What the Hell Happened to Wesley Snipes?

Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes

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

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


Wesley Snipes – Wildcats – 1986

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

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

Snipes and Harrelson became friends while filming Wildcats:

Most of the cats in Wildcats were black. Woody was only supposed to be in the movie early on, but Goldie liked him and he ended up with more and more scenes. We thought it was white favoritism. One of the football players, a Muslim from the Nation in Chicago, would whip on Woody every day. Woody couldn’t take it and came to me, “Look, man, what is all this black shit? Why’s he saying I’m the Devil? Do you think I’m the Devil?” We ended up with a friendship from that.

No one expects a movie like Wildcats to be good.  And it wasn’t.  It was the kind of bland, harmless comedy Hawn was known for in those days.  As Roger Ebert noted in his review:

Wildcats is clearly an attempt by Hawn to repeat a formula that was wonderfully successful in Private Benjamin: Wide-eyed Goldie copes with the real world. It was less successful in Protocol, and now it’s worn out altogether.

Wildcats opened in fourth place at the box office behind The Delta Force proving that even with the assistance of Snipes and Harrelson, Hawn was no match for Chuck Norris.

snipes - streets of gold

Wesley Snipes – Streets of Gold – 1986

Later that year, Snipes followed up Wildcats with another sports movie.

Klaus Maria Brandauer starred as a Russian immigrant who was denied the opportunity to join the Soviet national boxing team because he was Jewish.  When he comes to the US, he ends up coaching boxers played by Snipes and Adrian Pasdar.

At the time of the movie’s release, Brandauer was the star.  But later video releases would emphasize Snipes’ supporting role.

Critics complained that Streets of Gold was overly formulaic.  Roger Ebert lamented that the movie ultimately fell into the Rocky trap:

Streets of Gold is a movie that begins with a story that’s genuinely interesting. But then it gradually loses confidence and starts to depend on clichés, and by the last 20 minutes it’s on automatic pilot. Too bad, because this could have been a good one.

The boxing drama opened in ninth place at the box office behind Stand By Me which had been in theaters for 15 weeks by that point.  It barely edged out Top Gun which had been playing for more than six months!

Wesley Snipes - Miami Vice - 1986

Wesley Snipes – Miami Vice – 1986

Meanwhile (yes, we are still in 1986!) Snipes was also paying his dues on TV.  Most notably, he played a pimp on the 80’s TV sensation, Miami Vice.  Bill Paxton also appeared in the episode as a cop who falls in love with one of Snipes’ working girls.

Around this time, Snipes was also in consideration for the role of Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Proving that sometimes things work out for the best, the role ultimately went to LeVar Burton.

Wesley Snipes - 501 Blues Commercial - 1986

Wesley Snipes – 501 Blues Commercial – 1986

In 1986, we all had a bad case of the blues – the 501 blues that is!  Snipes had contracted a worse case than most.  His love of Levi’s blue jeans had him dancing down the street and losing his hat in this 1986 commercial.

Next: Bad and Major League


Posted on August 4, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 118 Comments.

  1. 10 Actors Who Just Stopped Trying

    Wesley Snipes

    Though he was always willing to put at least the minimum amount of effort into filming his fight scenes, Wesley Snipes had delegated less than 4 percent of his energy into making his body say and do things that resemble a human being capable of presenting naturalistic emotions.

    If Patton Oswalt is to be believed (and when is he not?), Wesley Snipes could not have given fewer s–ts on the set of Blade: Trinity, basically scowling his way to an easy paycheck and making the rest of the cast and crew miserable by refusing to take simple cues from the director.

    Snipes’ reason for cashing in his acting chips apparently stems from his giant ego, which might actually win a kickboxing match with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s at this point.

    He’s only made a couple of films since Blade: Trinity that weren’t direct-to-video martial arts-a-thons, and one of them was the gleefully self-referential Expendables 3, where Snipes’ only job was to show up and play himself (tax evasion and all). Hopefully his respectable, bit performance in the 2015 Spike Lee joint Chi-Raq is a sign of things to come, but it’s just as likely a single, last-ditch effort to prove to himself that he’s capable of trying again.


  2. Wesley Snipes

    I’ve been on a Snipes kick of late, and journeying through his glorious 90’s run has reminded me of how wonderful a movie star he was before the big fall off. NEW JACK CITY. JUNGLE FEVER. WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP. PASSENGER 57. SUGAR HILL. BOILING POINT. ONE NIGHT STAND. THE FAN. UNDISPUTED. There’s surprising variation. And he oozes cool, to the point of almost being a Black Steve McQueen.

    Even in something like DROP ZONE, he’s kind of awesome.

    I haven’t gotten around to BLADE / BLADE II yet, but I’ve always LOVED the second film.

    If I had to single out a favorite film, it’s Walter Hill’s UNDISPUTED. I really dig how Snipes allows Rhames to bring the bombast, and how he does his version of the classic stoic (70’s) Action Hero. His Monroe “Undisputed” Hutchens is a classic Hill protagonist, somewhere between Bronson in HARD TIMES and The Driver. Again, super cool.

    Another, I’m excited and really curious about revisiting is U.S. MARSHALS.

    So what are your favorites?

    <this whole kick started by catching opening of EXPENDABLES 3 on EPIX. The rescue of Snipes/his reveal was amazing; everything I’d wanted the movies to be>


  3. 10 Actors Hollywood Forgot About


    Going to prison for three years certainly isn’t good if you’re trying to stay fresh in moviegoers minds, and Wesley Snipes was no exception to this rule. Despite being one of the first on-screen superheroes in three Blade films and having quietly iconic roles in Demolition Man and Major League, if you asked anyone born after 1990 who Wesley Snipes is they’d have a hard time telling you.

    Though Snipes is now out of prison and back to making films – he was in The Expendables 3 and Chi-Raq – it doesn’t look like he’s set to gain any new ground in Hollywood anytime soon. Though we’d love to see a career resurgence that puts Snipes in the category of age 50+ action stars, he’d better start booking gigs soon if he wants to get back to the level of star-power that he once had.


  4. 15 Movie Stars Who Peaked in the ’90s


    Wesley Snipes has had a tough stretch in recent years. Tax evasion, jail time, and a lawsuit have left him a tabloid fixture, while direct-to-DVD flicks like The Contractor (2007) and Game of Death (2010) haven’t exactly made fans forget the drama — a far cry from the days where he was pulling in multiple hits a year. Long before he became the poster-boy for tax fraud, the slick Snipes was actually one of the most consistently working dudes in the business.

    Benefiting from past exposure, Snipes hit the big time in the 90s, as leading roles in New Jack City (1991), Jungle Fever (1991), and White Men Can’t Jump (1992) made him a household name. With conviction you could bench-press and a range that encompassed comedy, drama, and action, the Florida native churned out one commercial serving after another, including but not limited to Passenger 57 (1992), Murder at 1600 (1997), and Blade (1998). Snipes’ resume is too large to cover in a single post, so we’ll just call him the unfettered King of Quantity. That’s a lot of tax paperwork. Just saying.


  5. Wesley Snipes May Be Coming Back In A Big Way, Here’s What We Know

    There was once a time when Wesley Snipes was one of the biggest action stars in Hollywood. As the man behind the Blade trilogy, the actor played his part in helping to build the comic book focused box office that we live in today. Since then, however, the actor has flown under the radar, in large part due to being taken out of the game due to a minor misunderstanding with the IRS. Since then, the actor has been looking for a comeback and now he hopes he’s found it by inking a multi-picture deal between his own production company and another haven of action, the WWE. Today the movie arm of the sports entertainment brand, WWE Studios announced via press release that they’ve entered into a deal


  6. Nostalgia Critic: Blade (1998)

    It’s the overlooked classic that made comic book movies cool again, but does it hold up as well as it did back then?


  7. Infamous Sphere: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar! (1995)


  8. Spike Lee’s Hilariously Outdated Jungle Fever, 25 Years Later


  9. whats ironic about jungle fever is wesley snipes character was a successful guy while his brother played by sam jackson was considered a loser now tables are turned in real life sam l jackson in reality is having successful career while wesley career is in the dumps (not as bad as gators though lol) .


  10. More recently, Joe Rogan (a.k.a. “Jew Rogaine” — of UFC and Fear Factor fame) spoke of a an MMA fight that Snipe’s management tried to line up between the two. Apparently Snipes has some martial arts background (ka-rah-tay, or some such) and the bout was to be scheduled around the time of his tax evasion trials.
    (NB: Snipes needed the dough to try settle with the IRS.)

    Rogan took the proposition seriously and was had even trained for a couple of months in preparation for the ‘exhibition’. But then said that the IRS were too keen on making an example of Snipes — thus, a 4×4 cell, rather than an octagonal shaped arena, was to be the once-time action star’s fate.

    Frankly, having read his rise and fall, I’m left with the sense that Snipes was an arrogant tosser with ingrained race issues, who burnt as many of his bridges as he could The ‘trailer / post-it pad / Blade III’ story is a hilarious confirmation that the guy indeed had psychological issues.


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