Don't call it a comeback...unless it's really a comeback. The career of a celebrity can be a rollercoaster, filled with ups and downs. Many actors and actresses are lucky to have one moment of glory, a spectacular highlight that defines their legacy before they fade away. Yet, some are blessed with the chance to recapture the spotlight. For a few, it can rejuvenate them and give them a second shot at the heydays of the past. For others, any newfound resurgence is just a cruel tease as the predicted second wind never completely materializes.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to regain his stature as a motion picture action star after a lengthy hiatus as governor of California. His recent tabloid scandal may have hurt his appeal as his new flick, The Last Stand, which actually garnered some good reviews, turned out to be a box-office dud. Is it too late for "Ah-nuld" to reach the mountaintop of cinematic success again? Never say never as many have proven that it is indeed possible to crawl back from the abyss of obscurity and grab the world's attention once again.
Sylvester Stallone made an impressive comeback with a string of well-received new movies: Rocky Balboa, Rambo, and The Expendables. Now his recent film Bullet to the Head turned out to be a disappointment, which is making some critics wonder if his good fortune is coming to an end, but I wouldn't count him out yet.
What defines a true comeback? One solitary hit is fine for a movie star who had been counted finished after the early blockbusters started to dry out, such as Gloria Swanson's amazing performance in Sunset Boulevard, or Judy Garland in A Star Is Born. Those, however, were their last real big splashes. What is more impressive is performing in a series of popular roles after being considered washed up. John Travolta did it with Pulp Fiction. Al Pacino did it with Sea of Love. More recently, Mickey Rourke did it with The Wrestler.
There are earlier examples of seemingly has-been actors coming back to prove everyone wrong with a brand new phase of hits -- Ingrid Bergman with Anastasia, Marlon Brando with The Godfather, Dennis Hopper with Blue Velvet, and Clint Eastwood with Unforgiven.
Some manage to pull it off in amazing style, such as Robert Downey, Jr., whose career was considered over, but who managed to rise to the top of the A-list once more with Iron Man and the opportunities that followed. Neil Patrick Harris was considered an "over-and-done" former child star, but he surprised everyone with his brilliant cameo role in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and he's been on a tear ever since, never looking back. Jason Bateman is another actor who seemingly hit his peak as a kid and then sort of disappeared, but gained fame once again with the television show Arrested Development and has continued to work hard in good role after good role. I've already dedicated an entire essay on the comeback of Jackie Earle Haley.
Other actors had what seemed like comebacks at the time, but for whatever reason, they failed to fully capitalize on it -- Burt Reynolds with Boogie Nights, Eddie Murphy with Dreamgirls, and Paul Reubens with Mystery Men.
Others tried desperately to pump new life into their off-the-track careers, choosing projects they thought would really be embraced by the public, but such a phoenix-like rebirth never materialized. Examples include Mel Gibson in The Beaver, Katie Holmes in The Kennedys, and Lindsay Lohan in Liz and Dick.
There is still hope, however. Tom Cruise is a prime evidence -- his early career was filled with blockbuster after blockbuster, then it finally wained, until finally he had what seemed like a terrific comeback with his role in Tropic Thunder. He recently had another hit with Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, but he also had major flops with Rock of Ages and Jack Reacher.
If anything, all of this proves that actors should never surrender. There is always that next chance waiting in the wings. It is never too late for a comeback.