What the Hell Happened to Wesley Snipes?

At the top of his career, Wesley Snipes was an A-list action star who could also cross-over into comedy and drama as he saw fit.  Few actors can claim the kind of cross-genre success Snipes enjoyed.  But all that ended amid very public legal entanglements that ultimately landed Snipes in jail with a three year sentence for failing to file tax returns.

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: No matter what anyone else tells you, you still need to file your taxes.

Snipes made his screen debut opposite future co-star Woody Harrelson in the 1986 Goldie Hawn football comedy, Wildcats.  Amazingly, Wildcats was also Harrelson’s big screen debut.  Years later, the two would reunite as box office stars for two more films.  But here, they were both unkowns.

Wildcats is your typical Goldie Hawn comedy following the formula that was successful with Private Benjamin to lesser results.  Instead of the army, Wildacts finds plucky Hawn as the unlikely coach of an inner city high school football team.

No one expects a movie like Wildcats to be good.  And it wasn’t.  It was the kind of bland, harmless comedy Hawn was known for in those days.  Her daughter, Kate Hudson, has carried on the torch with similarly formulaic romantic comedies in this decade.

Later that year, Snipes followed up Wildcats with another sports movie.  In Streets of Gold, Snipes played a boxer coached by Klaus Maria Brandauer.  At the time of the movie’s release, Brandauer was the star.  But later video releases would emphasize Snipes’ supporting role.

Meanwhile (yes, we are still in 1986!) Snipes was also paying his dues on TV.  Most notably, he played a pimp on the 80′s TV sensation, Miami Vice.  Around this time, Snipes was also in consideration for the role of Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Proving that sometimes things work out for the best, the role ultimately went to LeVar Burton.

The following year, he played another gangster opposite Michael Jackson in the Bad video…

This is easily the most mis-matched gang fight on all time.  And yet, Jackson triumphs with his superior cotch-grabs.  Sham-on!  Famously, this video was directed by Martin Scorsese!  I guess Robert DeNiro was busy that day.

It is nothing short of a miracle that Snipes ever again played a tough guy after having both Michael Jackson’s finger and his junk thrust at him that many times.

Not surprisingly, Snipes took 1988 off presumably to recover from the dressing down Michael Jackson gave him.  He returned to sports films with 1989′s baseball comedy, Major League.

The movie starred Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen.  It was also Rene Russo’s movie debut.  Snipes played a showy centerfielder, Willie Mays Hayes.  It was a small role, but it allowed Snipes to make the most of his screen time.

The movie was a hit and allowed Snipes to move on to bigger and better things.  A sequel was released in 1994.  But Snipes declined to return to the role that helped make him a star.  He was replaced by Omar Epps.

Snipes appeared in two films in 1990.  He had a small role in the Christopher Walken crime thriller, King of New York.  But more importantly, he finally got to work with director Spike Lee after having turned down a small role in Do the Right Thing to make Major League.

Mo Better Blues is a period drama about a jazz musician played by Denzel Washington.  Snipes played another grand-stander as Washington’s band-mate and sometime rival, Shadow Henderson.

Mo Better came at a time when Spike Lee was on a roll commercially if not creatively.  While not a critical darling like Do the Right Thing, Mo Better was a hit both with critics and audiences.

1991 was a big year for Snipes.  He got his first starring role as drug lord, Nino Brown in Mario Van Peebles’ New Jack CityNew Jack City was a surprise hit that spawned a decade’s worth of copy cats.  It is one of those films that gets forgotten in the wave of imitators it inspired.  But Nino Brown was a star-making role for Snipes.

Later that year, Snipes reteamed with Spike Lee for the inter-racial relationship drama, Jungle Fever.

Like Mo Better Blues, Jungle Fever is a frustrating film.  It feels like a great film that lost its focus.  But like Mo Better, the reviews were mostly positive and Jungle Fever was another box office hit for Lee and Snipes.

Next: White Men Can’t Jump and Drop Zone

Posted on August 4, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. Great article! Kinda sad that his ‘best’ movie was Blade.

    But, hey, when Snipes gets done with his prison ‘tickle fights’ (by that, I mean rape) we can have a Blade 4! Yayyy!

    Like

    • Glad you liked it!

      Once he decided to be an action star, I’d say Blade was his best movie. Before that, it’s debatable. He had the potential to be a great comedic or dramatic actor. We can only speculate about what might have been if he had stayed away from the action movie paydays (and of course, paid his taxes).

      Snipes very definitely wants to make Blade 4. Can you blame him? But I have my doubts. The film rights have reverted to Marvel/Disney who have a full plate of more traditional super hero movies. One that don’t have to contend with R-ratings and tax-evading egomaniacl stars.

      My guess is that we will see Blade again on the big screen some day. But I bet it will be in a reboot. Everything gets rebooted and the Snipes-Blade has too much baggage.

      Like

    • Seriously? That’s an issue to joke about.

      Like

  2. You are probably right, but I was kidding about Blade 4. I saw Blade in the theater and kinda liked it at the time. Silly old me.

    I really enjoy your ‘what the hell happened’ posts. You’ve reminded me how much I used to look forward to flicks with actors like Val Kilmer (douche canoe) or Elizabeth Shue (such a hottie back in ’95)

    Which in turn reminds me how friggin’ old I am. So…thanks for that.

    Like

    • lol – You’re welcome, I think. I have the same reaction though as I realize just about every actor or actress I grew up following has fallen into relative obscurity.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the info about Wesley Snipes. Sitting here watching Major League wondering…”what the hell happened to him?” now I know.

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  4. Danielle Charney

    I was wondering that myself of late, although I knew he was in prison- absurd- I know many who never file, no one has bothered them- I remember a movie- just tried to recognize it on IMBD and couldn’t find it- where he plays a slacker who moves in a rather straight woman who gets fed up with his flakiness – it was a small film with him playing a forcibly contained, yet explosive character- emotionally – he was great- I am not a big action movie person except for the odd film or late at night if nothing else is on or I love the oddness of approach of the director- it’s always good to see these huge action guys in the smaller role- like Willis in Nobody’s Fool- he is still snarky and Willis but it reminds me of the earlier actor who was so good- thanks for the post-

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    • Glad you enjoyed it.

      Lots of folks can fly under the government’s radar. But when someone in the public eye is making as much money as Snipes, they better at least file! Although it does seem like Snipes was probably mislead by a couple of charltans to some degree. And these guys are serving longer sentences than Snipes.

      Also, it’s entirely possible that Snipes’ race played a factor in being singled out. I won’t comment one way or another except to say it’s possible.

      But I definitely agree that Snipes was a better actor than his action movies indicate. He brought a lot of energy to his comedic and dramatic roles.

      Like

  5. wesley played a great villian in demolition man. i loved us marshals, rising sun, money train, blade, murder at 1600, passenger 57 and white man can’t jump.

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  6. Gotta admit I enjoyed some of his lesser titles: Murder at 1600, Rising Sun, Art of War. I have all of them in my collection; they’re good popcorn, filler flicks when nothing else is happening. The Blade trilogy was decent and came before the explosion and popularity of the whole vampire genre which at this time has been wayyyy over done. Blade probably kicked the whole thing off in the first place. Always good to be first. Anyway, he puts out a decent movie most of the time. His tax issues were nutty; even with bad advice he’s a grown man and should have known better. Everybody better have a healthy respect for the ole IRS whether you like it or not. Many a scofflaw has learned the hard way!

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  7. I’d have to say that To Wong Fu was Wesley Snipes’ best movie because it was a role entirely out of the spectrum from which he typically played. I think the Blade series may have been his most successful movies, but not really his best work. I do appreciate you sharing all of his work though; it’ll make it easier for me to add all of his movies to my Blockbuster @Home queue. It’s funny that I was talking about Snipes to the security guard at the Dish call center I work at, and neither of us could figure out why he hasn’t had any new movies recently. Wait’ll she hears that he’s been locked up this whole time!

    Like

    • I had a lot of respect for all three actors for for taking on roles that played against their screen images. Especially Snipes. I am not sure how well cast they were though. Not that I am an expert on drag queens, but Snipes and Swayze didn’t seem to have the right body type for it. I did think that they gave great performances against type. But the movie was a little formulaic. I haven’t watched it since.

      There wasn’t a lot to Blade other than snarling and looking bad ass. He did invest a lot of himself in the role though. A lot of odd touches and dialogue in the movie came from Snipes. For instance, the bit in the first movie where he cuts the roots off a plant for no apparent reason comes from some kind of Eastern philiosophy Snipes was into. And I believe Snipes was the author of the infamous “ice skate up hill” line at the end of the movie.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article and that it clarified an issue for you and your security guard. Now, when is Dish going to get AMC back? ;)

      Like

  8. Murder at 1600…I watched about 5 minutes of it, and had to switch it off, it was sooo bad.

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  9. “Jungle Fever”, one of his best dramatic performances, and loved him in “White Men Can’t Jump”. I guess he learned nothing from Willie Nelson’s troubles with the IRS..

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    • Jungle Fever is sitting on my DVR waiting to be revisited. I remember enjoying most of it when it was released. My complaint was that it was a bit over-stuffed. White Men Can’t Jump is a great comedy.

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      • I only just found out about your great blog a couple of days ago. Very entertaining. I have another story along the lines of the Patton Oswald story:
        An acquaintance from college went on to Hollywood to do CGI work in movies. His first jobs were the titles for “Batman Forever”, the cold-breath work for “Titanic”, and a bunch of work for “Blade”. He wasn’t too impressed with the movie, and the oddest thing about it was that Wesley Snipes refused to get wet. It was his job to digitally add blood on Mr. Snipes.

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  10. Thanks for the article. Very informative and entertaining. When i googled ‘ what happened to Wesley Snipes’, i got all the information and more. So thankyou again :)

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  11. Mathew “Film Brain” Buck’s “Bad Movie Beatdown” of “Blade Trinity”:
    http://blip.tv/film-brain/blade-3-bmb-6308072

    Buck even did a whole “Bad Movie Beatdown” month of Wesley Snipes’ movies.

    Like

    • 10 Actors Who Are Certifiably Insane:
      http://whatculture.com/film/10-actors-who-are-certifiably-insane.php/3

      8. Wesley Snipes

      It’s well documented that in recent times Wesley Snipes hasn’t been too hot on paying his taxes – hence him preparing to finish up a custodial sentence for it this July – but that isn’t exactly a sign you’re going nuts.

      However, Snipes’ behaviour on the set of his last big film, Blade: Trinity, certainly is; comedian Patton Oswalt reported that Snipes kept in character as Blade for the entirety of the shoot, which is rather at odds with the fact that he refused to come out of his trailer except for close-ups and other big shots. The result? Ryan Reynolds was thrown the ball to let loose with ad-libbing for his character Hannibal King, and that’s why so much of it appears in the final film.

      Snipes reportedly tried to strangle Goyer once, resulting in Snipes eventually opting to communicate with Goyer via post-it note. And guess how he’d sign each post-it note? You got it; Blade.

      Like

    • COMMENTARY TRACKS OF THE DAMNED:
      http://www.avclub.com/articles/blade-trinity,30328/

      Crimes:
      Wasting the goodwill earned by the previous two Blade films on a muddled, poorly shot, tediously scripted mess

      Taking nearly two hours to never get to a point

      Using Dracula, the biggest vampire cliché in a genre full of really big clichés, as the main villain, and giving him lines like “Blade, ready to die?”

      Replacing You’ve Got Mail as the low point in Parker Posey’s cinematic career

      Like

    • Star Derailing Role:
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StarDerailingRole

      •Wesley Snipes in Blade: Trinity. His career was beginning to cool by the late 90s and early 2000s with the exception of the first two Blade films, which were box office successes. By the time the third movie came out, it received a negative reaction from both critics and fans alike, leading to a disappointing total. And it also doesn’t help that Snipes filed a lawsuit against New Line Cinema (which distributed the trilogy) and the film’s director David S. Goyer, claiming that they cut him out of casting decisions and filmmaking processes. After the film’s failure, Snipes appeared in a string of straight to DVD releases and didn’t make another theatrical appearance for six years (with the film Brooklyn’s Finest), plus he went to federal prison for tax evasion, an event which (along with Trinity) proved to be a Franchise Killer for Blade.

      Like

      • THE TOP 5 CAREER MISSTEPS:
        http://www.411mania.com/music/columns/70450

        Bryan Kristopowitz

        3. Wesley Snipes/David Goyer – Blade: Trinity (2004)

        This movie, of course, pretty much destroyed the Blade movie franchise, and while I mostly blame director/screenwriter Goyer for the flick’s absolute total failure of the movie to be any good (the only thing he got “right” in the movie were the action scenes, but even they couldn’t help the movie succeed), Snipes, as the star and a producer, should have never signed off on Goyer as the director. But at least Snipes tried to make a good movie. Sadly, after the flick’s failure, Snipes got all of the blame, ended up stuck in direct-to-DVD land, and almost went to prison for tax evasion. And Goyer? He’s still working. People are still actually giving him money to make movies, which is mind boggling. The Invisible sucked. So, while Goyer is still apparently the toast of the town, instead of remaining a pretty good screenwriter, he’s off making bad movies.

        Like

    • Superhero Rewind: Blade Trinity Review:

      “Blade Trinity,” (2004). Wesley Snipes, Jessica Biel. Directed by David Goyer.

      Like

  12. FRC Fallen Icon #1 – Wesley Snipes:
    http://www.frontroomcinema.com/frc-fallen-icon-1-wesley-snipes/

    But where is he now?

    Unfortunately for the star his life turned into what could have been a script from one of his movies. He was arrested in 2006 for tax fraud. It seems that Snipes forgot to file tax returns from 1999-2004! Which is a pretty big deal seeing as this was at the height of his career. He was finally convicted in 2008 and sentenced in 2010 for three years in jail, where he now resides.

    It would seem owing the U.S. Government $2.7 million is a bad thing. Now that seems like a lot of money, but let us put that into the context of earning $38 million for the period. Silly Wesley.

    Always pay your taxes kids!!

    Why does he deserve a comeback?

    Well Mr. Snipes was a great martial artist with a great screen presence. This is a guy that gave us Nino Brown, Blade, Simon Phoenix and John “Always bet on black” Cutter.He is very deserving of a comeback. As long as he gets a better accountant that is!! At 48-years-old, the man still can kick ass and we would like for him to enjoy a nice comeback like his friend Woody Harrelson has enjoyed the last couple of years. And I am not talking about a straight to DVD comeback either!!

    Like

  13. 25 A-List Hollywood Actors Who Fell the F Off:
    http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/02/25-a-list-hollywood-actors-who-fell-the-f-off/wesley-snipes

    Wesley Snipes
    Best Known For: White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Blade (1998)
    Most Recent Project: Gallowwalkers (2012)

    Younger filmgoers best remember Snipes as the star of the Blade trilogy, but this guy was everywhere in the early ’90s. Jungle Fever. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. White Men Can’t Jump. That’s the whole of the ’90s expressed in just three movies!

    Alas, Snipes did not give his cut to the Man. He’s now serving a three-year sentence for tax evasion in Pennsylvania.

    Like

  14. 10 actors who could use a Quentin Tarantino-steered comeback:
    http://www.hitfix.com/galleries/overlay/10-actors-who-could-use-a-quentin-tarantino-steered-comeback#10

    Currently serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania, Snipes is luckily at the tail end of his incarceration – and what better time to start weighing his career comeback options? Of course, the actor’s career slide started long before his conviction, with the last near-decade of resume mainly composed of direct-to-DVD dreck and the occasional middlebrow studio release (his last being the already-forgotten 2009 crime-thriller “Brooklyn’s Finest”). Snipes hasn’t been given an opportunity to showcase his chops in a long time, but lest we forget, his early resume is filled with critically-acclaimed performances in films including Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever,” Mario Van Peebles’ “New Jack City” and Ron Shelton’s “White Men Can’t Jump.” Of course, with his colorful criminal history and gutter-trawling recent filmography, Snipes is the perfect candidate for a Tarantino-fueled comeback role. Luckily he’s got the bad-ass credentials (thanks mainly to his starring role in the “Blade” franchise) and dramatic versatility to pull it off.

    Like

  15. The Ebony article that ruined Wesley Snipe’s career:
    http://www.lipstickalley.com/f15/ebony-article-ruined-wesley-snipes-career-422761/

    The Asian model and restaurateur he introduces as “my lady, Donna [Wong]” has been Snipes’ companion for the past year and a half When asked if he dates Black women, he says: “Primarily all of my life I’ve dated Black women…. Oh, most definitely. Oh, my God. Mostly. But it just so happens that now I’m dating an Asian woman. It’s different. Different energy, different spirit, but a nice person.” He says he is not ready for marriage; nor is Donna. “She’s got to learn to deal with the love scenes in the movies first,” says Snipes as he chuckles. “Got to get to a place where it’s very comfortable.”

    Wesley says he realizes that there are Black women still who get an attitude about Black men with Asian, White or Hispanic women. “I know we’ve all been hurt, and we’re all very wounded,” he says, addressing Black women. “We have to acknowledge that, both male and female, in the Black experience. We’re a wounded people. And we want to possess and we want to own. We don’t want to compromise. We feel like we’ve compromised enough. But in any relationship you have to compromise. There’s no way around it. And I say to Black women also, Brothers who are very, very successful, or who have become somewhat successful, usually it’s been at a great expense, unseen by the camera’s eye….

    “He doesn’t want to come home to someone who’s going to be mean and aggravating and unkind and who is going to be `please me, please me.’ He doesn’t want to come home to that. He doesn’t want to come home to have a fight with someone who is supposed to be his helpmate. So it’s very natural that he’s going to turn to some place that’s more compassionate…. You’ve worked hard and you deserve to come home to comforting. And usually a man who has that will appreciate it. Because I’ve never known one cat, all those cats I’ve hung out with and still hang out with, who found something that they really, really like and didn’t go back to it. They all go back. It’s very simple.”

    When asked for clarification, Snipes emphasizes that he is not saying that a Black woman can not be that type of woman a man wants to come home to. “Not at all,” he declares. “Absolutely not. That’s the point. I want to come home and I don’t want to argue. I want to be pleasing, but if I ask you to get me a glass of water, you’re going to say, `Them days is over.’ please. Come on,” Wesley says. “A man likes that. I don’t know why. It’s been that way forever. It makes him proud, you know, like when the guys come over and your lady comes out with a tray of food and says `I made this up for you.’ And the guys are like, `Oh man, you’ve got a great woman.’ And the man says, `Yeah, I do.’ A man will appreciate it when you’re kind and when you’re nice.

    “For successful women, it’s hard,” he continues, obviously quite comfortable and articulate on the subject of relationships. “The competition is fierce. And if he’s a man of success and power who happens to be handsome, of course you’re not the only one who thinks he’s handsome. But you don’t have to punish him because of that once you get with him. Don’t punish him because somebody else likes him.”

    Continuing with his openness, Snipes says he’s had his heart broken more than once, and at times by Black women. “Most definitely. Most definitely,” he says.

    Like

  16. I watched “One Night Stand” last year based on Film Brain’s review as part of Wesley Snipes month for Bad Movie Beatdown. When you looked at it, it had an interesting cast, with Snipes, Nastassja Kinski, Kyle MacLachlan and Robert Downey Jr. Plus it was directed by the guy who made “Leaving Las Vegas”. I checked it out, and it was pretty terrible.

    There’s no chemistry between Snipes and Kinski, I couldn’t even care about their problems, some of the characters are unlikable and the only person who puts a decent effort to the film was Downey. Apparently Joe Eszterhas was attached to write the script for this movie, but afer both “Showgirls” and “Jade” bombed while director Mike Figgis scored an Oscar nomination for “Leaving Las Vegas”, Figgis rewrote the screenplay entirely and Eszterhas refused to accept a writer’s credit. Now I’m kind of curious, what’s everyone history with “One Night Stand”?

    Like

  17. Lebeau, you should write a summary for this article – like the rest …

    Like

    • Yeah, I’m unhappy with this article in its current state. I go back and update articles from time to time. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. This article needs sprucing up.

      Like

  18. I honestly do miss the talent and images of Mr. Westley and pray we will again be entertained by him in America … because he truly is a very extra special kind of actor
    that can not ever really be imitated. We still love you “Blade!”

    Like

    • I expect he will be making more direct to video movies as soon as his legal entanglements are completely behind him. We’ll probably even see him show up in mainstream movies or TV from time to time.

      Like

  19. 10 Actors Who Need To Stop Flogging A Dead Horse:
    http://whatculture.com/film/10-actors-need-stop-flogging-dead-horse.php/4

    1. Wesley Snipes

    Done To Death: Blade, and anything resembling Blade.

    Wesley Snipes was always an action guy, equally at home in dystopias and ganglands as long as the pace was fast, the gunfire heavy and the attitude flowing. He did appear in a handful of non-violent films, some of which are quite good, but mostly he stuck to his talents.

    He was sufficiently menacing as the vampiric vampire hunter Blade when the character first appeared in 1998, and soared in Guillermo del Toro’s sequel, but Blade: Trinity is without a doubt the worst of the series, and it was clear the appeal was waning. Now there’s talk of making that trilogy into a tetralogy, if only because Snipes wants to relive his days as Blade, which he already sort of did with 2012′s pathetic Gallowwalkers, which was basically just Blade with zombies instead of vampires.

    But is anyone really excited about watching an ageing Snipes coming back as Blade?

    Like

  20. 17 Career Comebacks We’d Love To See:
    http://www.hitfix.com/galleries/overlay/17-career-comebacks-wed-love-to-see/16.js

    Wesley Snipes
    Best known for: “Passenger 57″ and other ’90s action hits.
    Last seen in: Leaving direct-to-DVD duds out, maybe “Brooklyn’s Finest”? But more likely? “Blade: Trinity.”
    Comeback plan: “The Expendables 3″ will be Wesley Snipes’ big return after his time in prison and his apparent exile. But that’s not the ticket, Wesley. You’re in your 50s. You’re not going to be fronting action franchises ever again. But remember that guy who was in “Mo’ Better Blues” and “New Jack City” and “Jungle Fever” and “The Waterdance” and “Sugar Hill”? That guy could ACT. Snipes should make himself available for a meaty TV guest part, maybe on something like “Scandal”? Play Oliva Pope’s uncle or something and go head-to-head with Joe Morton? I’d watch that. Or how about a turn as a kingpin in FOX’s midseason drama “Empire”? Or some role in John Ridley’s ABC drama “American Crime”? Or “True Detective” Season 2, following in the footsteps of “White Men Can’t Jump” co-star Woody Harrelson? Remind people that you can do more than stake vampires and karate chop Euro-terrorists. Oh and pay your taxes. That’s probably important as well.
    - Daniel Fienberg

    Like

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