'90s Stars Who Had Inspiring Comebacks

Over 200 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of '90s Stars Who Had Inspiring Comebacks
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Vote up your favorite comeback kids. 

While it's not considered the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1990s brought audiences groundbreaking effects, terrifying stunts, heartbreaking dialogue, and unforgettable performances from some of the best actors and actresses alive. While many performers had us at “hello,” some faded into the background by the time the '00s came around. 

Hollywood stardom is a fickle thing, yet every person on this list eventually prevailed and found commercial and critical success back on screen. By taking big character risks and making calculated choices, actors like Brandon Fraser and Christina Ricci were able to shake up written-off reputations. Others like Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder were able to redeem their legal mistakes by venturing into the superhero and horror genres. Ke Huy Quan couldn't find much work as an Asian actor past the mid-'90s, even changing his name to stay in the Hollywood game. Eventually, he transitioned into stunt and production work before auditioning in 2019 for the game-changing Everything Everywhere All at Once. 

No matter their reason for leaving, it's so nice to have them back on our screens. Vote up your favorite comeback '90s stars by clicking the arrows below. 

  • Brendan Fraser
    Photo: The Whale / A24
    212 VOTES

    Of all the actors who had comebacks in 2022, Brendan Fraser has had one of the most highly publicized and warmly welcomed. In the '90s, he moved toward the top of the Hollywood A-list with hits like Encino ManGeorge of the Jungle, and School Ties. His hunky physique and self-deprecating sweetness made him the ideal love interest of the era, and his starring role in the blockbuster Mummy franchise captured those qualities during their peak. 

    But Fraser’s commitment to his craft took a physical toll. After years of cramming movies into his schedule and performing back-breaking stunts for the camera, his body couldn’t keep up. “By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China,” he said, “I was put together with tape and ice… I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily.” 

    Even worse than his faltering health was a sexual assault he allegedly experienced at the hands of the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He revealed that the incident made him depressed and reclusive, and caused him to withdraw from acting. But in 2022, the actor launched a comeback to rival even the most dramatic character arc in a Hollywood movie.

    In Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, Fraser plays a reclusive, 600-pound English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter while grieving the death of his partner. Although Aronofsky’s movies are always divisive with critics, Fraser received near-universal praise. Reviews called his performance “brilliant,” “intensely moving,” and “one for the ages.” 

    When the movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022, he received a six-minute standing ovation. He would go on to win the 2023 Academy Award for Best Actor.

  • Robert Downey Jr.
    Photo: Iron Man / Paramount Pictures

    The son of notoriously bizarre underground filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., Downey Jr. became associated during the '80s with the so-called "brat pack," appearing mainly in films for disgruntled youths like Less Than Zero and Weird Science.

    Downey Jr.'s career during the '90s was characterized by flamboyant drug problems and multiple arrests. This culminated into a three-year-prison sentence toward the end of the decade, which was later reduced to one year with a hefty fine. During that time, he starred on Ally McBeal.

    After a few hiccups, Downey Jr. has managed to stay clean and has become a more beloved public figure than ever, winning the hearts and minds of filmgoers all over the world with his portrayal of Tony Stark in Marvel's Iron Man films. 

    His honest sense of humor has made him a prominent meme-able figure. He and his wife Susan have a successful production company, aptly called Team Downey.

  • Ke Huy Quan
    Photo: Everything Everywhere All at Once / A24
    131 VOTES

    Twelve-year-old Ke Huy Quan hit an unexpected jackpot in 1984 when he landed the role of Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Having fled war-torn Vietnam with his family in 1978, he met Steven Spielberg after an open casting call for the role in Los Angeles where his brother was auditioning. The casting director asked if he wanted to read for the part and he got a call from Spielberg the next day. 

    As Short Round, Quan played Indy’s most adorable and streetwise sidekick, stealing most of his scenes from Ford. Spielberg was so pleased with his performance that he offered him the role of the child inventor Data in The Goonies. Both movies were box office successes, but Quan’s career slowed as he reached his teens. He transitioned into making martial arts movies in Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and eventually gave up acting altogether to work as a stunt coordinator

    After decades out of the spotlight, he was inspired to dive back into his former career after watching Crazy Rich Asians. “It's such a seminal movie for me,” he said, “I felt, oh my God, that's what I want to do after stepping away for so long.” He asked a friend to be his agent, and landed the ultimate comeback role within two weeks.

    Everything Everywhere All at Once stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant who owns a failing laundromat and has to save the multiverse from destruction. Quan plays her husband, Waymond, a gentle, loving character who is also a cutthroat martial arts extraordinaire and romantic lead in parallel universes. The co-directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert were struggling to cast such a multi-faceted role when they stumbled on a GIF of the actor in Indiana Jones on Twitter and thought he’d be perfect for the role. 

    The movie became a surprise box office success, earning more than $100 million globally and becoming A24’s highest-grossing film. In March 2023, Quan won an Academy Award for his performance. 

  • Michael Keaton
    Photo: Birdman / Fox Searchlight Pictures
    114 VOTES

    Keaton began his Hollywood career as a flexible comedic actor. Night ShiftMr. MomJohnny Dangerously, and Beetlejuice got the man some serious recognition before his role as Bruce Wayne in 1989's Batman came along and turned him into a true A-list star.

    Keaton spent the 1990s mostly doing less bombastic projects that interested him, such as Much Ado About NothingMultiplicityJackie Brown, and Out of Sight. His career began to fade a bit in the 2000s, though he never truly went away, as projects like First Daughter and Herbie: Fully Loaded kept him working.

    Roles in The Other Guys and RoboCop in the early 2010s prepped the actor for his true resurgence during the latter half of the decade. 2014's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) reminded everyone that Keaton is an immensely talented actor with serious range and completely turned his career back around. It also netted him his first-ever Oscar nomination.

    Nowadays, Keaton is back to being a major player in Hollywood with roles in SpotlightThe FounderSpider-Man: Homecoming, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 helping to revamp his stardom.

  • Winona Ryder
    Photo: Stranger Things / Netflix
    128 VOTES

    Winona Ryder was Hollywood's favorite "it girl" during the late '80s and early '90s. For an entire decade, Ryder enjoyed serious success with both audiences and critics. BeetlejuiceHeathersEdward ScissorhandsBram Stoker's DraculaReality Bites, and Girl, Interrupted all made her a household name as she grew from a precocious teen actor into a serious star - and an Oscar-nominated one, thanks to The Age of Innocence and Little Women.

    Crime has a way of stopping a career in its tracks, and Ryder's 2001 scandal involving shoplifting left a serious black mark on her prospects at the time. She spent the next couple of years completely out of the spotlight.

    Starting in earnest with 2009's Star Trek, Ryder began rebuilding her goodwill in Hollywood. Projects like Black SwanFrankenweenieThe Plot Against America, and The Iceman followed.

    Ryder's most notable post-2000s role is undoubtedly Joyce Byers in Stranger Things. As the single mother looking for her missing son amidst creepy goings on, Ryder got to channel ‘80s and ’90s horror and teen classics, like the ones she was in when she was younger. 

  • Christina Ricci
    Photo: Yellowjackets / Showtime
    100 VOTES

    Christina Ricci rose to fame as a child star in the mid-'90s playing dark, offbeat characters in The Addams Family movies, Casper, and Now and Then. In the latter half of the decade, she took riskier, more adult roles in movies like Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Vincent Gallo’s indie crime comedy, Buffalo ‘66

    These projects gained her a cult following and status as a '90s icon, but she struggled to find her place within mainstream Hollywood when she was pushed toward more conventional projects. “I just don’t think that complicated and challenging was real popular at that time,” she said, decades later. It wasn’t until she turned to television that she reconnected to her dark roots and experienced a resurgence in her career. 

    The Showtime series Yellowjackets premiered in late 2021 but took off in 2022 when a passionate fan base took hold. Part mystery, part horror, part coming-of-age tale, it follows the surviving members of a girls' soccer team after their plane crashes in the wilderness in 1996, and 15 years later when they've reached adulthood. It stars a host of ‘90s “It Girls” including Ricci, Melanie Lynskey, and Juliette Lewis. 

    Ricci plays the adult Misty, a passive-aggressive nurse whose sarcastic cheerfulness masks her sadistically violent and manipulative inclinations toward those around her. Critics raved about the show, and Ricci was nominated for an Emmy for her performance in 2022. The year also saw her return to the world of the Addams family playing a mysterious botany teacher at Nevermore Academy in the Netflix series Wednesday

    Ricci has referred to this period as a “renaissance” in her career, saying that she’s found the kind of creative freedom that she had at the height of her fame in the late ’90s. “It has not been easy, this path,” she said, “So to all of a sudden have it turn around so much and have people just have such a different reaction to me, I was very emotional about it.”