18 Actors Who Basically Disappeared - Then Came Back Stronger Than Ever

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Vote up the most triumphant, well-deserved actor comebacks.

The acting game can be a tough business. Whether it's bad luck at the box office, problematic personal choices, or a lack of job offers, sometimes a career can just go wrong. Even the most talented of actors can find themselves down on their luck before you know it. And then bang, they're back!

There's nothing like a Hollywood career resurgence. Sometimes it defies all logic. Why would Tinseltown give problematic actors who don't sell tickets another shot at the big time when the next big thing could be out there for much less money? That's why we love to root for the stars who got their career back on track. Without further ado, let's run through some stars who essentially disappeared and came back in ways we couldn't imagine.

Photo: Iron Man / Paramount Pictures

  • 1
    689 VOTES
    Keanu Reeves
    Photo: John Wick / Lionsgate

    Early Stardom: The late '80s served as Reeves's coming-out party, as Dangerous LiaisonsBill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and Parenthood showcased an actor on the rise before the 1990s turned him into an action star. With Point BreakSpeed, and The Matrix, Keanu Reeves became the big-budget hero Hollywood was looking for in a post-Stallone/Schwarzenegger world.

    Career Drop-Off: Unfortunately, after the Matrix sequels hit in the early 2000s, Reeves's career took a bit of a dip. When the biggest hits you have for 10 years are ConstantineThe Lake House, and the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, things have gone somewhat awry.

    The Comeback: Now, Keanu seems to be back on top and is clearly enjoying himself. He played himself in Always Be My Maybe. How awesome was Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4? There was even a third Bill & Ted movie!

    Most Important Role: The John Wick films reminded film fans of Reeves's star power and dedication to making fantastic action films. The amount of stunt work and coordination the actor puts into those movies puts most big-name stars to shame. He's up there with Tom Cruise as the kind of guy who always wants to do everything he can to make the fight scenes believable. 

    689 votes
  • Early Stardom: Downey was one of the biggest members of the infamous '80s "Brat Pack." He was all over the place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, starring in everything from Weird Science and Back to School to Less Than Zero and Chaplin. As comfortable in broad comedies as he was in niche dramas, Downey had a big career ahead of him.

    Career Drop-Off: The story of RDJ's collapse from stardom is well known. His drug-fueled antics and severe personal issues made him a persona non grata in Hollywood, leaving him with dwindling opportunities to hone his craft in Tinseltown.

    The Comeback: From 2005 to 2007, Downey started the slow climb back to relevance. A string of smaller critical hits like Kiss Kiss Bang BangGood Night, and Good LuckA Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and Zodiac reminded everyone that the guy has serious acting chops. And then Marvel Studios came calling...

    Most Important Role: You've heard of Iron Man? Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Pick up an Iron Man comic post-2008 and you'll see what we mean. Now Downey is one of the major A-listers in the film industry, no matter how badly Dolittle flopped.

    755 votes
  • 3
    636 VOTES
    Betty White
    Photo: Saturday Night Live / NBC

    Early Stardom: It is hard to quantify Betty White's Hollywood career. Her breakthrough came with the 1950s sitcom Life with Elizabeth, in which she had the lead role, and she has been around in one form or another ever since. Whether it was on game shows like Password and Match Game or showing up on iconic TV series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, Betty White is nothing if not a true legend of Hollywood.

    Career Drop-Off: After The Golden Girls ended, White continued to work in TV and film, usually doing guest spots on sitcoms and cartoon series. A supporting role in Boston Legal was a particular high point. It's not that she was gone, just that she was not as big as she had been in the heyday of The Golden Girls.

    The Comeback: Near the end of the 2000s, the Hollywood icon had a serious resurgence. Films like The Proposal and The Lorax as well as television shows like Hot in Cleveland and Betty White's Off Their Rockers reminded everyone how much they loved her in the first place.

    Most Important Role: She became the oldest person in history to host Saturday Night Live in 2010 after nearly 500,000 people on Facebook petitioned to get her the gig. That's when you know you've made it!

    636 votes
  • 4
    394 VOTES
    Jason Bateman
    Photo: Arrested Development / Netflix

    Early Stardom: Beginning with Little House on the Prairie in 1981, Jason Bateman became one of the hardest working child actors of the 1980s. He was a regular on Silver SpoonsIt's Your Move, and The Hogan Family while still finding time for guest spots on popular shows like Knight Rider and St. Elsewhere. And of course no summary of his young career is complete without mentioning Teen Wolf Too...

    Career Drop-Off: The 1990s saw the established actor struggle to make the transition from teen star to adult actor as he starred in a string of television movies and failed television shows. For a while, it looked like the '80s were going to be the peak of his career.

    The Comeback: The 2000s were on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from the 1990s version of Bateman. Since the turn of the century, Bateman has shown up in a lot of projects, including Horrible Bosses, Juno, Up in the Air, Zootopia, Ozark, Game Night, and Office Christmas Party. Plus, he had a fantastic cameo in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. The guy works, people.

    Most Important Role: The role that kickstarted his career back into high gear was undoubtedly Arrested Development. His role of failed family savior Michael Bluth helped the former child star turn the corner as the show became a true cult hit.

    394 votes
  • 5
    650 VOTES
    Mayim Bialik
    Photo: The Big Bang Theory / CBS

    Early Stardom: After recurring roles on Webster and MacGyver, Bialik got a show of her own to star in with the early-'90s hit Blossom that ran for five seasons on NBC. Like many a child actor before her, the transition after her big break ended proved to be a rocky one.

    Career Drop-Off: The majority of her immediate work post-Blossom came in the form of cartoon voice work. We're talking Aaahh!!! Real MonstersRecessJohnny BravoKim Possible, and Hey Arnold! over here. But mostly she focused on her own education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.

    The Comeback: The 2010s were a big comeback decade for Bialik, 20 years after she became a sitcom star. She starred on The Secret Life of the American Teenager as Dr. Wilameena Bink, she has appeared on numerous game shows like Drop the Mic and Match Game, and she even has another sitcom of her own in Fox's Call Me Kat.

    Most Important Role: The part that thrust her back into the spotlight was Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory. She spent almost an entire decade as Sheldon's love interest and helped transform the show from a sitcom about nerdy guys into a true ensemble piece.

    650 votes
  • Neil Patrick Harris
    Photo: How I Met Your Mother / CBS

    Early Stardom: After appearing in a few feature films and some television movies, Neil Patrick Harris hit the big time with Doogie Howser, M.D. After all, what could be more complicated to portray than the delicate balancing of teenage life with that of a practicing doctor? But when the show ended in 1993, Harris had to try and make that ever-so-hard jump from child star to adult actor.

    Career Drop-Off: After Doogie, Harris showed up in a lot of TV movies and had some guest spots on shows. He had a memorable turn in 1997's Starship Troopers, and he teamed with Tony Shalhoub in the failed sitcom Stark Raving Mad. He was always working, but was nowhere near the heights of his teenage stardom.

    The Comeback: In the mid-2000s, the actor began his resurgence. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs got him back in the spotlight, and in recent years he's been a major role in such prominent titles as David Fincher's Gone Girl and Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events - not to mention numerous awards show hosting gigs that have reminded everyone of the multi-talented star's scene-stealing presence.

    Most Important Role: His role as Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother's 200+ episode run made sure he was a weekly mainstay on American television for nine straight years.

    465 votes