Underrated Movies Starring A Flash-In-The-Pan Movie Star

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Vote up the movies that gave a flash-in-the-pan star a chance to shine.

The term "flash-in-the-pan" has a negative connotation, but it also accurately describes an occasional Hollywood phenomenon. Every so often, an actor becomes a big deal for a moment, only to have that moment quickly pass. This is not to say that it's their fault or that there's something inadequate about them. On the contrary, many of them are extremely talented and go on to do tons of fine work. They just don't hold on to that elusive quality of being a bankable above-the-title star. That this happens speaks far more to the overall difficulty of maintaining A-list status than it does to the abilities of the performers.

The following underrated movies indicate just how strong "flash-in-the-pan" actors can be. Each film shows the actor in a good light, giving a terrific performance in a compelling story. The reasons these films either didn't get enough notice or saw their popularity fade are varied. Regardless, they are entertaining enough to merit a rediscovery. It can be easy to mock a performer for not achieving or holding on to superstar status. Take a look at these movies, though, and you'll be reminded that skill and creativity far outweigh box-office performance. 


  • You couldn't ask for a bigger breakout than Alicia Silverstone had. Clueless, the 1995 teen comedy in which she plays fashion-obsessed Los Angeles teen Cher Horowitz, was a huge hit and has gone on to become a certified teen classic. Her performance is charming, intelligent, and deeply funny. Imagining anyone else in that role is impossible. Silverstone became the proverbial Next Big Thing, but had trouble finding a character that connected with audiences the way Cher did. The actress tried to take on a more mature role with the self-produced Excess Baggage, but that proved to be a commercial flop. Playing Batgirl seemed like a smart idea, until Batman & Robin became the most widely derided Dark Knight movie of them all. 

    The irony is that Silverstone did lots of great work nonetheless. Blast from the Past is a perfect example. This 1999 comedy stars Brendan Fraser as Adam, a guy who was locked into an underground fallout shelter since he was a child. Freed decades later, he has to learn to adapt to a world that's very foreign to him. Silverstone is appealing as Eve, the pretty-but-uptight baseball card expert who falls in love with Adam, helping him acclimate to life above ground. Perhaps because the premise was slightly offbeat, the studio had a hard time selling the movie to mass audiences, despite two big-name stars in the leading roles. The predicaments Adam and Eve (get it?) find themselves in are often very funny, and Blast from the Past has some keen insights into how America changed between the '60s and the '90s. 

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  • Pauly Shore's career as a comedian hit new heights when he became an MTV VJ. He was often assigned to cover things like the network's spring break festivities. His surfer dude personality fit in well with that. Goofy humor, including frequently referring to himself as "the Weasel," made him a fan favorite for the five years he worked for MTV. Shore was so popular that the movies quickly came calling. A tendency to essentially play himself caused his career as a leading man to be short-lived, however. He's no different in Son-in-Law than he is in Jury Duty or In the Army Now

    His first notable role - and biggest hit - came with 1992's Encino Man, an unrepentantly silly comedy about two guys (Shore and Sean Astin) who discover a caveman (Brendan Fraser) encased in ice. They thaw him out, then watch as he attempts to incorporate himself into modern society. Few people would call Encino Man a "good" movie, but it's definitely built up a cult audience over the years. The unlikely combination of actors mixes with lowbrow social satire to create a picture that is quintessentially '90s. In fact, the movie's cult following stretches to unexpected places. It's been parodied on South Park and gets a hilarious shout-out in the 2022 horror movie Barbarians

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  • Christopher Mintz-Plasse came to the world's attention playing "McLovin," the appealingly obnoxious cohort of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in Superbad. The way he embodied that intentionally annoying character was hilarious. In fact, he stole every single scene he was in. The actor went on to make a few more comedies with the Judd Apatow crew, did some voice work in the animated How to Train Your Dragon series, and even had a small role in the Oscar-nominated Promising Young Woman. Despite working consistently, nothing Mintz-Plasse did after Superbad had the same impact that McLovin did, although that's not his fault. How does anything ever measure up when your first character is that iconic? Just as Henry Winkler will always be Fonzie and Michael Richards will always be Kramer, Mintz-Plasse will always be McLovin. 

    One of the actor's better roles came in the comedy Role Models. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play Danny and Wheeler, two energy drink salesmen who, after being arrested, are forced to take part in a Big Brothers-type mentoring program for teenagers. Mintz-Plasse is hysterical as Augie, an alienated teen who finds acceptance in a live-action role-playing group. Directed by David Wain, Role Models has all the raunchy R-rated comedy you'd expect given the cast members, but there's also a surprisingly compassionate spirit to the story. Yes, it's obvious that Danny and Wheeler will become better men through their journey, but the quirky way that happens and the depth with which the movie explores it may catch you off-guard. The movie is a tribute to the kids who are different.

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  • Taylor Kitsch's good luck quickly turned to bad luck. In 2012, he starred in two supposedly can't-miss blockbusters that somehow missed anyway. John Carter became one of the most notoriously expensive box-office bombs ever. Battleship, meanwhile, never managed to convince audiences to look past its board game origins and give it a shot. The actor wasn't bad in either picture. They just failed to connect the way they were designed to.

    Another movie that didn't fare well at the box office - but which is much better than John Carter and Battleship - is Only the Brave. It's based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of determined men trained to fight wildfires without water. Kitsch is one of them, along with Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, and James Badge Dale. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the movie goes into fascinating detail about how these guys do their job, and also about the perils they face. There's a deeply emotional factor here, too, as the Hotshots face a terrible tragedy during one of their attempts to control a raging wildfire. Only the Brave gives you an appreciation for the heroism of people who take on this line of work.

  • Tom Hulce played the title character in Amadeus, but co-star F. Murray Abraham is the one who got the lion's share of the attention. His Oscar win helped on that count. Nonetheless, Abraham's performance wouldn't have made the same impact without Hulce's brilliantly unhinged work as the titular composer. That role came after Hulce's turn in the box-office blockbuster National Lampoon's Animal House, establishing him as an actor to watch.

    Hulce had another hit in 1989. He was in the ensemble cast of Ron Howard's Parenthood, playing Larry, the black sheep of the Buckman family. He's perpetually wrapped up in get-rich-quick schemes that only put him further in debt. Larry owes a lot of money to some bookies, and has a young son he's not prepared to be a good role model for. Parenthood did very well at the box office and later spawned a television spin-off that, frankly, had nothing to do with the movie. Hulce's fine work in it tends to be overshadowed, though. People remember how hilarious Steve Martin is, the early roles from Keanu Reeves and Joaquin Phoenix, and the story's smart insights into the challenges of raising children. What Hulce does in his supporting role deserves to be appreciated. He expertly captures the vibe of that perpetual screw-up every family has. 

  • Napoleon Dynamite was the most unlikely hit imaginable. The movie, which made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival, was acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures, which gave it a nationwide theatrical release, despite a cast of relative unknowns. Bolstered by heavy promotion on MTV, audiences took a chance on this extremely quirky comedy about a high school weirdo (played by Jon Heder) who tries to help his equally odd best friend become class president. They liked what they saw. When all was said and done, the film earned $46 million worldwide on a budget of just $400,000.

    Suddenly, Heder was a star and started popping up in studio movies left and right. None of them gave him a role quite as juicy as Napoleon, but 2007's Blades of Glory came close. He plays a disgraced figure skater forced to team up with his nemesis in order to have a shot at the World Championship. The whole film is a gloriously goofy spoof on the world of competitive skating. Blades of Glory was fairly big at the time of release, yet it hasn't maintained the same ongoing appeal that some of Ferrell's other pictures, such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights, have. It's every bit as funny as those favorites, though, and Heder proves he can stand toe-to-toe with a comedian of Ferrell's stature. Filmmakers may not have known how to take full advantage of Heder's gift for making oddballs lovable, but this movie utilizes him well. 

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