What the Hell Happened to Brendan Fraser?
Brendan Fraser always seemed like he was one big movie away from being an A-list star. All through the 90′s the media buzzed about his potential. At the end of the decade, Fraser finally had a couple of big hit movies. And yet, he still couldn’t cross over to the A-list. More than a decade later, Fraser is still a respected working actor. But the A-list potential has dried up.
What the hell happened?
Fraser’s first acting role was in a reenactment on America’s Most Wanted in 1988. He appeared in a TV movie, Child of Darkness, Child of Light in 1991. That same year, Fraser had a cameo role as a sailor who gets into a fight in the River Phoenix movie, Dogfight (pictured above).
1992 was a big year for Fraser. First he starred in the comedy, Encino Man opposite Sean Astin and Pauly Shore.
Astin and Shore played teenage dopes in the Wayne and Garth mold. They were kind of a poor man’s Bill and Ted. Even that description may set expectations too high since the “funny one” was played by Pauly Shore. At the time, Shore was a popular personality on MTV and Disney hoped to capitalize on that popularity with Encino Man.
Fraser played a caveman who awakens in the 90s in Encino , CA. Austin and Shore try to use their discovery of the caveman to become more popular at high school. The movie follows the teen comedy formula to the letter. It’s one saving grace is Fraser’s goofy performance as the prehistoric fish out of water.
Despite negative reviews, Encino Man was a hit. As a result, audiences were subjected to years of Pauly Shore movies and a direct-to-TV sequel, Encino Woman.
Fraser went on to reprise his role as Link in a cameo appearance in Shore’s 1993 film, Son-in-Law. He also played a soldier with the nick-name Link on his fatigues in Shore’s 1994 movie, In the Army Now. Apparently that ended Fraser’s indentured servitude and he was spared the indignity of cameos in Jury Duty and Bio-Dome.
Later that year, Fraser starred in the drama, School Ties, opposite Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell and Ben Affleck.
Fraser played a Jewish student who transfers to a private school on an athletic scholarship during his senior year. The film is set in the 1950′s and Fraser’s character faces rampant anti-Semitism. To protect himself, he hides his religion from his fellow students.
While filming, director Robert Mandel told the young cast that they would go on to be the next Brat Pack. He was right in the sense that many members of the cast went on to be famous. But fortunately they were not stigmatized with a label like the 80′s actors were.
School Ties received mixed to positive reviews and did moderately well at the box office.
1992 is basically a microcosm of Fraser’s career. He would bounce between goofy comedic roles like Encino Man and more dramatic roles like School Ties. On the one hand, few actors have the kind of range to pull off both broad slapstick and drama. On the other, Fraser never seemed to find a niche.
In 1993, Fraser appeared in the movie, Twenty Bucks.
Twenty Bucks followed a $20 bill from an ATM machine until it is finally turned in to be shredded. Over the course of the movie, the twenty dollar bill passes through the lives of several people played by Fraser, Linda Hunt, Elisabeth Shue, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Lloyd, William H. Macy and others.
Twenty Bucks got mixed reviews and barely appeared in theaters. That same year, Fraser starred opposite Donald Sutherland in Younger and Younger, a comedy that was even less seen than Twenty Bucks.
In 1994, Fraser appeared in a glut of movies any one of which could have made him a star. The first was the comedy, With Honors, which co-starred Joe Pesci.
Fraser played a Harvard student who loses the only copy his of thesis paper. Pesci played a homeless man who finds the paper and holds it hostage. The film co-starred Patrick Dempsey and 90′s it-girl, Moira Kelly.
Pesci’s career was hot at the time with the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone movies plus the success of My Cousin Vinny. But With Honors started a cooling-off period for Pesci. It got mixed to negative reviews and did so-so box office.
Later that year, Fraser starred opposite Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler in rock comedy, Airheads.
Fraser, Buscemi and Sandler played members of a band who inadvertently hold a radio station hostage when a DJ refuses to play their demo tape.
Airheads came out one year before Adam Sandler starred in Billy Madison. At the time, he was just another Saturday Night Live performer struggling to make the transition to film. He gets third billing in Airheads behind Fraser and Buscemi.
Airheads got negative reviews and bombed badly at the box office. It opened at an abysmal tenth place. Just to put that in perspective, The Little Rascals opened that same weekend at fourth place. Airheads placed behind Angels in the Outfield which was in its fourth week of release. It barely outgrossed Speed which was in its ninth week.
Fraser ended the year opposite Albert Brooks in the baseball comedy, The Scout.
Fraser played a promising baseball player with severe mental problems. Brooks played a hard-on-his-luck scout who hopes to bring Fraser’s character to the big leagues and revitalize his career.
The script was originally written with Rodney Dangerfield in mind. Eventually, Brooks decided to make the film himself and re-wrote it to be less “silly”. Brooks has said that his version of the film “did not end like Rocky with that bullshit ending.” But the studio forced a happy ending on the film.
Brooks and Fraser have a great chemistry that almost saves the film. But between the rewrites and studio cuts, the movie has a very uneven tone. Sometimes it is goofy and at other times it deals with very dark issues. The mixture never quite comes together.
The Scout received mixed to negative reviews and bombed at the box office. Once again to put things in perspective, The Scout opened in 8th place behind Clear and Present Danger which opened nine weeks earlier; the same weekend that Airheads bombed.
1994 had been a brutal year at the box office for Fraser. In 1995, he retreated from Hollywood and starred in the German-based art house horror film, The Passion of Darkly Noon opposite Ashley Judd and Viggo Mortensen.
Fraser played a member of an ultraconservative Christian cult. After the death of his parents, he wanders into the Appalachian forests where he meets Judd’s character. Naturally, Fraser decides that the free-spirited Judd is too sexy to live. He decides to kill her and her boyfriend played by Mortensen at the prompting of Mortensen’s crazy mother.
I think to do the film justice, we’re going to need to watch the trailer:
The entire movie is available to watch on You Tube if you are so inclined. But if you just want to watch Fraser attempt to kill Judd and Mortensen while they are having sex, here yo go:
“Who will love me now?” indeed. Fortunately for all involved, The Passion of Darkly Noon was not released in the US. Fraser’s only big screen appearance in 1995 was an uncredited cameo in Now and Then.
In 1996, Fraser returned to mainstream Hollywood movies opposite Shirley MacLaine and Ricki Lake in Mrs. Winterbourne.
The plot is basically while you were sleeping except instead of a funny coma, it involves a fatal train wreck and the termination of two pregnancies. It’s no wonder it got negative reviews and bombed at the box office.
Mrs. Winterbourne opened in 6th place in its opening weekend. Sixth place is pretty horrible, but at least it beat out Judd Apatow’s sports comedy, Celtic Pride which opened at 7th place that same weekend.
Continuing his string of cameos, Fraser popped up the Kids in the Hall movie, Brain Candy and indie comedy Glory Daze which starred his School Ties co-star, Ben Affleck.
The following year, Fraser appeared in the TV movie, The Twilight of the Golds. The movie was an adaptation of a Broadway play about a pregnant woman who discovers that he baby will be born gay. Fraser played her gay brother who tries to talk her out of having an abortion.
In 1997, Fraser finally had the first big hit of his career with the live-action adaptation of the 1960′s cartoon, George of the Jungle.
George of the Jungle was a Tarzan satire best known for its goofy theme song. It made for an unlikely summer blockbuster. In spite of mixed reviews, the film’s goofy charms won over families who made it a hit at the box office.
Disney released a direct-to-video sequel in 2003 with an unkown actor in the lead role.
In 1998, Fraser starred opposite Ian McKellen in the critically acclaimed drama, Gods and Monsters.
McKellan played legendary director James Whale, director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Fraser played a young man who befriended Whale. The movie recounts the fictionalized events of the final days of Whale’s life.
Despite receiving great reviews, the movie was not a hit at the box office.
Later that year, Fraser starred in the little-seen romantic drama, Still Breathing.
Fraser played a musician who has a dream of a woman he has never met. Believing that this woman is his soul mate, he travels to LA to meet her. However, she turns out to be a con artist who attempts to seduce him.
1999 was another big year for Fraser. First, he starred opposite Alicia Silverstone in the romantic comedy, Blast From the Past.
Fraser returned to the fish out of water comedy that made Encino Man a mild success seven years earlier. He played a man who was raised in a fall-out shelter. He is still stuck in 1962.
Blast From the Past got mixed reviews and flopped at the box office. It opened in fifth place; two spots behind My Favorite Martian which also opened that weekend. It was more or less the final nail in the coffin of Silverstone’s mainstream movie career.
In the summer of 1999, Fraser had the biggest hit of his career to-date, Stephen Sommers’ remake of The Mummy.
The Mummy had a long and troubled road to the big screen. Following the success of 90′s monster movies like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Wolf, Universal was interested in updating The Mummy. But they wanted to keep the budget low.
Originally, horror author Clive Barker was brought on board to write and direct. His treatment centered on a cultist who attempts to reanimate mummies at an art museum. However, the studio lost interest in Barker’s low-budget horror movie.
Next, legendary horror director George A. Romero was approached. He pitched a Night of the Living Dead-style horror movie with mummies shambling in place of zombies. Universal thought this was too scary for main stream audiences.
Joe Dante came close to making his version of The Mummy starring Daniel Day Lewis. It was a love story ala Bram Stoker’s Dracula and was co-written by John Sayles. If this version had been made, I bet Winona Ryder would have co-starred. Sadly, that was not to be.
After Dante left the project, Mick Garris and Wes Craven were both approached. Garris left the project and Craven turned it down. Sommers pitched the studio on The Mummy as an Indiana Jones-style adventure flick. Universal, which had just undergone a regime change, liked the idea so much that they upped the budget from $15 million to $80 million dollars.
Personally, I would have rather seen any of proposed versions of The Mummy instead of Sommers’ goofy CGI-fest. But in spite of mixed reviews, The Mummy was a big hit with audiences. Even those who didn’t like the movie typically gave Fraser credit for a light performance that holds the fractured movie together.
For an alternate take, I direct you to a review by friend-of-the-blog, Sean Daniel Shortwinter who calls The Mummy “the ultimate popcorn-muncher that still has no equal“.
Later that year, Fraser starred opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in another live-action adaptation of a Jay Ward cartoon, Dudley Do-Right.
On paper, this must have looked like a no-brainer given the success of George of the Jungle. If a mediocre movie like George could be a box office smash, how much worse could another cartoon-adaptation starring Fraser possibly fare?
As it turns out, a lot worse. In spite of the fact audiences just paid to see Fraser in The Mummy three months earlier, they avoided Dudley Do-Right in droves. With no talking animals (or Fraser in a loin cloth) the movie didn’t even open in the top ten.
The film had a budget of $70 million dollars and failed to gross even $10 million dollars during its domestic run. It opened in 11th place just above Inspector Gadget which was in its sixth week in theaters. It opened below Albert Brooks’ The Muse and The Astronaut’s Wife which were both box office disappointments.
Critics didn’t like it either. Roger Ebert gave the movie one of its few positive reviews. Even he damned it with faint praise:
“Dudley Do-Right is a genial live-action version of the old cartoon, with a lot of broad slapstick humor that kids like and adults wince at. I did a little wincing the ninth or 10th time Dudley stepped on a loose plank and it slammed him in the head, but I enjoyed the film more than I expected to. It’s harmless, simple-minded, and has a couple of sequences better than Dudley really deserves.”
In 2000, Fraser provided the voice of Sinbad in Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists.
Sinbad was marketed as the first movie filmed entirely using motion capture. At a cost of $30 million dollars, it is reported to be the most expensive direct-to-video movie ever made. In spite of that, the animation is worse than your average video game.
Fortunately, most people have no idea that Sinbad even exists.
In 2000, Fraser took another swing at the A-list in the comedy remake, Bedazzled.
Bedazzled was a remake of a cult British comedy from 1967 starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. In the original, Cook played the devil who offers Moore seven wishes. But each time he grants a wish, he twists it so that the outcome isn’t what Moore intended. Raquel Welch had a memorable cameo as the embodiment of Lust.
In Harold Ramis’ remake, the Devil and Lust are combined into one character played by Elizabeth Hurley who was relatively popular after appearing in the first Austin Powers movie.
Bedazzled opened to mixed reviews and disappointing box office. Even with Hurley slinking around in form-fitting red outfits and Fraser in a series of goofy costumes couldn’t make Bedazzled a hit.
Up to this point, Fraser had more than his fair share of flops and box office bombs. But in 2001, he starred in a real career-killer.
Monkeybone was a hybrid of live-action and stop-motion animation directed by Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Monkeybone was based on an independent comic called Dark Town. Fraser played a cartoonist who falls into a coma and is trapped in the fantasy realm of Down Town. Monkeybone, his cartoon creation, takes the opportunity to steal his body and live in the real world.
Bridget Fonda played Fraser’s girl friend. The movie more or less ended her mainstream Hollywood career. It spent more than a year sitting on a shelf before 20th Century Fox dumped it in theaters.
Reviews were terrible and the movie flopped. It cost over $75 million to make and grossed roughly 10% of its budget. Once again, Fraser had a film that failed to crack the top 10 in its opening weekend. It was handily beat by the flop 3000 Miles to Graceland which opened at #3 that week.
Fortunately, Fraser still had The Mummy franchise to fall back on. Later that year, Fraser starred in the sequel, The Mummy Returns.
The sequel basically repeats the formula that made the first film a box office hit. If anything, it is bigger, louder and more stupid. Once again, reviews were mixed. But the sequel was an even bigger hit than the original. It also spawned a spin-off movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
In 2002, Fraser appeared opposite Michael Caine in The Quiet American.
The film was based on the best-selling novel by Graham Greene. The novel had been previously adapted in 1958. Caine played a British reported in Saigon in 1952. Fraser played an idealistic CIA operative who gets caught up in romance and intrigue.
The movie received positive reviews and Caine was nominated for an Oscar. But it was ignored at the box office.
In 2003, Fraser starred in another live-action cartoon, Joe Dante’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
The Looney Tunes had starred in a box office hit with Michael Jordan in 1996′s Space Jam. At one point, a follow-up was planned starring Jackie Chan. It was to be called, Spy Jam.
Unfortunately, Back in Action failed to live up to the success of Space Jam. Despite getting better reviews, the movie flopped so badly at the box office that Warner Bros cancelled plans to release Looney Tunes shorts. At a cost of $80 million dollars, it grossed roughly $20 million in the US.
Fraser bounced back in 2004 as part of the ensemble cast of Paul Haggis’ Oscar winning drama, Crash.
Crash tells interwoven stories that deal (not so subtly) with racism. Fraser played a district attorney who (along with his wife played by Sandra Bullock) is a victim of a car-jacking.
Reviews were mostly positive and the film went on to win Best Picture. It was also a huge hit at the box office. For my money, it was also vastly over-rated. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes at all of the coincidences and melodrama. But once again, I was in the minority.
Despite the success of Crash, Fraser retreated into indie films. In 2006, he appeared in Journey to the End of the Night and opposite Michael Keaton in The Last Time (pictured above). He also appeared opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Air I Breathe.
By this point, you could pretty safely assume that Fraser’s days as a box office draw were behind him. And yet against all odds, Fraser pulled off a hit in the 2008 sci-fi adventure flick, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The movie was a loose adaptation or sequel to the Jules Verne novel of the same name. It returns Fraser to the kind of family friendly action that made the Mummy films box office hits. It also benefitted from being ahead of the 3-D craze that would peak with Avatar in 2009.
Journey got mixed to positive reviews and was a surprise hit at the box office. It only opened at #3, but held on for several weeks. Additionally, it performed very well overseas.
It was successful enough to merit a sequel which replaced Fraser with his Mummy 2 co-star, Dwayne Johnson. The sequel outgrossed the original. Johnson is slated to appear in a third Journey film.
Later that year, Fraser returned to the Mummy franchise for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Maria Bello stepped in for Rachel Weisz who refused to reprise her role. Jet Li joined the cast as a new villain. Despite negative reviews, the third Mummy film was also a hit. A fourth film in the series was planned. But instead, Universal has decided to reboot the series.
In 2008, Fraser starred in the fantasy film, Inkheart.
Fraser played a dad with the power to make bedtime stories come true as he reads to his daughter. The movie was based on a novel by Cornelia Funke. Funke says she based the character on Fraser and dedicated the second novel in her trilogy to him. The film’s producers wanted to cast a bigger star in the role, but they gave in to Funke’s demands to cast Fraser.
The movie’s release date was pushed back several times. It was supposed to be released Christmas of 2007 but ultimately premiered in Europe nearly a year later. It didn’t open in the US until January 2009.
Reviews were mixed and the film flopped in the US. It barely recouped its $60 million dollar budget worldwide.
In 2010, Fraser starred opposite Harrison Ford and Keri Russell in the medical drama, Extraordinary Measures.
The movie was based on a non-fiction book named “The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million—and Bucked the Medical Establishment—in a Quest to Save His Children”. But since that title gave away the ending of the movie and would not fit on a marquee, it was renamed Extraordinary Measures which is a rather ordinary name.
Ford was experiencing something of a comeback following the fourth Indiana Jones movie. But that comeback was stalling out. Extraordinary Measures got mixed reviews and was a disappointment at the box office.
I would have liked to have seen Ford and Fraser in a family friendly action adventure movie though. As long as Stephen Sommers wasn’t involved.
Later that year, Fraser returned to goofball comedy with Furry Vengeance in which he is tortured by animals and opens his mouth really, really wide.
Reviews were terrible. I honestly can’t believe Fraser was never nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award. Furry Vengeance seems like a bid for a Razzie if ever there was one. It was a box office disappointment.
In 2012, Fraser starred opposite Colm Meaney in the indie comedy, Whole Lotta Sole. In 2013, he provided voice work for the animated film, Escape From Planet Earth. He has several other films scheduled for release and has done voice work for video games.
Recently it has been reported that Fraser has been trouble making his alimony payments. This is actually quite common when actors get divorced at the peak of their popularity. When the actor’s career cools off, the alimony payments continue despite their falling salary. As a result, Fraser will probably continue working frequently even if the movies are not as big as they used to be.
So, what the hell happened?
How did a good-looking, talented actor fall so short of his potential? Well, first I think we have to qualify our terms here. Fraser remains a very respected and sought-after actor. His career is impressive in that he has made so many films and has demonstrated such a broad range.
I think that range is part of what kept Fraser from being a successful leading man. While he had the look to be a star, there was a certain nondescript goofiness that kept him from being a box office draw.
In fact, it could be argued that Fraser was box office poison. The hits he was in (The Mummy, George of the Jungle, Journey to the Center of the Earth) did not succeed because he was in them. In fact, the Journey sequel did better when it replaced Fraser with The Rock.
Having said that, I think Fraser made a valuable contribution to movies like The Mummy. He was required to walk a tightrope of comedy and action in that movie that few actors could have pulled off as well as he did. The problem is, he makes it look easy. Audiences overlooked Fraser’s light comic touch.
Also, it’s hard to nail down Fraser’s image. If you know him primarily from his goofy comedies, it can be hard to take him seriously in dramatic roles. If you know him from his dramas, you probably aren’t the target audience for Furry Vengeance.
Kim Basinger Thora Birch Matthew Broderick Nicolas Cage Chevy Chase Kevin Costner Geena Davis Bridget Fonda Brendan Fraser Mel Gibson Cuba Gooding Jr. Heather Graham Melanie Griffith Steve Guttenberg Daryl Hannah Helen Hunt Michael Keaton Nicole Kidman Val Kilmer Jude Law Jennifer Jason Leigh Penelope Ann Miller Demi Moore Rick Moranis Eddie Murphy Mike Myers Michelle Pfeiffer Molly Ringwald Meg Ryan Winona Ryder Arnold Schwarzenegger Steven Seagal Elisabeth Shue Alicia Silverstone Christian Slater Mira Sorvino Wesley Snipes Sharon Stone Mena Suvari Uma Thurman John Travolta Kathleen Turner Robin Williams Debra Winger Sean Young Renee Zellweger
Posted on March 2, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged brendan fraser, crash, encino man, entertainment, george of the jungle, journey to the center of the earth, movies, school ties, the mummy. Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.