The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: One Hit Wonders
By Mother Brain
In taking a twist from the usual underrated actors write-ups, I’ll be looking at ten actors in Hollywood history who had their day in the sun with an iconic hit movie or acting role, only to never replicate that success for the long term. There were so many to name but these ten in particular stand out the most to me. Many of them continue to work today or had success in other areas of entertainment.
The following ten are:
10. George Lazenby
People tend to cite Timothy Dalton as the one James Bond actor who was not given enough of an opportunity to grow as 007; however, that honer goes first to the man who replaced Sean Connery for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Australian-born Lazenby was a model with no prior acting experience when he was approached for Bond. He entered the audition with a strong resemblance to Connery and oozed a level of physicality that earned him the part. Yes his voice was dubbed and the costumes were a disaster. Yet, from a storytelling (and to lesser degree performance) standpoint, OHMSS was one of the more stronger Bond films until 2006’s Casino Royale. Unfortunately, Lazenby’s difficult attitude as a result of the hippie movement of the late 1960s forced him out of future Bond films and he never reached such a major role again.
Singers and rappers who turn to acting either sink or swim upon debut. Vanilla Ice set the standard for failing to make that transition with 1991’s Cool As Ice. Eminem, however, won rave reviews and a level of respect for his performance as Rabbit in 2002’s 8 Mile. Inspired by his life story, Eminem brought out a level of raw talent reminiscent of the great actors of the 1970s with help from director Curtis Hanson and an impressive supporting cast that included the late Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Shannon, Anthony Mackie, and Kim Basinger playing his mother. The final “battle” sequence between Eminem and Mackie’s character brought chills and cheers to audiences. Many expected Eminem to capitalize on a film career following 8 Mile’s success but to this day, no screenwriter or filmmaker has found a way to attract him back to the silver screen.
His royal badness rocked the silver screen with 1984’s Purple Rain, a film that broke box office records as well as charting super high on the Billboard charts with its soundtrack. As with 8 Mile for Eminem, Prince put his life on full display: His music driven life clashing with romance, rivalries, and a trouble home life due to his abusive father. People may laugh at the film now even though it remains an 80s classic. Prince, however, could not live up to Purple Rain’s success no matter how much control he had. His subsequent films, 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, were examples of total narcism as Prince fired directors in favor of having the director’s chair for himself, rewrote scripts, and injected many levels of incoherency in his work which failed miserably with audiences and forced him to ultimately get fed up with acting all together.
7. Peter Billingsley
Every Christmas since 1983, we’ve been treated to repeated viewings of A Christmas Story. Peter Billingsley’s performance as Ralphie Parker is unforgettable. He’s the nine year old we all relate to and he plays it with so much truth that we don’t even bother to ask who this actor is. While Billingsley continues acting in television shows and movies, Ralphie still remains the role he’s most noticed for. He has no reason to complain though. After all, he produced Iron Man.
6. Linda Blair
1973’s The Exorcist remains one the greatest horror films of all time. Some say its success had to do with William Friedkin’s direction, others say it was William Peter Blatty’s writing. Most will say it was Linda Blair’s unforgettable performance as the demon possessed Reagan that frightened, sickened, and disturbingly wowed audiences at the time. Although Mercedes McCambridge provided the demonic voice, it was the underaged Blair who handled such controversial material like a true professional, turning in a solid debut. The role proved to be too memorable for most of Hollywood as Blair could not shake the Reagan role in other movies. Audiences watching her in the movie Airport 1975 screamed at the screen for the flight crew to kick her off the plane so she didn’t have an episode! Subsequent failures including Exorcist II, Roller Boogie, and a variety of 80s B-movies made her into a career punchline. Yet, she still embraces the role most known to the world.
5. Paul Hogan
Although he was a big comedic star in Australia in the 1970s, Paul Hogan became an overnight sensation with 1986’s “Crocodile” Dundee. The fish out of water comedy about a backwoods man suffering culture shock in New York City struck a chord with audiences and was filled with many memorable scenes and lines including “That’s not a knife, This is a knife.” Hogan immediately was placed on the same pedestal as Eddie Murphy, Harrison Ford, and Sylvester Stallone as a major box office draw and even co-hosted the 1987 Oscars. He was also known for starring in a series of commercials for Subaru. But his brand of acting proved to be one note as the Dundee sequels made nowhere near as much money as the first and audiences skipped the non-Dundee films such as Almost an Angel, Lightning Jack, and Flipper. Hogan still remains popular overseas and had a major hit in Australia with 2004’s Strange Bedfellows.
4. Ralph Macchio
Macchio made an impact early on with his tragic portrayal of Johnny Cade in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders which introduced the world to the elite leading men of Hollywood for the 1980s. Then it was 1984’s The Karate Kid that made him a major teen idol and role model for kids around the world. As Daniel LaRusso, he captured that new kid in town blues mixed with the need for a father figure to fulfill a missing void in his life through Mr. Miyagi. The film remains a staple for many of those who were kids of the 80s. Despite the film and its sequels’ successes, Macchio found himself typecast in trouble teen apprentice roles in films such as Teachers (Nick Nolte), Crossroads (Joe Seneca) and Distant Thunder (John Lithgow) and his slow aging prevented him from making a transition to more adult roles (save for My Cousin Vinny). Macchio still remains active in independent films, television, and the occasional reality show like Dancing With the Stars.
3. Chris Tucker
I feel as if Chris Tucker’s career stopped before it started after the huge success of Rush Hour. Before that, Tucker made waves on Def Comedy Jam followed by his memorable turn as Smokey in the original Friday. 1997 would be his breakout year when that summer he appeared as the flamboyant Ruby Rhod (a role intended for Prince) in The Fifth Element followed by his fast-talking conman on the run in Money Talks. The latter was a surprise hit in which critics hailed him as the second coming of Eddie Murphy. Once Rush Hour hit screens a year later, many expected Tucker to be the next hot comedic star of the millennium. Instead, he would spend a ten year period only making Rush Hour sequels with no new films in between until 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. Tucker cited the lack of good scripts and fear of box office failure as reasons for staying off the silver screen. But his absurd salaries for the Rush Hour sequels were perceived as egotistical for an inconsistent actor. With his current tax situation, expect to see Tucker attempting a full comeback in the next few years.
2. Christopher Reeve
It’s hard for me to write this one down considering the impact Christopher Reeve made as Superman as well as his accomplishments towards the end of his life. The truth is Reeve will always be associated with Superman when he name comes up in conversation. When Richard Donner was casting for Superman: The Movie, he was looking for a strong unknown actor who audiences could believe can fly. Reeve was the only actor who let the costume do the work while successfully pulling off the dueling personas of Clark Kent and Superman. His career was red hot during the 1980s but his choices (Somewhere in Time, Deathtrap, Street Smart, etc) did not achieve box office success despite critical acclaim. His bad choices (Superman III & IV, turning down roles in Romancing the Stone and The Running Man) ultimately stopped his momentum cold and he found himself having to audition for roles as if he was an unknown that nobody wanted to take a chance on. Still, his efforts to continue to act and direct following the horse accident that paralyzed him for the remainder of his life can be seen as inspirational.
1. Mark Hamill
Most people believe that Star Wars did more harm that good for Mark Hamill’s career. That’s not entirely the case. There’s no need to list his greatness as Luke Skywalker. The films speak for themselves. It is true that except for Harrison Ford as Han Solo, the characters and the world George Lucas created were much bigger than the actors who brought it all to life. That’s why the same audience didn’t turn in droves for Hamill’s non-Star Wars efforts such as Corvette Summer and The Big Red One. His love for acting in itself drove him into more character-driven supporting roles on stage and in films such as The Guyver and Village of the Damned. Then he made an even bigger name for himself as a voiceover actor playing The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, a part some say eclipsed Jack Nicholson’s portrayal in the 1989 movie until Heath Ledger came along. His involvement with the upcoming new films is yet to be confirmed as of this writing.
Do you have ideas for one hit wonder actors? Post them in the comments below!