What the Hell Happened to Billy Zane?

billy zane 2014

Billy Zane

Billy Zane got his start in one of the most beloved science fiction movies of the 80’s.  He gained popularity on one of the quirkiest TV shows of the 90s.  And he played the least-loved character in what was at the time the highest-grossing movie ever.  His list of credits include several popular films.  But when the handsome actor tried to transition into leading man roles, something didn’t click.  Zane has worked steadily since 1985, but somehow he never became a household name.

What the hell happened?

Zane - Back to the Future

Billy Zane – Back to the Future – 1985

Zane made his debut with a bit part in Robert Zemeckis’ sci-fi comedy, Back to the Future.

He played Match, one of bully Biff Tannen’s goons.  According to Zane, he auditioned for the role of Biff which ultimately went to Thomas F. Wilson.  Biff’s goon squad was cast from actors who auditioned for Biff but didn’t get the role.

According to Zane, hanging out on the Universal set was a lot of fun:

“What was amazing about that was I had a crash course in Hollywood, being on the back lot of Universal for about six months. It was the best playground on the planet. Michael J. Fox was very funny. He would play dead on a New York street, lie dead in the middle of the road, where the trams would come by, and they would have to stop and we’d come running out of the buildings and try to pilfer everyone for their Polaroid cameras and watches, like a highway robbery. Or we’d go up to the Psycho house at dusk with Maglites and shine them into the windows. We were kids and having a hoot!”

Back to the Future was a critical and commercial hit and one heck of a lucky break for a film debut.  It was successful enough to spawn two sequels.

zane - critters

Billy Zane – Critters – 1986

In 1986, Zane appeared in a less-beloved science fiction movie, Critters.

Critter’s was basically a Gremlins rip-off.  Alien creatures who are furrier and have more teeth than the gremlin invade a rural Kansas town.  A young boy and his family have to deal with the alien invasion.  Dee Wallace Stone, best known for playing the mom in E.T. and Cujo, played – what else – the mom.  Zane played the older daughter’s boy friend who sneaks off for some barnyard hanky panky.  Probably not a good idea.

Reviews were mixed with many critics giving the movie points for having a sense of humor.  It was a modest hit at the box office and three sequels followed.

Zane - Brotherhood of Justice

Keanu Reeves and Billy Zane – Brotherhood of Justice – 1986

Zane also appeared opposite Keanu Reeves, Kiefer Sutherland and Lori Loughlin in the TV movie, The Brotherhood of Justice.

The movie was based on a true story about a group of teens who decided to form a vigilante group to prevent violence.  Reeves played the leader of the pack.  Zane played a bad boy who smoked and brought guns to a knife fight.

Next: Dead Calm and Back to the Future Part 2


Posted on June 28, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 110 Comments.

  1. I’m surprised that you didn’t elaborate on Billy Zane’s performance in Orlando. It’s easily one of the better, more classy films in his résumé, and his prettiness and long hair actually work in the same gender-bending way that Tilda Swinton’s androgyny works for the character of Orlando. It should also be said that Zane’s character is likeable, not a villain or a jerk.


    • Well, in fairness, Zane isn’t in the movie for very long at all. The role was a good fit for Zane as you point out. And it was one of the better received movies Zane appeared in.

      Zane may have been best known for his villains. But he did play some heroes too. The Phantom, obviously. But he was also one of the likeable characters on Twin Peaks. And he was a cool dude according to Owen Wilson.


      • Billy Zane recently replied to me on Twitter when I sent him a link that suggests that Hollywood should produce a “Defenders of the Earth” movie. For those who don’t know, “Defenders of the Earth” was a weekday, first-run syndicated animated TV series from the ’80s, which united the Phantom, Flash Gordon, and Mandrake and his sidekick, Lothar. It was basically, the Avengers or Justice League of the Kings Features comic strip heroes:


  2. daffystardust

    Great installment, Lebeau!

    Billy Zane is exactly the kind of name that an actor with Billy Zane’s career would have.

    Thanks for the link to my Martin Balsam article.

    Check out a couple of the video links on page 2 or 3. They weren’t working when I read.

    I was never a fan of Marilyn Manson, but The Dope Show is kind of undeniable for its genre. Only way to make it better is to have Iggy Pop sing it instead.

    These articles really do a great job of filling in the blanks on what it is like to be a kind of successful actor.


    • Thanks for the tip on the video links. I found the Sniper trailer wasn’t working. Let me know if you notice any other broken links. Turns out that lead me back to the Tom Berenger article which had a couple of non-functioning videos as well. It also reminded me I forgot Sniper Reloaded in this article. So all of that has now been corrected.

      I love your line about Billy Zane’s name. I’m not exactly sure what it means, but I agree. I think Billy Zane sounds like a satire of a handsome actor. And Zane always seemed to be winking at the material. For the most part, he had the career of a B-movie actor. And Billy Zane is the perfect name for such a career.

      I’ve never seen a Marilyn Manson video. But I had to admit that Dope Show video was something else.

      When I made the crack about learning a lot from these articles, I wasn’t kidding. There is something about seeing all of these movies lined up one after another. You can almost smell the anticipation of a big break followed by desperation when that big break doesn’t happen and you know the moment has passed.

      Back in the 90s I always thought Zane was a more successful actor than he really was. Going through he career for this article I was surprised that he never really broke through to mainstream audiences. I had been following him ever since Dead Calm. It helped that he was on Twin Peaks which was my favorite TV show at the time. But most people only ever knew him as the asshole in Titanic.


      • Just found your blog for the first time,big fan. subjection i think you should tv actors and tv channels ex mtv,wb,upn, or history channel


      • I wonder if part of the initial push (or hype) to make Billy Zane a “star” was that he did kind of resemble a young Marlon Brando.

        With that being said, had “The Phantom” been more successful (and therefore, spawned a franchise), then maybe Billy’s fortunes would been better. In a way, Billy Zane kind of reminds me of Brendan Fraser in the sense that he on paper, had what it took to be a leading man star (i.e. good looking, very charismatic and charming, can actually do any genre), but he just needed one or two more films and some better financial luck (i.e., no getting divorced and thus has to take any role that he can get) to reach the next level.

        “Titantic” just feels like a double edged sword. While of course, it’s always great to be apart of one of the biggest movies of all time. It unfortunately forever pigeonholed him as a “slime-ball”. Part of it I feel is because Billy was so convincing on that role that people who didn’t really know him from elsewhere (such as his more heroic roles like in “The Phantom”), automatically thought that he must be like that in real life.


        • That really was the thing with Billy Zane and”Titanic”; people I’ve known just disliked him mostly because of that role, which is where the double-edged sword comes in, became it demonstrates how effective his performance was (yeah, I didn’t like his character either, and that was the point), but due to the recognition of that film, those who were just getting introduced to him had an unfavorable view of him overall.


        • I thought Billy Zane did a fantastic job in the role of the fiance in Titanic.
          He was supposed to be a spoiled, privileged slime ball and he played the role the way it was supposed to be played.
          It is too bad, I guess, that literally hundreds of thousands (of young girls) hate him for being good at his job.
          But that is part of the human condition with regard to movies. So many can’t differentiate between the person and the role they play.


        • Definitely.


  3. The signature Lebeau humor was in overdrive here… which almost distracted me from concluding, this is someone who I’m really not all that familiar with, but who has been steadily working while maintaining a grounded perspective on the whole experience.
    And there is always a discovery in these WTHH entries. RB is right now smitten with the trailer for “Only You”.


    • I didn’t care for Only You when I saw it. But as you know, it’s not my genre. I bet you would enjoy it. I mean, Tomei and Downey, how can it go wrong? My recollection is that it was just too by-the-book. It didn’t bring anything new to the table. But the setting was lovely and the chemistry was there between two winning actors. If you’re inclined to enjoy romantic comedies, Only You is marginal, but watchable.

      As I was telling Daffy, I was actually surprised by how unfamiliar Zane was to most audiences. I had seen a lot of what he had done up to Titanic. But I think your experience – or lack of experience as the case may be – was far more common. Most of his movies missed the mainstream audience. And when he showed up in something like Memphis Belle or Tombstone, his role was relatively minor.

      I am reasonably impressed with what you describe as Zane’s grounded perspective. Despite the fact that super stardom eluded him, he seems to realize that he is still an extremely lucky guy to be a working actor for several decades. He also has a beautiful partner and I believe two kids. So, yeah, lucky man. And smart enough to know it.

      I agree that these articles contain “discoveries”. I think that is a big part of their appeal. As I research, I am constantly making discoveries of my own. Sharing those with the readers is what keeps this series fresh for me. Well, that and the dumb jokes. 😉


  4. The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Billy Zane:

    Whether it’s Robert DeNiro, Johnny Depp, or Sean Penn, many hardcore method actors can never escape the comparison to the legendary Marlon Brando. For Billy Zane, his uncanny resemblance to Brando proved to be a double edged sword throughout his career. Casting directors often tried to cast him in star-making roles because of his looks and it won him a number of leading men and villainous parts. Other times, his looks cost him roles because of what he may have lacked in talent.

    Born William George Zane Jr. in Chicago, IL 1966, Zane was the son of Greek-born parents who ran a medical technical school as well as working as amateur actors. His older sister, Lisa Zane, would make a name for herself in the acting world later in life. Zane as a young teen attended the Harand Camp of the Theater Arts in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In 1982, he spent a year at the American School in Switzerland before graduating from Francis Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois. His love for acting would make him decide to jump over to the West Coast to start working.

    Zane did not have to search long for a job. Three weeks into his move to Los Angeles, Zane won the role of Biff Tannen’s accomplice “Match” in the 1985 blockbuster, Back to the Future. It wasn’t so much of a standout role since he was paired in a trio alongside J.J. Cohen and Casey Siemaszko. The roles, however, were still memorable for fans of the series and Zane would reprise his role in Back to the Future Part II in 1989. Afterwords, Zane was cast as an ill-faded horny boyfriend in the Gremlins knockoff, Critters.

    Zane was working primarily on television shows when he was initially cast as Johnny Castle in 1987’s Dirty Dancing. The film’s producers thought his Brandoesque looks were perfect for the womanizing dance instructor in the Catskills. Unfortunately, his lack of dancing skills forced him off the project and he was immediately replaced with Patrick Swayze which would end up becoming his star-making role. Two years later, Zane won international acclaim as a crazed killer hitchhiker terrorizing a vacationing couple at sea in Philip Noyce’s breakthrough film, Dead Calm. The film introduced American audiences to Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman while Zane found himself not only in the first of many films he would do in Australia but also placed him in a signature role that would lead to typecasting for years to come.

    demon-knight-billy-zaneThe early 90s were the most prolific of Zane’s career. His first leading role was the Canadian produced sci-fi film, Megaville, followed by his role as an inexperienced medic and bomber pilot in the World War II movie Memphis Belle. Zane was part of a youthful ensemble which included Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, D.B. Sweeney, Sean Astin, and Harry Connick, Jr. He also made a small screen impact as John Justice Wheeler in David Lynch’s cult TV classic, Twin Peaks. Other high profile roles at the time included an ill-faded actor in the 1993 hit, Tombstone, and the evil demon Collector hellbent on destroying the universe in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.

    As the young actor pushed 30, Zane’s visibility and hard work in Hollywood had to eventually pay off with a star-making vehicle to put him in the same league as other contemporaries such as Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage. He pinned his hopes on that answer being the 1996 adaptation of the superhero classic, The Phantom. As a fan of the comic strips, Zane campaigned hard for the part and beat out Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell for. For a year and a half before production began, Zane pumped weights and used Chinese Baoding Balls to fit into the purple spandex costume as well as reading all the comics to capture the Phantom’s body language and speech patterns. On the surface, the film seemed to have everything to guarantee an Indiana Jones-like franchise: A script by hot Hollywood screenwriter Jeffrey Boam, an all-star cast featuring Treat Williams and Kristy Swanson as well as an unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the producing efforts of the legendary Robert Evans.

    Expectations were so high that Zane signed for two sequels. Unfortunately, the film suffered the same fate as other period superhero flicks of the 90s (i.e. The Shadow and The Rocketeer) and tanked in a highly competitive summer. But only one man who loved his performance was willing to give Zane an opportunity that proved to be huge.
    James Cameron felt that Zane would be right as Caledon Nathan “Cal” Hockley in his overproduced epic, Titanic. Hockley was the bourgeois fiancee to Kate Winslet’s Rose DeWitt Bukater and rival to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson. The love triangle added the necessary drama needed to make this $200 million budgeted epic into the biggest film of all time before 2009’s Avatar. Accolades were won all over the place including an MTV Movie Award nomination for “Best Villain” for Zane. While DiCaprio and Winslet became major stars, however, Zane was left lost in the shuffle as Titanic‘s massive success did not guarantee a spot on the A-List.

    Even through all the poorly made straight to video flicks he made, there were still a few stand out roles in Zane’s career into the 2000s. After Titanic, Zane starred in and produced I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, a silent film based on Ed Wood’s final script which won him awards at the B-Movie Film Festival. He won rave reviews as a neo-Nazi alongside newcomer Ryan Gosling in The Believer which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Younger audiences also know him best as the poetry loving ex-demon Drake on the WB’s Charmed and has also provided voiceover parts in The New Batman Adventures and the video game Kingdom Hearts. While continuing to act regularly, Zane acts as a partner at the production company, RadioactiveGiant.

    There’s no telling if a comeback is in the cards for Billy Zane. Although he is 46 years old, a comeback in Zane’s future is not an impossibility when you look at nearly forgotten actors like Mickey Rourke and Jackie Earle Haley who needed that one standout part to bring them back to the big screen. Until then, Zane will continue to work and prove that he’s more than just a pretty face.


  5. Hey, what about Zane’s guest appearance in the final episode of Psych? His name and rep were recurring bits on that show too!


    • I saw Zane guested on Psych. The only episode of the show I ever watched was the Twin Peaks reunion episode. From what I saw, it seemed like a good enough show. I just don’t watch all that much TV. I didn’t know Zane was a running gag on the show. I may need to go back and add a bit on that. Thanks for the tip.


  6. On the one hand, it is just a bit surprising that Billy Zane wasn’t able to parlay the monster success of Titanic into roles in more high-profile films, but on the other hand Kate Winslet didn’t become a big box office draw either post-Titanic. The difference of course is that Winslet chose a career of artistic films over mainstream Hollywood vehicles (avoiding rom-coms and action flicks and horror flicks and cheesball comedies and such) post-Titanic and received several Oscar nominations over the years as a result. Zane was nowhere as picky, plus honestly I don’t think he has that much range as an actor to ever have become an acclaimed actor even if he had been more selective. I liked him in Titanic, or I should say liked to hate him in Titanic, and I also liked him in his small role in Tombstone (I know many people that are huge fans of Tombstone, and I’m one of them), but the couple other films I saw him in were either completely forgettable, or he was forgettable in them (Tales From The Crypt for example, I remember enjoying that film a few times on cable years ago as a guilty pleasure, yet I completely forgot he was in that until you mentioned it – and showed his picture from that movie to remind me). Even his brief cameo in Zoolander is forgettable, and it’s pretty telling when you’re forgettable in a cameo where you’re playing yourself. But he seems like a cool dude.


    • Winslet is interesting. She had this fantastic career building in the 90s. Then she went and had this huge breakout mainstream hit. She could have gone the Reese Witherspoon route. Instead, she kept making great high end movies. She has always been a smoking hot babe and could have easily moved into rom coms or action movies. Whatever she wanted really. Bt she wanted to keep making movies that challenged her as actress.

      Zane was basically a B-movie actor. Dead Calm was critically acclaimed, but it was a B-movie at heart too. He made a lot of quirky independent films like Winslet. But they were not on the same level. He was appearing in sci fi, horror and Tarantino knock-offs. After Titanic, he went right back to that.

      I do wonder what might have been if he had been able to be more selective with his roles. I also wonder how much being type cast as the most loathsome person ever in the biggest movie of all times hurt his career.


  7. Spot on about Winslet. Immediately after Titanic became a pop cultural phenomenon, I can only imagine her agent was getting mainstream offers pouring in left and right; I would be shocked if Winslet wasn’t getting tons of offers for romantic comedies and such in the following few years. She was barely in her early 20’s when Titanic exploded, I give her a ton of credit for not jumping on that easy money train that most actresses in her position would’ve taken advantage of after Titanic, especially for someone that young.


    • I checked out which isn’t the most reliable source of info in the world. It wasn’t littered with rom coms like you might think. But she did turn down some pretty mainstream roles including Rogue in X-Men. She did finally make a rom com in The Holiday, but when she did it was a cut above the usual Kate Hudson stuff.


      • Wow, Rogue in X-MEN, that’s the first I’ve heard about Winslet being offered that. Funny thing is, either way Rogue was played by an Oscar-nominated actress!


        • Grain of salt. is notoriously unreliable. But if true, you’re right. Rogue would have been an Oscar winner either way. I tend to think that one worked out the way it was supposed to. I don’t really see Winslet as a Southern belle.


        • Love Winslet, but I can’t really see her playing Rogue, honestly. If true, things may have turned out for the best with Paquin taking the role, better suited I think. When I say Winslet must have had stacks of mainstream film offers dropping on her desk after Titanic, that’s purely speculation on my part; I’ve never actually heard of any mainstream films that she actually turned down, it’s just that after Titanic became this massive pop cultural phenomenon I can’t help but think that Hollywood would naturally throw a bunch of rom-com scripts and other mainstream offers her way in the wake of that. My suspicion is Winslet may have turned down bigger & better offers than Billy Zane ever accepted in the wake of Titanic’s epic success.


        • I suspect you’re right. I don’t think Zane ever turned down a role. 😉


  8. How bout ones on Sienna Miller and Rachel Mcadams? Rachel seemed poised for the a-list after the Notebook, but her potential seemed to disappear after doing nothing but romances. Sienna was an up and coming actress but was more famous for her personal life before kind of disappearing. I think they’d both be great.


    • I have considered McAdams many times. I would say you’ll see her sooner rather than later. Miller I will probably get to eventually. But as you say, she was more famous for her personal life than her career.


      • Craig Hansen

        Rachel McAdams was an actress that I really thought was going to break onto the A-list, especially after Mean Girls, The Notebook and Wedding Crashers. I admit I’m a fan of Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were great, Will Ferrell was hilarious in his cameo, and Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher were revelations. I had not heard of either actress before then, and I really thought both were going to become bigger stars than they did, but especially McAdams. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why she didn’t break big. She would make an interesting write-up.


        • IMO, when Rachel McAdams took a two year break during 2006-2007, her career lost quite a lot of momentum. Amongst the projects she turned down was Anne Hathaway’s role in The Devil Wears Prada. She still works a lot though, and in quality projects with good directors and co-stars but they tend not to be the films that would attract a huge mainstream audience. I think the only relatively recent mainstream film that she’s done would be the Sherlock Holmes stuff.


        • Craig Hansen

          Morning Glory was intended to be a mainstream romantic comedy, but it made no impact on McAdam’s career because it performed very poorly. Oddly, though, two years later she did another romantic film, The Vow, that actually was a hit making $125M domestically, yet Channing Tatum walked away with all the heat from that movie, as far as I can tell the film’s success didn’t help her career nearly as much.


        • Well, when I said mainstream, I meant films that actually reached the mainstream not just intended to be mainstream. But you’re right, I forgot about The Vow (I’m not a fan of romance films and tend to overlook films in that genre). I think maybe the reason it didn’t do more for her career is that she was already seen as a romantic leading lady because of The Notebook, so in a sense, it didn’t expand her audience. I think it did probably help to cement her as a bankable lead in a romance film, but she hasn’t proved that she can carry films of other genres.

          Also, I think she said, on record, that she isn’t interested in becoming a movie star. IMO, to become a movie star like Tom Cruise, you have to really want and work for it. She’s more of an actress that wants to do interesting work I think.


        • What you said about becoming a movie star is very true. I doubt Tom Cruise has had a single thought in the last 30+ years that didn’t in some way involve making himself a bigger movie star. Mega-watt movie stardom doesn’t happen by accident.

          Having said that, there is a common theme among actors and actresses who have A-list star status slip through their fingers that they claim they never wanted it. I rarely believe that. You don’t come so close to stardom by accident either.


        • Oh, certainly, most of the time when an actor/actress says that, I’ll go “yeah, right”. But what makes me think that it could be true in McAdams’ case is that 2 year break just when her career was taking off. I don’t think there were any rumors of substance abuse problems or anything else unsavoury during that time, so I’m inclined to think that she really did take the time off because she genuinely wanted a break. Of course, there might have been personal issues, but still, again using Tom Cruise as an example, I don’t think anything would have convinced him to stop working for two years right after Top Gun.


        • I think it holds a little more water in McAdams’ case than others. If she read WTHH, she would know what a career killer the mistimed break is. 😉


        • You’re right. McAdams didn’t get her share of the credit on The Vow. The Channing Tatum narrative was too strong. His momentum just steamrolled over whatever comeback she may have been building. At least she still has the Sherlock Holmes movies for now.


        • Do We Need to Stage a Career Intervention For Rachel McAdams?

          Way back in June, Spyglass Entertainment debuted the first trailer for The Vow, the latest Rachel McAdams romance film involving memory loss. It was depressing to see our former Notebook sweetheart diving headfirst into another melodramatic title. Like McAdams’s Vow character though — who is struck with amnesia after a parked car accident involving an overplayed Meatloaf single — I forgot about the former starlet’s downwardly spiraling filmography…until today’s new preview for The Vow reminded me, it’s about time someone stages a career intervention for Rachel McAdams.

          Exhibit A in the case for Rachel McAdams to stop and seriously re-evaluate the direction of her career: The trailer that incited this intervention.

          To paraphrase McAdams’s The Vow character, who pleads with her husband (Channing Tatum) to turn off Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love” shortly before “the accident:” You do not like these kinds of melodramatic films, Rachel. Please stop. This is the second amnesiac romantic drama character you’ve played, who, over the course of a movie, must fall back in love with your husband. (Sure, most of the memory loss in The Notebook was left to Gena Rowlands, who played your older counterpart, but still!) One amnesia-torn love story is enough. It is not just that, though.

          It is McAdams’s humdrum choices ever since 2004’s The Notebook and 2005’s Wedding Crashers, both of which pitted the actress in the kind of role she has never strayed far from: Charming upper middle class white girl love interest.

          To her credit, McAdams has tested different genre waters (albeit unsuccessfully). There was the plane thriller Red Eye, the cancer holiday picture The Family Stone, the period drama Married Life, the army road movie The Lucky Ones, the political thriller State of Play, the adapted romance The Time Traveler’s Wife, the blockbuster Sherlock Holmes and the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. Unfortunately, in spite of these wide-ranging genres and the potential stage they each offered McAdams to break out of her shell and play anyone other than a distant Allie Hamilton relative, McAdams seems to reiterate the same character repeatedly.

          Granted, some actresses have been able to mine successful careers out of that no-range formula if they (or their managers) have an eye for blockbusters. Case in point: Katherine Heigl, who always plays Katherine Heigl, and until The Killers, enjoyed box office popularity because of her keen guilty pleasure picks in Knocked Up, 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth.

          But post-Notebook McAdams has neither given us films that audiences care to see (unless she is in a supporting role) or powerful dramatic performances that have established her as anything but a rom-com star who can score big at the box office with the right co-star.

          I root for McAdams, and I hope that she can eventually prove her range as an actress that viewers once expected great things from. Please Rachel, stop whiffing at the plate with rom-coms and start giving viewers the kinds of performances they expected from you after seeing Mean Girls.

          There is a glimmer of hope…the upcoming Untitled Terrence Malick project to which McAdams is attached with Jessica Chastain, Ben Affleck, Rachel Weisz and Javier Bardem. The drama may sound like a formulaic rom-com — it “centers on a man who reconnects with a woman from his hometown after his marriage to a European woman falls apart” — but at this point, I’ll trade in any of her 2005 to 2011 credits for a well-directed Rachel McAdams romance…or if I can’t have that, short-term amnesia.


        • What Happened to Rachel McAdams and Does Buzzfeed Suck?

          In this episode of The Popcast, Knox and Jamie discuss the career arc of Rachel McAdams. Also, they debate the merit of Buzzfeed and its contribution to culture as well as offer their own Buzzfeedy lists in honor of the internet giant.


        • You are practically writing the article for me! 😉


        • Keeping in tune w/ the subject matter of this blog, going on a lengthy hiatus is pretty much what killed Kim Basinger’s (especially after her Oscar win put her back into Hollywood’s good graces) leading lady career once and for all. Rene Russo also all but committed career suicide by going off on a six year acting hiatus.

          I think this is also what in hindsight, hurt Elisabeth Shue’s momentum (in fairness, if I’m not mistaken, she was focusing on motherhood and her education) from her Oscar nomination for “Leaving Las Vegas” (hence why she’s on “CSI” now instead of headline major motion pictures).

          You can also argue that Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore were still relatively or remotely “A-list” before the went on their own self-imposed hiatus from acting.


        • It’s definitely a recurring theme. Especially for actresses. The prime time for an actress’ career is while she is young which lines up with the best time to start a family. So actresses have to make tough choices. Even a little time out of the spotlight is enough time for someone else to come along and steal your momentum.


        • She’s coming. Eventually.

          Basically, she had a tiny window to capitalize on Mean Girls and The Notebook. Red Eye didn’t connect like it was supposed to. That window closed when other actresses like Emma Stone came along and grabbed all the good roles. Then Stone’s thunder got stolen by Jennifer Lawrence. Being an actress in Hollywood is brutal. More so now I think.


        • Rachel McAdams might be too young to write off yet. She seems to take on a mix of roles, and is working a lot lately. So who knows, where that might lead.

          Fans of hers will definitely want to check out “Midnight in Paris.” Although Marion Cotillard steals the show, McAdams as Owen Wilson’s fiancee, plays a different sort of role, understated and somewhat unsympathetic. Really nice performances from both Owens and McAdams, and entire cast for that matter.


        • The biggest thing I have learned writing this series is that once you have name recognition, you will never be out of work. McAdams has a long career ahead of her. But her shot at the brass ring is over. A-list is out of her reach. That’s why she qualifies.


        • What happened to Rachel McAdams?

          I remember in 2004 and 2005 she was at one point one of the top actresses in Hollywood even a source named as the next Julia Roberts at one point. First came on to the scene in Mean Girls gained her notice then among other movies were The Notebook, Red Eye, The Family Stone and Wedding Crashers. Really thought after 2005 she’d be an unstoppable force and would even be an Academy Award nominee by now or even couple nominations.

          I thought 2005 was her year and would even gain her at least an Academy Award nomination for a movie like Red Eye she did considering she did so great in that one. Didn’t even get one. When you like at the winners at the Oscars like Reese Whiterspoon, Marion Cotillard, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman to name a few that have one do you really think they’re better than her?

          I know that she took a bit of break for a bit but do you think her break hurt her momentum a little bit?

          Best Answer

          James R answered 1 year ago
          Rachel McAdams is a great actress but she’s been in quite a few so-so movies, or miscast in certain roles. Consider these movies: The Vow, The Time Travelers Wife, Morning Glory – three movies that easily fall into so-so or mediocre romantic movies (2 terrible romantic dramas, and a mediocre romcom). Even Midnight in Paris – she did a good part as kind of a shrew, but I think its the weakest character in the movie. Family stone = good performance in a so-so movie. (Btw, you mentioned The Notebook – that’s the kind of movie that gets you Teen Choice Awards – it isn’t taken seriously by most people – not to say its a horrible movie – but its nothing spectacular).

          Ironically look at all the other actresses you mentioned – Sandra Bullock – other than Blind Side, most of her movies have been disappointing; Reese Witherspoon – what was her last good performance since Walk the Line? Natalie Portman – for every Black Swan a lot of crap; Julia Roberts – continues to chose the wrong movies (she’s fallen into the same trap Tom Hanks has). The exception is Cotillard, who has an uncanny knack for chosing the right role in the right movie.

          Impossible to tell if the time off she took really hurt her: she did pass Devil Wears Prada, Mission Impossible, Get Smart and Casino Royale, but I’m not sure what effect it had on her career. (I do think Anne Hathaway was a better choice in Prada, but no one noticed Get Smart).

          About the Oscars – what role has she done that was deserving of an Oscar? The best work she has done was in a little seen movie called The Lucky Ones. It’s not her talent – its not getting offered an Oscar-worthy role. (Avoiding movies like About Time, which is a romantic time-travel comedy, would help). I’m sure that was one of the reasons why she quit making movies for two years – hoping for better scripts.


        • Rachel McAdams 2012:

          I briefly mentioned this the other day in the article about Emma Stone – click here if you missed it. Duana and I have discussed this a few times lately: Emma Stone is what Rachel McAdams was from 2004-2007. The Wall Street Journal had a lengthy piece on how Rachel was the most sought-after, the most talked-about, the most promising actress. And then… it just kinda… fizzled. She’s not Lindsay Lohan or anything. They just… they let the momentum slip away.

          Poor choices, or poor management? A combination of both?

          It’s so disappointing. Because Rachel McAdams has that rare thing – women love her (don’t you love her?? I love her so much) and she’s not SJP, men are attracted to her, in that way Steve Carell described in Crazy, Stupid, Love: she’s so sexy and cute at the same. Also, she can act.

          I don’t know what happened.

          Morning Glory was… kind of a mess. And she was terrible in Sherlock Holmes 1. I couldn’t enjoy her either in Midnight In Paris, a film that’s on my Top 5 of 2011. She was the only weak link for me. Rachel? Yes, Rachel. Rachel who is one of my favorites.

          This must change.

          Will it be better this time for Sherlock 2? Here she is at the premiere last night. She apparently only has a cameo. Will it improve in The Vow? Oh la. I mean I know that a LOT of you will be seeing The Vow and crying, like Sasha, so it’s clear what The Vow will do for you. But what will The Vow do for her?

          What will it do for her that The Notebook didn’t? (Gulp) Isn’t it like pressing reset?

          Perhaps then the best hope is the Terrence Malick movie she shot earlier this year. The problem with a Malick movie is that he takes forever to put it out. Tree of Life was 5 years. She needs to start closing some other projects. Some interesting projects. Projects that remind everyone why she was the best part of The Family Stone which Duana reminded me of recently. She was GREAT in The Family Stone. God I want her to be great again.



          I just think Rachel has been really dumb about her career. She fired her agent at The Gersh Agency (a good boutique agency) as soon as she broke out in Wedding Crashers and went agentless for a while. Then she starred in Red Eye which wasn’t a bad career move, but after that she did The Family Stone. That movie was probably not good for her career since she played second fiddle to Sarah Jessica Parker and she should’ve stuck to leading lady roles (but maybe I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt if she filmed The Family Stone before she appeared in Wedding Crashers). With no more fillms to her credit since then, she’s now appearing in Married Life, a film “a 1940s-set drama where an adulterous man plots his wife’s death instead of putting her through the humiliation of a divorce” starring Pierce Brosnan and released on a straight distribution basis by MGM. Yawn.

          I think that Rachel’s biggest career screw-up was her decision not to pose “naked” for the infamous Tom Ford Vanity Fair cover. That would have definitely helped her career. (Look where Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson are now). Most actresses must get naked in at least one film to get their careers to the next level. The Three Jessica’s (Biel, Simpson, and Alba) should take note. The funny thing is that, despite her “I won’t go naked for Vanity Fair” mindset, Rachel did go topless in some earlier films. Oh, did I mention that she fired her publicist over the Vanity Fair scandal? It seems to me like she’s firing the wrong people and that’s what’s fucking up her career. She had everything going for her after Wedding Crashers. It sounds like she became a diva too soon for her own good. That’s why she should go away. She doesn’t deserve success now after being so stupid. And who cares if Ryan is or isn’t cheating on her. I happened to ask one of my insiders the other day if they had any gossip and they had something about Ryan Gosling. BTW: My sources and insiders are the best of the best. I would never use a piece of gossip from a source if I didn’t believe that it was 99% true.


        • It’s extremely funny that as soon as Rachal McAdams’ name is being discussed, she’s in the actual news:

          Is true love a lie?

          Even though the pair would go on to date for four years, The Notebook stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams initially fought during the romcom’s filming.

          In an interview with VH1, The Notebook director Nick Cassavetes admits Gosling wanted McAdams replaced:

          Maybe I’m not supposed to tell this story, but they were really not getting along one day on set. Really not. And Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, “Nick come here.” And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, “Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?” I said, “What?” He says, “I can’t. I can’t do it with her. I’m just not getting anything from this.”

          After a screaming match, the two apparently worked things out:

          We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other. I walked out. At that point I was smoking cigarettes. I smoked a cigarette and everybody came out like, “All right let’s do this.” And it got better after that, you know? They had it out… I think Ryan respected her for standing up for her character and Rachel was happy to get that out in the open. The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.

          The pattern of arguing passionately and then falling in love sounds a bit like the characters they played, Allie Hamilton and Noah Calhoun. So keep stoking the flames of hope, fans–maybe it’s still destined that they’ll get back together some day. On a dock in the rain, we hope.


  9. Re: What happened to Billy Zane:

    True Story; Billy Zane was originally cast to play Biff Tannen in Back to the Future, but when Eric Stoltz came on set, Eric Stoltz was taller than Zane. Because the directors had wanted Biff to be noticeably bigger than Marty McFly the role then went to Thomas F. Wilson. When Stoltz left the film and the role went to Michael J. Fox (who was/is quite obviously smaller/shorter than Mr. Zane) the directors had by then decided Thomas Wilson was better in the role, and because Wilson had already memorized all the lines the role remained in the hands of Thomas Wilson.

    As to what happened to his career? Two things.

    #1 – From what I understand Zane was one those guys that was supposedly “selective” about the roles he picked (something that can be called into question given “The Phantom”), and was just generally happy with where he was and what he had in Hollywood and never actively sought a bigger star in the Hollywood Universe.

    #2 – In the early 2000’s he became box-office poison for being perceived as being Anti-American; having made many statements against American Foreign Policy (not specifically those policies of the Bush Administration either – just American Policy as a whole), and while I can’t personally disagree with some of his (supposed) statements, I’ll admit there was a certain air of venom to his statements. I believe he even made appearances on The O’Reilly Factor and similar programs and was slammed by that end of the political media. And he was involved in a foreign film production that was decidedly Anti-American, Valley of the Wolves: Iraq where he played a Turkish Commando seeking out an American War Criminal in Iraq. It was also apparently very Anti-Israel as the film has been compared to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That and he was in BloodRayne. Again, not exactly evidence of an actor being “selective” about his work – but by then (2006) I’m sure the guy had mad bills to pay, and in 2010 the IRS was taking his house from him.

    Somehow I imagine the increased popularity of the Erotic Fiction by the author Zane may be hurting his career opportunities as well.


    Yeah….I’d always heard there was a backlash against his wooden lifeless performance in “Titanic”. I like the guy and have seen him in some decent things but he usually also ends up being the weak link in bigger pictures he’s in (his performance in “Tombstone” which I just saw this weekend for the zillionth time was weak as well). But the dude always will have “Dead Calm”. Good movie there and he banged a hot Nicole Kidman before she became plastic. There was also a movie he was in with Harvey Keitel and Cameron Diaz that was decent. Not great but a decent way to fill an hour or two on a rainy day.


  10. I was one of the very few teenage girls that did not see Titanic in theatres when it was first released and was immune to Leo Mania. I did come across a VCD about a year later, but I could only stomach 20-30 minutes of it. Romantic movies just wasn’t and still isn’t my cup of tea. But from what I did see, Billy Zane was pretty much perfect for the role. He’s handsome, but there was a smarminess to him that fit that character really well.


    • No doubt. It’s a pretty fearless performance to be THAT despicable. His character is without redeeming value. I’m not sure how many actors could have pulled it off as well as Zane did.


    • 10 Movies That Seriously Don’t Deserve Their Critical Acclaim:


      It’s hard to imagine that, before Titanic was released, a number of prominent Hollywood insiders were certain that James Cameron’s epic would be a huge flop. Of course, Titanic was a huge box office smash, leading critics to gush over the “tender love story” and describe the film as “profoundly human in its sources and longings.”

      The truth, which few reviewers at the time seemed willing to acknowledge, is that there was nothing profound about the tacked on love story – centred around the hackneyed, overdone concept of love transcending social barriers – while secondary characters were reduced to crude, cartoonish stereotypes.

      On top of that, a few eagle-eyed film buffs realised that many of the scenes in Titanic looked awfully familiar, and upon comparison with other classic Titanic-related movies such as A Night To Remember noted that they appeared to be nearly shot for shot reworkings, adding a whiff of plagiarism to an already questionably cliched movie…


      • I viewed “Titanic” many years after its release and thought it was good, but it was a tad overlong for me and it didn’t exactly make me feel like the king of the world.


  11. I never even heard of Billy Zane until Titanic. And I always thought of him as that handsome jerk compared to the tragic youth of Leonardo Dicaprio. I watched Titanic after the whole Leo mania, and then I caught Leo mania. Alas! By that time, Leonardo Dicaprio had moved on to Gangs of New York.

    What’s interesting is that the movies he’s most celebrated for are the ones where he plays the villain. Did you know that Zana had to use a wig for a lot of those movies? I can’t see teenage girls falling head over heels if they knew that about him.

    I liked his performance in Only You. If he were more selective, than perhaps he would have a more interesting career and have a better shot at the A-list.

    But is it a bit too early for Rachel McAdams? Granted, she’ll always be most remembered for Mean Girls and Notebook, but she’s taking a wide spectrum of interesting roles. She’s pretty selective in her roles, and for the most part, she sticks to rom-coms. But she has the range to do much more than rom coms.

    She also turned down “Get Smart” which was another movie that Anne Hathaway took from her.


    • I think your experience with Zane is the experience of the majority. There was a lot of buzz around him following Dead Calm. As someone who was following that buzz, I always thought he was on people’s radar more than he actually was. But most people never heard of the guy until Titanic.

      It was pretty clear early on that Zane was losing his hair. Fortunately for him, he can pull of the bald look. But the wigs are pretty funny. Although teenage girls would probably be horrified to know how many actors rely on them.

      If he had been more selective, I definitely think he’d have had more of a shot at a memorable career. His comments suggest he knows this.

      McAdams definitely isn’t washed up. But you don’t have to be washed up to be in WTHH. 10 years ago, McAdams was everybody’s pick for the next Julia Roberts. Now she’s a working actress who mostly makes headlines for her personal life. That’s good enough to be included in the series. The downside is I will have to update the article more often than I do Rick Moranis or Steve Guttenberg.


      • I thought he was the Next Big Thing after Dead Calm too– the flop that was Phantom probably hurt him. Funny- Bruce Campbell just missed out on the role and he had a classic “B” movie career too- only he seemed to get the “I’m in on the laugh ” formula a little bit better. He also had Sam Raimi to give him the occasional role (Xena) or cameo (Spiderman)


  12. I’m overwhelmed by all the responses. I’m glad a lot of people understood what I was talking about and I definitely agree that taking that break in 2006-07 hurt her momentum.


  13. My ex-wife dislikes Billy Zane so much (she isn’t crazy about Joan Cusack either), and it all stems from her fondness of “Titanic”.


    • daffystardust

      what did Joan Cusack do?


      • Good question: She feels Joan Cusack has an annoying voice and that her on-screen mannerisms are exaggerated; basically, she finds her obnoxious. I’ve always disagreed ( offhand, I love her in “In and Out”, and I dig her ‘coffee, tea, me?’ line from “Working Girl”). Poor Billy zane, though: he never stood a chance (I tried to get her to watch “Susan’s Plan” with me, but as soon as she saw Billy Zane onscreen, she wanted no part of that plan. Smart move, in retospect: the film isn’t all that great).


    • I don’t think she is alone in that sentiment.


  14. Thread: Actors Hollywood Tried to Make Happen: Indiewire’s List:

    Billy Zane will always be the most mystifying case to me. He bombed hilariously as a leading man but he seemed ready for a reinvention as a character actor with Titanic… and he hasn’t booked a role in a major movie ever since. Like, I just don’t get what happened there.


    • Well, I guess Billy Zane, like little boy blue, he needed the money, so waiting on good character actor roles weren’t in his financial interest.


      • That’s Zane’s take on things. It’s an explanation that rings true to me.


        • It does to myself as well; It really sounds like Billy Zane is real stand up about handling his financial obligation.


        • California alimony laws seem confusing. I remember reading that George Peppard quit Banacek because if he had a lower income when the divorce went through- his payments would be lower for years.

          I think Brendan Fraser had alimony complications when his income went down with his career. It would seem an easy adjustment- but lawyers don’t like easy, I guess.

          That’s also ignoring why you have to pay alimony for a rather short marriage.


  15. Early after 9-11, my roommate worked for the least successful of the three spy/agent shows that aired starting in fall 2001. It got renewed for a second season, but we were convinced the show needed a better star… someone liked Billy Zane. At the time I was a business traveler, so we devised a plan where I would drop letters in mailboxes all around the country petitioning for Billy Zane to take over the lead role of this network spy show.

    Needless to say, it didn’t happen, but one day one of the show’s exec producers commented to my roommate that he was getting letters from viewers in different parts of the country who agreed with his position that the show would be better suited with Billy Zane as the star.


    • I imagine quite a few shows would have been improved with a little more Zane. 😉

      Thanks for sharing the story. Too bad they couldn’t work it out.


      •  I kind of like Billy Zane now; He’s a workmanlike actor. Hey, I think that’s cool.


        • I think that’s extremely cool. Because I write these articles, people think I advocate for being a big star at all costs. I do not. Zane has success most actors would kill for and he seems comfortable with that. That’s awesome.


        • Yeah, the more I think about it, Billy Zane has had a decent career, and there is still more room for opportunities.


        • I certainly don’t think he ever butchered a role. I remember him being pretty scary in Demon Knight. He delivers in the range that he has.


  16. In a way, that joke is accurate. Obviously not blackmail, but Zane did feel financial pressure to take just about every paying job.


  17. The Titanic… no?


  18. I have liked Zane in a few of his roles. For a while I thought he was on the verge of stardom with standout performances in Demon Knight and Titanic. I always thought the Phantom pretty much tanked his career in regards to playing a lead. Too bad he had to settle for slop roles, I still think he is a really good character actor.


    • I recently purchased the 4 volumes of “Batman: The Animated Series” (just as amazing as I remembered it) and on the 4th volume (when aired on television, it was the rebooted “The New Batman Adventures”, which, minus good and bad character redesign choices, I think is just as strong as the previous series) Billy Zane voices the character of Jason Blood in the episode “The Demon Within”. I didn’t automatically know it was his voice (I pause the cast credits after every episode because I’ve found a lot of nice surprises), but he voiced a cool character.


  19. I’ve liked Zame ever since I saw him play the bad guy in Posse and do the funny intro to Poetic Justice one right after the other. I’ve always thought that part of the reason he never quite made the A-list was not due to lack of talent, but the fact that nobody could quite catagorize him in terms of roles. Plus he was good-looking but not in your typical Hollywood way—-he had a distinctive look and a quirky,unique presence that made worth watching. I read a post about him somewhere in which someone said that he should have done more European films and maybe he would have become bigger overseas because he had this kind of old-school demeanor in his roles. Whatever the case may be, he’s usually been quite an interesting actor to watch, and had quite an unusual,unpredictable career. I also think that The Phantom was a few years ahead of the superhero resurgence caused by Batman Begins, and that it would have fared better has it come out later.

    Anyway, it’s cool to see anything about him,sicne he’s basically what you would call a cult actor—-Dead Calm was the first thing I saw him in, and he was smoking hot in it (and still is,bald head and all) even though his character was straight-up evil as hell. I definitely now have another reason to see Demon Knight besides Jada Pinkett Smith (another longtime fave of mine) didn’t even know he was in that.Thanks for the write-up–it’s always coll to read stuff about character actors you don’t normally see write ups about.


    • Glad you liked the article. I have to admit that prior to writing the article, I didn’t realize that Zane was not more popular than he was. I guess because I discovered him pretty early on, I was always expecting Zane to be a big leading man. But that never happened and I always wondered why not. I think you’re definitely right that Hollywood didn’t know what to do with him. He was handsome and charming, but could be sinister or goofy. Definitely check out Demon Knight. It’s a fun little movie.


  20. His performance in This World, Then the Fireworks was amazing – his best by far. A shame he never really had a chance of doing similar things since. He should have done more decent indies.


    • I like the guy, but I think “Susan’s Plan” went really wrong. It’s not on him or the rest of the cast of that picture, it’s more about John Landis for me. I’m not really sure what I think of him as a director.


  21. Looking back at The Phantom:

    Sergio Leone and Joe Dante at one stage were linked with The Phantom. We look back at Billy Zane’s moment in the superhero spotlight.

    “Where’s your spirit of adventure?” asks Drax, the film’s villain, before setting off in search of the final skull of Touganda. This sums up The Phantom nicely. It might not work, but they went on an adventure and tried something interesting and different. Cinema would be richer with a greater sense of adventure. That said, the spirit of the film being expressed by the villain does serve as an example of what a muddle the team behind The Phantom movie got themselves into.

    The 1996 film The Phantom is a bit of an oddity. It gets a lot of stuff really wrong, yet there are other areas where it comes up with a really interesting approach to the challenge of making a comic adaptation. It’s not a film that I particularly enjoyed, but it is a film that I feel a lot of goodwill towards.

    Set in the late 1930s, The Phantom tells the story of, er, The Phantom, a superhero moniker passed down to Kit Walker (Billy Zane) by his father, who appears to him throughout the film as a ghost. He has to stop villainous New York mogul Drax and his goons, working as part of the Sengh brotherhood, from bringing together the three Skulls of Touganda, which would afford the dastardly bad guys a great deal of magical power.

    “For those who came in late” a voice announces at the start of The Phantom, before a short film piece plays and runs us quickly through the events that have led to the start point. It’s a stylish and efficient way of getting the dreaded superhero origin story out of the way.

    It’s also a good marker for the strange and often frustrating way The Phantom excels at some of the complicated stuff. It looks great and it’s a lovely idea. Elsewhere the film shows serious signs of padding, so there’s even an argument for giving this scene a little more time. Had it been allowed to play out over a couple of minutes it would have better matched the subsequent film’s pace.

    A brief extension of our time on the pirate ship would have been helpful, too, as it’s a great looking set and one that we return to. Had we spent more than a few seconds on it at the start of the film, the pirate ship sequence at the end might have felt more impactful. Broadly, though, The Phantom handles the origin part of the superhero story really well.

    Then we move straight onto a fantastic sequence that plays out on a rope bridge. The baddies must get a truck across the rickety looking walkway. They have a young boy with them as a guide, and they all cross on foot before making him drive across. Here, we get tension but no incident, which is great because it means that the tension can be built on for future action sequences. We establish that the bridge struggles to support the truck, which is later paid off with higher stakes, and this sequence is exciting in its own right. We also learn about the bad guys, who happily risk the life of a young boy in order to avoid any personal risk. It’s very economic filmmaking, having one segment serve several different ends.

    It’s quite surprising, then, to find economy and invention absent from much of the rest of the film. The hard stuff out of the way (origin told, tone set, hero introduced), you’d think The Phantom would be set to get going. For the next half hour of The Phantom, though, the hero features for maybe five minutes. The rest of the time is spent laboriously setting up the story (which was all but set in the intro), the villains and the supporting characters, changing location and then setting up again. Everything is established, and at a languid pace, except for the main character, which means that when he does finally step in to take over the film it’s difficult to be interested in him. By the time he becomes a big part of the plot, it feels like the movie doesn’t need him.

    That’s not helped by the fact that The Phantom in The Phantom never comes close to convincing. The character is revealed with a series of dramatic costume close ups, which feels more fitting of the 90s era the film was made in than the period it’s set in and paying tribute to. The costume itself looks busy. There’s not much to it; a purple jumpsuit that covers the body, a black leather belt with a skull buckle, a skull ring and a black eye mask.

    Strangely, the body suit has weird, dark patterns printed on it that make it look murky. More than once I thought something had gone wrong with the color balance on my television, or perhaps that the DVD featured a dodgy transfer, before I realized that it was the patterning on the suit. The Phantom’s look is really simple, as is the character. The film has a calm pace and tone. That such an overly complicated take on the costume was used stands out as strange, and is an example of the film getting the easier stuff wrong.

    Then there’s Billy Zane’s performance.

    Zane is excellent in The Phantom as Kit Walker. He looks the part, exudes charisma and seems natural and at home in old New York. Unfortunately, as The Phantom, he really struggles. Zane’s Phantom is unflappable in the face of danger, but to me he just seems bored. Zane is never able to sell that the character is exciting or fun in the same way that he’s able to sell Walker..

    Elsewhere, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance further demonstrates how erratic the film is. As a villain, she’s terrific. She looks the part and appears to have a ball vamping it up. It’s no small wonder, then, that the character ends up reformed and assisting Zane’s Phantom by the end of the film. Zeta-Jones’ Sala starts out as a highlight, but finishes the film as a flappy, grinning non-character. What a boring change.

    The car chase through New York is a great action set piece. 1930s New York, from the sets to the cars, looks incredible and Zane’s Phantom leaps from car to car and before leading a chase on horseback, looking every part the poised action hero. For this brief section of the film, The Phantom comes to life. To borrow from the film’s own dialogue, the ghost walks. Again, though, the success is short lived as it completely deflates the moment it hits the park and you lose that city period setting.

    Unfortunately, many more of the action elements of The Phantom don’t even start with a positive. The fight choreography is very poor indeed, with one bizarre attack from The Phantom standing out as particularly odd. It involves the character leaping up, trapping two villains with his thighs and flinging them, but comes with unfortunate effect of accidentally having the film’s hero gesture at the audience with his buttocks. Then there’s the cinematography of the pirate ship fight at the end, which is shot so close to the actors that much of the sequence could be taking place anywhere, rather than the brilliantly elaborate set.

    Then there’s the bizarre opening, where The Phantom does acrobatics on a tree branch after jumping off his horse. It’s silly, which would be fine if it felt like it fit in the film. Perhaps it fit the source material, but the thing is, if you’re going to do all the things from the comic strip you need to find a tone in this medium that allows you to do so. I don’t think the tone they have here allows for The Phantom to spin around a tree branch without it feeling out of place.

    Elsewhere, lots of slow motion and repeating of action shots from different angles creates the impression of a film that’s being padded. It’s just over an hour and a half long, and the end credits seem to last a good while. I question whether the team behind The Phantom felt they had quite enough film.

    There’s further evidence of uncertainty behind the scenes. Take the scene where a character is killed with a booby-trapped microscope. Suddenly, the score shrieks at us with a chorus of violins, while the trap causes a cartoonish kerthink. It’s heavy handed and stands out as being so different from the rest of the film that it distracts from the actual impact of the action. Of course, had it just not landed it would have been a forgotten moment. As it stands, the clumsy, over-egged solution makes the scene one of the more memorable parts of the film.

    We can’t know whether the sound in this instance is so because the film didn’t work, or if the film doesn’t work because of the sound design. Either way, it suggests a lack of confidence in the moment. But what we’re talking about with The Phantom is a movie so lacking in confidence that didn’t even trust its leading man to lead the film.

    The nervousness is understandable. The Phantom is a film out of step with the comic adaptations of the time. Consider the neon tracksuit of a film that is 1997’s Batman And Robin (clothing wise, The Phantom is more like cinematic knitwear), or the sleazy 1996 picture Barb Wire (cinematic used pants bought off the internet).

    The recent documentary The Death Of Superman Lives, which explores the ill-fated 90s Superman film that collapsed prior to production, offers a fascinating insight into what was being made at the time, and how. A gentler, 1930s set adventure film in 1996 was a bold proposition. Especially so in the wake of the tepid reception, both critically and financially, 1994s The Shadow (another 1930s set action film) had received.

    The Phantom spent years in development, with filmmakers Sergio Leone, Joel Schumacher and Joe Dante involved at various points. Perhaps the lengthy journey to the screen caused a lack of momentum or left too much time for second guessing. The film was eventually taken into production with director Simon Wincer, an experienced filmmaker, although one without the same pedigree of film on his CV as the likes of Leone (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), Schumacher (The Lost Boys) or Dante (Gremlins). Wincer’s previous film had been Operation Dumbo Drop, while the director had also helmed the tittersomely titled whale flick Free Willy and the cult robot movie D.A.R.Y.L. (Data Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform). Not long after, he would direct Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, which I shouldn’t expect you’ll be seeing covered on this site any time soon (editor’s note: muhahahaha).

    The Phantom brought back less than half its reported $45m budget at the box office.

    Of course, those waiting for a decent adventure movie set in the 1930s would only have to endure a short wait. In 1999 Steven Sommers’ The Mummy was released. Trusted with a budget almost double that of The Phantom (in truth, The Mummy looks ten times more expensive), Sommers’ film is a crackling, pacey affair with a brilliant lead turn from Brendan Fraser. The parallels between the two, from the flashback openings through to mooted director Joe Dante, are notable. The big difference is that where The Phantom limped apologetically across the screen before shuffling away, the The Mummy stormed both the screen and the box office. In The Mummy, the jokes land, the characters are memorable and the action sequences are thrilling. The success of The Mummy, which brought in more than $400m from around the world and would be followed up by both sequels, spin-offs and a theme park attraction (and a particularly fun one at that), is no injustice. It’s the better film by far.

    The Phantom, then, looks nice and works in spots, but never really gets going and suffers from a lack of nerve. It’s not a film that deserves a kicking, as the team behind it tried to do something interesting, but it’s also not one that benefits from reassessment.


    • 10 Comic Book Movies That Don’t Deserve To Be Rotten On Rotten Tomatoes

      The Phantom (1996)

      Rotten Tomatoes Score: 43%

      Given how badly The Phantom was received by audiences and critics back in 1996, it’s no wonder that Billy Zane has struggled to maintain a consistent level of work in the years since. On paper, this looks like a travesty: Zane cast as a one-dimensional hero, based on a comic book that few people were familiar with, all from the director of Free Willy.

      But you know what? This movie is a lot of fun and should be commended for its wholly original take on the superhero film. Maintaining a light-hearted appeal throughout, The Phantom plays as a genre parody of sorts: at times, the film attempts to break down the conventions of the superhero film, long before films like Kick-Ass and Deadpool tried.

      Aside from its purposely campy hi-jinks, then, there’s some really meta stuff on show (“For those who came in late…” announces the voice-over at the start, before getting us caught up with hero’s origin story, which isn’t all that far removed from a joke you’d find in Deadpool), whilst for the action-hungry there are genuinely great and impressive set-pieces.

      As a result, The Phantom doesn’t deserve to be so consistently ignored, and should be enjoyed as an admirable comic book flick that tried something different – and mostly succeeded.


  22. Billy Zane and Arrow’s Katrina Law join Guilt, ABC Family’s Amanda Knox-style drama:

    Daisy Head will play the Knox-esque character in Guilt, while Zane has been cast as her defense attorney. Law will play her sister.


  23. Y’all need to see “This World, Then the Fireworks” (1997)…an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel…OMG, the weirdness is off the charts, but the players….Zane, Rue McClanahan, Gina Gershon (yes, I love her) and Sheryl Lee….just wow. See it!


  24. Yes! Please let me know how you liked it!

    If you ever get around to doing A WTHHT Gina…. I have TONS of info, pix, video… if you need anything, as I have been researching her and her work for two years. Yes, I am just a bit obsessed….I am medically disabled and have a ton of time on my hands, so it’s what i do…. look for pix and info online about Gina. 😉 And now I have a new obsession….this blog! Thanks so much!


    • I’m glad you like it. If and when I get around to doing an article on Gershon, I may take you up on that offer.

      I got the email you sent with the pictures of Zane and Gershon. Here they are so everyone can enjoy them.


      • I think Gina Gershon has always been a lovely woman who is good at playing females with that whole “Don’t screw with me” attitude, even in mediocre fare. Nice photos; I also like it when Billy Zane is bald and proud.


  25. Billy Zane Haunts Vanessa Angel in First Trailer for Indie Thriller ‘Trouble Sleeping’ …


  26. Actor Billy Zane knows you’re still mad at him for his role in “Titanic”


  27. Infamous Sphere: Orlando (1992)


  28. Retrospective / Review: The Phantom (1996)


    • On June 7th 1996, the Phantom was released in theaters.

      Today, twenty years later, probably most write it off as just another nineties comic book movie misfire. Is this a fair assessment, or is it true what some claim, that the movie was far ahead of it time?


  29. I loved the Phantom movie and was hoping for a sequel after the success it had on home release. I also saw the movie at the cinema as the Phantom was and still is my favourite comic book hero. I wore the skull ring that you got at the cinema when you went to see the movie all the time, until I lost it at a Loan Star in one of those large barrel of peanuts.

    Sadly, even though we live in a time where superhero movies and shows are everywhere I don’t know how well received a Phantom movie would be. It would have to compete with far more mainstream superhero movies like the X-Men, Avengers & Captain America just to name a few. With that said, I do know one place it’ll probably do well is Australia since the Phantom is still popular here, so I wouldn’t say no to a limited Australian release lol.


  30. Bad Movie Beatdown: Going Overboard (1989)


  31. Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Billy Zane Anymore

    From his role as part of Biff Tannen’s gang in the Back to the Future films to wicked Cal in Titanic – as well as his memorable work on Charmed, his cameo in Zoolander, and dozens of other movies and TV shows – Billy Zane was once a reliably dashing presence on screens both big and small. But he doesn’t seem to pop up to provide his quirky charm as much anymore, and we’ve wondered what he’s been up to recently. Here’s why you don’t see Billy Zane much anymore, and how that could change.


  32. KFC Hopes You Listen To Your Friend (And The New Colonel Sanders) Billy Zane


  33. Why on Earth 2 did we not get Billy Zane as Lex Luthor?

    Post by Kevin Hamilton on 2 hours ago

    I mean, c’mon.

    They shoulda cast that guy Billy Zane. He’s a cool dude.

    Woulda been much better than Eisenberg, and hopefully not given us that just off portrayal of Lex.

    I know Cranston was talked about too, and he of course woulda been fantastic, but

    Put a Kryptonite ring on the dude, and he’s there.

    Yeah, I Googled Billy Zane in a suit to make my point here.

    No, it wasn’t for a school project.


  34. I wish Billy Zane had a McConaughey career resurgence

    I’ve been rewatching a few films recently that happened to have Billy Zane in them. It really seemed for a short while like he was the next big thing. Dead Calm, Memphis Belle, The Phantom, Titanic… even Zoolander. Then around 2000 his career took a hit. Since then he’s mostly shown up in straight-to-dvd films. He’s still around, like his brief appearance in season 6 of Community. But I really wish he’d have a career revival like McConaughey and get cast in a decent film.
    Am I dreaming too big?
    Addendum: Damn he was good in Tales From The Crypt: Demon Night.


    • I never had a problem with Billy Zane; I think being the “bad guy” from “Titanic” hurt his public feelings. You know, his sister, Lisa Zane, onto everyday she’s pretty:-)


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