Don't Call It A Comeback: 20 Celebrities Who Redeemed Themselves From Bad TV/Movie Roles

There's no such thing as an actor that's only been in good films. It could be for many reasons. Maybe they were starting out, or perhaps there were problems during production, or maybe the plot of the film just wasn't that great. Every actor has a film on their resumé that they aren't proud of. Plus, beginner actors don't have much of a choice and usually end up getting stuck with parts at the start of their careers. Most actors don't face anything too drastic, but what happens if a film is excruciatingly bad?

Several actors in the industry have been able to bounce back from a bad film or TV role. Some people have starred as superheroes in terrible films and redeemed themselves in a different role. Other actors even went on to win an Academy Award or have gotten significant praise after having starred in a better part. If you ever feel like there's anyone out there who feels like they can't reinvent themselves, here's proof that anyone has the potential to bounce back.

20 Leonardo DiCaprio

After Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Titanic it seemed like he was the king of the world (we couldn't resist this pun!). When he starred in Alex Garland's The Beach, fans were totally looking forward to seeing him in what seemed like yet another endearing role. The Beach was supposed to star Ewan McGregor, but casting Leo instead created some fallout for the director, Danny Boyle. Leo has graciously decided not to discuss this role.

DiCaprio was type-cast as the lover-boy and was trapped in roles that sought to use him just for his attractiveness. Then he met Martin Scorsese. Leonardo DiCaprio has praised Scorsese, claiming, “I felt I could truly own the term "artist" by working alongside him."

Leo's role in Gangs of New York surprised critics who saw him only as a symbol of attraction until then. Gangs of New York received great reviews and did really well at the box office. This film not only allowed him to pursue more serious roles, it provided him with the opportunity to continue working with Scorsese over the span of many years. After many Oscar nominations in the past, he finally won his first Academy Award in 2016 for his role as Hugh Glass in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's The Revenant. Go, Leo!

19 Ryan Reynolds

Did you really think we weren't going to mention this little gem? Green Lantern was supposed to be Ryan Reynolds' big breakthrough into the superhero film genre. To put it lightly, critics didn't enjoy the film and its box office numbers didn't please the studio at all. The sequels to the film were eventually canceled because of these factors. It seemed like Reynolds would be forever known as a failed hero in an animated green super suit.

On the bright side, though, Green Lantern is where he met his now-wife, Blake Lively! Fans of the couple are definitely grateful for that. Rumor has it that Warner Bros. have changed their strategy and are in the midst of trying to make Green Lantern 2 happen. We'll have to wait and see, though.

Despite this mishap, Marvel made the wise decision to hire Reynolds to play the beloved Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. Why was this film so much better? Fans can only speculate about this. We're just glad that Reynolds got a second chance to be a superhero because we honestly can't imagine Wade Wilson being played by anyone else.

One of the great things about watching Reynolds play Deadpool is that he makes fun of the disaster that was Green Lantern. Deadpool not only succeeded on its first run, but its current sequel is doing well. It just goes to show that if DC doesn't work out for you, maybe Marvel will. Hopefully, other deserving actors can also get a second chance.

18 Neve Campbell


Neve Campbell was one of the reigning actresses of the '90s. She starred in the Scream franchise and in the beloved (but under appreciated) series, Party of Five. She was also one of our favorite witches in The Craft. Campbell went on to star in Wild Things and other smaller films that received positive reviews. Unfortunately, 54 was not one of those films. The film didn't receive good reviews during its release in the '90s. The film was re-released for the Berlin International Film Festival, but the damage had already been done.

Thankfully everyone who starred in the film was still able to find respectable work afterwards.

Campbell's latest role as LeAnn Harvey in House of Cards has made her a force to be reckoned with once again. As Harvey, she portrays a tough character who is bent on winning political campaigns at all costs. It also forces her to play an anti-hero. We definitely wouldn't have imagined her as a character with such ambiguous morals back in the '90s. Her work in House of Cards has been well received, and she gets to work with accomplished actors such as Robin Wright. We can only imagine how fun it must be to play a not-so-innocent character once in a while, right?

17 Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Everyone loves Joseph Gordon-Levitt and those who don't would probably never admit that they actually do. Some of us still remember him as the cute kid in Angels in the Outfield or the awkward but smart teen in 3rd Rock from the Sun. We also loved his work in The Dark Knight Rises.

Like any other actor, he's got a small stain on his resumé. Stop-Loss was a highly anticipated film in the early 2000s because it's named after a controversial US army policy. The reviews for the film weren't bad, but audiences didn't seem to want to watch it at the time. It only made back half of its budget. This just goes to show that some actors face unforgiving circumstances despite doing good work.

Several years later, Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in 500 Days of Summer. This romantic comedy quickly became a classic. It was based on the director's own personal experiences, and both critics and audiences enjoyed performances by Gordon-Levitt and his co-star, Zooey Deschanel.

He went on to star in other successful films such as 50/50 and Inception. Levitt also wrote and directed his own feature film, Don Jon. He even had his own TV show, HitRECord on TV, for a while and won an Emmy. It doesn't matter how hard you fall, what matters is if you can stand back up!

16 Jennifer Aniston

Via Uproxx // India Today

Jennifer Aniston's career began in the late '80s. Though no one ever talks about her first film appearance, they have a lot to say about her second one. Leprechaun is a comedy-horror film from 1993 about a guy who went to Ireland. He stole a pot of gold while there and discovered that an evil leprechaun had followed him. The film was critically panned and it lurks in Aniston's resumé like a sinister shadow. Despite this film's stain on her career, Aniston nabbed the part of Rachel on Friends in 1994.

From there, the rest is history.

Since then she's been successful as a sweetheart in various Hollywood films. In addition, Aniston has made cameos in shows such as 30 Rock, she's been in music videos by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and appeared in the great Office Space. Clearly, Aniston hasn't allowed Leprechaun to stop her. In fact, she's done extremely well for herself and is arguably one of the most successful former cast members of Friends. In fact, she's currently worth $200 million according to Forbes. She's also avoided getting typecast over the years. Last year it was revealed that Aniston would work in an untitled project with fellow actress Reese Witherspoon.

15  Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman began her career with a bang as a child actress on Leon the Professional. This was followed by a string of great work, including a role on Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! So when she starred as Queen Padmé Amidala in Star Wars Episode IThe Phantom Menaceeveryone was extremely underwhelmed by the performance.

To be fair, she was asked to work with a script that wasn't great. SO we've really got George Lucas' terrible writing to blame. Many Star Wars fans had high expectations for Episodes I, II, and III. They left the cinema thoroughly disappointed at this reboot even though it did eventually add to the saga.

Afterward, Portman had a difficult time securing work that made people take her seriously. Even work like the critically acclaimed Garden State wasn't enough! Her role as Evey in V for Vendetta finally showed critics and directors that she had a lot of courage and could carry a film all on her own.

Her name is now synonymous with excellence and she's appeared in great films such as Black Swan and Annihilation. Portman also redeemed herself to geek fans after being cast as Jane Foster in Thor. It's definitely clear that Natalie Portman can do no wrong thanks to some career-saving decisions, and we love her work so far.

14 Chris Evans

Via Joblo

We're so used to Chris Evans doing great work that we sometimes forget that his career once suffered negative consequences after playing Johny Storm/Human Torch in 2005's Fantastic Four. The film was a critical failure but a commercial success. This prompted Marvel to make a sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007. The film also did well enough at the box office but was still considered way below sub-par. Thankfully, director Edgar Wright gave him a small but significant role in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Somewhere along the way, he was cast as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

This is how we know Chris Evans today. Last year he appeared in Gifted, a lovely story about an uncle that fights for the custody of his niece. Although Evans won't be tied to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for much longer, we can't imagine anyone else as Steve Rogers. His portrayal of Captain America has shown fans and many studios that Evans is a capable and committed actor. Despite being the chance of a lifetime, it can't have been easy to portray one of the most morally strong (and physically strong) characters in the MCU. The moral of the story: if you can't make it as a certain superhero, aim higher next time.

13 John Travolta

Via AMC and Heraldo

Now here's someone who redeemed his career twice. John Travolta ruled in the '70s with films like Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Both films showed that he had talent as a dancer and actor. Travolta was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Saturday Night Fever. Sadly, his career didn't do so well in the '80s and he appeared in films like Perfect and Staying Alive.

The film that stood out the most, though, was Look Who's Talking Too. It actually did well at the box office but is technically considered a critical failure.

In the '90s, Quentin Tarantino cast him as Vincent Vega in the now cult classic, Pulp Fiction. Travolta received his second Academy Award nomination for this role. He then appeared in films such as Face/Off, Get Shorty, and The General's Daughter. Everything looked great until he produced and starred in Battlefield Earth. Several years later he starred in the 2007 remake of Hairspray and continued working.

His career seems a lot better now that he's played lawyer, Robert Shapiro, in American Crime Story: OJ Simpson. Redeeming yourself once is difficult, but doing it twice is an impressive feat. This just proves that actors are human too and can make bad career decisions once in a while.

12 Marisa Tomei

Via  Variety // theiapolis

Marissa Tomei already had a lot of acting experience by the time she made a splash during the first season of A Different World. She built a solid career in films such as Slums of Beverly Hills and The Wrestler. Somehow, she wound up on Salvation Boulevard. This film was meant to be a comedy-horror that satirized religion. The film was released to a limited audience and was scrapped in favor of going straight to DVD. Definitely not looking good for a film starring people with Tomei's acting chops, especially when it also stars Jennifer Connelly and Pierce Brosnan.

In a way, it's great that this film is relatively unknown except in the critics circles where it was lambasted.

Tomei bounced back with roles in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Trainwreck, and the Academy Award-winning film, The Big Short. Best of all, she also plays Aunt May in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her TV work also includes roles in The Simpsons, Empire, and The Handmaid's Tale. Yup, you don't have to allow one personal (or collective) failure define your career. With any luck, others may be around to protect you from getting flack just because of one mistake, just like Marissa Tomei.

11  Brandon Routh

Via ABC and Nerdist

Directed by Bryan Singer, Superman Returns actually isn't a bad film. It was actually nominated for an Academy Award and has earned the praise by Quentin Tarantino. It's on this list because of its sequel which never got produced and the frequent delays that affected actor Brandon Routh's career unfairly. The Writer's Strike of 2007-2008 contributed to these setbacks.

Hollywood is a competitive industry and not working fast enough can affect everyone involved. Sadly, this means we didn't get to see Routh portray Superman once more. Routh even won a Saturn Award for Best Actor thanks to his portrayal of a more melancholic Superman.

Though he didn't get the opportunity to reprise his role, he starred in films such as Without Remorse, The Informers, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Routh continued working hard and was eventually cast as Ray Palmer/ATOM in the "Arrowverse." This includes a major role in Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and cameos in The Flash. In this capacity, he plays a kindhearted billionaire who builds a superhero suit.

Redeeming yourself because of your own choices must be difficult, but it takes an especially persistent individual to bounce back from circumstances that are out of their control. Brandon Routh's career path shows us that we can all make the best of bad situations.

10 Dave Franco

Dave Franco began his career as a type-cast actor. He's even discussed this in interviews where he's addressed playing unlikeable characters in many titles. Franco made appearances in TV shows such as 7th Heaven, Greek, and Privileged before he starred as Cole Aaronson in the final season of Scrubs. Cole was immature, privileged, and even mistreats his girlfriend out of fear. Thankfully, the character ended on a positive note. This didn't translate into Franco's career right away, though, and he continued to be cast in roles as unlikeable characters in films like 21 Jump Street.

This includes his obnoxious one-liner in Superbad.

Films like Neighbors finally showed that he could play characters with some depth. His role in The Little Hours also proved that he has a gift for comedy. However, The Disaster Artist was a real game-changer for Franco. Though he had avoided working with his older brother at the start of his career, it turned out to be a good decision. The film received raving reviews and opened a lot of doors for the young Franco. Dave Franco has also worked with actors such as Kumail Nanjiani and Fred Armisen in The Lego Ninjago Movie. Things have really turned around for the actor. Remember: it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

9 Ben Affleck

After having starred in Dazed and Confused, Chasing Amy, and Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck was poised for an amazing Hollywood career. For the most part, Affleck delivered. He shared an Academy Award with his best friend Matt Damon in 1998 and starred in Michael Bay's film, Armageddon. He later starred in the hit film, Pearl Harbor.

Unfortunately, things took a downturn for him when he played Daredevil in the film of the same name. Nothing could have prepared audiences for Gigli. Everyone involved in the film suffered the consequences, but they were more serious for Affleck after having two major failures in the same year.

In 2006 he had the opportunity to star in Hollywoodland and he did not mess it up. He portrayed actor George Reeves and was even nominated for a Golden Globe. Further success ensued when he directed Gone Baby Gone. He was praised for his directorial work.

Affleck also exceeded expectations as Batman, though some people still haven't forgiven him for playing Matt Murdock. In 2012 he directed Argo and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. This cemented his talents as a director and showed that he's still a promising actor. He's still slated to play Batman in the DC Extended Universe.

8  Viola Davis

Via NY Times and Jezebel

Viola Davis doesn't just make TV or movies, she also makes history. She's won an Emmy, Tony, and an Academy Award thanks to her consistently great work. Along with Octavia Spencer, she is one of the two black actresses to have been honored with three Oscar nominations. It turns out that even the Triple Crown of acting can't save you from appearing in a film that isn't so great, though. Won't Back Down is a film with good intentions. Davis and fellow star, Maggie Gyllenhaal, play teachers who are trying to save their school while having to deal with extreme amounts of red tape.

Several critics felt that the film didn't serve its plot well, especially since it dealt with real issues that inner-city schools face on a daily basis.

Still, Davis is too good of an actor to not get a second chance. The year after the film's release, she made waves as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder. Although the premise behind HTGAWM is intriguing, Davis' acting is one of the main reasons why the show is such a hit. Luckily, Davis' career wasn't too affected by Won't Back Down, but it's a long way from HTGAWM and the roles she's now known for. We've forgotten about that film already!

7 Cuba Gooding Jr.

Cuba Gooding Jr. was known for his roles in Boyz N The Hood, Jerry Maguire and As Good As It Gets, which earned him an Oscar. After his Academy Award, Gooding Jr. turned down a role in Amistad and starred in films that were not well-received, such as Daddy Day Care.

One of his biggest downfalls was the string of direct-to-video and direct-to-DVD films he's starred in. Dirty is only one such example. Despite working with directors such as Lee Daniel's, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s acting career didn't fully recover.

Things began to slowly turn around when he made appearances in Machete Kills, Don Jon, The Butler, and Selma. He was cast as O.J. Simpson in American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. His performance was met with mixed reviews, but that didn't stop the Emmy's from nominating him for an award.

Cuba Gooding Jr. still has a few roles to play in American Crime Story, and it seems that he's been steadily improving his profile since. There's no telling whether or not people will forget some of his career mishaps and decisions. However, he's starred in many films that tell important stories. And when he's good, he's great. Hopefully, he finds more roles that inspire him.

6 Winona Ryder

Style icon and one of the reigning screen queens of the '90s, Winona Ryder isn't even 50 years old yet and she's a legend. In the late '80s, she wowed us with her work in Heathers and Beetlejuice. The '90s saw her work with Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese. She continued this successful film streak with work in Reality Bites, Little Women, and Girl, Interrupted. With such a stellar resumé, fans could surely forgive her for Mr. Deeds, right?

Ryder fell out of favor because of a shoplifting incident that halted her career for a while.

Fortunately, her career started getting back on track after a cameo on Star Trek and a small part in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. In 2012 she reunited with her collaborator, Tim Burton, for a role on Frankenweenie. Netflix's hit Stranger Things catapulted her back into the spotlight where she certainly belongs. Not only has Ryder excelled in her role as Joyce Byers, she's shown us that she's still the great actress we've always known her to be. Plus, it gives fans a chance to see her as a mother. The show has brought attention to Ryder's past work and has shown us that she is more than one mistake from several years ago.

5 Michael Keaton

Via Buffet Dreams and NPR

Michael Keaton began his career in shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. He continued his success in films from the '80s such as Night Shift, Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice, where he played the film's title character. Against all odds, he was cast as Batman in Tim Burton's adaptation of the film and received praise for his work. He even reprised his role in Batman Returns but left the franchise when Tim Burton was no longer in charge of directing it.

His role in Multiplicity marked his mixed success in the '90s and 2000s. He did voice work on Cars and Toy Story 3 and starred in the remake of RoboCop. However, he didn't come back to our attention until he starred in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's film, Birdman.

This film afforded Keaton the opportunity to work with an acclaimed director and was challenging to make because it was supposed to look like one long take. Other celebrated actors such as Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Edward Norton also starred in the film.

With his role as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Keaton has revived his career and proven himself to be a versatile actor. It was announced that he'll have a part on the live-action remake of Disney's Dumbo.

4 Idris Elba

Idris Elba actually has an impressive resumé as many of us know. He's played parts in BBC's Luther, HBO's The Wire, and he even played Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Elba has also appeared in American Gangster, Prometheus, and Thor. With such a small part on 2011's Thor, it's understandable that he may have wanted a larger part that would have given him more screen time. He scored a role in 2011's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance alongside renowned actor, Nicolas Cage.

With such a strong story and a beloved character, the film should've been a hit, right?

Unfortunately, it suffered from severely negative reviews and it's best that we forget Elba's role in this. He's since had a larger role as Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He also starred in Zootopia, Finding Dory, Bastille, Yardie, Star Trek Beyond, and Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, Molly's Game. You don't see many actors with a stellar resumé such as Elba's. Many would have suffered far more dire consequences for even daring to star in something such as the Ghost Rider sequel. Critics didn't point to Elba as one of the reasons for the film's failure, so he's safe on that part. We actually hope he gets his own superhero film at some point.

3 Michael B. Jordan

Chris Evans isn't the only one who had a turn as as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four was cursed. The 2015 reboot of the film was a critical failure. Still, it was a success in several countries. Several critics stated that the film had a very slow pace and didn't properly present the dynamic of the Fantastic Four shown in the comics. They also complained that the 2015 reboot didn't do much to improve on its 2005 and 2007 predecessors.

With further complaints about the film's effects and costume design, it seemed like Michael B. Jordan would never be welcome into the superhero fold ever again, right?

Cut to the year 2018. Ryan Coogler's Black Panther starred many of the most recognized black actors in the industry, including Jordan. His second chance was better spent as the anti-hero, Erik Killmonger. The character brought up good points about how Wakanda could have helped other black people all over the world instead of remaining in hiding.

Seemingly victorious, Killmonger shows that not everything Wakanda did was for the best. Michael B. Jordan's role received so much praise, along with almost everything else about the film. Black Panther also allowed us to see some of Jordan's fighting skills and to see him with a flaring temper that even the Human Torch wouldn't be able to imagine.

2 Scarlett Johanson

Scarlett Johansson is a celebrated actress. Her first film was 1994's North, followed by Manny & Lo, The Horse Whisperer, and Ghost World. Her other critically acclaimed works include Lost In Translation, The Prestige, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Nominated for numerous awards, there's no way that she'd ever mess up and appear in a sub-par film. Or so we think. Johansson starred in The Spirit as Silken Floss along with Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes. The film promised to be visually stunning and was expected to be great.

Unfortunately, it didn't deliver on these promises.

Although Johansson's career didn't seem derailed in the box office aftermath, it would have been difficult to conceive of yet another role for her in a film based on comics. The Marvel Cinematic Universe cast her as Black Widow, and she's since received glowing reviews for this role. Johansson's portrayal of Black Widow is a great foil to Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. Plus, we get to see Johansson play a trained fighter with a mysterious background who can do almost anything. There seems to be a pattern of acclaimed actors taking on one superhero role and failing, only to excel with a different superhero role later on. After seeing her contributions to the MCU, we're glad that Johansson was given work in the superhero genre films again.

1 Josh Brolin

Jonah Hex's tragic backstory was supposed to provide audiences with a spectacular film about a man bent on getting his revenge. Instead, moviegoers received a film that many critics felt was missing a plot. It was even included in several "worst of" lists and did not perform well at the box office at all.

This was quite disappointing considering the ripe source material that was this supernatural cowboy tale. Luckily, his character was revived in the Arrowverse, but is played by Johnathon Schaech instead.

Still, Josh Brolin is still the same guy who played parts in films such as The Goonies, No Country for Old Men, W, and Milk. With such stellar work, it's only natural that someone risks hiring him for another superhero film. We're thankful that the MCU cast him as Thanos, the power-hungry Mad Titan whose twisted logic informs his many actions.

Josh Brolin also got a second chance at redemption as Cable in Deadpool 2. Hey, if your first superhero film doesn't do well, you can try to play a villain or two to clear your name. Despite not being physically seen, we know that no one could possibly play Thanos as well as Brolin does.

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