Actors Who Never Quite Broke Through To The Big Time Like We Thought They Would

Ashley Hunte
A movie projector reel.
Unsplash | Jason Dent

You hear it all the time: "this actor is going to be the next big thing, just you wait!" And yeah, over the decades we've seen plenty of actors come out of nowhere, steal our hearts, and then start appearing in everything.

But not every actor's promising career takes off the way we expect. Here are some actors whose careers we definitely expected to go differently.

Ryan Philippe.

A teen heartthrob probably best known for Cruel Intentions (1999), Philippe's youthful appearance kept him from being considered for pretty much any other kind of role. In some ways, he was almost too attractive to be a bigger success.

Anthony Michael Hall.

You would think that, with the success of 1985's The Breakfast Club, ever member of the Brat Pack would be set with a lifetime of acting opportunities. But his falling out with director John Hughes ended up really changing things.

At the time, he and Hughes had worked on a lot of projects together.

Even before The Breakfast Club, Hall was in films like Sixteen Candles and Weird Science. But 1986’s Out of Bounds marked the end of Hall’s working relationship with Hughes, as he ventured off to do other things.

Unfortunately, he just couldn't recapture his fame, and stayed relatively out of the spotlight until his appearance in 2008's The Dark Knight.

Freddie Prinze Jr.

1997's I Know What You Did Last Summer cemented Prinze as a teen heartthrob. But like other teen stars, taking on more adult roles proved to be tough for the actor. A string of box office failures led him to take more time off acting to focus on his family with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

But an on-set incident caused him to quit acting entirely.

After landing a role on 24 in 2014, Prinze's experience working with Kiefer Sutherland was so negative, it made him decide to stop acting. But, he and Gellar (and their kids) are still going strong.

Chad Michael Murray.

As cool as Chad Michael Murray's fanbase thought he was in 2000s shows like Gilmore Girls, Dawson's Creek, and (of course) One Tree Hill, the actor apparently looks back on that time of his life with a lot of cringe.

Nowadays, he's committed to taking roles that align with his religious beliefs.

He said about the matter, "I don’t want to step in something that I don’t believe in any way because it’s going to destroy it for everybody else involved."

Michael Schoeffling.

A boy standing against a red car and waving.
Giphy | Filmin

1984's Sixteen Candles was the world's introduction to Michael Schoeffling, and the film's success propelled the actor into the spotlight. But after starring in a few more hits throughout the 1980s, Schoeffling decided to hang up his hat and retire from acting in 1991.

Now, he makes furniture.

Schoeffling and wife Valerie Robinson left the spotlight to raise a family, with Schoeffling starting a furniture and woodworking company.

These days, his daughter, Scarlett Schoeffling has followed her mother's footsteps and become a model, posting the occasional pic of her parents on Instagram.

Josh Hartnett

Josh Hartnett saying, "Yes, ma'am."

2001 was a huge year for Hartnett, who appeared in both Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down. And that was more than enough to transform the actor into a global superstar. But that kind of fame comes at a price, and the fast pace of his career was a little too fast.

In fact, the star hardly had time to enjoy his newfound fame.

Josh Hartnett in August
IMDb | 57th & Irving Productions

In fact, he left Hollywood at the height of his career, turning down huge roles like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.

He now lives in Surrey, England with wife Tasmin Egerton and their three kids, who are so out of the spotlight, their names aren't publicly known.

Hayden Christensen.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker.

Even today, most people will know Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequel trilogy of movies. And while those movies are considered commercial successes, they aren't remembered as being particularly good in any way.

Despite that, they made Christensen a star.

Hayden Christiansen telling Natalie Portman that he doesn't like sand.

Unfortunately for him, his rise to stardom didn't feel earned (in his opinion). His popularity felt fraudulent, and the actor quit acting for a while to live on a farm. Nowadays, you won't really see him in anything.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

Johnathan Taylor Thomas dressed as Santa Claus.

Known for his role on Home Improvement and as Simba in 1994's The Lion King, JTT was a true teen heartthrob back in the day. But he didn't really love stardom, and quit acting to attend Harvard University. Ultimately, he graduated from Columbia.

Skeet Ulrich.

Rising to prominence in 1996 when he portrayed Billy Loomis in Scream, Skeet Ulrich was one of the year's biggest stars. Though the actor achieved modest success in the following years (including getting an Oscar nom for As Good as It Gets) a lot of his work just didn't land.

Most recently, fans may remember him from Riverdale.

But before his tenure on the teen show that lasted multiple seasons, he'd been involved with several pilots that networks just didn’t pick up, as well as some movies he regretted working on.

Henry Thomas.

Thomas' story proves that being a child star really isn't all it's cracked up to be. Following the massive success of 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Thomas, who played main character Elliott, was thrust into a spotlight he wasn't comfortable being in.

To make things worse, the young actor became a target for bullying when he tried to go back to his hometown.

He did eventually return to acting, but was met with long periods of few prospects. Still, more recent roles in things like The Haunting of Hill House and Doctor Sleep have shown that the once-child star has broken the mold.

Ralph Macchio.

Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid with a surprised expression on his face
IMDb | Columbia Pictures

The Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio wasn't as into being a superstar as he could've been. In spite of the massive success that movie was, Macchio much preferred living a quiet life, moving back to his hometown and raising a family.

But he hasn't completely disappeared from the spotlight.

You'll still see Macchio appear in things from time to time. And of course, the Karate Kid has come back to reprise his role as Daniel LaRusso in Netflix's Cobra Kai.