34 Promising Stars Whose Fame Fizzled Too Soon

By Jishnu B

Not everything in Hollywood is eternal. Some actors make their film debut and almost immediately become household names. Fans and critics alike expect to see them in big-budget films for the next few decades. However, if there’s one thing Hollywood truly adores, “it’s the next big name”. Although we have established stars such as Robert Downey Jr, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Cumberbatch, people are always curious as to who the next big thing will be. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and after achieving significant success, some actors struggle to maintain that level of fame. Today, we’ll look at some of the most prominent rising stars that failed to secure a permanent place in Hollywood.

Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning started her career in Hollywood when she was only 7 years old. She became a well-established actress soon after starring in I am Sam as Lucy Dawson. She made a name for herself as the youngest nominee in SAG history. She was only 8-years old at the time!

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Fanning is a true prodigy; we were still learning algebra when we were 8! However, child actors sometimes find difficulty transitioning to more mature roles as they age. That’s what exactly happened to her and was made apparent in her subpar performance in The Runaways.

Armie Hammer

Armie Hammer is one of those actors who had a lot of potential as a lead actor and all thanks to his charm and extremely good looks. Hammer rose to prominence as a result of his performance in The Social Network.

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Although he’s been nominated for awards as recently as 2017, it appears that his days as a lead actor are over, as he seems to be best suited for supporting roles. Combined with a slew of allegations and scandals, he’s not likely to make it big any time soon.

Megan Fox

After being cast in the Transformers franchise back in 2007, Megan Fox was hailed as a sex symbol and was said to rule the hearts of many. Despite being a sidekick, her extremely good looks drew a lot of attention.

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However, things took a turn for the worse when she had a public spat with Transformers director Michael Bay. She was dropped from the third film, and the fallout tanked her chances of landing a major role in Hollywood. The two have since reconciled, but she hasn’t regained the same fame.

Carrie-Anne Moss

Carrie-Anne Moss rose to fame when she appeared in the 1999 thriller The Matrix. The film grossed $460 million worldwide and was regarded as a cultural phenomenon. Since she was a lead in the film, it catapulted the actress to international recognition.

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However, after the success of the Matrix trilogy, Carrie-Anne Moss couldn’t score a movie as critically acclaimed as the latter one. Although the trilogy was a watershed moment in her career, it was the only one for which she will be remembered as an actress.

Sam Worthington

In 2009, Avatar smashed the box office, quickly rising to the ranks as the second-highest grossing film of all time. With the success, it was expected that Sam Worthington, who played the lead role, would have a solid career in Hollywood.

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Although his films were quite memorable, his performances were not deemed so. Thus, Worthington could not establish a staple name in Hollywood. However, there’s some good news on the horizon as Sam Worthington is anticipated to star in all four Avatar sequels. 

Chad Michael Murray

Chad Michael Murray’s lead role as Lucas Scott on the 2003 series One Tree Hill was sure to guarantee is success. He was the show’s standout performer. His good looks, combined with his rising popularity, should have put him on the Hollywood map.

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However, the problem with teen drama heartthrobs is that they only appeal to a specific generation at the time. As the fan base aged, Hollywood lost interest in him. He has since landed contracts endorsing brands such as MasterCard, Cingular Wireless, KMart, and the Chevy Cobalt.

Shailene Woodley

For new actors, starring in a hit film with a well-known star could be the gateway to success. Shailene Woodley co-starred with George Clooney in The Descendants in 2011, and her future couldn’t look any brighter. Nylon magazine even made note of the young upcoming actress.

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Her success was the talk of the town, and she was often compared to Jennifer Lawrence. Unfortunately, Hunger Games overshadowed Divergent, with the latter moving to TV after poor box office numbers. Woodley was uncomfortable with the transition from the big screen to television, so she left the franchise.

Mischa Barton

Mischa Barton rose to prominence after starring as Marissa Cooper in the teen drama The O.C. She won several Teen Choice Awards for her role, and was also named the “Next Big Thing” by Glamour magazine and the “It Girl” of 2003 by Entertainment Weekly.

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After leaving the show in season three, it was assumed she would make the transition to movie stardom. However, that did not happen because she was struggling to get a role. It didn’t help that she was caught up in gossip.

Phoebe Cates

Prior to becoming an actress, Phoebe Cates worked as a model. She made her acting debut in the film Paradise. Cates is also a singer. She performed Paradise‘s main theme song! She continued to land more roles following the movie’s release.

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She gained a cult following for a particular bikini-based scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It was even dubbed “the most memorable bikini-drop in film history” by Rolling Stone magazine. Despite attracting positive attention from the audience, she was unable to maintain it in the long run. Her career quickly faded after the 1980s.

Emile Hirsch

Emile Hirsch garnered heaps of critical acclaim in the early stages of his career following his first film appearance in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys in 2002. Hirsch made his breakthrough in 2007 with his performance in Into the Wild and was nominated for best actor by the Screen Actors Guild for the role.

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Following the massive success of Into The Wild, he became something of a hipster icon. In 2008, he starred the Wachowski sister’s Speed Racer. The movie however failed to propel his career to the next stage. Hirsch then took on minor roles in low-profile projects.

Jai Courtney

Australian actor Jai Courtney’s first gig was in the short Boys Grammar. He had some roles in TV shows such as the Australian series Packed to the Rafters in 2008, though he managed to land some more Hollywood films, such as Divergent.

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As we said before, appearing in major films starring big-name actors can be just the thing to boost someone’s career. Courtney acted alongside Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis. Despite acting in major films, most moviegoers would have a hard time recognizing the actor.

Julia Ormond

British mini-series Traffik earned Julia Ormond an opportunity to make it big in future roles. Her stellar performance in Temple Grandin earned her an Emmy nomation for Outstanding Supporting Actress. Her success led to many movie roles, both on TV and the big screen.

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Following her portrayal of the titular character in the film Sabrina, many movie critics predicted that she would take the big screen by storm. Unfortunately, she was only cast as the “second girl” in her next films. She also couldn’t score a big role and opted to do mini roles.

Anne Heche

Soap operas might not be to everyone’s taste, but roles in such shows could be the opportunity for new actors. Anne Celeste Hesche’s performance in Another World got her name out there, landing her a role in Gracie’s Choice, for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

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Anne Heche’s career suffered a significant decline following her famous relationship with comedian Ellen DeGeneres. Her reputation suffered further damage when it was revealed that she was suffering from a mental illness. Unfortunately, Hollywood is not kind in how they treat those with mental illnesses, and her carreer declined.

Taylor Lautner

Taylor Lautner was the talk of the town after he starred in the Twilight saga. Twilight was a cultural phenomenon in the late aughts and early 2010s, and we all remember arguing about team Edward vs team Jacob vividly. Taylor Lautner was a fan favorite and all thanks to his great physique and manly appeal.

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Lautner was making small TV appearances and doing commercials before New Moon hit the screen, and he became an instant teen idol after its release. Lautner failed to uphold his fame in the long run. In an effort to find new roles without being typecasted, his career took a big hit.

Fairuza Balk

Fairuza Balk had made a great impression during the 90s. She played the infamous corrupted witch in the craft and played a significant role in American History X. She even got a part in an Adam Sandler movie, which was the very definition of making it during the ’90s. 

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However, after the 90s she couldn’t land memorable roles like that anymore. Despite being a big name during the 1990s era, the 2000s killed her career and she had a hard time getting her A-list career on track, failing to get regular work ever since.

Thora Birch

Thora Birch co-starred in Ghost World with Scarlett Johansson in the 1990s, and both were prominent teen actresses at the time. Since then, both actresses have pursued different career paths. While Scarlett Johansson’s career lived up to the hype, Thora Birch’s wasn’t so. 

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Birch landed a major role in the 1998 drama American Beauty but failed to make an impression. She opted for smaller projects and artistic films due to her poor box office performances. Supposedly, she refused to take advice from her managers and failed to embrace the glamorous side of the movie industry, which nosedived her career.

Gemma Arterton

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s action movies. Gemma Arterton’s roles in films such as Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time earned her a spot in the limelight. She made a big impression St. Trinians, and was cast as a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace.

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Arterton continued to land big roles, even starring in the 2013 action-adventure Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. However, she was unable to advance to the next level of her career, and her most notable film as of late was the 2016 cult hit The Girl with All the Gifts.

Taylor Kitsch

Taylor Kitsch had some notable roles in some of the most popular TV shows and movies at the time, and he was expected to make a big name in the industry. Even Hollywood backed him up and wanted Kitsch to be the next big thing. However, following John Carter’s disastrous flop, his career took a downturn.

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He also appeared in the high-profile action film Battleship. However, according to critics, the film was a flop for them as well. His appearance in the critically acclaimed crime drama True Detective was insufficient to bring his career out of the shadows. Thus, once a promising rising star hit the rock bottom too soon.

Shiloh Fernandez

Shiloh Fernandez first appeared on TV in Cold Case. Soon after, he made it on the silver screen as Edgar in Interstate. He landed a role as a regular character on Jericho, though the series was canceled after only one season.

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Fernandez was a certified heartthrob who was widely expected to be the next superstar. He auditioned as Edward in Twilight, but the role went to Robert Pattinson. He’s still waiting for that big break that will slingshot his career to mainstream success.

Jeanne Tripplehorn

Jeanne Tripplehorn’s film career began in 1992 with her performance in Basic Instinct. Tripplehorn’s television career was cemented when she appeared in Big Love and Criminal Minds. She was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for her performance as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the 2009 HBO film Grey Gardens.

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She has appeared in a number of films that you may know, but many people are unfamiliar with her name. Despite her promising start, she was unable to obtain the coveted title of leading lady. She now prefers to play more supporting roles.

Lori Petty

Lori Petty co-starred with Richard Grieco in Booker, which got her name out there. In 1991, she landed a co-starring role with Keanu Reeves in Point Break. The American actress starred in A League of Their Own in 1992, alongside Tom Hanks, Madonna, and Geena Davis.

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Petty was cast as the titular character in the 1995 film Tank Girl. She also appeared in a number of other films, such as Free Willy. Now you can find her on Orange Is the New Black, but probably not a film role.

Lisa Kudrow

Friends made stars out of so many actors, including Lisa Kudrow. However, she did not receive the same amount of post-show attention as Jennifer Aniston did. She appeared in a few films, including Analyze This and The Comeback. However, these films failed to catch the attention of the audience.

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Once Friends ended, Kudrow dropped off as a household name. She’s still cashing in on the sitcom’s popularity, but it’s just not the same. Though her recent success in Web Therapy has given her a second wind and we are glad that she is given the spotlight that she deserves.

Katherine Heigl

Katherine Heigl was expected to be a big star, following her success in several rom-coms. Unfortunately, Heigl did not end up going where we all expected her to. There are several explanations for her lack of success, some of which, to be honest, are a little disheartening.

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She publicly declined to compete for an Emmy during her time on the hit series Grey’s Anatomy. That ended her role in the series entirely. Combined with on-set squabbles and sexist allegations, some found it hard to work with the actress.

Shannyn Sossamon

Shannyn Sossamon co-starred with Josh Hartnett in 40 Days 40 Nights.  She was depicted as the beautiful pixie dream girl and immediately won hearts after the release of the movie.  Sossamon even beat out Kate Hudson for a role in A Knight’s Tale.

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It seemed that the trajectory of her career was on the path of greatness. Unfortunately, her appearance in the box office flop The Order heavily contributed to the demise of her career. However, she used this as an opportunity to devote her time to motherhood. 

Skeet Ulrich

The groundbreaking horror film Scream served as a springboard for Skeet Ulrich to rise towards fame. He is known for roles in other films such as The Craft, and As Good as It Gets. The hunky teen from the infamous slasher film was on his way to becoming the latest new eye candy. 

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However, the actor’s fame did not last long, and his hot streak was extremely brief. His career suffered a setback when he suddenly stopped landing leasing roles and had to settle for mediocre television roles. Just like Shiloh Fernandez, the cancellation of Jericho tanked his career.

Clive Owen

Clive Owen was an upcoming adonis, similar to a more suave Colin Farrel. The actor was previously known for starring in action-packed films and critically acclaimed dramas. He then quickly transitioned into small projects. Owen went from being the next possible A-lister to barely being seen in an instant.

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He was even rumored to be taking over the James Bond franchise at one point. However, where Hollywood sees an actor and the direction in which the actor truly wants to go can be very different. Clive Owen eventually faded into obscurity.

Sean Young

Sean Young began her film career in 1980 with the film Jane Austen in Manhattan. However, you might know her better from her leading role in the classic science fiction film Blade Runner. This led to other films, such as Dune and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

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However, when she showed up at Tim Burton’s office dressed as Catwoman in an attempt to persuade him to cast her in Batman Returns, her fame turned to infamy. Young’s strange behavior in public during industry events exacerbated matters. She was even arrested and forced to leave an after-party for the 84th Academy Awards.

Stephen Dorff 

Stephen Dorff’s acting career began in the late 1980s. He started with small roles on popular TV shows such as Diff’rent Strokes, Roseanne, Blossom, and Married… with Children. In 1987, Dorff had his first major role in the horror film The Gate.

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Dorff was at all the parties and in all the magazines; all he needed was a big success to cement his stardom. Now, foul-mouthed as ever, he rails against the Hollywood industry, accusing it of having devolved into “a great contest.”

Linda Fiorentino

Linda Fiorentino’s first acting role came in 1985, cast as the lead in the coming-of-age film Vision Quest. Soon after, Fiorentino got critical acclaim for her performance in the action film Gotcha. Fiorentino’s acting career took off when she starred in the sci-fi comedy film Men in Black, for which she earned several awards.

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Fiorentino was unable to secure viable roles because she was rumored to be difficult to work with. Furthermore, she was already in her mid-30s when she began to garner attention. Unfortunately, once a female reaches a certain age in the Hollywood industry, they have a difficult time landing roles that are appropriate for their age.

Danny Masterson

Danny Masterson starred as Justin in Cybill in the early 1990s. Following his breakout performance in Cybill’s third and fourth seasons, he decided to leave the show. Later, he auditioned for a role in a show called Teenage Wasteland, the original name for That ’70s Show.

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Masterson’s role on That ’70s Show catapulted him to stardom. It allowed him to pursue other interests in between filming. Following the conclusion of the show, he appeared in a number of films and made guest appearances on TV shows. However, Masterson couldn’t become a household name in Hollywood.

Josh Lucas

Josh Lucas began acting in films and television shows at a young age when he was only 19. He moved to Hollywood just after graduating from high school. During his twenties, Lucas made appearances as a guest star in various TV shows.

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Lucas rose to prominence as a result of his roles in A Beautiful Mind and Sweet Home Alabama. However, none of those films succeeded in making him memorable on the big screen. Josh Lucas is currently starring in The Mysteries of Laura

Nick Stahl

Nick Stahl’s acting career began at an early age. He received praise for his performance in the 1993 film The Man Without a Face which he starred alongside Mel Gibson. In comparison to other child stars who fail to create an impression in adulthood, Stahl transitioned fairly well into his adult career.

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Following an incident at an adult film store in 2012, Stahl was arrested for indecent behavior. He was also arrested a year later for possessing methamphetamine. During an interview at Dallas Comic-Con, the actor stated that he was taking time to focus on family and being sober. Stahl intends to return soon to Hollywood.

Rick Moranis

During the 1980s, Canadian actor Rick Moranis rose to popularity on the comedy series Second City Television. He went on to star in a number of Hollywood films, including Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, Honey, and I Shrunk the Kids.

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Moranis decided to retire from acting in 1997 to devote his time to his two children as a widowed husband and single father. He hasn’t made an appearance since his long hiatus. He’s provided some voiceovers and attended fan events, but nothing seems to have persuaded him to make a Hollywood comeback.

Shelly Duvall

Shelly Duvall received rave reviews for her portrayal of a variety of eccentric roles throughout her career. During the 1970s, the actress came to the limelight in several Altman films, and her role in The Shining make her a household name.  Duvall even received a Cannes Film Festival Award and a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress.


She suddenly vanished without a trace, both from the big screen and the public eye, after her breakthrough performances. In November 2016, USA Today reported that she was battling a mental illness that had caused her to self-isolate. She even made an appearance on an episode of Dr. Phil and detailed her battle with mental illness.