Movies

Five Once-Promising Actors and the Franchises That Ruined Them

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Run, Kristen Stewart! Run!

Promising acting careers can be derailed by many things — sex scandals, drug habits, bad hair — but the most insidious cause is choosing the wrong franchise. What looks like a dream gig, with the kind of job security few actors can hope for, can quickly go south if the movies aren't good. As the fourth Twilight film tears up the box office and the reputations of several SAG members, we're taking a look at five actors whose futures were maligned by franchises.

1. Kristen Stewart

"Ms. Stewart is good enough to help you overlook just what a stock character the smart-alecky, sensitive-underneath-it-all Sarah really is." — A. O. Scott, reviewing Panic Room

The inspiration for this list, Kristen Stewart was given a blessing and a curse that few others (maybe the Harry Potter kids) could understand. The lumbering, unstoppable behemoth that is The Twilight Saga may have made her famous, ubiquitous, and so rich she could do that Scrooge McDuck pool-full-of-gold thing, but it has also permanently connected her to one Bella Swan. And that's too bad, really. Because whatever you think of Stewart now — I, for one, like her — back then, she was talented and attracted to some interesting work, like David Fincher's thriller Panic Room and Into the Wild. She was tough and shy, smart but too cool to make a big thing out of it.

In a different universe, Kristen Stewart a) is the undisputed fantasy of every indie guy in the land and b) would laugh at the idea of getting a C-section, on-screen, via a guy's mouth. But for at least the foreseeable future, Stewart is quite literally stuck in the Twilight zone, where no role she takes (see the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman) will be seen on its own. Things will be "so much like her role in Twilight!" or "so different from her role in Twilight!" but they will never just be. If Stewart does manage to pull herself away from the gravity of this franchise, it will be a pretty damn impressive trick.

2. Ewan McGregor

"Mr. McGregor underplays Renton to dry perfection without letting viewers lose sight of the character's appeal." Janet Maslin, reviewing Trainspotting

It seems silly to have to argue for Ewan McGregor's talent. He became more or less the king of the indie world with movies like Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine, and The Pillow Book, charming legions of teenage girls (and gay boys). He had talent to spare, a Scottish accent, and a willingness to be totally naked on screen. So it was exciting when McGregor landed a plum role in what seemed like a sure-fire hit. And this was the surest of the sure: there was no doubt that the three Star Wars prequels would be a massive phenomenon, and getting to play a character as iconic as Obi-Wan Kenobi was a slam dunk for any actor.

But oh, how blissfully ignorant we were back then. McGregor's career may not have been the only casualty of the Star Wars prequels (weep for Jar Jar Binks's stage career), but it is probably the saddest. What should have been a reward for years of good work in small films — and his chance to become a bona fide Hollywood star — was instead a debacle, and once the lightsabers were put away, McGregor returned to the land of the indies. Maybe that's better for everyone.

3. Halle Berry

"Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry star as Hank and Leticia, in two performances that are so powerful because they observe the specific natures of these two characters, and avoid the pitfalls of racial cliches." — Roger Ebert, reviewing Monster's Ball

Halle Berry was once considered something of a unicorn in Hollywood: an African-American actress who seemed ready to stay on the A-list for a long time, command the box office, and have her choice of roles. And while her Academy Award-winning turn in Monster's Ball came out slightly later than the first X-Men installment, she had done enough good work in projects like Bulworth and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge that her extremely wooden performance as Storm was seen as a fluke. But then it just kept happening in the film's sequels, no matter how much critics and fanboys alike prayed for any sign of life. How could a woman who had allowed herself to be so raw and explosive and flat-out ugly in other films turn into little more than eye candy in a terrible wig? And while Berry's remained a likable figure, it's sad to think of her Academy Award sharing a shelf with her Razzie Award for Catwoman.

4. Tobey Maguire

"Anchoring the movie is Mr. Maguire's sober, wide-eyed Homer, a wounded, moon-faced innocent who, in leaving the institution that nurtured him, blindly follows his heart and finds fulfillment working outdoors." — Stephen Holden, reviewing The Cider House Rules

The late '90s were banner years for Tobey Maguire. Considered a talented rising star at the time, he had a string of good roles in good movies with The Ice Storm, Pleasantville, The Cider House Rules, and Wonder Boys. (He was so good that people mostly let him and Leonardo DiCaprio slide on that whole "Pussy Posse" thing, which in hindsight maybe we as a culture should have tried to come down on a bit harder.) He seemed sweet, loveable, and nearly the epitome of the boy next door. Hey! That sounds like the perfect guy to take on the role of Spider-Man, and he was, for a while. His Spidey was kindhearted and noble, and you wanted to give him a hug every time he had to put duty before making out with Mary Jane.

And then the disastrous Spider-Man 3 came out, and all you could see was douchiness. It was intentional, of course — that's what the story called for, even though it still wasn't successful. But suddenly all you could see was his emo hair and his petulant frown and think, wait, wasn't that guy once in a group called the Pussy Posse? That's the problem with iconic roles: when they go sour, the stigma tends to stick with you. Maguire does have a shot at redemption with The Great Gatsby, but we'll have to wait and see.

5. Elijah Wood

"As Frodo, Elijah Wood uses his giant eyes to project a kind of haunted innocence." Richard Corliss, reviewing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I know what you're thinking: why use a quote about how good Elijah Wood is in The Lord of the Rings when that's the franchise that I'm also claiming ruined him? Because Wood — unlike Halle Berry in X-Men — wasn't ruined by how bad he was or how bad the movies were. He was ruined because he was so good. Wood had already done solid work for years, from The Good Son to The Ice Storm, and he wasn't scrambling for parts. He was kind of quirky, though not so much as to be off-putting, and his boyishness was endearing.

But once you've seen Wood as a hobbit — the curly hair, the pointy ears, and those almost otherworldly eyes — it's impossible to un-see it. He should have had his pick of any roles after the job he did in the trilogy, but he will always be a hobbit. Put him in a business suit, and he's just an executive hobbit. It's telling that one of his big roles after LotR was as the mute psychopath Kevin in Sin City, a role in which his face was almost completely hidden. Wood should be thanking his stars that Peter Jackson managed to fit Frodo into the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. Ride the Frodo train as long as you can, my friend.