,” a role in Kevin Spacey‘s directorial debut “Albino Alligator,” and most memorably, he figured as sinister love interest in two big horror hits, “The Craft” and “Scream.”
It was the latter in particular, where Ulrich played boyfriend/eventual killer Billy Loomis, that really got him heat, and after featuring on the famous Vanity Fair Hollywood cover of that year (albeit relegated behind the second fold with fellow never-quite Jonathan Schaech and some guy called Will Smith), landed a couple of roles the following year. First came Paul Schrader‘s undervalued “Touch,” then a smaller role in the Oscar-winning “As Good As It Gets.” These seemed to confirm Ulrich’s rising star, and he was soon stacking up leads—joining Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater‘s Western “The Newton Boys,” and reteaming with Cuba Gooding Jr. for “Chill Factor.”
But neither film landed: Linklater’s picture was a famous flop, and “Chill Factor” did about as well as you’d hope a movie best described as “‘Speed’ in an ice-cream van” would. There was one more big picture to come, alongside fellow rising star Tobey Maguire as the co-lead in Ang Lee‘s Civil War movie “Ride With The Devil.” Again, Ulrich is decent in the film, which is undervalued, but it failed to connect with any kind of audience after lukewarm reviews (making only $635,000 on a $40 million budget).
Since then, Ulrich’s movie roles have been scarce (“Armored” being the most notable), but he’s carved out a fair niche for himself on TV thanks to cult show “Jericho” and his “Law & Order” stint. He was never lacking in talent, but perhaps never quite carved out his own identity (we still confuse him with Stephen Dorff, to be honest, while early on he looked almost distractingly Johnny Depp-like), and while his choices were often honorable, the films themselves never quite took hold. Still, he’s only one Sofia Coppola-advocacy away from a return to the big screen…
Any Thoughts? Ulrich told Interview magazine back in 1996, as his movies were about to hit: “Whatever labels are being pinned on me have nothing to do with me. I think people could justify labeling me if they saw a pattern in what I do, but right now that’s impossible. As for being a magazine pinup, that’s the machine—it’s not really me. They could say I was the next Max Perlich, but it’d still be me.”
Attempts At The Big Time: “Rounders” (1998), Woody Allen‘s “Celebrity” (1998), “Donnie Brasco” (1997), “Music from Another Room” (1998)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? Here’s the thing: Gretchen Mol is an excellent character actress who has done consistent work for two decades and has really come into her own on shows like “Boardwalk Empire.” But in the late ’90s, things were a bit different and not a lot of it was her fault. In 1998, in the pre-extra-super-savvy Internet days, Mol was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair fetchingly wearing a see-through slip dress and dubbed the “It Girl of the Nineties” by the magazine. The problem with this insanely premature proclamation, aside from not even having had the proper time to come true, was it was essentially based on only a handful of movies from 1997 and 1998 (basically the ones listed above)—hardly a definitive consensus what a ’90s It Girl should represent. Did Mol have amazing publicists who duped Vanity Fair into thinking the moderate buzz she had was about to transform her into the next A-list ingenue? Yes, but all it really did was set up hopelessly impossible expectations for the actress (at the time, this outrageous media coup/folly was said to be the none-too-subtle bullyish work of Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein that released both “Rounders” and “Celebrity”).
Making matters worse, all the aforementioned movie roles were supporting ones and when she was hoisted on the cover of Vanity Fair in ‘98 she was essentially an unknown leaving the public thinking, “Who???” and the rest of the media suppressing giggles. While Mol continued to go on doing strong character work over the years (“3:10 To Yuma,” David Wain’s “The Ten,” Neil LaBute‘s “The Shape of Things” and Mary Harron‘s “The Notorious Bettie Page” being a few examples), the perception was she was poised for greatness, “sank into obscurity” and was felled by the “Vanity Fair cover curse.” In May 2012, Mol was put on the cover of Town & Country with the title, “A star is reborn: how she broke the Hollywood curse.”
One of the elements of the Vanity Fair piece that turned out to be untrue was that Mol was discovered as the hat-check girl at Michael’s, a New York restaurant once known for its ease with which to spot celebrities. “It was the Weinsteins,” Mol said of that nonsense rumor. “[They were] in the business of making stars, with cigars hanging out of their mouths. That was the imagery. And I was a hat-check girl. First of all, who is a hat-check girl? I never checked a hat in my damn life.”
Any Thoughts? Mol felt the sting of Harvey and Vanity Fair’s big decision and watched whatever buzz she gained quickly fade. “It suddenly felt very, ‘Hey, she’s not all that,’ ” Mol told the New York Times in 2003. ”What you find out is that just as quickly as people get behind you, they fall away. I watched as the doors went open. Then, I watched them as they closed.”
Attempts at the Big Time: “The Power Of One” (1992) “Judgment Night” (1993), “Backbeat” (1994), “SFW” (1994)
How Did It Go Off Track? Like Skeet Ulrich and other beautiful-faced men in their 20-something prime, Stephen Dorff was on track, at one point in the mid-’90s, to be a big star. Or at least Hollywood and the media saw it that way. He had the disheveled good looks and gruff, bad-boy attitude, he smoked, drank: he was another Johnny Depp or Mickey Rourke, in the making as far as studios, magazine editors and publicists were concerned. After stints on TV including the short-lived “The Outsiders” series, 1992 saw him star in “The Power Of One” opposite Morgan Freeman at the tender age of 19, and then the following year, he scored one of the coveted leads in much-buzzed action thriller “Judgment Night.” Right around the same time as that film’s release, Dorff was cast in the video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’” which essentially made Alicia Silverstone a star and certainly didn’t hurt him either, and reportedly he was offered the lead in TV’s “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”—he was on his way.
Accordingly, along came his too-cool-for-school roles, like The Beatles-centric “Backbeat” and “S.F.W.,” both of which did minor business, but bolstered his up-and-coming “It-Boy” status. Soon he was living the dream: Details magazine (who actually kind of mattered at the time) called him the “best new actor of his generation” and he was hanging with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe (they pal around with Tori Amos in a separate Details piece). Stipe even showed up the 1994 MTV Music Awards wearing a hat to promote “S.F.W.” (where he was also bumrushed by MCA).
But while Dorff’s acting chops were… fine, what seems like his undoing was the arrogance which spilled forth in interview and on set. He would dog past roles (apparently telling a reporter “Judgment Day” was so stupid he could have “phoned in the fucker”). Of actors like Sean Penn and John Malkovich he boasted, “I know if I got on the screen with them, the screen would be just blown apart.” And he relentlessly talked himself up even about roles he didn’t take/get, saying “They are talking to five young actors about playing James Dean, but I’m not chasing it because no matter how brilliant I would be, it’s gonna fucking work against me.”
And so the kind of fame that Dorff and Hollywood were so convinced was coming never arrived. He had some colorful moments: Mary Harron‘s “I Shot Andy Warhol,” John Waters‘ “Cecil B. Demented,” and “Blade,” but none of these parts raised his profile significantly and it wasn’t long before he was taking parts in straight-to-DVD action movies like “Steal,” “Deuces Wild” and sinking, along with Christian Slater, to topping Uwe Boll‘s “Alone in the Dark” in 1995.
Dorff has cleaned up in recent years, taking a small, but wise supporting role in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and then making a low-key comeback vehicle of Sofia Coppola‘s “Somewhere.” Eran Riklis’ “Zaytoun” seemed like another step in the right direction, as was tiny indie “The Motel Life” which he was very good in, but 2011’s “Carjacked” and “Rite Of Passage” demonstrate how the temptation for a paycheck gig lurks right around every corner.
Any Thoughts? Dorff isn’t exactly disagreeing with our assessment. “Yeah, I partied, and went a little crazy with the girls and had my drinking days, but I never got addicted to hard-core drugs…I think when I was younger, I was a little more self-absorbed, didn’t really think of other people,” he told Vulture in 2010.
Attempts At The Big Time: “Pearl Harbor“(2001), “O” (2001), “Black Hawk Down” (2001),”40 Days and 40 Nights“(2002), “Hollywood Homicide“(2003), “Sin City” (2005), “The Black Dahlia” (2006) “Lucky Number Slevin“(2006) “30 Days of Night” (2007)
Where Did It All Go Wrong? Thinking about Josh Hartnett, which we do only rarely—that’s part of the problem—it’s hard to pigeonhole him into one of the other models of nearly-man: his big break, “Pearl Harbor” may have been a horrible turgid waste of an afternoon but it made money, so he’s no Taylor Kitsch. Nor has he developed a Pettyfer-like reputation for prickishness, that old story about feuding with Harrison Ford during “Hollywood Homicide” notwithstanding (and with Ford’s notoriously curmudgeonliness we’re willing to cut Hartnett some slack there). Nor are his acting chops as questionable as say Taylor Lautner’s. On occasion, Hartnett has impressed, notably in “Black Hawk Down,” “The Virgin Suicides,” intriguing if not totally successful Shakespeare riff “O” and even high-concept vampire romp “30 Days of Night.” So what went awry?
In fact, the story now goes that Hartnett’s falling short of the A-list was as much by design as accident. In the early ’00s, off the back of a host of “star of tomorrow” articles, not to mention PETA’s coveted “sexiest vegetarian of 2003” ribbon, Hartnett was offered the lead in Brett Ratner’s gestating “Superman” movie. But he turned it down, citing the ten-year commitment and his fear of being stereotyped as the reasons. Now, that movie did not come to pass, but saying no took some nerve: it’s the sort of opportunity more fame-hungry youngsters would pay PR firms just to claim they were even being considered for. And apparently he ruffled feathers, with Hartnett claiming that that decision alienated a lot of Hollywood power players, including his own agents.
Since his motives were noble, perhaps we wouldn’t deem him worthy of inclusion on this List Of Doom, if only the choices he made since then had been better. But somehow the desire to test one’s versatility as an actor seems less admirable when the results are as poor as the overplotted “Lucky Number Slevin,” the dubious “40 Days and 40 Nights” or the just bloody awful “Black Dahlia”—a film to which Hartnett was so committed to that he stayed attached to it throughout its half-decade long gestation. Even a hit like “Sin City” for his “The Faculty” director Robert Rodriguez couldn’t do much for his profile—after all, it’s little more than a cardboard role in a stacked ensemble.
More recently, Hartnett’s move indie-ward has also underwhelmed with “August,” “Stuck Between Stations” and “I Come With The Rain” ranging from just-OK to pretty bad and his upcoming Roland Joffe-directed “Singularity” plagued by production issues. In fact, the biggest blip Hartnett has made on our radar recently was as the result of a Twitter misunderstanding which had him temporarily, falsely rumored to be circling a new take on “Daredevil.” However the speed with which that took off indicates there is some latent awareness of the guy, so maybe a renaissance is not out of the question, and having recently been cast opposite Eva Green in the Sam Mendes-produced Showtime series “Penny Dreadful,” suggests it could happen.
Any Thoughts? “After ‘Black Hawk Down‘ there was a real lull. Everybody was trying to put me in action movies and heroic roles and I wanted to find more complex things. They just didn’t suit my taste so I thought, ‘OK, I have to be brave enough to say no.’ And for a while that hurt me immeasurably in the Hollywood world. A lot of people felt jilted,” Hartnett said in the UK’s Daily Record in 2011.
We kept the list to ten, but other actors who fit the bill that we considered include Clive Owen (somewhat in the Farrell mode, he just can’t seem to break out the way Hollywood thinks he should and has probably now settled into a respectable niche just below big-stardom) and Paul Walker, who has been pushed a couple times but outside of the “Fast and Furious” franchise has never been able to overcome a certain blandness. Jason Momoa was being put forward as a new action star after his turn in “Game of Thrones,” but with his stint (season 1) just a distant memory and “Conan The Barbarian” and “Bullet to the Head” both flopping hard Drogo needs to shake it up if he’s not going to slide into B-movie obscurity forever. Orlando Bloom has proved time and again just too slight a presence to be able to carry a film without the support of a massive “Lord of the Rings” or ‘Pirates‘ machine around him; Topher Grace we mentioned recently in TV Comedy Stars Whose Big Screen Careers Faltered, so enough said there; and further back in the past the likes of Chris O’Donnell and even William “Billy” Baldwin got maybe a few more do-overs than they deserved, without making any of them really stick. And yes, we’re aware how many of these choices are white and male, but whether that’s because we’re blinkered or because Hollywood in general doesn’t make as huge a push for female stars (who are unlikely to head up a summer tentpole) or stars of other ethnicities (ditto), we’ll leave you to decide.
So whose relative lack of success do you find inexplicable and who do you think has about as much chance as “Fetch!” of ever happening, no matter how high on them Hollywood might be? Let us know below. – Jessica Kiang, Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez