Career Turnarounds

Clarisse Loughrey

We need to talk about Matthew McConaughey. This guy is surely a candidate for the greatest makeover since Cher Horowitz transformed Tai from Hagsville to total Betty. Only a year or so ago, McConaughey was the poster boy for 'Rom-Coms I Wish I Could Murder' (Failure to Launch, Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past – let's stop before I feel too sad). But then, there I was, watching Mr. Laidback Always-Shirtless Dude torturing women with fried chicken in Killer Joe, feeling like I'd been punched in the face with disbelief. And now, with The Paperboy (out now) and Mud on the horizon, McConaughey has cemented his position as having achieved one of the greatest career turnarounds since these guys...

1. Mickey Rourke

There's no other place to start than with the classic of all comebacks, Mickey Rourke and his Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler. Early in his career, Rourke garnered a lot of critical acclaim for movies like Diner and Angel Heart, comfortably filling the role of Hollywood Rebel. But after a couple of flops (notably the Razzie-winning Wild Orchid), Rourke quit the scene to return to his roots: boxing. Although Rourke may have had a couple of small roles here and there throughout the '90s and early 2000s, it was The Wrestler that really put him firmly back in the spotlight. What can we thank for his comeback? According to the actor himself, the unconditional love of his pet dogs. Your move, cats. 

2. Bradley Cooper

Cooper has to be worth a mention for pulling off a career turnaround strikingly similar to McConaughey's in the past year. Up until the release of Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper had been Hollywood's resident handsome face for hire. I mean, his character in the A-Team was literally named "Face". Next thing you know, this guy's got an Oscar nomination and the ability to star in a movie with Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines) and not be totally overshadowed by him. Kudos to you, man. 

3. Gloria Swanson

Now who should play a glamourous aging film star who couldn't make the transition from silent movies to the talkies? Hey, why not a glamourous aging film star who couldn't make the transition from silent movies to talkies? Bringing back Gloria Swanson from her silver-screen retirement to play the doomed Norma Desmond may not have been the most left-field of choices, but it eventually proved to be a pretty iconic one. Swanson's extravagant performance has secured her in popular memory because, let's face it, you'd never have heard of this chick if it wasn't for Sunset Boulevard

4. Leslie Nielsen

Watching The Poseidon Adventure has become kind of a weird experience. Even though you know that this comes from a certain time before Nielsen became the cherished comic actor he is now, a part of your brain is still primed for hearing all the wordplay and double meaning. Which results in a lot of unnerving, uncertain laughter. 

5. Jonah Hill

There have been plenty of comedians who have attempted the transition to dramatic roles (Robin Williams, Steve Carrell, Jim Carrey), but I'd argue one of the most surprising (and suprisingly successful) is Jonah Hill. Who would have thought that the kid from Superbad would one day earn an Oscar nomination? And most importantly, now he's part of the Clooney/Pitt gang, where I assume they meet up regularly in bowling alleys to share an appetiser platter and own monogrammed T-shirts. 

6. Bryan Cranston

I don't watch Breaking Bad (save the hate mail), so watching Drive for the first time was a relevatory experience. I mean, who knew Malcolm in the Middle's dad was so good at acting? Now that's a show I did used to watch, and everyone always had their money on Frankie Muniz as its break-out star. What does he do now, you may ask? Drive race cars and rub his wealth in other people's faces, while Cranston gets to be in both Drive and Argo. All together guys: you're not the boss of me now...

7. Michelle Williams

Here's another head-scratcher; who'd have thought Michelle Williams would be Dawson's Creek's break-out movie star? In that way, I always feel really bad for James Van Der Beek. Blue Valentine is sad enough on its own accord, but for Der Beek it must be absolutely DEVESTATING. Like, this much devestating. That said, Katie Holmes certainly could have gone the distance, but then she got involved with Tom Cruise and now she probably walks around trying to wield Nicole Kidman as a shield against whoever's hit-list she's on. 

8. Ben Affleck

This one was just too obvious to leave out. What's amazing about Affleck's career is the man managed to start off by winning an Oscar (with BFF Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting's screenplay), then cranked out a series of abominations which completely destroyed his career (Gigli, Daredevil – I'll stop before I get too sad), only to then achieve a complete 180 and come out the other end as a highly-respected Oscar-winning director. The lesson to be learnt here? For the love of god, never date Jennifer Lopez; she will destroy you. 

9. Keifer Sutherland

TV is certainly the place to resurrect a dying career. Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, Rob Lowe on Parks and Recreation, Kevin Spacey on House of Cards (yeah, I called it, the guy's only made like two great movies in the past ten years). However, it's arguably Keifer Sutherland's lead in 24 that really wins the prize here. Which is almost a shame because Jack Bauer is so iconic it makes people forget that he was once the 80s' answer to Edward Cullen. Except 1,000 times better because The Lost Boys is an awesome movie. 

10. John Travolta

OK, so maybe he hasn't made the best of the turnaround Pulp Fiction offered him. Wild Hogs and Old Dogs may sound like the same movie but I can assure you they are completely separate family-friendly comedies, although they are similar in the way watching them makes me hate children and the fact their existence means movies like Wild Hogs and Old Dogs have to be made. But looking back to 1994, Tarantino really did Travolta a favour taking him from fading teen idol to legitimate leading man. But then he went and did Battlefield Earth and ruined everything for everyone. 

Follow Clarisse on Twitter: @clarisselou 

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