A look at some of the more infamous comebacks from Mel Gisbon to Robert Downey Jr…

Poor old Mel Gibson. After his recent, erm public relations problems – okay let’s just call it ‘The Unpleasantness’ – Mad Mel thought he might be able to claw back some clout and/or respect with an awards-baiting role in a movie directed by his heavyweight pal Jodie Foster.

Alas, it hasn’t turned out that way. The Beaver earned a few decent reviews at Cannes and in the US, but sank at the box office. It looks like the 55-year-old will have to keep searching for that all-important comeback vehicle, but in the meantime Mel can take heart from the following stars that managed to make it back from the professional and personal precipice:

Robert Downey Jr:

The poster boy for career rehabilitation – as well as every other kind of rehabilitation – thought he’d got his second chance after his prison sentence with an award-winning stint on the TV comedy Ally McBeal. However, he fell off the wagon after only a year on the show, and the star was arrested on further drug charges.

After dodging a second spell in prison – entering drug rehab and staying on probation instead – Downey Jr slowly started making his way back into the business, earning rave reviews for his role in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Further roles came in the likes of A Guide to Recognising Your Saints, the trippy A Scanner Darkly, and David Fincher’s Zodiac, before Downey Jr was decreed safe enough to carry a major comic book franchise, Iron Man in 2008. He hasn’t looked back; today the actor can command upwards of $15m per movie.

Mickey Rourke:

Rourke – who’d spent/wasted his life and career battling a range of demons – was as washed-up as they come before being cast in the lead role in Sin City in 2005. But it was The Wrestler three years later that really brought the star back into the Hollywood fold. He won awards at Venice, Bafta and the Golden Globes, and was just pipped to the Oscar by his old mate Sean Penn.

Since then Rourke has played the villain in Iron Man 2, made a cameo in The Expendables, and is currently prepping to play gay rugby player Gareth Thomas in a forthcoming biopic.

John Travolta:

He might be very quiet these days – save for ‘flying’ Oprah’s audience to Australia – but back in 1994, Travolta pulled off one of the most stunning comebacks in Hollywood history, taking a massive paycut and scezzing up his image to play a hitman in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Prior to that, Travolta had spent much of the 1980s and early 90s toiling in fare like the Look Who’s Talking franchise. After the success of Pulp Fiction, and the Oscar nomination that ensued, Travolta was commanding up to $20m for movies like Get Shorty, Face/Off, Broken Arrow, A Civil Action, and Primary Colours.

But Travolta shot himself in the foot with Battlefield Earth in 2000 – as epic a career-wrecker as an actor is ever likely to make – and his continued association with Scientology hasn’t helped matters either. His cross-dressing role in Hairspray was good fun though; maybe Travolta has one more comeback in him?

Jodie Foster:

It might not be on the same scale as the boys mentioned above, but for the bulk of the 1980s, former child star Foster went into self-imposed seclusion to earn her college degree, but mainly to avoid the spotlight; having a nutter shoot the American president to try to impress you will probably do that to a girl.

Then, in 1988, a then 26-year-old Foster decided to relaunch her movie career with a small film about a waitress who is gang raped. Foster was sure she’d blown it and dreaded the public response to the movie, The Accused. It ended up being a hit, and bagging Foster the first of two Best Actress Oscars.


Of course, as Mel is discovering, not all attempted comebacks have the desired effect. Look at Sylvester Stallone, who has made three recent stabs of it with Rambo, Rocky Balboa and The Expendables. They all had their own retro appeal, but hardly enough to catapult Sly back into the mega-bucks A-list.

Similarly, Tom Cruise has been frantically trying to put the whole couch-jumping-love-declaring debacle from the mid-Noughties behind him with the likes of Mission:Impossible III, a game cameo in Tropic Thunder, and the rather unfairly savaged Knight and Day. They made money, but haven’t restored Cruise’s credibility or the industry’s ironclad faith in him as a box office draw. It doesn’t sound like Cruise really gets it either; is another Mission: Impossible really the solution to his problem?


Lastly, it would be remiss of us not to throw a bone to those stars that are overdue a comeback. Top of my list is Ray Liotta – the king of on-screen menace – who deserves better than supporting roles or cameos in Date Night and Charlie St Cloud.

Where has Haley Joel Osment been? The child star of The Sixth Sense, AI, and Pay It Forward became an extremely awkward teenager, and was arrested for driving under the influence 5 years ago. Now aged 23, and a college graduate, it might be prime time for Osment to claw his way back, starting small and humble – if he can swallow his pride enough to do so.

Before she became such a mess, the much-midered Lindsay Lohan showed great promise as a young star in Mean Girls and one of my guilty-pleasure faves, Freaky Friday. She now says she wants to win an Oscar by the time she’s 30, meaning she has six years to pull it off. Come on Hollywood, give her a chance!

Words – Declan Cashin

THE BEAVER is now showing in Irish cinemas

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