15 Oscar-Winning Actors Whose Careers Have Dramatically Changed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.