15 Oscar-Winning Actors Whose Careers Have Dramatically Changed

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:26:35 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is a momentous achievement in every actor’s life. It’s the most coveted prize in the film industry, and when an actor snags this top honor, you expect it to help boost their career. A win should lead to more role offers and higher salaries, at the very least.

However, that’s not always the case. These Hollywood stars know all too well that it’s a lot harder to stay at the top than you could ever imagine. Here are 15 Oscar-winning actors whose careers dramatically changed — and not for the better — after their wins.

Mira Sorvino

Sorvino first began working in 1985 with small roles that helped build her acting portfolio. She got her breakthrough role as Linda in the 1995 comedy Mighty Aphrodite. Directed by Woody Allen, the film’s screenplay was inspired by the award-winning play Pygmalion. Allen also starred in the movie alongside Sorvino.

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As Allen's character searches for his intelligent adopted son’s biological mother, he finds Sorvino’s Linda, a ditzy but charming sex worker. For her portrayal of Linda, Sorvino took home the Oscar — and the Golden Globe — for Best Supporting Actress. Her career appeared to be on the rise, but what happened next for her?

Still Working Today

Sorvino was certainly a talented actress, but her career waned after the Oscar win. She booked new leading roles, but they weren’t big hits at the box office. Some of her films after Mighty Aphrodite included Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Mimic, Lulu on the Bridge and The Replacement Killers.

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Photo Courtesy: Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Since the '90s, Sorvino has done a variety of films, stretching across genres, from crime thrillers to faith-based movies. She has worked steadily since her career started but has never achieved the same success as her Oscar-winning role. The next actress on the list can certainly understand Sorvino’s plight, considering her career took a wild turn after her Oscar win.


Mo’Nique was the surprise winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for her role as Mary Lee Johnston in 2009's Precious. Before that time, the actress was known for her comedic roles in films like Phat Girlz and Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and, of course, her long-running television show, The Parkers.

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Photo Courtesy: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

However, in Lee Daniels' Precious, the comedienne really showed off her acting chops playing an abusive and dependent mother. It was a complete diversion from what audiences were used to from Mo-Nique, and she received a lot of recognition and numerous awards in addition to the Oscar. So, what made her career quickly fade after such acclaim?

On A Comeback Swing

Shortly after Precious, Mo’Nique mysteriously disappeared from the entertainment industry. She later claimed she was blackballed in the industry due to past experiences with Daniels, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. She popped back up again in 2014, starring in the drama Blackbird, which told the tale of a gay black teen in Mississippi struggling with his religion and sexuality.

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The actress also appeared as Ma Rainey in the 2015 TV biopic Bessie, earning quite a few award nominations. She also starred in the 2016 holiday film Almost Christmas alongside Danny Glover, Kimberly Elise and Gabrielle Union, so she seems to be rebuilding her career. The next actor is attempting to do the same, although it’s not yet clear if he will succeed.

Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci is mostly known for his criminal roles. His first film in 1976 was the low-budget thriller The Death Collector. That film led to lucrative working relationships with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Pesci’s role in Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1981) earned him his first Academy Award nomination.

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However, it was Pesci’s portrayal of Tommy DeVito in the 1991 mob story Goodfellas that won him the coveted award for Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately, it can be hard to shake an iconic role like DeVito, and actors risk being "typecasted," potentially impacting their ability to win other roles. Since that time, Pesci hasn't landed another critically acclaimed role.

Enjoying Semi-Retirement

Pesci went on to act in popular films like Home Alone and Home Alone 2 as well as Lethal Weapon 2, 3 and 4. Unfortunately, none of these roles — though popular — led to additional awards or nominations. The actor officially retired from the industry in 2009, although he occasionally pops up for short gigs, such as his role in the 2010 drama Love Ranch with Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston.

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Pesci will also reunite with some familiar faces in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, which also stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The film is set for a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, and will be available for streaming on Netflix shortly after on November 27. This next actress had a long break from Hollywood after her Oscar win, but now she is coming back strong.

Linda Hunt

Linda Hunt made her film debut as Mrs. Oxheart in the much-loved '80s hit Popeye. However, she really stole the show in the 1982 film The Year of Living Dangerously. She starred as a dwarf photographer named Billy Kwan, alongside Mel Gibson playing a reporter covering political unrest in Indonesia.

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The gender-fluid role earned Hunt an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first person to win an Academy Award for portraying a character of the opposite sex. She continued working after that but in small supporting roles or in smaller films that didn’t earn the Academy's attention.

Recognize That Voice?

Since 1982, Hunt has steadily worked under the radar. Due to her distinctive accent, she has done a lot of voiceover work. Disney fans may know her as the voice of Grandmother Willow in the 1995 film Pocahontas and its direct-to-video sequel, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.

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She has had small appearances in movies like Dune, Kindergarten Cop and Stranger Than Fiction. One of her most recent roles is Henrietta "Hetty" Lange on the CBS television series NCIS: Los Angeles. Although she won two Teen Choice Awards for the role, she hasn’t won any other noteworthy accolades. Moving on to the next actress, she once made quite a splash in Hollywood, but where has she been since 2001?.

Jennifer Connelly

Jennifer Connelly has enjoyed a long career as an actress, stretching all the way back to 1984. Most people know her best for her role in the critically-acclaimed 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, alongside Russell Crowe. She played Alicia Nash, the wife of Nobel Laureate John Nash, who develops paranoid schizophrenia during the course of his life.

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The role earned Connelly the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress the following year — the film also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It seemed like the sky was the limit for this actress, but her roles afterward paled in comparison.

In And Out, But Still Working

After a few small roles in 2003 in Hulk and House of Sand and Fog, Connelly took a two-year hiatus from the film industry. She reappeared in the mid-2000s, starring in less successful films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, He's Just Not That Into You, Noah and the unfavorably reviewed American Pastoral.

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Most recently, Connelly has had roles in the high-grossing films Spider-Man: Homecoming and Alita: Battle Angel. However, her roles were quite small, certainly not enough to make another big splash in the industry. This next actor has had a little more luck in his career than Connelly — but not by much.

Adrien Brody

Although he had several roles before it, Adrien Brody really shined in Roman Polanski's 2002 drama The Pianist. He portrayed Wladyslaw Szpilman, a real-life Jewish musician who miraculously survived the Holocaust during World War II and went on to become an accomplished pianist.

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The film earned Brody an Oscar for Best Actor at the age of 29, making him the youngest actor to win in that category. The critically-acclaimed film also won Oscars for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay in addition to other accolades. Although the well-received role opened the door for other opportunities, his work throughout the rest of the 2000s didn't quite measure up, according to critics.

Still Getting Good Attention

Other films Brody starred in during the 2000s, including King Kong, The Village and Cadillac Records, were financial successes at the box office, but they received little attention from critics, and Brody didn't personally win any awards. However, some years later, things took a turn for the better. In 2014, he worked with Wes Anderson on the Academy-Award winning flick The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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He also received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or in a Movie for his starring role in The History Channel miniseries Houdini, and he recently appeared in the fourth season of BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders. Brody's career is picking up steam again, much like the next actor whose career dipped for a bit, only to return and make a killing.

Cuba Gooding, Jr.

In 1991, Cuba Gooding, Jr. earned his first major role in John Singleton's crime drama Boyz 'n the Hood. However, recognition of his talent went global with his role as wide receiver Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise. Gooding's classic mantra from the movie — "Show me the money!" — is still quoted by fans regularly.

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Gooding won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role in 1997, astonishing fans with his incredible acceptance speech. Of course, the actor attempted to capitalize on his major win, hoping to earn more leading roles. While he did get more starring roles, his films were very hit and miss, with some films seen as detrimental to his career.

Major TV Roles

After 1997, Gooding appeared in films across several genres, including drama and comedy. Movies like Zoolander, Rat Race, Radio, Boat Trip, Life of a King and Selma had some success, while others like Snow Dogs and Daddy Day Camp were complete flops. In fact, Gooding has been nominated multiple times for Razzies — the parody award show for low-performing movies and actors.

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However, Gooding's career is slowly but surely rising again. He garnered critical acclaim for his role as the notorious O.J. Simpson in the anthology TV series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and he co-starred on the sixth season of the hit FX series American Horror Story, Roanoke. This next actress rose to stardom quickly but has had some trouble earning acclaim for her acting in recent years.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis has been a fixture in the movie industry since 1978. Although she has appeared in many great films, it was her role as Muriel Pritchett in the 1988 film The Accidental Tourist that really captivated critics and audiences alike. She received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for that role.

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The Oscar win afforded the actress other great acting opportunities, including 1991's Thelma and Louise, alongside Susan Sarandon. Her role as Thelma earned Davis an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but that was the last time she was nominated by the Academy. So, where did her career ultimately lead her?

High-Profile Guest Star

After her big win at the Oscars, Davis starred in films like A League of Their Own, Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight. However, in the 2000s, her star power began to fade. She tried her hand at her own television show, The Geena Davis Show, but it only aired for one season before being canceled. She also went on to appear in smaller roles in films like the Stuart Little trilogy, Accidents Happen and In a World.

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She seemed to be making a comeback with her starring role in the 2005 ABC drama Commander in Chief, but the show was canceled before the season ended due to low ratings. She has had a few recurring roles on television, including Grey's Anatomy and GLOW. The next actor on this list has also kept a low profile with his latest


Chris Cooper

Before making his film debut in 1987's Matewan, Chris Cooper spent 12 years honing his craft on the stage with small theater groups. An incredible opportunity presented itself with his role as a homophobic Marine Corps colonel in 1999's Oscar-winning American Beauty.

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A few years later, Cooper won an Oscar of his own for Best Supporting Actor for his character, John Laroche, in Adaptation. He also won a Golden Globe award for the role and was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild award as well. It appeared that Cooper was only beginning his career. However, the momentum began to slow. What happened?

A Big Upcoming Role

Since his Oscar win in 2003, Cooper's career has calmed down. He has appeared in a few films, including Ben Affleck’s The Company Men and Live by Night as well as The Muppets and August: Osage County.

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He has also been in a variety of plays on Broadway and even had a voiceover role as Smokey in the Disney-Pixar film Cars 3. Fans of Cooper were excited to hear that he will appear in the 2019 reboot of the beloved film Little Women. The next actress on this list had the acting chops but never catapulted to A-list status after her Oscar win.

Mercedes Ruehl

Mercedes Ruehl made an impact in the 1991 comedy-drama film The Fisher King, directed by Terry Gilliam. The story revolves around a suicidal radio shock jock (Jeff Bridges) who tries to find redemption by helping a homeless man (Robin Williams) he inadvertently hurt.

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Ruehl played Bridges' girlfriend, who tried to support her man's journey to redemption but struggled a great deal along the way. She was named Best Supporting Actress for her performance at the 1991 Academy Awards. The Oscar win made Ruehl a popular name at the time, but her subsequent roles never seemed to garner the same attention from critics or fans.

At Risk Of Typecasting

After taking home the Oscar for The Fisher King, Ruehl appeared more and more in "mom roles" in lower-budget films and television. Although she was praised for her performances in major films Lost in Yonkers and The Minus Man, the movies didn’t perform well.

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She has had a few guest spots on various TV shows, including Law & Order, Psych, Two Broke Girls and Power, and she has also done some work on and off-Broadway. Her next role will be a supporting one in Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. The next actress is a legendary name in music, but has she been able to keep up in the acting world?


Cher is a household name in the music industry, but she was once a big name in film as well. In the late 1970s and 1980s, she had several impressive roles and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1984 for her role in Silkwood. She ultimately took home the Oscar for Best Actress in 1987 for her work in Moonstruck.

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Cher played Loretta Castorini, a Brooklyn bookkeeper who falls in love with the brother of the man she's supposed to marry. The film, which also starred Nicholas Cage, was a huge hit, but her films after that didn't do as well. See what happened to her acting career next.

Pivoting Back To Music

After Moonstruck, Cher went on to star in other films, including Suspect, Mermaids, Faithful and Burlesque. Unfortunately, those films did not do as well at the box office, but Cher always had her music to fall back on.

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She took some time to tour and perform, including a two-year, 102-show concert residency at both the Park Theater at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and The Theater at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Most recently, Cher appeared on the big screen once again, starring in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which was a box office success. Unfortunately, this next actress hasn't had the benefit of a multifaceted career.

Tatum O'Neal

Tatum O'Neal is a history-making actress. After her work in the 1973 comedy Paper Moon, she became the youngest performer to ever win an Oscar. The actress took home the award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the film, alongside her father, Ryan O’Neal. She was only 10 at the time, but she impressed fans with her intelligence and maturity on-screen.

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Her work as a child star seemed solid, but it's often difficult for kids to transition to adult stardom with top roles. O'Neal, unfortunately, had to learn that lesson the hard way when she tried to make that transition herself.

Never Quite Matched Her Early Success

Three years after Paper Moon, O'Neal struck gold again with her second movie, The Bad News Bears. However, as she got older, her films didn't hit the mark, and her roles in films like Circle of Two and Little Darlings were not well received. She made small appearances in movies like The Runaways and This Is 40 and recently appeared in the Christian film God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

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O’Neal has also had a few guest spots on various television shows and movies over the years, including Criminal Minds and Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal. She briefly had a reality TV show with her dad called Ryan & Tatum: The O'Neals, in which she attempted to repair her relationship with her father.

Sally Field

Sally Field is a renowned actress in the industry. Early in her career, she received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in Norma Rae (1979). She later won another Oscar for her role in Places in the Heart. Those huge wins opened the door for popular blockbusters like Steel Magnolias, Mrs. Doubtfire and Forrest Gump.

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However, her career took a shift in the mid-90s. She still appears in projects from time to time, but her career has waned in recent years.

Still A Classic

In the mid-90s, Field began to take on more TV roles. She starred in several TV movies and miniseries, including ER and Brothers & Sisters. She also had a big role in Lincoln as Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary.

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Her latest movie roles were in 2015's Hello, My Name Is Doris and 2017's Little Evil. Both received good reviews but did not garner major accolades. In recent years, Field has taken her talent to the stage, appearing in Broadway plays The Glass Menagerie and All My Sons. She still finds plenty of work, but the next actress on the list has bowed out of the industry for now.


Brenda Fricker

Brenda Fricker began her acting career in 1969 with small roles and slowly honed her craft. Her persistence and talent led her to a role in the emergency drama series Casualty. During that time, the actress also starred as Mrs. Brown in My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown.

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The critically-acclaimed movie centered around the story of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), an Irishman born with cerebral palsy who could only control his left foot. In 1990, Day-Lewis won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role, while Fricker won the award for Best Supporting Actress. What has she been doing since?


Leaving The Industry For Good

Unfortunately, Fricker's big role in My Left Foot did not help much with the growth of her career. She has had other roles in films, including Resurrection Man, War Bride and The Intended, and she appeared in a few made-for-TV movies and acted on the stage as well.

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None of these roles, however, led to any other major recognition. As of 2014, Fricker has retired from acting and does not plan to return. The same goes for the next (and last) actor on the list, who has experienced a long and varied Hollywood career.


Sean Connery

Sean Connery started acting in 1954 and was the first actor to portray literary character James Bond in a film. Before he was done, he starred in seven Bond films during his early career. However, it was decades later when he received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Jimmy Malone in the 1987 American gangster movie The Untouchables.

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The film followed a team of agents looking to take down notorious crime kingpin Al Capone in the Prohibition era. Connery's role in the film and subsequent Oscar win brought him new roles in the 1990s, but his star began to fade shortly after that.


Enjoying Retirement

Throughout the 1990s, Connery continued to act in films like First Knight, The Rock and Entrapment. However, at the turn of the millennium, Connery’s career slowed down. His last major role was in the 2003 film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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He also did voiceover work for the James Bond 007: From Russia with Love video game. The actor's last project was in 2012 as a voice actor for the titular character in the animated film Sir Billi. Like Fricker, Connery has currently retired from the industry after decades of great work.