The best Hollywood comebacks that led to awards glory
Hollywood loves a redemption tale more than anything during awards season
The Oscars are fast approaching in Hollywood, and there are many actors vying for statuettes after being out of the limelight for some time.
Brendan Fraser has become the feelgood story of the year for his return to prominence in The Whale, while Ke Huy Quan has been celebrating a return to prominence after appearing in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Read more: Why is everyone talking about Brendan Fraser?
There’s nothing that revives a career quite like an Oscar run, and as these examples show, win or lose, an association with Hollywood’s biggest night can lead to big things.
Arguably the blueprint for any actor looking to reinvent their career trajectory: Matthew McConaughey deliberately took a hiatus from movies after growing tired of being known as a rom-com lead. It was a smart decision, as in the early 2010s he began taking on more interesting roles, making more earnest dramas, culminating in winning an Oscar for 2013s Dallas Buyers Club.
Read more: Matthew McConaughey says True Detective won him the Oscar
“Taking a year and a half off and saying no to things in some form or fashion made me a new good idea" he recalled. Dubbed The McConaissance, the change in direction stuck, leading to the actor working with Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese, while also winning praise for his small screen work in True Detective.
For over twenty years, Michael Keaton had been living in the shadow of his 90s success as Batman. It wasn't until he embraced that predicament in 2014's Birdman that he truly began to take flight.
Playing an actor known for his superhero work earned Keaton an Oscar nomination, but sadly not a win (Eddie Redmayne pipped him to the post).
Read more: Why was Batgirl scrapped?
However, Birdman won Best Picture and led to a revival that continues to this day. He appeared in another Best Picture winner in Spotlight, had a stint for Marvel in Spider-Man: Homecoming, reunited with Tim Burton on Disney's Dumbo, and recently got back in the cowl as Batman for the forthcoming movie The Flash.
For the 90s star of True Romance, Ed Wood, Lost Highway and more this Oscar revival was ten years in the making. Patricia Arquette played mother Olivia in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014), which was shot over the course of a decade, and the layered performance saw her beat acting royalty Meryl Streep to win Best Supporting Actress at 2015’s Oscars, BAFTAs, Critics Choice, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards and SAG Awards.
Since then, she has become a star on the big and small screens, appearing in Toy Story 4, winning an Emmy for television drama The Act, and a Golden Globe for Escape at Dannemora. She’ll also step behind the camera in 2023 directing herself and Willem Dafoe in drama Gonzo Girl.
He may have won a Golden Globe and BAFTA for his portrayal of a down-and-out grappler in The Wrestler, but Mickey Rourke just missed out on the 2009 Best Actor Oscar, losing to Sean Penn for his performance in Milk.
Read more: Mickey Rourke says Tom Cruise is 'irrelevant'
Don’t feel too sorry for the 80s star, however, who kickstarted an infamously faltering career to become part of the Marvel Universe in Iron Man 2, join The Expendables, and revisited one of his old roles in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
Until 2012’s Argo, Ben Affleck was considered a Hollywood cautionary tale. A once-promising career floundered thanks to media attention on his personal life, and a trio of notorious box office bombs (Daredevil, Jersey Girl, and Gigli).
Read more: Ben Affleck heaps praise on Marvel
Quietly making his name in the early 2010s behind the camera (The Town, Gone Baby Gone), he directed and starred in the biographical drama that won him the 2013 Best Picture Oscar. Just as winning for Good Will Hunting in the 90s started his career, this second award reinvented him as a leading man and surprise Dark Knight, becoming Batman in the DC Extended Universe.
According to Quentin Tarantino, 90s classic Pulp Fiction almost didn’t happen at studio Miramax because of one name. “(The studio) came back: ‘The entire list is approved … except for John Travolta’” the director recalled.
Read more: Acclaimed actors making straight-to-video movies
The Weinstein brothers only agreed to it at the eleventh hour, and thank goodness they did because his portrayal of Vincent Vega became a movie landmark and sparked one of the greatest reinventions ever – Face/Off, Swordfish, Get Shorty and more followed his appearance as the dancing hitman, despite losing out on a Best Actor Oscar to Tom Hanks’ Forest Gump.
While Laura Dern had been a consistent performer throughout her career, the enormous success of starring in Jurassic Park was hard to follow up, meaning the actor mainly appeared in independent movies for much of the 90s and 2000s.
Read more: Ten flaws in Jurassic Park you never spotted
She became a standout supporting actor in the 2010s with movies like The Master, The Founder, and Wild, with many feeling like an Oscar was only a matter of time. Those feelings were justified in 2019 when she won Best Supporting Actress for drama Marriage Story. While celebrating a comeback rather than sparking one, Dern continues to be in demand, having returned to the Jurassic franchise in 2022 for Dominion.
A staple of Hollywood in the 60s and 70s, James Coburn's career ground to a halt in the 80s and early 90s due to debilitating arthritis. Years of voice acting and small support roles ended when he found effective treatment and restarted his career, leading to an Oscar win for his portrayal of an abusive father in the mid-90s drama Affliction.
While he would sadly die a few years later in 2002, the win led to his appearances in high profile movies such as Mel Gibson thriller Payback, and Pixar classic Monsters Inc.
Watch a trailer for The Whale