With the 86th Academy Awards behind us, it makes me reflect on past winners. Some actors/actresses are guaranteed a yearly nomination for appearing in toothpaste commercials (see also: Meryl Streep), yet some actors disappear into obscurity within a year of winning the famed Oscar gold. Winning an Oscar in front of thousands of your acting peers and millions of TV viewers would be absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but for some, it is their final moment in the spotlight.
There may or may not be an Oscar curse. It really depends on the particular actor’s script choices immediately following the award that sets the path for continued stardom in Hollywood. While others suffer a steep decline from A-list to Dancing with the Stars.
For every mainstay like Daniel Day Lewis, there is a Jean Dujardin. I’m sure Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett have plenty of mileage left in their careers. As for Lupita Nyong’o, who’s to say? Jared Leto probably couldn’t care one way or another if he ever has a role in a movie like Dallas Buyers Club again.
Mira Sorvino hit the big time overnight in Woody Allen’s 1995 critical hit, Mighty Aphrodite. She went into awards season at the top of everyone’s list and easily won the Best Supporting Actress for her work. She managed to broaden her genre reach with comedy in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and in sci-fi thrillers with Mimic. Though, near the end of the ’90s, she disappeared. She has never been out of work, but the work she takes is sketchy at best.
In the early 2000’s, she went on to star in Wisegirls with Mariah Carey, TV thriller Covert One: The Hades Factor and the unbearable Civil War movie, Gods and Generals. This former Oscar winner also starred as Mrs. Claus in the TV movie, Finding Mrs. Claus.
Adrien Brody’s career problems are due more to perception than reality. He appears in a few films each year. Many of them are critical successes. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s in the Wes Anderson circle of friends. Soon after winning the Best Actor Oscar at the young age of 29, he went on to star in Shyamalan’s The Village. The Village hurt each actor because each great performance was overshadowed by the dividing twist. Soon after, he played the lead in King Kong and was criticized for not effectively playing an adventurous leading man-type well enough. He tried and failed to fix that in ‘Predators’ a few years later.
Even with great roles in Hollywoodland and The Brothers Bloom, he was still taking on an equal amount of throwaway movie projects like Giallo, High School, Splice and one of the worst “movies” of 2013, InAPPropriate Comedy. It’s been 11 years since his big Oscar win for The Pianist and it seems unlikely that he’ll ever return to that stage again. I’m still holding out hope that he’ll get his chance to play the Joker in one of the upcoming Batman reboots.
Now, moving on to the woman who Brody smooched when he won his award. Halle Berry won Best Actress for her performance in 2001’s Monster Ball. Berry got her start in the Spike Lee Joint, Jungle Fever. She went on to have a spotty career for the duration of the ’90s. I’d argue that her first blockbuster role came when she played Storm in 2000’s X-Men. Even though X2: X-Men United came after her Oscar win, she was the weakest acting link of the ensemble. She also played Bond girl Jinx Johnson in one of the worst Bond movies ever, Die Another Day. Her star was quickly on the decline and that was realized by the world when, in 2004, she starred in Catwoman.
She tried to revitalize her acting ability in 2012’s Cloud Atlas and was watchable in the suprisingly-not-terrible The Call, but then she goes on to star in Movie 43. This summer, she will continue to taint the X-Men franchise by starring in Days of Future Past. If anything, winning an Oscar only added a small blip of life to her inconsistent career.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
With early roles in Boyz in the Hood, A Few Good Men and Outbreak, Cuba Gooding Jr was on the fast track for success. Jerry Maguire cemented that success for approximately 15 minutes. His role was so fun and charismatic that there was almost nowhere for him to go but down. He did follow it up with a great role in As Good As it Gets, but his star dropped very quickly as he took any role offered to him. The less said about ‘Radio’ the better. Honestly, I’m not going to say anything about it.
I don’t know how one of the best up-and-comers in Hollywood went from Oscar winner to starring in Boat Trip and Norbit. I’d argue that he achieved success so young and thought his star power would give credibility to any movie he was involved with. He had a significant part in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. It could be a major step up for Cuba, even if I thought that movie paralleled Norbit in terms of quality. Gooding Jr. needs to ask Denzel Washington’s advice about which roles to take.
Poor Renee Zelwegger. She’s truly the Meg Ryan of our times. She went from an incredibly talented actress to a woman who is only known for her perpetually melting face. She is far from a one-hit wonder. She won several Golden Globes for her performances in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Chicago and Cold Mountain. She won Best Supporting Actress for Cold Mountain. Winning the Oscar signaled the end of her rise to the top.
After that point, she went on to star in a Bridget Jones sequel that no one cared about. Mediocre flicks like Appaloosa, New in Town and Leatherheads didn’t help either. Unlike the rest of the actors on this list, she has been on acting hiatus since 2010.