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

Over 900 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 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.

  • 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.

    447 votes
  • 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.

    763 votes
  • 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. 

    490 votes
  • Mia Wasikowska earned international fame after her breakout role as the title character in Tim Burton's 2010 Alice in Wonderland. Burton's story features a 19-year-old Alice falling back down the rabbit hole into the magical world of Wonderland. 

    Burton's innovative 3D live-action film crushed at the box office. It grossed over $1 billion globally. It also won three Academy Awards. 

    Wasikowska, who in 2010 also had a role in The Kids Are All Right, went on to co-star in bigger-budget movies like Crimson Peak. She reprised her role as Alice in the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass

    However, the Australian actress failed to become a huge Hollywood star. In 2019, she talked in an interview about how her outlook on the business has changed since her breakout role:

    [M]y perspective on ambition, determination, and pushing has changed in the past couple of years. I’ve done this job for 10 years all over the world. It’s a bit of a cliche but, after a while, it leaves you feeling hollow. I’m looking forward to being back in Sydney. I feel more of a pull to be in my own community where I can have consistency and friends because, although acting is a really awesome job, the perception is different from the reality. Unless you are able to work with the same people again, it is really lonely and a lot of upheaval.

    489 votes
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    580 VOTES

    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.

    580 votes
  • Hayden Christensen - ‘Attack of the Clones’/‘Revenge of the Sith’
    Photo: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones / 20th Century Fox

    Hayden Christensen beat out 1,500 actors to land the coveted role of young Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader, in Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The Canadian actor was 19 years old at the time. 

    Lucas's prequel trilogy amassed monster numbers at the box office. However, it failed to land the emotional punch of the original trilogy. Unfortunately, many called Christensen's performance “stiff,” and he “won” two Razzies for Worst Supporting Actor. 

    After Star Wars, the Canadian continued to work in smaller-budget movies like Factory Girl and direct-to-DVD fare like Virgin Territory. He also took time off from acting.

    During a 2022 interview, Christensen talked about the effect that taking time away from Hollywood had on his career: 

    You can't take years off and not have it affect your career. But I don’t know - in a weird, sort of destructive way, there was something appealing about that to me. There was something in the back of my head that was like, “If this time away is gonna be damaging to my career, then so be it. If I can come back afterward and claw my way back in, then maybe I'll feel like I earned it.”

    485 votes