Celebs Who Went From The A-List To The D-List And Back Again

Kasia Mikolajczak
people driving in a red convertible towards the Hollywood sign
Pexels | Pexels

When you're a celebrity, your career can either be hot or cold, depending on the moment. It's definitely not easy to stay in the spotlight all the time. And when you disappear from people's eyes, Hollywood tends to forget about you.

You can literally go from being an A-lister and in demand to being virtually stuck in a career slump. But there are those stars who were able to bounce back so let's take a look at those who were able to revive their careers.

Robert Downey Jr.

Let's talk about the ultimate comeback kid, huh? Robert Downey was born to an eccentric film director, Robert Downey Sr., and honed his acting skills early on. He had memorable performances in Less Than Zero and then went on to play Charlie Chaplin which earned him an Oscar nomination. But his long-term drug use followed him like a monkey on his back.

Many people remember his ill-fated stints in rehab, drug relapses, and even a stay in Corcoran prison. Yikes! Nobody believed he could come back from that. I did, but that's another story (ask me about it sometime).

So when he got cast in the upcoming Iron Man movie, not everybody liked the idea. However, he did have a recurring role on Ally McBeal that made people notice. And when director Jon Favreau gave him a shot to play Iron Man, Downey stepped up big time. Now he's the most in-demand actor in Hollywood, and I couldn't be prouder of the guy.

Mickey Rourke

Here's a fun fact about Mickey Rourke. Did you know he was a boxer turned actor? That's right. He came into the Hollywood scene in the '80s like a rocket. If you didn't fall in love with him in 9 1/2 Weeks I don't know what's wrong with you, hee-hee. Even though his career was hot back then a stint of bad movie choices that followed as well as getting a reputation of being difficult to work with didn't help him at all.

Rourke gave up films and went back to boxing but too many hits to the face required reconstructive surgery that went totally wrong. His appearance changed so much that it's surprising that somebody still asked him to act. Director Rodriguez gave Rourke a big break, casting him as Marv in Sin City. That led to a few Critic's awards and then he was offered the titular role in The Wrestler. Then he was cast in Iron Man 2 alongside Robert Downey Jr. as well as The Expendables. Today Rourke might not be totally on top but his huge comeback story deserves to be included here. Don't count him out yet. I think he's still got something up his sleeve.

Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage saying "I'll take it."
Giphy | The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage never shied away from taking interesting roles. It might come from the fact that he's related to Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather, so he wanted to make his own mark. Who can remember the cockroach-eating scene in Vampire's Kiss, haha? He actually really ate that. Yuck! Many acclaimed roles followed, and finally, Cage became a bonified action star in movies like Con AirFace/Off, and Gone in 60 Seconds. 

He was making a ton of money, but sadly he started spending even more. To pay off his back taxes, he took any roles that came his way, and that pretty much brought him back to the B or D-list. But earlier this year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent hit theaters, and people are really raving about it. So yes, Nic Cage is back and I, for one, am happy to see him do well again.

Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder in a store scene from Stranger Things (2016)

Back in the day, one of my favorite actresses was Winona Ryder. I was pretty much obsessed with her and her amazing performances in such movies as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. But then, in 2001, something went awry, and Ryder got arrested in a bizarre shoplifting incident. So she took a break from acting.

That hiatus was probably good for her but not for her career. It took her some time to get back into the swings of things, but now she's doing great after joining the cast of Stranger Things.

Britney Spears

Britney Spears came on the scene and stayed there for quite some time. She was a pop icon with five albums under her belt when her life began to spiral. Things got so bad that Spears even lost custody of her kids to her ex-husband Kevin Federline. After a few public incidents where she shaved her head and drove around with her young son on her lap, she ended up getting admitted to UCLA Medical Center's psychiatric hospital in January 2008. She was placed under a legal conservatorship controlled by her father for many years.

Thankfully, in 2021, the conservatorship ended and Britney married her longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari in 2022.

John Travolta

John Travolta became one of the hottest stars in the '70s thanks to his breakout role in Welcome Home, Kotter, and hit movies like Grease and Saturday Night Fever. But then his career took a turn for the worse with bad film choices like Two of a Kind starring his co-star Olivia Newton-John.

Things didn't get any better for Travolta even when he played second fiddle to a talking baby in Look Who's Talking, haha. But then director Quentin Tarantino decided to cast him in the now-iconic role in Pulp Fiction, and Travolta was hot again. After that, more hits kept coming to pretty much solidify Travolta as an A-lister again.

Natasha Lyonne

I don't know about you, but I always thought of Natasha Lyonne as a firecracker. Why? Did you know that at six years old, Lyonne made her acting debut playing Opal on Pee-wee's Playhouse? Oh, yeah! Then she became one of the '90s' most sought-after teen actors. We enjoyed her performances in such movies as The Slums of Beverly Hills, But I'm a Cheerleader, and the American Pie trilogy. 

Then, Lyonne went through a rough time dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. She got kicked out of her apartment because people complained she acted weird. She was even hospitalized with hepatitis C, a heart infection, and a collapsed lung. OMG! Thankfully she made it out okay with that. Then in 2013, she was cast to be part of Netflix's series Orange Is the New Black. That pretty much brought her back on top.

Laura Dern

Laura Dern was born to two famous actors, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. So it's no surprise that she too caught the acting bug. She starred in such David Lynch cult classics as Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart. Later on, she took on Steven Spielberg's worldwide phenomenon Jurassic Park. 

But then she decided to do something different and starred opposite Ellen DeGeneres playing a fellow lesbian. That didn't go over well and hurt her career. She took on smaller roles for the next 15 years. But then she got a lucky break and got a role in Wild, playing alongside Reese Witherspoon. After that, she was cast in a hit TV show Big Little Lies and got an Emmy for that. Then, she was able to play Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Nice!

Martha Stewart

Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart clinking glasses.
Giphy | VH1

Martha Stewart became a household name when she started her cooking empire, which involved a successful catering company, a series of best-selling books, and a magazine. She was the 'it' woman in showbusiness, which earned her millions. But all that came to an end, when she got charged with insider trading, got convicted, and went to jail.

However, that didn't stop her from climbing back to the top. She revived her career and became relevant again, and even stars alongside Snoop Dogg on Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party, on VH1, ha, ha.

Drew Barrymore

Ah, who can forget little Drew Barrymore in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, huh? That was one unforgettable performance, right? She went on to star in other popular movies like Firestarter. But she had demons to deal with which eventually stalled her career. She even wrote about her troubled childhood in her memoir Little Girl Lost (what a great read).

But Barrymore was determined to get her career back on track and she was able to do so. She had memorable performances in movies like The Wedding Singer and later on starred in the film revival of Charlie's Angels. Today she has a skincare line and is one of the stars of Netflix's Santa Clarita Diet.

Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton clapping.
Giphy | SAG Awards

Michael Keaton was hugely popular in the '80s and '90s, but something seemed to have gotten lost in translation in the 2000s. Keaton went from being Batman to being virtually nowhere to be found. Not until he got another chance to show off his acting chops in the movie Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). He even starred in the latest Spiderman incarnation. Isn't that cool or what?

Rob Lowe

Rob Lowe got to be a huge star when he became a member of the so-called Brat Pack. That list included his fellow actors Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. They all starred in coming-of-age John Huges movies, and that definitely propelled each of their careers.

But then a sex tape scandal shook Rob Lowe's life, and he pretty much dropped from the spotlight. Then, a second chance put him on a popular TV show, The West Wing, and he finally started to gain some traction. He also got to star in Brothers and Sisters and was the beloved character, Chris Trager on Parks and Recreation.

Mandy Moore

Mandy More first showcased her talent as a singer and had a successful career at that. But later, she ventured into acting and went on to star in such movies as The Princess Diaries and A Walk to Remember.

However, her career seemed to stall a bit in the 2000s. She only had small roles in a few movies. But then she got to voice Rapunzel in Disney's 2010 movie Tangled, which was a hit. This must've helped to get her the role of Rebecca on the popular TV show This is Us.

Christian Slater

Who remembers Christian Slater as a heartthrob in such movies as Heathers and Pump Up The Volume? He definitely was everywhere in the late '80s and '90s, eh? He even went on to star opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pit in Interview with the Vampire.

But then multiple run-ins with the law like drunk driving, trying to board an airplane with a gun in his luggage, and assault while under the influence stalled his career. Thankfully, he was able to bounce back in his private and professional life, and he joined the cast of the popular TV show Mr. Robot.

Betty White

Betty White and Rue McClanahan in Golden Girls
Giphy | HULU

Betty White became a bonafide star pretty early in her life. First, she was a radio star and then soon transitioned into a TV star. She became known as a talk show host, game show host, and a star of classic sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore ShowMama's Family, and The Golden Girls.

Then as she became older, she was offered fewer and fewer roles. She did have stints on such shows as Boston Legal and Ally McBeal but never regained her old popularity. However, as luck has it, she was cast opposite Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal and stole all the scenes she was in, hehe. Even Saturday Night Live noticed and invited her to host. She beat the record for the oldest person to ever host the show. After that, she had a successful sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, and nothing seemed to slow her down. Sadly, Betty White passed away in 2021 at the age of 99.

Rosie Perez

Rosie Perez made her film debut in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and followed it up with such films as White Man Can't Jump. She honed her dance moves as one of the Fly Girls on In Living Color. Perez often lost out on roles because of her heritage, and she even wrote about it in her autobiography.

But in 2020, her career seemed to take off again. She starred as detective Renee Montoya in the DC's Birds of Prey. She's also on the HBO Max series The Flight Attendant, which earned her an Emmy nomination.

Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser laughing hysterically at the Golden Globes

If you were a fan of 90s movies then you definitely know the talented Brendan Fraser. He was actually a major heartthrob back then and showed his physique in such films as Encino Man. Then, of course, he took on action movies and starred in such hits as The Mummy and George of the Jungle. However, his career took a nose-dive due to poor box office performers like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Inkheart.

Oh, and there was that awkward laugh caught on camera at the 2010 Golden Globes that became an instant meme, ha, ha. Who knew that the laugh was hiding some trouble in Fraser's life? His mother just passed away, he also got divorced and had to endure some painful surgeries.

Finally, when people started reminiscing about the star on TikTok using hashtags like #Brenaissance and #BrendanFraserDeservesBetter somebody took notice. That person was acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh who cast Fraser in his hit movie No Sudden Move. Look out for him in upcoming movies like DC's Batgirl with Michael Keaton and Killers of the Flower Moon opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Wow!

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey first caught our eye when we saw him in Dazed and Confused. But by the early 2000s, he was mostly typecast in romantic comedies. His performances back then weren't all the memorable. 

However, his career seemed to be on the right track after 2013. He was nominated for an Emmy for True Detective, won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, and starred in The Wolf of Wall Street. This revival was dubbed by The New Yorker writer Rachel Syme as 'McConaissance,' hee-heee.

I don't know about you but I love a good comeback story.

man standing up and clapping
Giphy | Robert E Blackmon

Maybe I'm a sap, but I always root for people. So it's fantastic to see these talented stars turn their lives around, huh? It definitely wasn't easy, especially in Hollywood, but they never gave up and persevered. I think they can be such a great inspiration to all of us. Which story surprised you the most?