14 Actors Who Got Their Mojo Back This Year

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Vote up the actors who really deserve their big comebacks.

In Hollywood, success is a fickle thing. An actor can take home an Oscar one year only to fade into obscurity after a string of flops the next. But everyone loves a comeback, and the last year had a lot to offer. Some were long overdue, while others were downright surprising. British actress Samantha Morton, for example, has been consistently lauded by critics and peers throughout her career but hasn’t gotten meaty enough roles to showcase her considerable talents since the early 2000s. Ke Huy Quan, on the other hand, was all but forgotten as an actor. Having disappeared from the big screen for over 30 years, the Indiana Jones star made a triumphant return in a major sci-fi movie, launching one of the most unexpected and delightful second acts of the year.

Some of the actors who got their mojo back leaped into brand new territory while others went back to their roots. Brendan Fraser, who will always be remembered as a family-friendly '90s action star, relaunched his career with an emotionally complex role in the latest movie from controversial director Darren Aronofsky. Jennifer Lawrence, by contrast, emerged from a multi-year hiatus to start making indie movies again more than a decade after the low-budget noir Winter’s Bone made her a star. From underrated character actors to iconic scream queens, vote up the performers who truly deserve their comebacks.

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    1,820 VOTES
    Brendan Fraser
    Photo: The Whale / A24

    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 and rocketed to the top of Oscar predictions for best actor. Regardless of his fate during awards season, Fraser’s comeback appears to be here to stay. His next movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, and is set for release in 2023. When asked about his dramatic second act, Fraser said, “It feels like a new day… a new, better, beautiful day.”

    1,820 votes
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    1,213 VOTES
    Christina Ricci
    Photo: Yellowjackets / Showtime

     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.”

    1,213 votes
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    1,056 VOTES

    Ke Huy Quan

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

    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 plays Indie’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, Japan, 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 November, Quan won a Gotham Award for his performance. “This time last year, all I was hoping for was just a job,” he said in his acceptance speech, “Just when I think it can’t get any better, it does.” With a role in Season 2 of the Marvel series Loki, it appears that Quan’s comeback is just beginning.

    1,056 votes
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    860 VOTES
    Michelle Yeoh
    Photo: Everything Everywhere All at Once / A24

    Michelle Yeoh shot to international stardom when she played the lead in Ang Lee’s 2000 martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which became the highest-grossing foreign language film in US history. Yeoh’s grace and martial arts prowess had already made her a star in Hong Kong, but Lee’s film brought her global acclaim. Her fans included directors Quentin Tarantino, who could reportedly recount her movies “frame by frame,” and Oliver Stone, who called her “the young grand dame of Hong Kong cinema.” She found Hollywood success in movies like Tomorrow Never Dies opposite Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, the third film in the Mummy franchise, and Memoirs of a Geisha, but was relegated to supporting roles. After a career lull in the 2010s, Yeoh appeared in a string of hits, including Crazy Rich Asians in 2018, the television series Star Trek: Discovery, and the Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in 2021. For any other actor, these projects would have constituted a comeback, but they paled in comparison to Yeoh’s 2022 starring role in an off-the-wall multiverse action movie that took the box office by storm. 

    Everything Everywhere All at Once was originally written with Jackie Chan in mind, but when the legendary martial arts actor turned it down, co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert reworked the script and brought it to Yeoh. The actress plays Evelyn, a besieged laundromat worker who is facing an audit by the IRS, the end of her marriage, an acrimonious relationship with her adult daughter, and, to top it all off, an existence-threatening flaw in the multiverse that only she can fix. As she grudgingly battles her way through parallel universes, Evelyn encounters versions of herself that are surreal, absurd, grotesque, and enchanting. Glitter, googly eyes, and fanny packs abound, and Yeoh demonstrates not only her age-defying martial arts abilities, but her comedic skill as well. The movie was a sleeper hit that won rave reviews from critics and struck box office gold. Earning more than $100 million globally, it became A24’s highest-grossing film and reintroduced Yeoh as a charismatic action hero at the age of 60. For the actress, the movie offered some long-awaited validation. “Teenagers will come up to me at the supermarket and say, ‘You’re cool! Can we have a picture with you?’” she says, “Outwardly, I’ll smile and say, ‘Of course!’ But inwardly, I’m pumping my fist, screaming, ‘Yes! Finally! I’m cool!’” Her 2022 success was compounded by her role as a kung fu guru in the smash-hit Minions: The Rise of Gru, and in the upcoming Avatar sequels and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

    860 votes
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    666 VOTES

    Throughout the 1990s, Michael Wincott played a series of mustache-twirling villains who somehow managed to be both stereotypical and complex. With his trademark gravelly voice, high cheekbones, and slender frame, he somehow managed to morph so seamlessly into his characters that he was often unrecognizable. From the deranged fan of an incendiary radio host in Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio to an opportunistic sleazeball record producer in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, Wincott played unhinged baddies who were often on the fringes of the plot but magnetic in every frame they inhabited. In the notorious 1994 film The Crow, he finally got to play the primary antagonist, a chilling deviant with a lust for inflicting pain named Top Dollar. Despite the force of his performance, Wincott’s career failed to take off, possibly due to the pall cast over the movie by the tragic on-set death of its star, Brandon Lee. For the next two decades, Wincott played an array of extreme figures in less prominent projects, including a raging screenwriter in 2008’s What Just Happened, an infamous serial killer in the 2012 biopic of Alfred Hitchcock, and a transgender woman in the Scandinavian television drama Veni Vedi Vici in 2017. It wasn’t until he landed a role in Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated third movie, Nope, that he returned to a major Hollywood production.

    In Nope, Wincott plays a small but crucial role as celebrated cinematographer Antlers Holst who emerges from a bored stupor of high-paying projects to help siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) film an unprecedented extraterrestrial appearance. Wincott’s distinctive features and unmistakable voice have only deepened over the years, lending gravitas and mystery to the character's all-too-brief time on screen. Peele says that he had been a fan of Wincott’s work since the '90s and “wanted to see him as a good guy.” As the director suspected, the actor is just as compelling and complex a hero as he is a villain, and proved that a comeback was long overdue.

    666 votes
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    604 VOTES
    Justin Long
    Photo: Barbarian / 20th Century Studios

    Justin Long has predominantly played nice guys and harmless goofballs - the kind of characters who rarely get the girl or steal the limelight, but who always win over the hearts of the audience. With cult classics like DodgeballWaiting…Idiocracy, and Accepted, his comedic skills have always been front and center to his stardom, while his roles in Going the Distance and the Fox sitcom New Girl showed that his loveable awkwardness made him an ideal romantic interest. But Long has been working in a variety of genres from the beginning of his career, starting with his breakthrough role in the 2001 horror movie Jeepers Creepers. Between roles in the equally dark movies Drag Me to Hell and Tusk, he voiced the titular rodent in four Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. With such an eclectic filmography, it’s no surprise that Long has never fit the mold of a classic leading man, and in recent years, his projects have been so obscure that strangers were approaching him in the street asking if he was still acting. But Long had a career resurgence in 2022 that not only put him back on the map, but also challenged his easy-going persona. 

    His most prominent role of the year came in the low-budget horror hit Barbarian. Directed by sketch comedy alum Zach Cregger, it follows a woman (Georgina Campbell) whose stay at an AirBnB descends into a twist-heavy nightmare involving a sociopathic actor (played by Long) who's facing the abrupt end to his career. The movie became a runaway success, pulling in $41 million at the domestic box office off a $4 million budget. It received rave reviews from critics and took on a life of its own in a frenzy of memes and online commentary. Variety named it the second-best horror movie of the year, and reviewers pointed to the clever casting of the infinitely likable Long in such an irredeemable role. In addition to Barbarian, the actor starred in House of Darkness, another horror movie in which he plays an entitled misogynist. With a third movie coming out at the end of the year (a raunchy holiday romance called Christmas with the Campbells), it’s no wonder that 2022 has been labeled the beginning of the “Justin Longaissance.” 

    604 votes