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10 Leading Actors Whose Careers Never Took Off

There’s an expectation in Hollywood that starring in a hugely successful movie – especially if it leads to a franchise – is naturally going to make its leading star one of the most famous working actors overnight. And why not? Surely their contributions are a large part of what made the film successful, fashioning a likeable, entertaining character – most often an every-man – to lead us through this often complicated, larger-than-life world.

However, sometimes, for a multitude of reasons, the careers of these familiar faces just never managed to take off; in more than a few cases, you’ll likely spot them in a film years later and vaguely recognise them before the penny drops. At which point, you likely ask yourself, “Yikes, what happened?”, and wonder how their career trajectory never resulted in a litany of impressive starring roles.

Here are 10 leading actors whose careers never took off, and why…

9. Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill’s career was of course made by his appearing as protagonist Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, and though it wouldn’t be fair to say that he’s done nothing since, his cinematic CV is, to be kind, pretty bleak.

Starring in a fleet of mostly inconsequential films in the wake of Star Wars, Hamill eventually made a name for himself as one of the industry’s most prolific voice-over artists, earning massive acclaim for his brilliant performance as The Joker in a multitude of animated movies and TV shows, as well as some video games.

So yes, it’s not so much that Hamill hasn’t had a storied, solid career, it’s just that it didn’t end up being in the world of cinema. Still, one has to wonder why the offers didn’t come flooding in after Star Wars; perhaps he only received scripts casting him in sci-fi, and he resented this?

Or maybe producers realised that, as a live-action actor, the Star Wars films succeeded more in spite of him than because of him (the guy can voice a mean Joker, but his line readings in Lucas’ franchise are hardly stellar now, are they?).

7. Haley Joel Osment

Haley Joel Osment’s career trajectory is somewhat similar – minus the whole baby thing – in that he also received an Oscar nomination (for Supporting Actor) in his youth – at 11 years old – and his career took a colossal nose-dive soon thereafter.

After a successful effort in Steven Spielberg’s ambitious 2001 sci-fi A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Osment’s career promptly began to wane, with many attributing it to the fact that puberty caused his physical appearance to change considerably, and he was no longer the cute young boy he once was.

Osment is largely relegated now to voicing Sora in the Kingdom Hearts games and starring in a litany of films that nobody watches. His recent run-ins with the law – for driving drunk and drug possession – have no doubt done little to help his career.

4. Joseph Fiennes

Taking the cake in the “unlucky younger brother” stakes is Joseph Fiennes, who has never been able to escape from under the shadow of his Harry Potter-starring brother Ralph, and has pretty much been relegated to starring in TV shows (albeit a few crackers like Flashforward and American Horror Story).

However, his career began promisingly, playing William Shakespeare in the Best Picture Oscar winner Shakespeare in Love. It’s a role that naturally should have shot him to the top of the Hollywood A-list, yet all that followed was a supporting turn in Enemy at the Gates, and then a steady decline in notoriety.

He was once a BAFTA nominee, and now he’s starring in the likes of the shoddy Camelot, which is essentially where movie stars go to die (with the exception of Eva Green, perhaps).

3. Patrick Fugit

There’s a certain irony in the fact that Patrick Fugit’s only notable starring role is as William Miller in the brilliant Almost Famous, given that the guy seemed to essentially be on the cusp of becoming a hot young star, but then seemed to pretty much completely fall off the map, starring in only a small number of films, none of which were either big box office players nor particularly meaty roles. It reached an all-time low-point when he appeared in the dreadful 2009 horror flick Horsemen in a supporting role; going from a critically-lauded performance in Almost Famous to that? What a shame, and what a waste of talent.

Though a supporting performance in We Bought a Zoo was his most high-profile role since Almost Famous, it appears to have done little re-ignite the actor’s career; his pending CV does not seem particularly compelling.

1. Maria Falconetti

Maria Falconetti gives what is frequently cited as one of the all-time greatest movie performances in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s supremely iconic 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, all the more impressive because it relies almost solely on her pained facial expressions.

It may not be the most exciting picture ever assembled, but in closing so intimately on Falconetti’s face, we’re able to feel the anguish of her character’s plight; it is an instance of an actress completely throwing herself into her performance.

To be fair, Falconetti is one of the few instances on this list who did not seem to yearn for a prolific career; this was her sole major film, and after that she returned to the theater, apparently preferring that method of performance.

It’s a shame, though; on the strength of this performance, she could have been one of the all-time greats, and her indelible place in cinema history nevertheless is perhaps a testament to how fantastic she is here.


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