What the Hell Happened to Michelle Pfeiffer?

Michelle Pfeiffer was one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood.  She starred opposite Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Jack Nicholson.  The image of Pfeiffer cracking a whip as Catwoman is iconic.  And then, she disappeared for seveal years.  Recently, Pfeiffer has resurfaced.  But her days on the A-list appear to be behind her.

So, what the hell happened?


Pfeiffer started out as a pageant girl before moving into TV and movies.  Her first film was a 1980 comedy called Hollywood Knights.  But the first movie to really get her noticed was the 1982 musical sequel, Grease 2.  The original Grease had been a box office bonanza in 1978.  Expectations were sky high for the sequel.  The movie was expected to launch the careers of its stars as well as additional sequels.

Instead, Grease 2 bombed at the box office.  Critics compared it unfavorably to the original Grease – which they hated.  Future Grease sequels were abandoned and star Max Caufield’s career never recovered.  But Pfeiifer was singled out as the one good thing in Grease 2.


Having seen Grease 2, Brian DePalma refused to see Pfeiffer audition for Scarface.  However, he relented upon pressure from the film’s producer.  Pfeiffer was eventually cast in the role of Al Pacino’s cocaine-addicted trophy wife.

When Scarface opened, the reviews were largely negative.  Critics were put off by the film’s violence.  Although once again, Pfeiffer got mostly positive notices.  Scarface was a hit and has developed a large cult following over the years.

pfeiffer - into the night

Pfeiffer appeared in two movies in 1985.  The first was John Landis’ thriller/comedy Into The Night co-starring Jeff Goldblum.  Into the Night was loaded with cameo appearances from Landis’ Hollywood friends.  But the comedy was hit-and-miss.

Reviews were generally negative and the film didn’t do very well at the box office.  Once again, Pfeiffer was singled out for praise.


Pfeiffer also appeared in Richard Donner’s fantasy film, Ladyhawke.  Pfeiffer played a woman who had been cursed to transform into a hawk during the day.  Her lover, played by Rutger Hauer, was cursed to turn into a wolf at night.  Matther Broderick starred as a young theif tasked with breaking the curse and reuniting the couple.

Reviews were mostly positive.  Critics almost uniformly commented on Pfeiffer’s ethereal beauty.  But the movie was only modestly successful at the box office.


On TV, Pfeiffer appeared in an ABC Afterschool Special about the dangers of drunk driving titled One Too Many.

And yes, that is a young Val Kilmer as her co-star.  Kilmer was so taken with Pfieffer that he wrote a book of poems entitled My Eden After Burns that included poems inspired by the future Catwoman.  Pfeiffer was married to the director, Peter Horton at the time.

I believe a clip is in order.

pfeiffer  - sweet liberty

In 1986, Pfeiffer co-starred in Sweet Liberty.  Alan Alda wrote and directed the comedy about a Hollywood movie descending on a small town.   Critical reception was lukewarm.  And the box office performance was modest.  But once again, Pfeiffer got good reviews in a movie no one especially liked.


Pfeiffer’s big break finally came in 1987 with The Witches of Eastwick.  Pfeiffer played one of three women in a small New England town.  Their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious stranger played by Jack Nicholson who may or may not be the devil.

The movie was a showcase for Nicholson who hams it up in every scene.  Pfeiffer was actually the least famous of the three women at the time.  Co-stars Susan Sarandon and Cher were already established stars.

Witches of Eastwick got mixed reviews.  But it was a bona fide hit.

The success of Witches of Eastwick helped put Pfeiffer on the map.  Ironically, it was the first movie in some time for which Pfeiffer was not singled out for praise.  It was Nicholson’s movie.  The Witches were just window dressing.  But Pfeiffer held her own against Jack, Sarandon and Cher.  That counted for a lot.

Next: Tequila Sunrise and The Fabulous Baker Boys

Posted on October 7, 2011, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 135 Comments.

  1. i thought dark shaodws would be a hit it had her team up with burton but came up short. depp wasnt in the slump he was then dark shaodws was kind of the beginning of it. if keaton can make a comeback so can she


  2. I re-watched Frankie and Johnny the other day. The 1991 movie holds up surprisingly well and is probably a good representative of Garry Marshall’s better works. He does more with less here – however did this director let himself get lost in the NYE 40-star cast stuff? He does a really great job building the intensity at a nice slow pace, but of course he has Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer to help that along. For those who don’t care for his later performances, I think you’ll find Pacino is more understated as Johnny. There was critical drama at the time about how they were both too impossibly gorgeous to play the lead characters but I never thought this criticism made any sense. Some of the buzz came about because Kathy Bates wanted to reprise her Broadway role on film, and it’s understandable she was disappointed. But the movie works. Of course, I love Pacino and Pfeiffer anyway, so for me this is an easy sell.


    • It’s been a while since I have seen Frankie and Johnny. This may surprise you but I liked the movie. I just feel a little guilty about it.

      I agree that Frankie and Johnny is representative of Gary Marshall for better or worse. I am actually not a fan of Marshall. But as much as I would like to use the word “hack” I have to stop short. What Marshall excels at is taking the rough edges off of entertainment. He has said before that when he casts his leads, he casts pretty people he thinks the audience will want to see kiss. This worked very well for him when he turned a story about a prostitute into the fairy tale Pretty Woman. But most of the time, it’s less successful.

      I have seen local productions of Frankie and Johnny. In fact, I wrote a play that was my 20-something take on it. Mine involved a lot less nudity. But the actual play was about middle-aged people taking a last chance at something. The characters were flawed and not at all glamorous. Casting the most beautiful actors you can find is to completely miss the point of the play. A faithful adaptation would have starred Bates.

      Instead, Marshall takes away a lot of what made the stage play special. I still think there is some of the play’s DNA left in the movie and that is what raises it above the average Gary Marshall movie (along with a killer cast). But an adaptation of Frankie and Johnny could have been more than that.


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