Favorite fictional flameouts from ''Sunset Boulevard,'' ''A Star Is Born,'' and ''Ray''

By Chris Nashawaty
March 11, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

? Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Gloria Swanson was past her silver-screen prime when she delivered the performance of her career: the fading silent-film star Norma Desmond, who clings to the belief that her comeback is imminent. Director Billy Wilder pulls back the curtain on a delusional diva, but it’s Swanson’s haunting wax-figure turn that endures: ”I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!”

? A Face In The Crowd (1957)

Younger audiences probably know Andy Griffith best as Geritol TV lawyer Ben Matlock. But the actor was never better than in Elia Kazan’s cautionary fable about a hillbilly musician who becomes so drunk with fame and power that he snowballs into an abhorrent fascist folk hero.

? What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

By all accounts, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford despised each other in real life. And you can feel that venom in this gothic nightmare about aging actress sisters. All they have left is their dueling-gargoyle hatred, as in the classic scene where Davis’ sadistic hag serves Crawford rat for din-din.

? A Star Is Born (1976)

A-list flameouts don’t get much flamier than that of shaggy macho rock star John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson). Drinking, drugging, ditching concerts — Howard ran on ”tiger blood” long before Charlie Sheen claimed to.

? Mommie Dearest (1981)

”No…wire…hangers!” Faye Dunaway’s untethered, full-tilt turn as Joan Crawford is overacting at its tastiest. It’s also a horrific (and high-camp) look at how fame can destroy from within. Dunaway plays Crawford as a ferocious shrew who’s also an abusive maternal monster.

? Man On The Moon (1999)

Andy Kaufman’s appeal as an avant-garde stand-up comedian hinged on the uncertainty of whether he was going to lose it on any given night. He always seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Jim Carrey crawls inside his head and shows us the squirm-inducing brilliance that drove him.

Ray (2004)

Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles. But before the film reaches for feel-good triumph in its final act, it descends into the musician’s personal hell — a nightmare wrestling match with the demons and temptations of success. The lesson: When you dream of fame, be careful what you wish for.