Hollywood's greatest movie star comebacks
John Travolta, Katharine Hepburn, and more have sunk and risen again
Richard Dreyfuss knows twice as much about comebacks as most actors. After all, he’s made two. His first dark period ended with Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Now, after flops like Lost in Yonkers and Silent Fall, he’s recharged with Mr. Holland’s Opus. Although most Hollywood legends have come back only once, Dreyfuss is in good company. Here are other stars who went from hot to not with a couple of movies and later bounced back winners.
Katharine Hepburn Best of Times: 1933 (Morning Glory, Little Women). Worst of Times: 1938. Immediately after 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, which isn’t a hit when first released, she becomes anathema. Adding to the insult, her studio, RKO, gives her B movie Mother Carey’s Chickens; she refuses, buys out her contract, and goes to MGM. Comeback Role: Spoiled society girl in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story, opposite James Stewart. Outcome: Receives third Oscar nomination, and her star power is never questioned again.
Joan Crawford Best of Times: 1932-34 (Grand Hotel, Rain, Sadie McKee). Worst of Times: 1937-44 (The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Bride Wore Red, Ice Follies of 1939). After Bride, members of National Theater Distributors of America label her ”box office poison.” Comeback Role: Working-class mom who’ll do anything to win love of bitchy daughter in 1945’s Mildred Pierce. Outcome: Wins Best Actress Oscar and establishes tough persona.
Don Ameche Best of Times: 1938-44 (In Old Chicago, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell). Worst of Times: 1949-82. After the 1949 musical Slightly French, he makes few movies over next 12 years, including flotsam like A Fever in the Blood and Picture Mommy Dead. Comeback Role: Conniving millionaire in 1983’s Trading Places. Outcome: Stage is set to win Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1985 for performance in Cocoon.
Dennis Hopper Best of Times: 1969 (Easy Rider, True Grit). Worst of Times: 1971-85. His indulgent The Last Movie becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. And despite a small role in 1979’s Apocalypse Now, he spends the ’70s and early ’80s getting arrested, going into rehab, and doing junk like Mad Dog Morgan and My Science Project. Comeback Role: Abusive criminal Frank Booth in 1986’s Blue Velvet. Outcome: Steals movie; cements comeback with Hoosiers later that year.
John Travolta Best of Times: 1977-80 (Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Urban Cowboy). Worst of Times: 1981-93 (Staying Alive, Two of a Kind, Perfect, The Experts, Shout). Box office success of Look Who’s Talking series notwithstanding, he finds it hard to shake has-been tag. Comeback Role: Heroin-addicted hitman in 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Outcome: Receives second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor; salary balloons to $20 million for his latest project.