The Greatest Hollywood Comebacks of All Time

Voting Rules
Vote for the stars whose fall was followed by the greatest rise. Only add actors who have worked in the past 30 years.

Great celebrity comebacks are rare – in a world ruled by fickle fame, it's not always easy for actors and actresses to recover from career misfortune. What are some of the best examples of impressive celebrity comebacks for actors and actresses of the past 30 years? The world of Hollywood actors is riddled with disappointment and overbearing egos, but what about stars who once had it all, fell out of favor, then rose from the wreckage and transformed their prior misfortunes into renewed successes?

Below is a list of the best film actor comebacks of all time. These celebrities made major comebacks even when the world didn't think they could do it. Vote up which celebrities you think have had the greatest comeback to their career, and let's welcome everyone back into the game.

  • 1
    2,699 VOTES
    Robert Downey Jr.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    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.

    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 nation and the world with his portrayal of Tony Stark in Marvel's Iron Man films.
    2,699 votes
  • Neil Patrick Harris
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    Semi-ironically adored for decades as the titular child star of popular sitcom Doogie Howser, M.D., Harris endured several years of C-list status before an appearance with Nathan Fillion in Joss Whedon's web miniseries Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog rejuvenated his geek street cred. Soon after, Harris was cast in the popular series "How I Met Your Mother" with fellow cult TV stars Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segal.

    In 2014, Harris won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his Broadway performance as intersexed rockstar Hedwig Schmidt in the revival of John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

    1,702 votes
  • 3
    1,563 VOTES
    Drew Barrymore
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    Definitely one of the youngest people in the industry to go nuts and make a full recovery, Drew Barrymore has been starring in movies since early childhood and published a drug memoir at the tender age of 14. As a child, Barrymore spent half a decade as Hollywood's adorable moppet du jour, appearing in Cat's Eye, Firestarter, and Stephen Spielberg's E.T. Known for precocious and rebellious behavior, Barrymore's career ground to a halt in in 1989 when she was forced into rehab twice, once for cocaine addiction, and then a second time for trying to kill herself.

    Barrymore's public image turned around in 1995 when she starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Mary Louise Parker in Boys On the Side, playing a wild and impulsive young woman, much like herself, attempting to escape from an abusive relationship. The following year, her memorable appearance in Wes Craven's Scream cemented her return to prominence. Barrymore has gone on to write, direct, produce, and star in numerous Hollywood productions.
    1,563 votes
  • 4
    1,275 VOTES
    Jason Bateman
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    From Teen Wolf to Bluth Boy, Bateman has had quite a ride. After getting his TV start on the early 80s "Little House on the Prairie" series, Bateman really started to make his mark on "Valerie," even becoming the DGA's youngest-ever director, taking the helm for a few episodes of the series, in which he also had an acting role.

    Then, Bateman fell into obscurity for the better part of the 90s, unable to make a graceful transition from teen star, including the box office flop that was Teen Wolf Too. Then came the Bluth era of the early 2000s, when Bateman came back in a big way, as the only sane member of the highly dysfunctional family on critically-acclaimed and fan-favorite series "Arrested Development." This role relaunched his career, which has since included roles in films like Juno, Up in the Air, and Horrible Bosses. Bateman won a Golden Globe for the role in 2005, and was nominated twice for an Emmy - in 2005 and 2013, after "Arrested Development" was revived on Netflix.
    1,275 votes
  • 5
    1,286 VOTES
    Betty White
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    Known for her treacly, two-faced matronly characters, Betty White rose to iconic status starting in the '60s. Bitingly hilarious in front of the camera, White was also recognized for her influence behind it – she the first woman ever to produce a TV sitcom and was the first woman to win an Emmy as a game show host.

    During the '70s, White enjoyed new levels of recognition after landing a role as a recurring character Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and her fame extended into the '80s with her now legendary role on "Golden Girls."

    Though she continued to turn up in minor roles during the '90s, it appeared for a while that Betty might finally be entering a reluctant dotage. Starting in the early '00s, however, her visibility began a gradual resurgence, culminating in her legendary appearance as a host of "Saturday Night Live" in 2010. Today, Betty remains a visible and beloved comedy icon and makes frequent, celebrated appearances in both film and television.
    1,286 votes
  • 6
    1,121 VOTES
    Joaquin Phoenix
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    Appropriately, Phoenix is one of few actors who has made comebacks into an art form of their own. Though he started off as a child actor, his burgeoning early career was derailed in 1993 by the notorious drug overdose death of his older brother, River Phoenix. The media frenzy surrounding the death was intense, and Joaquin (credited, at the time, as "Leaf Phoenix") withdrew for several years from the public eye.

    At age 15, Joaquin changed his name from "Leaf" back to "Joaquin" and returned to acting, landing a number of small supporting roles, and finally hitting the fame jackpot in 2000 for his role as Commodus in Ridley Scott's Gladiator. He continued to tackle weird and challenging material throughout the early 2000s, appearing in films like Quills, Hotel Rwanda, M. Knight Shyamalan's The Village, and the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.

     After checking into rehab in 2005, wrecking his car while intoxicated in 2006 (and being improbably rescued by legendary German director Werner Herzog), and a period of routinely bizarre public behavior, Phoenix has now returned seriously to acting. He has recently been critically recognized for his starring roles in P.T. Anderson's The Master, and in Spike Jonze's Her.
    1,121 votes