"One Hit" Actors

We’ve had a bunch of threads for one-hit musical acts, but how about actors/actresses?

I’m thinking about someone who may or may not have been acting for a long time, but they only had one ‘breakout’ role where everyone was sure they would be a big star, but never turned in a performance like it again.

Actors who had a great performance then died don’t count. They have to either have retired or kept acting, but never rose to the heights of that one great role.

It also doesn’t matter if they won any awards, but everyone at the time should have recognized the performance as a star-making turn. They could also continue to be ‘respected’ in other roles (say, on Television) but just never returned to their former glory.


Most sitcom actors.

Movie stars? Jon Voight? Mickey Rourke? Those two strike me as people who had great roles but never maintained their stardom the way Pacino or DeNiro did.

Probably a lot of washed up stars in Hollywood.

I was thinking of Walter Brennan. He won three Oscars for supporting actor in a span of four years, and was nominated for a fourth. After that, he was pretty much relegated to character actor parts for the rest of his career. He probably doesn’t qualify.

Sydney Greenstreet was a pretty convincing bad guy in several Bogart films, but after eight years, his career was over.

Peter Lorre had a huge hit in the German film “M” in 1931. He emigrated to the US when Hitler was on the rise, but only managed to play the creepy and menacing foreign guy in most of his American films.

But he is much remembered for it. In no way can he be counted as a one hit. Yes, he never played the lead, but his supporting roles always were highlights.

Cuba Gooding Jr. is the first name to come to my mind.

Alcoholism is going to be a major qualifying factor for these people

James Murray made one great film, The Crowd, then dissipated away

Gail Russell made a few movies, the most promising of which was Angel and the Bad Man, but mental illness and heavy drinking extinguished her talent.

Jaye Davidson from The Crying Game comes to mind.

Gretchen Mol famously appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair as Hollywood’s next “It Girl” in 1998 after eye catching performances in Rounders and Donny Brasco. She’s worked steadily, but came nowhere close to the hype generated by the article.

See also: George Lazenby.

Well, except for the “steadily” part.

Tom Hulce from Amadeus?

I suppose it depends on how much credit you give him for Animal House….

Hulce actually started a second career as a producer of theater, which somewhat explains where he went to. He also did the voice of Quasimodo in the animated Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The person who immediately came to mind for this is Jon Heder, the star of Napoleon Dynamite.

Chachi. And Joanie. Poor Joanie. Getting too close to Chachi like that.

A pretty good example; he was a model, not an actor, but got the role in The Crying Game in large part because his androgynous looks allowed him to convincingly pull off the role. His only other significant role after that was as the villain Ra in Stargate, and he retired from acting entirely soon after.

I’ll nominate Danny Lloyd, who played the kid in The Shining. He had a couple of small parts after that role, then retired from acting at the age of 10.

Kids kind of do that. I mean, the kid plays Charlie in the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka movie became a vet.

Carrie Snodgress is the obvious example. Her second movie, Diary of a Mad Housewife, won her two Golden Globes and an Oscar nomination. She retired from acting for a time to help raise her son who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. When she returned, she worked regularly enough, but with no roles of note.

I think the best candidates listed so far are Cuba Gooding, Jr, Jaye Davidson, and Tom Hulce. Great examples. On edit, Carrie Snodgrass as well.

I don’t think Danny Lloyd counts, as I wouldn’t call his performance ‘star-making’. I don’t think anyone necessarily expected a huge Danny Lloyd film next.

Likewise, the various character actors and worthy second-bananas don’t count, unless they turned in a performance so amazing that people expected them to become mainstream A-List actors carrying their own films.

Gary Sinise comes to mind. His role as ‘Captain Dan’ in Forrest Gump made everyone think he was going to be a big star, but instead he turned into a journeyman actor on TV and a philanthropist for military and veteran’s causes.

Another one was Roberto Benini. He wrote, directed and starred in ‘Life is Beautiful’, and won the best actor Oscar. After that… not much.

Another one: Marisa Tomei. She won the best supporting actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny, and everyone called it a star-making role. She’s worked steadily since then, but never did become the big star everyone thought she would be.

Carey Elwes, Mandy Patinkin and Robin Wright never did re-attain the heights of their roles in ‘The Princess Bride’. All went on to secondary roles in theater or television.

Macaulay Culkin. The Home Alone movies were huge hits but what else has he ever done?

Well, Robin Wright was in Forrest Gump as well; I’d call that a big hit. And she was the lead on the TV show House of Cards, particularly after Kevin Spacey was written out.