10 Once great actors whose careers have gone into decline

Whether it’s because of personal problems, bad film choices, laziness or possibly an over-estimation of their talent level in the first place we all know actors who once had a brilliant career but seem to have squandered their potential. Here are ten of the ones I have found the most disappointing.

Edward Norton

Edward Norton
What’s the problem?: Norton blasted onto the scene with a couple of epic late 90’s performances but made some really mediocre choices in the early 2000’s which wasn’t helped by being notoriously difficult to work with.
Where it went right: American History X (1998), Fight Club (1999)
Where it went wrong: The Illusionist (2006), The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Chance of redemption:  Recently he was great in Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) basically playing himself but he’s got nothing in production except a voice over for a children’s film about a sausage so I’m not holding my breath.
“People wrestle sometimes making movies, and I think that conflict is a very essential thing. I think a lot of very happy productions have produced a lot of very banal movies.”

John cusack

John Cusack
What’s the problem: I’m not sure what happened half way through Cusack’s career but sometimes it seems like he will literally take any role that’s on offer.
Where it went right: Say Anything (1988), Being John Malkovich (1999), High Fidelity (2000)
Where it went wrong: 2012 (2009), Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), The Raven (2012)
Chance of redemption: He was pretty good in Love & Mercy (2014) but nowhere near as good as Paul Dano and so far in the pipeline he has a Jackie Chan movie that doesn’t seem to have gotten a theatrical release outside of China, a Spike Lee movie with Wesley Snipes in it and two very average sounding thrillers so I don’t think anything has changed.
“I’ve made 10 good films. The ones that suck I tend to blank out. It’s like I never even made them. Well, there aren’t 40 that are great, put it that way. But that’s fine. Ten is a good batting average.”

jonny depp

Johnny Depp
What’s the problem?: Once there was a time when Johnny Depp used to choose really cool, unusual roles and his partnership with Tim Burton was gold but then the two of them became over reliant on each other and started phoning in a bunch of turds. He also hasn’t done himself any favours playing Captain Jack Sparrow in a different hat in his last five or six roles.
Where it went right: Edward Scissorhands (1990), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1992), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Where it went wrong: Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (2005), Dark Shadows (2012), Transcendence (2014)
Chance of redemption: Well recently he’s made box office flop, Mortdecai and he’ll be reprising his roles as Captain Jack and the Mad Hatter so I think it’s all just going to be more of the same.
“[on director Tim Burton] He can ask me everything. If he wants me to have sex with an aardvark in one of his next movies, then I will do that.”

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner
What’s the problem?: If anyone has a talent for picking stinkers, it’s this guy from bad sci fi to cheesy romance he just couldn’t resist until everyone had all but forgotten that he’d won two Oscars.
Where it went right?: Field of Dreams (1989), Dances With Wolves (1990)
Where it went wrong: Waterworld (1995), The Postman (1997)
Chance of redemption: Well lately he seems to be having a bit of a resurgence but I’m not convinced.
“I’m happy about the things I’ve done. Not always happy about the results, but happy about the decisions, because I made them myself. And I think that’s an important way to go through life.”

Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson
What’s the problem?: Liam Neeson had some amazing dramatic roles early on in his career but since Taken it’s all about the brainless action hero stuff.
Where it went right?: Schindler’s List (1993), Love Actually (2003), Kinsey (2004)
Where it went wrong: Wrath of the Titans (2012), Taken 3 (2014), Non-Stop (2014)
Chance of redemption: I think once Neeson gets bored with jumping off shit and making loads of money for it he’ll get right back onto doing interesting stuff. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Just look at the success of Taken (2008), for example. I thought it was going to be a straight-to-video release. That is actually one of the reasons I did it, to be honest. I felt like spending three months in Paris, I’d get to do all this physical stuff that no one would think of me for, and that the film would go straight to video. Then it became this big success. I was a tiny bit embarrassed by it, a tiny bit, but then people started sending me action scripts.”

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman
What’s the problem?: Don’t get me wrong, I think Morgan Freeman is a great actor but in recent years he’s been a lot less discerning about what he chooses and he was in two of the worst movies I saw last year.
Where it went right: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Se7en (1995), Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Where it went wrong: Olympus Has Fallen (2013), Transcendence (2014), Lucy (2014)
Chances of redemption: It’s mostly action movies and barmy comedies coming up so I’m guessing he’s not bothered.
“Is there a movie I think I should have won the Oscar for? Yeah. All of them.”

Nicholas Cage

Nicolas Cage
What’s the problem?: Was Cage ever great or did he just have a couple of total lucky flukes. I’m not sure but the luck has definitely run out.
Where it went right: Raising Arizona (1987), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Adaptation. (2002)
Where it went wrong: Bangkok Dangerous (2008), Knowing (2009), Drive Angry (2011)
Chances of redemption: Who knows what he could come out with no less than 10 projects on the go he’s definitely not stopping any time soon.
“I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion.”

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro
What’s the problem?: De Niro is without question one of the best actors of the last fifty years but in the last decade he’s stopped challenging himself taking on progressively worse comedies.
Where it went right: Taxi Driver (1979), Raging Bull (1980), Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Where it went wrong: Meet the Fockers (2004), Little Fockers (2010), The Family (2013)
Chances of redemption: I think De Niro could pull something amazing out of the bag anytime he fancies it. I just don’t think he can be bothered.
“Some people say that drama is easy, and comedy is hard. Not true. I’ve been making comedies the last couple of years, and it’s nice. When you make a drama, you spend all day beating a guy to death with a hammer, or what have you. Or you have to take a bite out of somebody’s face. On the other hand, with a comedy, you yell at Billy Crystal for an hour, and you go home.”

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling
Like many others I got on the Gos train a couple of years ago and thought he was going to be the next big thing but I am starting to think it was all just hype.
Where it went right: Half Nelson (2006), Drive (2011), Crazy, Stupid Love (2011)
Where it went wrong: The Ides of March (2011), Gangster Squad (2013), Only God Forgives (2013)
Chances of redemption: Who knows. I guess only time will tell if he’s a flash in the pan or the real thing.
“You know how sometimes department stores have these things where, if you win, you get 10 minutes and go in and take anything you want from the store? That’s basically what I’m doing. I’m running in and just trying to grab as many characters as possible before they pull the plug on me.”

Will Smith

Will Smith
Things have gotten really weird with Will Smith, haven’t  they? He started out doing some excellent dramatic and comedic roles and recently it’s all gone very, very wrong with bad decisions, nepotism and sequelitis.
Where it went right: Independence Day (1996), I, Robot (2004), I Am Legend (2007)
Where it went wrong: Men in Black 3 (2012), After Earth (2013), Winter’s Tale (2014)
Chances of redemption: Let’s see what he does with Suicide Squad
“People laugh, but if I set my mind to it, within the next 15 years I would be president!”


  1. I’d dispute Depp, Morgan and Liam.

    Depp does some odd movies now and then. Mordecai looks like a pile of crap without even watching it, but he looks like he might pull off an Oscar contending performance in the upcoming Black Mass. He’s one of few actors who can convince me that he’s someone other than himself when he’s on screen.

    Liam manage to revitalize his career with Taken. Unfortunately, every film since has just been an attempt to revive Taken and they haven’t matched up, but to turn yourself around as an older man and become an action hero takes some skill.

    Morgan manages to find his way into just about everything which takes some skill for an old timer.

    The rest, I mean I don’t know. They had their hey day. Cage is kind of sad. He could probably be in some decent films now if he hadn’t gone cuckoo.

    1. abbiosbiston

      I think some of it comes down to personal taste. I am not an action movie fan, which is why I probably don;t like the direction Liam Neeson’s career has gone in.

      I would love to see Johnny Depp come back though.

      I guess for most of them I would love them to choose quality over quantity.

  2. Nicely written. However, disagree with Liam Neeson part. This guy start taking any role after his wife death to keep himself busy. it was hard for him to recover from such a tremendous loss. This is why he appears in almost every movie, which mostly are not good at all.

    1. abbiosbiston

      Thanks! I totally understand that Liam Neeson has his reasons. That’s why I think when he’s ready he’ll make great movies again.

      1. thank you for your reply. About Johnny Depp… He is very annoying and I no longer take his films seriously! To me… he is too much! Robert De Niro is an actor who can do anything he wants… right now he has reached at certain age where he can afford playing any role he wants. I truly admire him!

        1. abbiosbiston

          I do agree about De Niro. He deserves to just phone it in if he wants to. I just miss seeing him in amazing dramatic roles.

  3. LOL . Love your mifs. Never thought Cusack was a “great” actor but agree with the rest of your list. Ed Norton has had a bit of a revival what with some Wes Anderson appearances and certainly with Birdman. I hope he makes wise decisions. Will Smith was never a great actor but so much fun to watch. He’s not anymore. I have hopes for Nicholas Cage because I have seen him act and I always love watching him on the screen even when it’s a crappy film.

    1. abbiosbiston

      Thanks! I think Cusack has skills when he’s put in the right production. I am hoping that all of these actors choose the right projects and turn the tide!

  4. Great post! I absolutely love this list =)

    1. abbiosbiston

      Thank you!

  5. theipc

    You know I love you and care about you and want nothing but the best for you but…..

    …. Drive Angry was (beeeeeep)ing awesome!

    1. abbiosbiston

      You know I love you and care about you and want nothing but the best for you but…..

      no it wasn’t.

  6. smilingldsgirl

    Interesting list. I’ve really liked Costner in a bunch of recent movies including Draft Day and McFarland USA. And Deniro was nominated for an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook so I don’t know if I would include him on this list.
    But the rest have definitely fizzled in recent years although all of them I can still see doing good work and pulling a Michael Keaton Birdman kind of thing.

    1. abbiosbiston

      Thanks. I probably need to catch up on Costner’s career a bit. I take your point about Silver Linings Playbook but it was three years ago and it was probably his only good movie in the last 10 years.

      1. smilingldsgirl

        Don’t you think part of it is the really meaty roles go to the younger actors? I mean every once in a while you will have a JK Simmons Whiplash part but most on this list are 50+ and stuck with a lot of Dad-Grandpa authority figure roles. Maybe Ben Affleck as Batman will change that but it seems like age is always a factor in Hollywood and even more so for women than men.

  7. I liked Kevin Costner in Man of Steel. And cried buckets.

    I like how you mentioned at least two movies filmed here as both stinkers! That’s what I enjoyed Drive Angry for, the familiarity. And I made a buttload of pizzas for the cast and crew.

    Definitely agree with you on Edward Norton tho.

  8. You raise some great shouts. I’ve never got the appeal of Cage. I’ve always watched him and known he was acting. People like Smith and Cusack just have an effortless charm but they have to pick the right roles to make the most of it. Depp and De Niro have had a long run of shockers and I’m losing great respect for them.

  9. Great list, Abbi! Agree with all these. (Except Morgan Freeman. Get him off of here!) 😉 I’m so disappointed with Depp these days. He used to be a favorite actor of mine but now I cringe when I see he’s going to be in a movie…. 😦

  10. It’s such a shame when great actors (or at least actors that you remember very fondly from childhood and early adulthood) seem to vanish. Not a huge Nick Cage fan but all others I’ve enjoyed seeing in films over the years. I was just thinking about Will Smith the other day – I hope to see him in something good soon. I know they’re such cheesy films but I used to love Independence Day and the Men in Black movies.

    1. abbiosbiston

      I think there’s a point where some of them just get a bit lazy and stop thinking about the roles they choose and it’s really disappointing. Cheesy action/disaster done well is so entertaining and Will Smith was the king of that. I think Dwayne Johnson has stolen his crown.

  11. jennypugh

    Such a great post 🙂
    I love that gif of Johnny Depp! I used to think Johnny could do no wrong, but I wasn’t over convinced about Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. He was awesome in Sleepy Hollow, I love his British accent 🙂

    1. abbiosbiston

      He used to be great and then it all went horribly wrong.

      1. jennypugh

        I know, I was really looking forward to watching Mortdecai but it’s been so universally panned 😦

  12. Great list. I think it’s too early to call it on Gosling’s behalf, and Norton may have saved himself with Birdman, but yeah, agree with all the others, especially Cage and Neeson.

    1. abbiosbiston

      I think I have a particular gripe with the Gos because I got so swept up in the hype. It would be great if he delivered again though or he’ll just fade into obscurity.

  13. Great picks here lady, some I can totally agree with. Big on the Depp one, he was so talented, and now it is all just the same thing, over and over. I really, thoroughly enjoy Edward Norton, but he really just isn’t doing anything nowadays. Same applies to Cusack. Oh well.

  14. OptifIex

    Cusak really nailed Brian Wilson and I’m not a big Cusak fan.Did Giamarti really excel or does he just play manic screamer really well? Because I thought he played the same guy in The Hostage Negotiator.

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