13 Times Giant Hit Movies Did NOT Turn Their Stars Into Stars

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Vote up the actors who got totally overlooked in their own hit movies.

Most of the time, if an actor stars in a huge hit Hollywood movie, their career completely takes off. However, sometimes for various reasons, that doesn’t happen. Read about a few actors whose giant hit movies did not turn them into stars.

Avatar is the highest-grossing movie of all time. Yet Sam Worthington, the actor who played the hero/lead character, never quite reached A-list Hollywood status. Worthington has certainly had a very nice career (and will continue to star in all the future Avatar movies); he just never entered the rarified air of a Brad Pitt or a Tom Cruise.

There are varying reasons why that can happen. Perhaps in Worthington’s case, it’s because the real star of Avatar is its creator/writer/director/producer James Cameron and his innovative vision.


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    Ralph Macchio - 'The Karate Kid'

    Ralph Macchio was a young rising star in the early 1980s. He signed on to portray underdog Daniel LaRusso in 1984's sleeper hit The Karate Kid

    The martial arts story brought in over $91 million on its initial theater run and had kids all over the country acting out the movie's climactic, winning crane kick. It also spawned three additional movies. Macchio starred in two of three subsequent movies and became an '80s teen heartthrob.

    Macchio had some non-Karate Kid success with My Cousin Vinny. However, the actor only popped up here and there over the next several years, until he reprised his role of LaRusso on the YouTube Red channel series Cobra Kai. The show was eventually moved to Netflix and has delighted old Karate Kid fans thirsting for '80s-era nostalgia.

    In 2022, Macchio talked about why he never became a big star following the success of The Karate Kid

    If I’d been trying to grab that gold ring every chance, maybe I would have had more [jobs], but I couldn’t get to them because I was watching a baseball game back in my hometown. I wasn’t the biggest risk-taker, and I’m sure there were lost opportunities because of that. But also, maybe my caution helped me to stay grounded, so I’m at peace with the choices I made.

  • Director Joe Dante and writer Christopher Columbus brilliantly mix horror with comedy in 1984's Gremlins. The movie brought in over $163 million at the box office on just an $11 million budget. Fans loved reciting the movie's three rules for Gizmo: no water, no food after midnight, and no bright lights. In the mid-1980s, Gremlins were everywhere. Stuffed Gizmo dolls made millions. 

    Zach Galligan played the teenager in Gremlins who inadvertently releases mayhem on his small town. It was the actor's first big movie and his only major hit. Galligan has an impressive filmography filled with over 70 credits. However, many are B-movies/independent films. He also appeared in the Gremlins sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which was not a box-office hit. 

    During a 2014 interview, Galligan said his career never took off after Gremlins because he decided to take a break from Hollywood to attend Columbia University:

    Three years is a lifetime in Hollywood. If your career starts slipping in LA, you can really feel it. All of a sudden, the people that you were beating for a part start beating you.

  • Writer and director Mel Gibson's controversial 2004 biblical epic The Passion of the Christ details the 12 hours before Jesus's death. Despite the movie's mixed reviews and religious uproar, Gibson's drama raked in over $612 million worldwide on just a $30 million budget. 

    Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, felt that Gibson's movie “could fuel hatred, bigotry, and antisemitism.” More specifically that the film could incite the notion that Jews were the ones to blame for the death of Jesus. Additionally, The Passion of the Christ was graphically violent.

    Jim Caviezel played Jesus Christ in the movie. It was not his first film, but it was his most high-profile. Gibson knew that his passion project would be controversial and allegedly warned Caviezel that it could hurt his career. 

    In 2011, Caviezel spoke at the First Baptist Church of Orlando:

    He (Gibson) said, “You'll never work in this town again.” I told him, “We all have to embrace our crosses…” I told him, “Mel, this is what I believe. We all have a cross to carry. I have to carry my own cross. If we don't carry our crosses, we are going to be crushed under the weight of it. So let's go and do it.” And we began with the film.

    Caviezel does believe that the movie did, in fact, hurt his film career.

  • James Cameron’s Avatar grossed almost $3 billion at the worldwide box office. As of 2022, it is the highest-grossing movie ever made. Cameron has mapped out four additional sequels.

    One would automatically assume that the lead character in the highest-grossing film of all time would become a huge star. That hasn’t been the case for Sam Worthington, who played disabled Marine Jake Sully in the 2009 film.

    Worthington has gone on to have a nice career with co-starring roles in Terminator Salvation, Clash of the Titans, and Hacksaw Ridge. However, the Australian actor never quite made it into A-list territory and many of his films failed to be box-office successes.

    Perhaps it’s because Avatar is not successful due to the actors in the movie. The star of Avatar is James Cameron’s vision. It is one of the most beautifully shot films ever made, with innovative special effects that have never been seen before. 

    Worthington reprised his role in 2022's smash sequel Avatar: The Way of Water, and is signed onto multiple additional installments.

  • Guillermo del Toro mashes science fiction and monsters in his 2013 blockbuster Pacific Rim. Charlie Hunnam plays the everyman lead Raleigh Becket, a down-and-out retired pilot who is called back into duty to fight monster sea creatures and save the world. 

    Pacific Rim failed to smash at the American box office. However, it was a huge success internationally and ultimately grossed over $411 million. The sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, hit the big screen in 2018. Hunnam did not appear in the follow-up.

    Most Americans know Hunnam from his work as outlaw motorcycle club president Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy. The FX series aired from 2008 - 2014. While Hunnam was a big-time fan favorite on Sons of Anarchy, his film career has not been quite as successful. 

    The British actor has starred in several big-budget films like The Lost City of Z and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that failed to draw a large audience or impress critics. 

  • Warner Bros. released Superman Returns in 2006. Bryan Singer's DC comic installment starred the relatively unknown Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel. The film grossed over $391 million worldwide. Critics and fans were especially impressed with Singer's visual effects. However, the movie's 2-hour-and-34-minute run-time and super seriousness were generally frowned upon. In the end, the film didn't perform well enough financially for Singer's planned sequel to get the greenlight. 

    Routh admitted to being crushed that the sequel got canned. In a 2020 interview, he said he thinks the reason why he never became a big Hollywood star had to do with his ego:

    Looking back, I can go, “It took way too long to get to this point. But finally, I've achieved that level up as far as balance." My next phase was realizing what I had messed up, where I had screwed up… I had built up this ego of who I was… I wasn't given what I thought I had earned…

    In 2014, he found some small-screen success back in the DC world in the CW's Arrowverse.