What the Hell Happened to Helen Hunt?

Helen-Hunt 2013

Helen Hunt

Helen Hunt started her career as a child actor in the seventies.  After two decades in the business, she finally got cast on a hit TV show.  She won the Emmy for four consecutive years and won a Best Actress Oscar during the same time frame.  A few years later, she practically disappeared.

What the hell happened?

Helen Hunt started working as an actress in 1973 at the age of 10.  As a result, there are a lot of embarrassing photos and clips of Hunt as a child appearing in cheesy 70s TV movies.

If you have ever seen Hunt on a late night talk show, you have probably seen her squirm as they played a clip of her on The Bionic Woman or some other relic of the era.  Don’t worry.  That won’t stop me from dredging those things up all over again here.

It is not uncommon in these articles for me to skip over some movies or TV shows that weren’t especially important to the subject’s career.  In Hunt’s case, I am going to have to skip over dozens of projects.  Because she paid her dues and then she paid  them some more.

I can’t possibly cover every cheesy TV movie and canceled show.  But I will do my best to make sure we hit all the lowlights.

hunt - pioneer woman

Helen Hunt – Pioneer Woman – 1973

Hunt’s first role was in the 1973 TV movie, Pioneer Woman.  Joanna Pettet starred as a pioneer woman in Wyoming during the Post Civil War era.  When her husband, played by William Shatner with a thick handlebar mustache, is killed, Pettet must decide how best to take care of her family.  Hunt played the older of her two children.

Helen Hunt - Amy Prentiss - 1974-1975

Helen Hunt – Amy Prentiss – 1974-1975

In 1974, Hunt had a regular role on the short-lived Ironside spin-off, Amy Prentiss.  Jessica Walter (of Arrested Development fame) played the title character, a female cop who is promoted to chief when her predecessor is killed.  Hunt played Walter’s daughter.  Only three episodes were filmed.  But Shatner managed to squeeze in a guest spot in one of them.

Helen Hunt - Swiss Family Robinson - 1975

Helen Hunt – The Swiss Family Robinson – 1975-1976

The next year, Hunt got a recurring role on the The Swiss Family Robinson TV show.  The show was based on the 1812 novel of the same name by Johann David Wyss.  It had no connection to the Disney movie adaptation from 1960.  In fact, it aired directly opposite Wonderful World of Disney.

The previous year, there had been a Canadian TV show based on the The Swiss Family Robinson.  So when the American version aired in other countries familiar with the Canadian show, it was called Island of Adventure.

Both The Swiss Family Robinson and Wonderful World of Disney struggled in the ratings when CBS put 60 Minutes in the same timeslot.  The Swiss Family Robinson was cancelled after one season.  No William Shatner appearances have been reported, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

Helen Hunt - Death Scream - 1975

Helen Hunt – Death Scream – 1975

Hunt played Raul Julia’s daughter in the TV movie, Death Scream.  Julia played a detective investigating the death of a woman whose cries for help were ignored by her neighbors.  The neighbors were played by TV luminaries like Ed Asner, Art Carney, Kate Jackson, Cloris Leachman and Tina Louise.

Helen Hunt - Ark II - 1976

Helen Hunt – Ark II – 1976

In 1976, Hunt put in a guest appearance on the kid’s science fiction series, Ark II.  The show was about a group of scientists who travel around in their futuristic RV helping people.  In the 25th century, the world has been ravaged by pollution and the only ones who could help were three scientists who dressed like Evel Knievel and their pet chimp.

Ark 2

Ark 2

The seventies were kind of a weird time to be a kid.  In Hunt’s episode titled Omega, the team comes across a group that has been enslaved by a supercomputer.  That’s how Le Blog got started.  All hail to my desktop overlord!

Next: Mary Tyler Moore and The Bionic Woman

Posted on September 8, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 102 Comments.

  1. Nostalgia Critic: Twister

    The Nostalgia Critic takes a look at one of the highest grossing movies from the disaster phase we were assaulted with in the 90s.

    Like

  2. Great assessment of Helen Hunt’s career. I know from other entries in the series you like to assess if people who have reputations for being hard to work with deservedly have those reputations. Have you come across any info about how Helen’s attitude towards Mad About You as she accrued awards and then an Oscar? You mention that her pay was tied to Reiser’s. I’ve read that she was not happy with that and it affected her attitude towards the show.

    Like

    • I haven’t seen that, but I can imagine why she wouldn’t be happy about it. I’ll see if I can dig anything up specifically. From what I have read, she and Reiser remained friendly. She did film a cameo in One Night at McCool’s as a favor to him.

      Like

    • I remember hearing that towards the end of that show’s run, they were both one of (if not #1) the higher paid actors on television.

      Like

      • They were higher paid than the individual actors on Friends who had a similar arrangement but split 6 ways. This was cause for concern in the industry because Mad About You was never a big hit show like Seinfeld or Friends. There were concerns that this would push up already inflated salaries for sitcom actors. It was estimated that Hunt and Reiser each made $30 million that season.

        I didn’t find one clue that Hunt had a bad attitude about her salary. Odds are both actors were pretty damn excited. They each got a raise of $750,000 per episode for that final season which is insane. But I have seen stories that suggest Hunt can be thin-skinned. Apparently she boycotted The Tonight Show after a producer was critical of her.

        Like

        • That’s what I thought; I recall the general public being miffed about their salary more than anything else. I had a friend who really liked the show, and I think he was a little turned off by their salary too. One thing is for sure: they were well-compensated. I guess a pay scale like that would be a concerns within the television industry, since salary hikes have changed the sports landscape for sure.

          Like

  3. Sidebar: As part of Health and Fitness in high school, they made us watch Desperate Lives. When the car went over the cliff and the girl went “Wheeeeeeee..” everyone and I mean everyone laughed. Did not endear us to the school nurse.

    Like

    • Sorry, posted before finishing. Had forgotten how ubiquitous she was on 70s and 80s TV. You;re right, she paid her dues and possibly three other actors. Have heard though she is a bit of a snit in person.

      Like

      • I’ve heard the same thing. I don’t doubt she has rubbed some people the wrong way. Whenever an actress is accused of this sort of thing, I wonder if her behavior would be more acceptable coming from a man. Actors seem to be given a lot more leeway with their star behavior than actresses. When an actor is particular, he’s concerned about the quality of the work. When an actress does the same thing, she’s a bitch.

        Not saying this is necessarily what’s happening here. But it’s a definite possibility.

        Like

    • I don’t see how they could have expected a classroom full of kids NOT to crack up at that movie. It’s hysterical.

      Like

  4. She has this film coming out titled “Ride”, in which she wrote the screenplay, produced, and directed it. It has a big surfing theme, so I think that’s pretty cool. Plus, David Zayas is in the cast: I thought he was awesome as Angel Batista in “Dexter”.

    Like

    • Hunt has something “real” about her personality which I think comes across on screen very effectively; it doesn’t seem fair to dismiss this quality as being surface. Some performers are more subtle, it’s just who they are.

      Like

      • Yeah, I just think it’s her natural style; she’s at ease with the camera, like she just happens to be being filmed at the moment. I was always surprised to discover that she was disliked in the way she was; maybe it’s because of her Oscar win.

        Like

  5. Hunt (along with fellow WTHH alums Reese Witherspoon and Renee Zellweger) makes the list of WatchMojo’s Top 10 Underwhelming Best Actress Wins.

    Like

    • Hard to take lists like this seriously when the Oscars have been happening since 1929 yet all but one of the films were made in the 80s or later, and the oldest one is from the 60s. Seems more like an excuse to rag on popular actresses of today.

      Like

      • I completely agree, and it’s kind of disappointing since that webpage usually does a better job with historical perspective. In this case, it seemed to be more agenda-minded. Yuck poo!

        Like

  6. Love the series Lebeau, and I hate to say it, but I also agree that Hunt’s acting is a touch obvious. I’m not saying she’s a bad actor, but as I was watching “As Good as it Gets” when it originally came out I admired her technique, but it was all on the surface, there was no depth, no real emotions. I admired it, but it didn’t move me the way Cate Blanchet does, who also has great technique.

    Also, after her Oscar win…she got old FAST. I remember watching the Oscars 2-3 years after she won and she was presenting. They kept to a wide shot and didn’t zoom in on her face. Even in the SD days, it was obvious she was VERY wrinkly. She literally went from attractive to old lady in a period of 4 years, it was shocking.

    Like

  7. Derailed Film Stars: Helen Hunt’s Onscreen Humanity:
    http://www.twcc.com/articles/2015/02/08/d/derailed-film-stars-helen-hunt-s-onscreen-humanity

    Not many sitcom stars make the transition to Academy Award winner, but then Helen Hunt has always seemed like an anomaly in the industry — charming, low-key and putting in the work. Having started her career at the tender age of nine, she escaped the pitfalls of child stardom and went on to build up an impressive filmography. While’s she’s kept a low profile for the past decade, she’s recently been in the director’s seat again, writing and starring in the surfing drama Ride. Before this svelte leading lady rides the waves in her new film, see the rocky waters she’s faced throughout the course of her career.

    Twister (1996)

    “We’ve got cows!” This disaster flick was hardly a disaster at the box-office, eventually becoming the second biggest film of the year and cementing Hunt’s successful transition from TV to the big leagues. After she won the Best Comedy Actress Emmy for four years straight during seven seasons of the sitcom Mad About You, Hunt hit the big time with the 1996 summer blockbuster Twister. Part action hero (does fighting the weather count?) and part vulnerable victim, Hunt resonated with audiences on both counts.

    As Good As It Gets (1997)

    Continuing her domination of the 90s, Hunt’s turn as a single mother and waitress earned her an Academy Award in James L. Brooks’ dramedy, but did she peak too early? Many felt she stole the win from more deserving nominees, but Hunt did a remarkable job with what is a fairly boring character on paper. She held her own against her co-star Jack Nicholson, and added wonderful, loveable realism to the role thanks to her immense charisma. She also picked up a SAG Award and Golden Globe, natch.

    The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

    Being cast in a Woody Allen film is usually a sign that you’ve been accepted into the upper echelon of the film gods, but it can also be a literal curse to your career when you wind up in one of his bombs. Allen had tried his hand at many genres, but flirty film noir was not one of them. Inspired by the sexy, verbal duals of film noirs like Double Indemnity and screwball comedies like His Girl Friday, the verbal sparring between Hunt and Allen was devoid of wit and their chemistry fizzled. Hunt is a dynamic actress, but playing a mysterious femme fatale is not in her wheelhouse. Sadly it marked the beginning of a very long hiatus in Hunt’s career.

    Then She Found Me (2007)

    Hunt did what any smart actress would do who finds herself with a dearth of interesting roles — she created her own. Hunt’s directorial debut and passion project was ten years in the making, and screened at the Toronto Festival and won Palm Springs Festival’s Audience Award. This subtle, yet genuinely funny, dramedy was met with high praise and snapped up by ThinkFilm, only to wither at the box office after the company went bankrupt the night before it opened wide. It was a huge blow for Hunt but proved she had prowess behind the camera.

    The Sessions (2012)

    Helen Hunt is a beautiful actress but she was never the sexy screen icon, so it came as a surprise to see her bare it all in this unusual screenplay about a middle-class soccer mom who also has sex with strangers as an occupation. Based on a true story, she played a certified sex surrogate from Berkeley who helps a man in an iron lung (John Hawkes) lose his virginity. With her disarming nonchalance and graceful ease on the screen, Hunt made the nudity feel almost commonplace, and skillfully diffused what could be a squirmy situation. The film was a hit at Sundance and earned her an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress.

    Like

  8. name is required

    “The clip is dubbed over in German. But I don’t think you lose a thing in the translation. The Bionic Woman actually stops a dude with a head of lettuce. I’m sure it was bionic lettuce.”

    It is PORTUGUESE. German sounds a bit different, depending on your ears.

    Like

  9. she should accept her age she can play mother roles in family sitcoms i can totally see her in a role like julie bowmens in modern family

    Like

  10. Whatever happened to Helen Hunt’s “Mad About You” husband, Paul Reiser’s career:
    http://www.datalounge.com/cgi-bin/iowa/ajax.html?t=9201674#page:showThread,9201674,1

    Like

  11. Ever since “Mad About You” it’s been quite obvious that Hunt is NOT a talented actress. Rather, she is just playing variations of herself, over and over again. She was nothing more than a “nuanced” Jamie Buchman-cum-Helen Hunt in “As Good As It Gets.” I’ve often wondered how many folks she had to (a) sleep with, or (b) pay off to get that ill-deserved Oscar.

    Her appearance on “Who Do You Think You Are?” was a disgrace. She was not at all genuinely interested in her ancestry – she was instead fixated on whether her relatives had MONEY or not. (I was astounded, when a historian mentioned some well-known acquaintances of her ancestors, and her only comment was to note those friends were RICH.)
    I am very glad this shallow, no-talent woman has faded into obscurity.

    Like

    • daffystardust

      It’s called a “personality actor,” JMQ. There are LOTS of them. One of the very best was James Garner who just died this morning. Not all actors are skilled at character work and not all who are can carry a film with the weight of their personality the way these actors can.

      What you are doing is akin to criticizing a good fastball pitcher because he can’t throw a great curve. Well guess what? He can bring the heat in a way that few pitchers can. It is missing the point to criticize somebody for being a specific kind of useful performer.

      I did not see the appearance on the show you mentioned. Maybe she came off badly. But your comments about her abilities as a performer are ill-informed.

      Like

    • Mad About You (1992) : Helen Hunt was possibly…..
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103484/board/flat/83115116?d=83115116#83115116

      the least likable romantic female lead in sitcom history. What exactly were the viewers supposed to feel about this woman? She’s the annoying wife of one of your good friends who you SO want to get divorced, but you just can’t tell him. Simply awful.

      For a sitcom like this to work, the viewer (like the male lead in the show) is supposed to also be attracted to the character both physically and emotionally. I suppose her looks are a fairly subjective matter (while maybe generically “attractive” , not my taste), but her personality seems a lot more cut and dried: she’s cold, critical, and sarcastic. Sometimes, a really talented actress can make it work. But it has to be done with a sense of humor and underlying sweetness. To me, Shelly Long in Cheers is a good example of what I’m talking about. Her physical attractiveness is about the same as Hunt’s (perhaps even less so), but she pulls off the demeanor without alienating the audience. Other actresses have also been able to play the flawed lead but somehow retain their charm. Hunt’s Jamie is basically a dour, unlikable woman. I never found myself rooting for her (or them).

      Like

      • I never got the Hunt hate. Put me in the pro-Hunt camp.

        Like

        • I’ve always thought she was solid. A Surprised aside: I had a friend who bought, read, and liked one of Paul Reiser’s books, which was during the end run of “Mad About You”.

          Like

      • TMC, I’m just catching up with this WTTH?. I know you like to flood the comments with links to articles from other sites, but on this one I’m REALLY feeling some hate. What’s your problem with Helen Hunt?

        Like

        • I guess, LeBeau also has a real axe to grind w/ Helen Hunt, since he was the one who started this conversation in the first place! ;)

          Like

        • He did? Anyway, I feel Helen Hunt can play any role she wants.

          Like

        • Nope, Terrence, that doesn’t work as an answer. LeBeau explicitly says in a comment from months ago, “I never got the Hunt hate. Put me in the pro-Hunt camp.” I repeat. What’s YOUR problem with her?

          Like

        • Please explain to my why you insist on singling me out for having a huge problem w/ Helen Hunt? Something tells me that you’re a huge fan of her’s and don’t understand the “negativity” surrounding her career’s decline. It seems like just because I’m providing additional articles to help embellish the article (and just in case, LeBeau overlooked some crucial information), that automatically makes me anti-this or that? I’ve provided numerous articles to other WTHHT subjects (like for example, Alicia Silverstone), so does that mean that I personally hate them too!? I don’t at all get your logic! You’re just jumping to conclusions based on my posting frequency.

          Like

        • I don’t want to speak for anybody and I haven’t read every single comment TMC has posted in this or any other article, but I really don’t think he has any axes to grind. The majority of his comments both here and elsewhere consist of links and excerpts. I won’t pretend to fully understand his methods or motives. But what he does is basically to cross-pollinate a whole lot of similar conversations going on all over the internet. I have seen him attacked by people both here and elsewhere for “spamming” which is debatable. But I don’t think his intents are malicious. I really think he’s just trying to add fuel to conversations about topics that interest him.

          From a purely selfish perspective, his posts are helpful to me in a couple of ways. The obvious one being that links drive traffic to the site which is something I’ll never complain about. But also, sometimes he’ll link me to an article that is helpful in fleshing out an article in some way. So while it’s true I don’t read every article he links to or excerpt he posts, overall I appreciate what he’s doing. I know he gets flamed for it but he keeps promoting content all over.

          Like

        • Posting a lot of links everywhere is pretty spammy from my point of view, but if it brings you welcome traffic, that’s entirely your perogative to endorse it. If it were just links it would be more tolerable from a reader standpoint, but posting the entire linked article is a giant pain of endless scrolling in order to read real comments.

          Like

        • I don’t disagree that there is a spam component. I can understand why TMC is frequently attacked. I can tell you that I have made an effort to drive some traffic here by posting articles on sites like Reddit and people can be positively vicious in response. That experience has made me a bit more sympathetic to what he’s been through. I definitely understand not wanting to scroll past entire articles contained within the comments section. But for everyone who hates doing so, there’s usually someone who likes the convenience of it.

          At the end of the day, I think TMC is just trying to be helpful.

          Like

        • I can see both sides here. I’ve acutely aware of how long some of TMC’s material is, and as RB said, sometimes it can be a real pain. However, I do read some of the content and find it interesting or integral to the surrounding comments. My surprised was how heated and person this thread got, especially since this is the nicest site I ever met. Anyway, can anyone stay mad at someone who’s photo is of a cute dog?

          Like

  12. I never was a “Mad About You” (I like the Belinda Carlisle song though) person (I was a teenager back then, kind of an art snob), but I liked “The Sessions” and “As Good As It Gets”.

    Like

    • I was just the right age to think Hunt was adorable on Mad About You. Early on, anyway. As the show went on, it became unwatchable.

      Like

    • “Mad About You” in general, seems to be one of those TV shows that while hugely popular during its original or initial run, seems to have become forgotten or past over (like in syndicated reruns or DVD sales and what not) in the insuring years:
      http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/78670/maddening

      Like

      • To further emphasize my point so to speak regarding how “Mad About You” doesn’t seem to hold up:

        How comedy shows date the good, the bad and the Joan Rivers:
        http://forums.prowrestling.com/showthread.php?t=96645&p=2879948&viewfull=1#post2879948

        Hi ya’ all

        I have been struggling with sleep recently and have been seeing a lot of re-runs of old shows on the TV. It surprises me how many shows date really badly and others remain edgy and funny even 20-30 years after they were made. Now I don’t think this is a fan boy argument as there are some shows I loved when they were new and despise now…

        Perhaps it is a time thing, I want to nominate two shows right off the bat that have aged badly:

        Seinfeld
        Mad about you

        Seems both of these shows capture a very specific time in the 90’s, no longer against that back drop they seem irrelevant and self absorbed.

        TV Shows that I find are just as funny or perhaps more so today:

        Welcome back Cotter
        Hogans Heroes
        Mash

        Maybe the fact that these shows are set further in the past make them more watchable? I mean in the 90’s people despised 80’s music for the cringe factor, but now it’s cool again. Will 90’s shows become cool in another decade or so?

        What shows do you think have dated well or poorly?

        Like

        • The 25 Whitest TV Shows of All Time:
          http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/03/the-25-whitest-tv-shows-of-all-time/mad-about-you

          1. Mad About You
            Network: NBC
            Air Dates: September 23, 1992-May 24, 1999
            Stars: Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt

          Mad About You defined “dry, white sitcom.” Just hearing the name “Paul Reiser” makes your hands ashy. Reiser and Helen Hunt (who was just nominated for an Oscar this year) played a New York couple whose random meeting blossomed into an uninteresting relationship. Even though it was quite popular during its seven-season run on NBC, Mad About You always felt like a very poor man’s Seinfeld, and nowhere near as engaging.

          Where Seinfeld was hilarious, Mad About You was its blander, irritating cousin. As for Reiser and Hunt, they played your standard white television couple (money not an issue, nice apartment, mildly boring friends), only with less personality than normal. Honestly, they could’ve been played by two blank pieces of printer paper and been more colorful.

          Still, Mad About You did a very good job of making viewers forget about what a prick Reiser was in Aliens.

          Like

    • 10 Popular ’90s TV Shows That Were Actually Terrible:
      http://flavorwire.com/197921/10-popular-90s-tv-shows-that-were-actually-terrible

      Mad About You

      Seinfeld was supposed to be the “show about nothing,” but somehow its Must See TV neighbor managed to be about even less. The show followed the lives of ultimate ’90s yuppie couple Jamie and Paul Buchman, played by Helen Hunt (aka the poor man’s Jodie Foster) and Paul Reiser (aka the man who coined the term “couplehood”). As far as we can remember, they didn’t do much besides hang out in bed, roll their eyes over their crazy family members, and look on helplessly as their stupid dog, Murray, constantly ran into the wall. Mad About You ran for seven seasons, with Hunt and Reiser each making $1 million per episode by the final season.

      Like

  13. Heard the post Oscar curse theory before, I didn’t buy into it then or now.

    Like

    • Any time we are talking about curses, I hope people are kidding. I know I am. With enough history, you can point to anything and call it a curse.

      With regards to the Oscar curse, I think there are a few factors. For one thing, the Oscar shines a bright spotlight on someone who may or may not have been a big star before the Oscar. A lot of these actors have their moment in the sun and then go back to relative obscurity – which was the natural state of their career. If anything, the Oscar win elevated their career far beyond where it otherwise might have been.

      I also think that for some actors, there’s an element of satisfaction. If you have enough money to comfortably live the rest of your life and you have already earned the highest honor in your field, why keep up with the grind? I think that is sort of what happened with Hunt. She had been working since she was a child. What more was there left for her to do? At this point, she can comfortably semi-retire and pursue the rare project that interests her.

      Like

  14. What happened to Thora Birch?–and other actors that seemed to disappear for no reason…:
    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=15161867&postcount=147

    Quote:

    Leelee Sobieski suffered from the problem of looking like a clone of Helen Hunt at a time when Hunt’s appeal was fading.

    I hate to be mean, but Sobieski also suffered from the problem of not being a very good actress. She is very pretty and I’m sure she has some sort of basic acting competence, but in every role I saw her in she was as wooden as a basketball court’s floor.

    Like

    • I tried to watch a movie called Bliss to catch up with Sobieski but I couldn’t make it through. I used to think she had such great potential. I have been considering her for WTHH for a long time now. But I haven’t found a hook yet.

      Like

  15. Assessing Helen Hunt: Let’s Jump Into The Final Frontier:
    http://www.pajiba.com/career_assessments/helen-hunt-career-assessment-lets-jump-into-the-final-frontier.php

    Subject: Helen Hunt, 47-year old American actress

    Date of Assessment: April 6, 2011

    Positive Buzzwords: Longevity, television, girl next door

    Negative Buzzwords: Oscar, limited range, feature films

    The Case: This week, we’re dealing with yet another damn Academy Award winner and perhaps one of the greatest indicators that awards don’t matter beyond a short-term improvement of the salary. In 1998, Helen Hunt won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in As Good As It Gets; she subsequently enjoyed a short run in a few high-powered blockbusters but then suddenly dropped off the Hollywood radar. Yet since the tender age of 10 years, Hunt’s been working as an actress, although she didn’t rise into mainstream popular culture until 1992’s debut of “Mad About You.” After seven seasons, a few Emmy awards, and a couple of blockbuster movies (including the aforementioned Oscar-winning role), Hunt pulled a Hollywood disappearing act for the most part. Indeed, the 1990s were hers, but considering how long she’s been around, Hunt really possesses very few notable credits to her name.

    As a child actor, Hunt appeared in 21 episodes of “Swiss Family Robinson” and countless one-off appearances on shows like “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The Facts Of Life” before enduring a long string of made-for-tv movies (Quarterback Princess immediately springs to mind). Then, she rose to the world of feature films with Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Before too long, Hunt had a supporting role in Peggy Sue Got Married before moving onto playing “the girlfriend” alongside leading men like Matthew Broderick (Project X) and Eric Stoltz (The Waterdance), but she couldn’t gain any mainstream traction. Fortunately for Hunt, comedian Paul Reiser chose that particular moment to ask Hunt to play his wife, Jamie Stemple Buchman, in “Mad About You,” which kept her’s face on television for a resounding 161 episodes.

    Clearly, Hunt had found her calling as a television star at the right moment and with competent writers and an engaging supporting cast. In the midst of the show’s seven-season run, Hunt made another attempt at big-screen glory with two big hits: Twister and As Good as It Gets. Of course, the former was a CGI nightmare that made big bucks, even though almost any actress could have stepped into the female half of a conflicted pair of married tornado chasers. In the latter, Hunt held her own as a waitress and single mother who inexplicably falls for the grouchy old novelist played by Jack Nicholson. For this performance, Hunt’s Oscar win led to an immediate variety of roles, including the pretty damn touching Pay It Forward; the absolutely horrible requisite Woody Allen movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion; and two more blockbusters opposite Tom Hanks (Cast Away) and Mel Gibson (What Women Want). Then, from 2001 to 2004, Hunt left the scene only to return with a series of financially unimpressive flops, including A Good Woman and Bobby. In 2007, Hunt made her directorial debut with Then She Found Me; in promotional interviews, she spoke in jaded terms of her Oscar win: “They say it gives you a little more juice for the first year and that’s it. It certainly didn’t help me get this movie made.”

    Prognosis: These days, Hunt finds herself in an undeniably precarious position; that is, as a forty-something actress in a land where few roles remain. She doesn’t have the talent of a Meryl Streep; and although she’s in the same age bracket as Diane Lane, Hunt lacks the same sexual appeal to keep audiences interested. Still, she’s making a valiant return effort by appearing in this weekend’s Soul Surfer with another three movies in pre-production (Relative Insanity; Aline & Wolfe; and Serpent Girl). However, perhaps a return to the small screen might be the best possible move for Helen Hunt, for she may have won the Oscar for As Good As It Gets, but Jamie Buchman shall always remain her signature role:

    Like

  16. Whatever Happened To Helen Hunt?:
    http://www.thirdage.com/parenting/whatever-happened-helen-hunt

    If you watched TV in the 90s, youll remember Helen Hunt. She starred for eight seasons in the hit comedy Mad About You as well as movies with A-list leading men: Twister (Bill Paxton) What Women Want (Mel Gibson) and As Good As It Gets (Jack Nicholson).

    She hasnt been around much lately, but thats not because her career ground to a halt. Instead, shes taken time off to be with Lei, her four-year-old daughter with her boyfriend, actor Matthew Carnahan.

    That amount of work is more than shes done in years. But Hunt doesnt regret her down time, even though its not a typical Hollywood pattern.

    “I worked before I had my daughter, enough for three actresses,” she says. “I got so lucky that now I can afford to be with her.”

    Now Hunt seems ready to step back into the spotlight with three movie projects. First up is Every Day, opening Friday in New York and Los Angeles. In the family drama, Hunt plays a caregiver for her ill father (Brian Dennehy). She also appears in Soul Surfer, costarring Dennis Quaid, the true story of a teenage surfer whose arm was severed in a shark attack. Finally, this summer she wants to direct an unnamed movie about a womans sad and comic state of mind after her son leaves for college.

    “I know youre always supposed to want more of everything,” she says. “But in truth, Im having a nice ebb and flow of being in my daughters life every day and getting to keep my work life alive. Im not nominated for ten thousand things every minute, but I am acting and telling stories I love. I actually have a life I said I wanted to have. I wanted to be with my family.”

    Like

  17. Some theories that I’ve read on Helen Hunt’s IMDb message boards for why her career cooled down so to speak:
    *Word got around that she had become very arrogant after her Oscar win. As a matter of fact, there are rumors that she was unpleasant to deal w/ during her “Mad About You” days too:
    http://www.sitcomsonline.com/boards/showpost.php?p=4509030&postcount=10

    *Her supposed 15 minutes ran out before her agent(s) could pair her with yet another Top Rate Male Actor (e.g. Jack Nicholson, Mel Gibson, and Tom Hanks) to put in a movie with. To put things in proper perspective, was Helen Hunt ever in a memorable movie where there WASNT a Top Rate Male Actor to carry the movie?

    *She ultimately got to the point in her career in which she started becoming very choosy about what she did. Or more to the point, as she got older (in all honesty, I don’t think that Helen has aged particularly well as of late) the choice of roles declined.

    Like

    • Reading the WTHHT on Hilary Swank somehow brought me back to another Oscar winner in Helen Hunt. I think that like Swank, Helen Hunt perhaps just doesn’t have a whatever is considered a traditional movie star look. Also, like Swank, I just don’t think that Helen Hunt was ever really a box office draw on her own. In her best known film roles, she was already paired w/ more established male box office draws like Jack Nicholson, Mel Gibson, and Tom Hanks.

      In “Twister”, Helen wasn’t the draw nor was her male co-star Bill Paxton, the special effects were. So in essence, that particular movie more than likely would’ve been a hit (it was Jan de Bont’s follow-up to his huge success w/ the first “Speed” movie) regardless of her being in it.

      Like

      • To an extent, I agree. Although I had a movie crush on Hunt back in the day. Don’t judge. I do think she was a bigger draw than Swank ever was at the box office. Hunt carried with her a large TV audience. But you are right that she was never the main selling point of any of her hits.

        Like

    • WEHT Helen Hunt?

      http://www.datalounge.com/cgi-bin/iowa/ajax.html?t=9816295#page:showThread,9816295

      Karma happened to her. She is one of the most unpleasant people I have ever worked with. She even had a talent for encouraging the other cast to be as nasty as she was.

      by: Anonymous reply 6 11/07/2010 @ 08:50PM

      Like

      • Re: Besides Eddie Murphy and Hilary Swank, who are the LEAST liked celebrities in Hollywood?

        http://www.datalounge.com/cgi-bin/iowa/ajax.html?t=11045659#page:showThread,11045659,4

        I remember reading somewhere how universally disliked Helen Hunt is. Was that the main reason for her almost complete disappearance from the public consciousness?

        by: Anonymous reply 61 11/20/2011 @ 11:52AM

        Like

        • HOLLYWOOD ACTORS–who is the nastiest person acting in Hollywood?

          https://m.datalounge.com/thread/10000852

          I have a Helen Hunt story for you. The movie Twister was filmed in the Ames, Iowa area (home of Iowa State University) and I have a couple friends who lived there at the time. They said Bill Paxton got along great with the crew and the many locals they hired as extras. He hated Helen Hunt and used to call her Helen Cuh-Hunt to all the cast and crew, who all heartily agreed with the moniker. She was utterly despised by the locals, too. Apparently they had hired some as gophers on the set. Helen Hunt was so awful that they couldn’t find one who could last all the way through the shoot. They finally had to bring in someone from Hollywood to do the job because the locals wouldn’t put up with her.
          —Anonymous
          reply 341
          02/22/2015

          Like

  18. Also, this is the 1st time i’ve crossed your blog :D it is indeed an exciting one :) i didnt see many old movies so it is refreshing to read your blog, reading the wiki is lacking tbh :( and so sad with daryl hannah / geena davis / meg ryan’s career :(

    Like

    • Glad you have been enjoying the WTHH series! I enjoy writing them. And the comments section is always fun for these articles.

      I frequently go back and update articles after one of my subjects has a new movie released. I’m kind of holding off updating this article until I see how big The Sessions really is. Potentially, this article (and Hunt’s career) could get a second chapter!

      Like

  19. The Sessions is INDEED an Oscar contender :D In fact, while Helen’s role is a lead, they decided to campaign her as a supporting so she could have an even bigger chance of winning -.- I found it funny because i thought you put her in this column because of The Sessions and its award buzz :)

    Like

  20. As a few commenters here have mentioned, Hunt’s new movie The Sessions is coming out soon. I’m going to a preview next week, so I’ll probably blog about it. I’m really excited; the trailer looked great and I love the other actors involved (Hawkes, Macy; I guess Adam Arkin is OK). Admittedly, the only Helen Hunt movies that I’ve seen are Peggy Sue Got Married and Twister, but she was good in them.

    Like

  21. I’ve always found her to be a likeable on-screen presence and I’m hoping she receives an Oscar nod for her role in ‘The Sessions’. The other day I read that she declined the role of Jean Grey in the original X-Men movie; maybe had she taken that role, she’d have been cemented A-list.

    Off-topic, but have you considered illustrating the careers’ of fallen stars from the 1970s? I think Karen Black and Faye Dunaway would be brilliant subjects.

    Like

    • As much as I was a fan of Hunt in the 90s, I don’t think I’d want to see her in X-Men.

      I have stuck mostly to 80s/90s celebs. This is who I am most familiar with from growing up during this time. Yes, I have considered going back farther and those are great suggestions. I will probably go back into the 70s and maybe even further. But I don’t see that happening for a while. I’m gettin lots of requests for folks from the 80’s and 90’s I’ve got to get to first.

      Like

  22. You should do a WTHH on Matthew Broderick. I want to know how he went from Ferris Bueller to Sarah Jessica Parker’s wife. I mean, his career is far from extraordinary, but it’s sure as hell better than hers.

    Like

  23. Paul Reiser is easy to dislike. I never watched his new show, but I heard it didn’t do so well.

    Like

    • “The Paul Reiser Show” (aka “I’m old and Helen Hunt is Nowhere to Be Seen”) was a huge, embarassing train wreck. I’m not commenting on the quality as I have never seen the show. But the reviews were pretty terrible. The ratings were awful and the show was quickly yanked off the air.

      Like

  24. LOL. You know, I’ve heard Tom Sizemore is also a male Sean Young. Is he an A-lister? There was some movie he did that has the lowest recorded gross ever…and it was reported Tom was doing meth on the set.

    Sizemore and Kilmer were paired up for Red Planet. i wonder if that was the beginning of the end?

    Like

  25. I never watched Mad About You, mainly because Paul Reiser is such a weasel. I think Hunt may just be like Rick Moranis, who just wanted to spend time with his family – and got out of the biz.

    Nothing wrong with that. We can’t always have Kilmers and Youngs. I am curious about something concerning Kilmer, though. Is he an implosion or just a series of poor choices?

    Like

    • Kilmer’s an implosion. There are still some people out there like Oliver Stone who will work with him. But he burned a lot of bridges. If it was just a matter of making bad career choices, he probably would have continued working a lot more than he did. The weight gain would have pushed him into supporting roles, but he would have transitioned into a character actor. Kilmer is basically the male Sean Young.

      Like

    • I’m surprised by all the Reiser hate.
      He was the main reason I started watching the show to begin with. I guess my relationship with him is different than it is for some other people. I’d seen him in “Diner,” and was very familliar with him as a stand up comedian.
      His role in “Aliens” was honestly an after-thought to me.

      Like

      • I had seen him in Diner and was familiar with his stand-up as well. Mostly, I am giving Reiser a hard time. But even with his stand-up persona, he’s not really a romantic leading man. Put him next to anyone less beautiful and charming than Hunt in the 90’s and it doesn’t work.

        Like

  26. One thing to add to your article, she’s starring in a new movie hitting theaters this fall called the sessions, costar ring John Hawkes (Winters Bone) and William H Macy that’s generating Oscar buzz already. The trailer looks pretty good, maybe this will be the start of a comeback?

    Like

  27. The continued Emmys through the last tedious years of “Mad About you” seemed like lifetime achievement awards.

    I was a huge fan of the show right up through the moment when it was revealed that Hunt’s character was preagnant. It was a beautifully conceived and executed scene. It should’ve been the last scene of the series. Babys are death on TV. But I guess the show’s audience was still big, so we were treated to a couple of pointless, awful years (I opted out just a couple of episodes after the baby showed up).

    Hunt is definitely one of those actresses who causes pleasure just by showing up when least expected. I had no idea she was in the cast when I sat down to watch “Rollercoaster,” so when I spotted her in the crowd at Kings Dominion, it was a nice surprise.

    Like

    • I think Emmy voters just keep voting for the same people/shows until they go away. See also Kelsey Grammer and Frasier.

      I was a little reluctant to get into Mad About You at first. I have to admit, I watched it primarily for Hunt. She was a thinking man’s babe on the show. I forget when I dropped it. I’ve never been very loyal to TV shows. Especially sitcoms. Out of curiosity, I tuned in for some of the stunts. I know she kissed someone. Was it Kevin Sorbo maybe? I watched the last episode and thought it was a horrible way to end the show.

      I didn’t realize Roller Coaster was shot at Kings Dominion. That is the sister park to Kings Island. I’ll have to try to track that down.

      Like

  28. Danielle Charney

    She is a smart cookie who got out when the getting was good- dodging the slings of aging- wonder if she will direct more- while I have always been lukewarm about her- I cannot deny her creds-

    Like

    • You know, sadly she is still a target. As I did my research, I came across tons of pictures of her current day where she dared leave her house without make-up. The coverage seemed split between showing lines on her face and the fact that she still rocks a bikini. Americans are a really messed up bunch when it comes to gender and aging!

      Like

      • Compounded, I’d say, by the fact that she’s never been girly. Even as a child she had an adult look about her, which never goes down well with a lot of people. Storming physique at all adult ages, as you say, but without that childishness she’s always going to have been restricted with her options.

        Like

        • You’re probably right there. Part of what made her a sought-after child actor was that she seemed adult for her age. I was surprised to see how many time she played a pregnant teen. The phase of her career between her child acting days and her adult roles is filled with pregnant moms!

          Like

        • Yeah, now, on that (and thanks for a perfect prompt). What’s with the pregnancy thing, given your excellent point that we couldn’t move in the 80s for sonorous warning ads? In the UK it was either a) impending nuclear disasters, or b) AIDS, DON’T DIE OF IGNORANCE!!! – John Hurt doing the voiceover, FWIW. I & many friends of both genders have been paranoid about condom usage for 30 years as a result. Surely in the US of A all of Ms.Hunt’s characters would have been exposed to something similar?

          :Lovely WTTH, by the way. You particularly seemed to enjoy this one.

          Like

        • I will admit it was a lot of fun going back and digging through all those cheesy old TV movies from the 70s and 80s. There were some hidden gems in there.

          In the 80’s we had a lot of Nancy Reagan “Just say no” anti-drug messages. The media tried to scare people about every issue under the sun, but AIDS didn’t get much in the way of TV movie treatment that I can remember. Too scary. Not seen as a mainstream issue. I won’t say it was ignored. I remember it coming up from time to time. But anti-drug movies were the big issue of the decade. And Hunt did her share of those. She also did her share for teen pregnancy, but the message there was abstinence more so than protection.

          Like

        • Interesting. God knows we Didn’t Do Sex in the UK with Thatcher in charge, but her then Health Secretary apparently pouted continuously until he was allowed to get the ads (and other copy) commissioned. It’s one of the rare govt campaigns that’s stuck in my head, so good on him. Particularly as I’ve yet to see stats from any country, anywhere, ever, that proves that abstinence promotion is more effective than protection. Our anti-drugs stuff was mostly bound up with anti-AIDS, for obvious reasons.

          Like

  29. Great article! I had forgotten how she got to be an A-lister in the first place. I remember Twister (meh) and As Good As It Gets (awesome) of course.

    But the last time I thought about Hunt was when What Woman Wants came out. I liked that movie, and it was before Crazy Mel.

    And that was over a decade ago.

    Like

    • I knew she didn’t have a dramatic departure from Hollywood. It’s more interesting when you have someone like Sean Young or Val Kilmer who implodes. So every time I thought about writing up Helen Hunt, I put it off in favor of a Kim Basinger or a Meg Ryan. Or one of my youthful crushes like Mira Sorvino. (Although I had a crush on Hunt too.)

      What I had forgotten was all of the crappy TV movie Hunt made for decades! Once I realized there was so much great material in Hunt’s slow rise to fame, I couldn’t wait to dig in.

      Like

    • Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets:
      http://oscarnerd.blogspot.com/2011/04/helen-hunt-in-as-good-as-it-gets.html

      Helen Hunt received her first and (to date only) Best Actress nomination and Oscar for playing Carol Connelly, a waitress and a single mom in the Best Picture nominated comedy, As Good as it Gets. Many were surprised to see her win but I really don’t see why. She won SAG, the Golden Globe. Of course, many thought Judi Dench would win but Hunt triumphed in the end. I guess that her stardom she reached with Mad about You helped her. It’s an interesting and very controversial decision, not very typical from the Academy.

      As Good as it Gets is an entertaining but really overlong movie. Had it been 30 minutes shorter, I would have enjoyed it way more. That Best Picture nod was a bit much, I think. I mean being very entertaining doesn’t equal an Oscar nomination in my book. Furthermore, this movie has such a TV feel to it (just like everything by James L. Brooks). Brooks does things as if this movie was 20 minutes long. And what works in a sitcom doesn’t necessarily work in a feature film. Jack is naturally great but that Oscar might have been a bit much. Greg Kinnear was not bad but nothing particularly amazing, really.

      Whatever happened to Helen Hunt? Seriously, what’s going on with her right now? Apart from the funny, but insignificant What Women Want, she didn’t make many successful movies until As Good as it Gets. I guess the fact that she kept on working on television after her Oscar win might have been one of the main reasons why she didn’t succeed after all. I think she’s very much like Tina Fey though their characters are a bit different (but their acting style is quite similar). The other odd thing is that I wouldn’t really expect to write so much about sitcom actresses on this blog, in my Best Actress reviews (only Mary Tyler Moore comes to my mind now).

      Comedy is extremely hard to pull off. There’s always the danger of overacting and unfortunately we don’t really get great great comedy nowadays. I mean, how does The Hangover compare to Some Like it Hot? All in all, great comedy performances are mostly given on television, I feel. Hunt’s previous experience with comedy certainly helped her a lot in portraying the character of Carol Connelly. However, it’s not only comedy skill that she needed to do this role well. Carol is a bit boring character and you’ve just got to make her more interesting and lovable. And Hunt really succeeded in doing so, thanks to her immense charisma.

      The first thing I noticed that (just like with Dame Judi Dench in Mrs Brown) Hunt doesn’t get enough screen-time and that’s really the movie’s fault. I just couldn’t decide who’s the one I should be rooting for. There was Melvin, Carol and Simon. Jack had the advantage of being Jack and getting the juicy lines, Kinnear is the one the audience feels sorry for and there’s Hunt. The thing that really elevated this performance above the two male actors is that Hunt added some bitterweet realism to Carol. Carol is a very ordinary woman with problems at home, with her love life and her child. She seems to exist inside a bubble and the only think she can care about is her only child. Hunt heartbreakingly showed the pain of this character and her performance is unusually deep for this movie. I mean, As Good as it Gets lacks emotional depth and stays on the surface with emotions but Hunt (in my opinion) went inside the head of this character and understood all her actions perfectly.

      There’s the scene where Hunt says a hysterical monologue (it’s probably her most famous moment and people still keep talking about it). She’s so heartwrenching and it’s just impossible not to feel for her character. And the delivery of the line “OK” is simply perfect. I dare say that it’s probably one of the best acted scenes of 1997.

      I must admit, though, that I was a bit underwhelmed by the beginning of the performance but after a while it became so easy and wonderful. It started out a bit forced with Hunt’s overdoing Carol’s character but in the end it really became something utterly lovable and wonderful. Her reaction, when Simon wants to paint her, is just unforgettable. On a personal level, I might say that’s my favorite scene of this performance (despite the fact that I appreciate that big monologue a bit more).

      So, to sum up, Helen Hunt almost crossed the line of fantastic with her performance as Carol Connelly in As Good as it Gets. Hunt added wonderful, lovable realism to this character and she made the audience really care about her. Those, who keep saying that she’s one of the worst winners, really need to shut up. Helen Hunt is just excellent as this lovable character. Well done.

      Like

      • 8 Oscars Winners Who Should Give the Award Back:
        http://itthing.com/8-oscars-winners-who-should-give-the-award-back

        4. Helen Hunt

        Helen Hunt won for an uninspired performance in As Good As It Gets. Does anyone really think she held her own against Jack in any scene? Even against Greg Kinnear? No, sir, she did not. After her Oscar win she went on to appear in the over-manipulative Pay It Forward, was upstaged by a volleyball in Castaway and phoned in another nothing role in Bobby. Hunt did have a nice turn in What Women Want, but she hasn’t had a leading role in nearly ten years. And just like Mira Sorvino, she beat out Kate Winslet. Say WHAT?!

        Like

        • Oscar’s Curse: How the Academy ruined these actors’ careers:
          http://entertainment.ca.msn.com/movies/oscars/oscars-curse-how-the-academy-ruined-these-actors-careers-618?page=8

          Best Actress: “As Good As It Gets” (1998) There was a time when Helen Hunt was hot stuff. The go-to gal for “regular woman we might actually marry” roles, she was the highest-paid actress on television for her sitcom “Mad About You.” And she’s got a certain kind of talent, for sure. So it was, I suppose fine that she won an Oscar for her sassy, world-weary waitress in need of a compliment in James L. Brooks’ wonderful “As Good As It Gets,” but I don’t know. Beating the sublime Kate Winslet in “Sense and Sensibility?” But never mind that. While Winslet has gone on to nominations galore and to become one of the great actresses of her generation, Hunt fell off the radar. She may have taken her own break, may have done some theater but, frankly, people were just sick of her. Even when she showed up as Tom Hanks’ wife in “Cast Away,” many audiences were thinking … oh, her again. And “What Women Want?” Not Hunt.

          Like

        • 22 Incredibly Shocking Oscars Injustices:
          http://www.empireonline.com/features/22-incredibly-shocking-oscars-injustices/p12

          Best Actress (1998)
          Who should have won: Judi Dench (Mrs. Brown)

          Who won: Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets)

          As Katharine Hepburn wrily commented: “The right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles.” There have been few better examples of this than Judi Dench. The Academy loves her – she’s been nominated six times – but her only win came for a movie she graced for a mere eight minutes. Instead of a Best Supporting win for Shakespeare In Love, Dame Judi should have walked away with a little golden man for her portrayal of Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown. Critics fell over themselves to praise her icy/tender monarch, whose initially gruff dealings with her Scottish servant (Bill Connelly) blossom into a platonic romance that made us a little wobbly. It was a year for complex relationships at the Oscars. The winner, Helen Hunt, was the straightwoman in a Jack Nicholson/Greg Kinnear neurosis-off in As Good As It Gets. It was Hunt’s one and only Oscar nomination to date. But, good as she is James Brooks’ sharp comedy, Dench was better.

          Like

        • HOT GALLERY: 10 Stars Who Fell Victim to the Oscar Curse
          http://www.snakkle.com/galleries/before-they-were-famous-stars-photo-gallery-10-stars-who-fell-victim-to-the-oscar-curse-then-and-now/helen-hunt-as-good-gets-1998-movie-photo-gc/

          Helen Hunt, Best Actress in 1998 for As Good As It Gets

          Helen Hunt turned in a respectable performance as waitress Carol Connelly in As Good as It Gets. Did she deserve an Oscar for it? Was Cate Blanchett robbed of hers in 1999? (We will never forget, Cate. Never forget.) And yet, thanks to some stellar side acting courtesy of Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinnear, Hunt hugged Oscar gold that year.

          Helen Hunt—Today

          Hunt followed up her Oscar wins with some equally ambivalent performances. In Pay It Forward, she managed to bore us as a vision of tragedy. In Castaway, she was upstaged by a volleyball. Since then, her most notable role has been as mother to Soul Surfer.

          Like

        • Top 10 Post-Oscar Busts:
          http://entertainment.time.com/2012/02/27/top-10-post-oscar-busts/slide/helen-hunt/

          What happened to Helen Hunt? The sitcom sweetie nabbed an Oscar for her portrayal of Carol Connelly opposite Jack Nicholson in 1997′s As Good as It Gets. Her role as a waitress and single mother who falls truly and inexplicably in love with Nicholson’s Melvin Udall won her both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in 1998. She also won an Emmy that same year for her work in the television series Mad About You, making her one of the few actresses to receive all three awards in one year. But Hunt took a break from film after her Oscar win and has never fully returned. While she starred in some decent box-office hits, such as Cast Away and What Women Want, Hunt has only barely appeared on the big screen since her directorial debut, 2007′s Then She Found Me. Hopes are high for her performance in The Surrogate, a hit at this year’s Sundance film festival, in which she stars as a woman who helps teach a paralyzed man how to have sex.

          Like

        • No Survivors – The utter wreckage caused by Pay It Forward…

          http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.com/2013/02/no-survivors-utter-wreckage-caused-by.html

          Any number of movies can bomb critically and commercially to the extent that they harm the star or director or even the writer involved with the respective project. But, 13.5 years later, the utter carnage reaped by Pay It Forward remains impressive and perhaps unprecedented. Yes the movie wasn’t very good and yes it didn’t make very much money at the box office. But the impressive thing about Pay It Forward, a would-be Oscar bait drama released in October of 2000, is how brutally it crushed the careers of pretty much all of its major players, inflicting wounds that have only just now started to wear off. The film was considered a major player prior to its release. starring recent Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Oscar nominee (and shoulda-been winner) Haley Joel Osment. It was helmed by Mimi Leder, fresh off the blockbuster success of Deep Impact. The film was not a critical darling, getting savaged by critics to such a degree that many outright spoiled the film’s kinda-sorta twist ending purely out of spite. And it was not a box office success either, earning just $55 million worldwide off a $40 million budget. But more importantly, the negative reaction to the film was so severe that it iced the white-hot buzz around all of its primary players.

          Remember how big of a deal Kevin Spacey was back in 1995-2000? Coming off The Usual Suspects and Se7en, Spacey became the new critical darling of both the film critic establishment and the film school students of my generation. He followed up his surprise Oscar win as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects with A Time To Kill, LA Confidential, The Negotiator, A Bug’s Life and then capped off the decade with another Oscar winning turn in American Beauty. But after Pay It Forward, Spacey’s heat cooled off considerably. The already in-development K-Pax actually opened to $20 million the next year, but after that it was a string of poorly received ‘message movies’ (The Shipping News, The Life of David Gale) and mostly ignored passion projects (anyone remember Beyond the Sea?). Look at it this way, back in 1998, when the Tim Burton-helmed Death of Superman flirted with casting Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor it was seen as a massive ‘get’ on par with Burton scoring Nicholson to play The Joker in Batman. But eight years later, Spacey playing Luthor in Superman Returns was seen as director Brian Singer doing a favor to a friend who needed a high-profile gig. He still worked steadily, occasionally adding spice to high-toned trash like 21, but it wasn’t until his recent high-profile starring role in Netflix’s House of Cards that Spacey even remotely mattered over the last decade.

          Helen Hunt’s fall was faster. She was coming off an Oscar win for As Good As It Gets and the blockbuster success of Twister. She had two projects still in the pipeline in December 2000, both of which were massive hits (Cast Away and What Women Want). Tarnished by allegations that her 1997 Oscar win was undeserved and inexplicably trashed under the false meme that her performance as a working-poor Vegas waitress was somehow a rip-off of Erin Brockovich, Hunt lost all momentum as a cinematic leading lady. Even more so than Spacey, her output shrank considerably and her momentum was stopped cold. Aside from a few small roles in the likes of Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Bobby and starring roles in small films few people saw (A Good Woman, Empire Falls, Every Day), along with directing and starring in Then She Found Me, Helen Hunt staid out of the spotlight until she, coincidence or not, was old enough to play AnnaSophia Robb’s mother in Soul Surfer in 2011. Now she’s back with a high profile Oscar bait pic The Sessions so a comeback may be in order. Not to play the gender card again, but would an actor with starring roles in four $150 million+ blockbusters in four years, two of which topped $200 million, have been so viciously felled by a single high-profile flop?

          Haley Joel Osmant’s crash is more complicated. Like Hunt and Spacey, he still had at least one big project in the pipeline, the painfully underrated AI: Artificial Intelligence. But Osment took an incredible amount of flack for a perfectly serviceable dramatic performance, basically erasing all of the good will achieved by his superb turn in The Sixth Sense just over a year earlier. After AI, it was basically game over for Osment. He did a couple straight-to-DVD Disney voice over gigs, a would-be comeback project (Secondhand Lions) that no one saw, and then petered out into the realm of video game voice overs and small pictures that few if anyone saw (Home of the Giants, Montana Amazon, Sassy Pants). He may or may not return in some capacity, but it’s clear that his ship has sailed, with one of the best kid actors of his generation arguably relegated to being a trivia question and/or pop culture punchline. Even the writer, Leslie Dixon, adapting Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book, was pretty much MIA for the next seven years. She wrote Freaky Friday in 2003 and Just Like Heaven in 2005 before popping back up in 2007 to pen Hairspray and The Heartbreak Kid and then writing Limitless in 2011.

          The damage was also brutal, and at the moment, permanent, for director Mimi Leder. In short, she hasn’t made a theatrical feature in thirteen years. Her 2009 Morgan Freeman/Antonio Banderas thriller Thick As Thieves or The Code went straight-to-DVD in the states. She’s done various television episodes and flirted with projects like remaking All Quiet On the Western Front, but nothing has actually come to fruition. Again, not to play the gender card again, but I have a hard time believing that a male director with Deep Impact and the terrific and painfully ahead-of-its-time action thriller The Peacemaker on his resume could be permanently felled by the token under-performance of a $40 million character drama. But Leder, having already proven her chops at hard action and melodrama, has been completely MIA from the American theatrical scene. What I’d give to see her action chops used for something like The Expendables 3 or a random action-heavy comic book picture. She made my list last year for female directors who should have gotten at least a shot at a Hunger Games sequel and I still stand by that.

          The irony of all of this is two-fold. First of all, Pay It Forward, aside from perhaps its ridiculous ending, it’s that bad of a movie. In fact I’d argue much of the venom spewed its way was on account of its somewhat shameless and wrongheaded finale. It’s initial premise, with Osment trying to make the world a better place by getting people to do good deeds for one another, is intriguing and it’s told with a certain adult sensibility. But the film has a needless secondary story with Jay Mohr as a reporter who stumbles onto the phenomenon which takes away from the core narrative. Also problematic is the eventual romantic subplot, which turns to the film into a romantic drama between Osment’s mother (Hunt) and his damaged teacher (Spacey). It is Osment who plots to get the two of them together, and the film never really acknowledges that this would-be good deed is actually a selfish and self-serving action. But as a character piece, it’s filled with wonderfully acted scenes between three terrific actors. The picture is filled with Oscar clip moments, and I mean that as a compliment. Pay It Forward is not a good movie, and it really shoots itself in the foot with that ending, but it’s the kind of character-driven drama that quickly became an endangered species after 2001 and it’s pretty entertaining in the present tense.

          Moreover, as much as the film has become somewhat of a ghoulish horror story, it worked. By that I mean pretty much everyone knows what the phrase ‘pay it forward’ means. Thirteen years later, if you toss out the phrase ‘pay it forward’ in a casual conversation, there is a good chance that the other parties will know what you’re talking about. Maybe they’ve heard of the movie, maybe they haven’t. But they generally understand the core idea of paying it forward (IE – do a good deed for three people and have them do three good deeds to three others as payment). The film itself was an unmitigated disaster, not only earning terrible reviews and bombing at the box office, but also killing the momentum of all of its main participants. But if the purpose of a message movie is to spread its message, then it’s hard to argue that Pay It Forward failed at its primary goal. Thirteen years later, Pay It Forward stands unique as an all-encompassing disaster for all involved, stopping several promising careers dead in their tracks with a single brutal blow. But people who were around back then still remember the movie and they remember its rather simple message for how to change the world. Come what may, that has to count for something.

          Like

        • Helen Hunt has done nothing but work her ass off since she was a little girl. There is no need to be cruel and disrespectful. She has provided high quality entertainment to my family for a generation.

          She has earned her accolades through hard work. What accolades have her detractors won?

          Brad Deal

          Like

        • Re: The Return of Helen Hunt:
          http://www.datalounge.com/cgi-bin/iowa/ajax.html?t=12469924#page:showThread,12469924,3

          Helen Hunt is a lousy actress; her performances are forced. One gets the impression that she likes to show everyone that she’s acting when she is in character. She is not photogenic and has zero appeal on a movie screen. The screen only emphasizes her flaws. She has the sex appeal of a department store mannequin. Furthermore, as she ages, her appearance, which is duller than a circa 1970s Phys Ed teacher, is becoming masculine as years progress. Clearly, she did not deserve an Oscar. There was Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Helen Bonham Carter and Julie Christie! To even list her name with those powerfully talented actresses is a joke. It’s like listing Pamela Anderson or Minnie Mouse among those marvelous actresses. Never has a lame, lackluster, limited actress risen so far with far less to offer. She lucked out, through connections and circumstance. She won that Oscar by default. Furthermore, no amount of trips to the plastic surgeons, the makeup artists, the personal trainers, the hairstylists and photographers can make her pretty. No amount of training, acting classes and coaches can make her a good actress. One can’t make something out of nothing at all.

          by: Armchair Critic reply 42 08/06/2013 @ 11:29PM

          Like

        • Ah, yes, one must always consider the opinion of boring old gay men when assessing Helen Hunt’s career.

          Like

        • What is Haley Joel Osment Doing Now? What Happened to Haley Joel Osment?

          http://gazettereview.com/2015/06/what-is-haley-joel-osment-doing-now-what-happened-to-haley-joel-osment/

          You probably remember Haley Joel Osment for his critically acclaimed appearance in The Sixth Sense, where he co-starred with the legendary Bruce Willis. He became the second youngest actor to receive a nomination for an Academy Award for supporting role. His line in the movie, “I see dead people,” became an iconic catchphrase that many films and television shows cameo to this day. Shortly after, he starred in the blockbuster film Pay It Forward, and in the following year he appeared in Artificial Intelligence, a Steven Spielberg film. Osment has almost instantly become a star, and at the incredibly young age of 13, he had only just begun his film career.

          But when was the last time you heard his name? How could someone whose career was only beginning, had just started to blossom and had a ceiling so high, go from teenage star to unknown? His story, his rise and fall, is an astonishingly bizarre, almost cautious tale.

          The Rise

          Born in 1988, Haley Joel Osment lived his early life in Los Angeles, California. His father was an actor himself, and his lone sibling, Emily Osment, became an actor herself. Because of his family’s ties with the industry of film, Haley began his acting career at the age of four. He had gone to a furniture store with his mother, Theresa Osment, only to bump into a talent scout. Haley had his information written down, and got a reply soon after. At the audition, he was asked to describe the biggest thing he had ever seen. Haley described an IMAX theater screen, and ending up winning a part in a Pizza Hut commercial. Osment had won the part not only with his delightful enthusiasm, but with his rare acting skills. This small commercial jump-started his career, and his fame started to increase at a rapid, exponential rate.

          He soon landed the role that would give him worldwide fame: the young boy Cole Sear, a psychic child in the film, The Sixth Sense. He was only 11 years old, yet during the audition he was able to perform at a much higher level than any other young actor his age. While filming the movie, he was so determined to get the part perfect; he would do tricks unheard of to make sure his mind was in sync with his character. He was known to slam his head into the wall of the filming area in order to conjure the sense of dread and pain that the scene required, and he would continuously perform this action until he felt he was hurt enough to play the part with the proper emotions. During another difficult scene where he got slapped by his in-film mother, Osment asked her to forgo the staged slap and literally strike him with force so that he could, “feel the shock”. This type of acting behavior was unheard of; the fact that it was coming from an 11 year old showed how special Haley really was.

          After receiving international attention for his part in The Sixth Sense, Haley landed another starring role in a movie from arguably the most influential director of all time: Steven Spielberg. The movie, Artificial Intelligence, was revolutionary in its own right. It offered a warning of the potential harms of a technologically advanced society, similar to the novels 1984 by George Orwell and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. While the movie itself was a big hit, Osment’s fame rose dramatically, to an unseen level for such a young actor. And he wasn’t your average Shirley Temple, using his voice and looks to gain the audiences’ heart; he was a bona fide actor who used his incredibly advanced skills to portray a character’s emotions better than many adult actors. He had arguably the brightest future of any actor his age.

          The Fall

          In 2006, after appearing in numerous other films, Haley Osment’s career took a sharp turn. As we’ve seen today with many celebrities who experience fame at a young age – Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Beiber, to name a few – most kids have trouble dealing with all the pressure.

          However, on October 19th, 2006, when Osment pleaded no contest for drunk driving and drug possession after a car crash, it couldn’t have been more surprising. Not only did he receive numerous injuries including a broken rib and a fractured shoulder, he was sentenced to three years of probation, numerous hours in alcohol education programs, and multiple fines. His acting career was suddenly put on hold.

          It was discovered that he had a drug and alcohol problem after this event, and he was no longer getting the usual invites to audition for blockbuster movies. He eventually came back into the realm of acting with his role in David Mamet’s American Buffalo reboot, however the movie was released to mixed reviews from critics and a statement was soon released saying the film would close after the first week.

          Today

          Haley Osment was last heard of earning a starring role in the movie Wake the Dead, with production beginning in late 2011. However, to this day no publishing status has been released. Aside from small appearances in Alpha House and The Spoils of Babylon, Osment’s career has hit a standstill. His story is another cautious tale of a young star with unlimited potential who became his own enemy. His demons took over him and ruined what he had left. Ironically, his character in his most famous movie was haunted, and he now was in real life.

          The saddest part of Haley’s story is how he isn’t alone. Almost every child celebrity in this generation starts to go down the wrong path. For every success story like Hillary Duff – or even Haley’s sister Emily Osment – there are even more stories like Lindsay Lohan or Molly Ringwald. The truth is, no one is a sure thing. Haley Osment is the ideal example of this unfortunately common predicament.

          Like

      • What a load of crap. Yet another blogger talking drivel while advertising their website at the same time. Please don’t continue to spam this website with your patronising drivel.

        Helen Hunt was incredible in As Good As It Gets and fully deserved the Oscar. The other performances were incredible also but her and Jack Nicholson stood out.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,447 other followers

%d bloggers like this: