The A-List: Don’t Call It a Comeback

Dumb and Dumber To

This past weekend, Dumb and Dumber To exceeded even the most optimistic box office projections.  Critics were unkind to the sequel, but audiences who have been waiting twenty years for more Dumb and Dumber didn’t care.  Now there’s talk of a Dumb and Dumber trilogy!

The box office success of Dumb and Dumber To has some people talking about a comeback for Jim Carrey.  Carrey’s movie career has cooled over the last decade or so.  His last unqualified box office hit was arguably Bruce Almighty in 2003.  When a Dumb and Dumber sequel was announced, it seemed to some (myself included) like a desperation move.  But now, it seems like a “hail mary pass” that connected.

So is this the start of a Jim Carrey comeback?  I’m skeptical.  Where does Carry go from here?  I suspect Dumb and Dumber To was a hit precisely because audiences had to wait 20 years for a second helping.  Would a third movie have the same built in audience?  I doubt it.

Currently, Carrey doesn’t have any projects listed on IMDB.  This suggests that either he is taking some time off or he is uncertain of his next move.  He could continue mining his past hits with sequels to The Mask or Bruce Almighty.  But that’s a strategy that typically results in diminishing returns.  Just ask sequel-happy Chevy Chase.

Carrey could make another attempt at dramatic roles.  He has shown he has the ability to pull them off.  But audiences have historically rejected his efforts to reinvent himself.  Or he could keep doing what he was doing prior to Dumb and Dumber To.  Taking scene-stealing supporting roles in movies like Burt Wonderstone and Kick Ass 2.

It seems to me that Carrey is at a crossroads.  His next decision could define the next stage of his career.  The box office success of Dumb and Dumber To should give him some options.  But he has to find a way to capitalize on that success or else he’ll be right back where he was last year.

Michael Keaton - Birdman - 2014

Michael Keaton – Birdman – 2014

For the last year or so I have been hearing buzz about Birdman.  Birdman, with its meta casting of Michael Keaton as a down-on-his-luck actor who is best-known for having played a super hero, was a comeback waiting to happen.  Not just for Keaton, but potentially for co-star Edward Norton as well.

Birdman opened in limited release in October and has generated strong reviews.  There’s talk of Keaton being nominated for an Oscar.  The movie seems likely to be remembered in some capacity come awards season.  But there’s still a lot of road between now and nomination time.  It’s possible Keaton and Birdman could get pushed aside if we have a crowded field of contenders.

This is where the box office for Birdman becomes a factor.  Box office can be a double edged sword when it comes to prestige movies.  If a movie becomes too popular, it can generate a backlash.  But if it doesn’t become popular enough, voters with short memories will have moved on by the time the awards season rolls around.

Birdman opened in wide release last weekend.  It opened in 10th place which isn’t bad for only 857 theaters.  Its per screen average was better than John Wick or Nightcrawler.  But it still has a ways to go before it recoups its $18 million dollar production costs.  It’s going to have to have legs if its going to turn a profit in theaters,

So what does that mean for Keaton and Norton’s chances at a comeback?  Probably not a lot really.  The movie is certainly putting Keaton back in the spotlight for the first time in a long time.  But Keaton doesn’t seem all that interested in returning to movie stardom full time.  He could use the Birdman buzz to get more work.  But one of the reasons Keaton hasn’t been working much in recent years is that he chooses not to.

As for Norton, I don’t think Birdman changes anything at all.  He’s still a well-respected actor with a reputation for being difficult.  If you hire Norton, you have to expect him to try to rewrite your movie.  It’s what he does.  He’ll continue turning in interesting performances in movies like Birdman.  But a return to leading roles in mainstream movies seems unlikely.

keanu john wick


Keanu Reeves has been generating some comeback buzz with his recent starring role in the low-budget action flick, John Wick.  Like Birdman, the movie has been helped by strong reviews.  And while it isn’t a sequel like Dumb and Dumber To, it is a return to form for Reeves after a string of disappointments.

John Wick has performed well at the box office in relation to its budget.  That’s something to bear in mind.  To date, John Wick has grossed under $40 million in the US and just over $50 million worldwide.  It’s going to turn a tide profit because the budget was kept small.  But this isn’t Reeves flexing his A-list muscles.  This is a case of a modestly budgeted action moving doing well.  Its overall audience is still relatively small.

So is John Wick a comeback for Reeves?  In and of itself, I say “no”.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction. But what matters most is what Reeves does next.  Unlike Carrey, Reeves has a number of movies in the pipeline.  He needs one or more of them to connect with audiences if he’s going to return to the A-list.  A modest hit like John Wick isn’t going to do it alone.

Like Keaton, I have my doubts Reeves is all that interested in returning to the A-list.  He’s working quite a bit.  But he seems to go where his interests take him rather than choosing roles that will keep him in the spotlight.  My expectation is John Wick will go down as a solid film in a long filmography, but not a comeback vehicle.

Russo - Nightcrawler

Another movie that has tongues wagging is Nightcrawler.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead performance has many talking about a comeback for him.  Gyllenhaal has flirted with movie stardom in the past with movies like The Day After Tomorrow and Prince of Persia.  But so far, it has eluded him.  And he doesn’t seem terribly concerned about it either.

With Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal seemed like an actor to watch.  But he hasn’t done much of note since then.  Nightcrawler isn’t going to make Gyllenhaal a movie star.  But it puts him back in the game.

Remember when I mentioned that Keaton could potentially get squeezed out of a crowded Best Actor field.  Gyllenhaal is just one threat to Keaton’s Oscar chances.  There’s only five nominations to hand out and only one statue.

Rene Russo also has a supporting role in Nightcrawler.  At her age, there is no real chance of Russo returning to the A-list.  But Nightcrawler represents a comeback of a different kind for Russo.  After several years away from the screen, Russo reappeared in the Thor movies.  Nightcrawler shows she’s still got a lot of years in supporting roles if she wants to continue working.

Heigl - State of Affairs

The highest-stakes comeback attempt surely belongs to Katherine Heigl and her new NBC show, State of Affairs.  Heigl rose to prominence with the one-two punch of Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up.  She then torpedoed her career by badmouthing her hits and starring in a string on insipid rom-coms.  At her low point, Heigl was starring in a Nyquil commercial.  It was embarrassing.

But then someone seemed to realize that Heigl was still extremely photogenic and maybe she had been humbled enough that she wouldn’t be a nightmare to work with.  Since being cast in State of Affairs, Heigl has done everything except go door to door apologizing to her fans.  She is practically begging for a second chance.

State of Affairs debuted last night and its still too early to tell whether or not Heigl’s comeback will happen.  The show has gotten mostly negative reviews.  And the ratings were described by Entertainment Weekly as “modest”.  But with a strong lead in from the hit show, The Voice, State of Affairs could build an audience.  It still managed to beat ABC’s Castle and CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles  in the adult demo at 10 p.m.

Comebacks are a tricky thing.  Predicting them is dangerous.  A comeback is like lightning in a bottle.  It’s all about the right project coming along under the right circumstances at just the right time.  And even then, follow-up is key.  A hit TV show or movie with no follow-up does not a comeback make.

Over the last nearly five years of writing the What the Hell Happened series, I have heard a lot of talk about comebacks.  I remember being told that The Sessions was going to make Helen Hunt a star again.  And that Elysium would mean big things for Jodie Foster.  We love a good comeback story and we’re always pulling for our favorite stars.  But true comebacks are few and far between.

More A-list

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Posted on November 18, 2014, in A-List, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. I think Gyllenhaal is like Matt Dillon in that he’s not really interested in being A-list. He wants to do roles that interest him. I saw Nightcrawler opening weekend and liked it a great deal.


    • I think you’re right. If anything, Damon seems more interested in the A-list than Gyllenhaal. He seemed positively amused by the prospect of being an action hero in Prince of Persia.

      Daffy wrote a review of Nightcrawler. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have heard good things.


  2. I can’t believe they made a sequel to Dumb and Dumber… my youngest can’t wait to torture me. 🙂 Sometimes I think that Carrey knows where his box office is the same way Adam Sandler does.


    • I won’t be at all surprised by Dumb and Dumberest or whatever they call the third movie.

      Carrey knows his bread and butter. I mean, it’s always been obvious what kind of movie he needs to make to score at the box office. He has struggled to grow beyond that niche, but his audience doesn’t want to see him in other roles. And his non-fans just don’t want to see him.


  3. source code made money thst cop movie he made money jake dont need a comeback prionsers did good love and other drugs despite bad reviews made money hes sitll a top draw its funny u think his career is struggling yet he dont have an article out about him


    • There’s a difference between “struggling” and not being A-List. Jake’s career is just fine, but he is not, and has never been, A-List. No big deal. That is a list that continues to shrink in today’s movie business. I’m sure he’ll continue to make films for a good while.


  4. jake was a list after brokeback his leading roles made money end of watch source code love and other drugs grossed over 100 mill even if he is not a list hes not struggling he d ont need a comeback ryan reyondls need one


  5. sandler is struggling a little


  6. daffystardust would u say kilmer was ever a list( i know this topic is beaten to the ground lol) none of kilmers leads except batman forever made money and people didnt see it for him his leads after batman flopped he made amazing pr that hyped him up when in reality he was never able to draw people to movies so for someone who people thought was a list his fan base wasnt as big as one would think to me a list is a title give to actor or actress when they can draw audiences in movies by there name alone its called star power


    • I have to say that, though I generally agree with Lebeau’s instincts on who has been A-List and who hasn’t…I really don’t care very much. Sometimes understanding where a performer stands with the money men in Hollywood is instructive when you consider what films are being made and who stars in them, but I just can’t get too invested in that conversation. Quality art (acting, directing, cinematography, etc) is much more interesting to me than box office.


      • I have to say that in spite of the fact that I dwell on the subject quite a bit here, I also don’t care about it all that much. I find I get tired of the “Is so-and-so A-list” debates really fast. If you think that your favorite actor or actress is “A-list”, great! Keep on thinking that. There’s no formula that can prove you wrong.


        • I think a lot of people confuse “A-list” and “successful”. By almost any standard someone on the A-list would be considered successful, but you can be very successful without being on the A-list. Hollywood is a very tough town. Most actors barely get by or fail after a few years. If you can be working consistently on interesting projects while making a good living and be a household name (at least to people that pay any attention at all to the entertainment industry) then that is a big success in my book.


        • Yes, this. I feel like I am constantly pointing out that A-list is not the only measure of success. Every single actor I have ever covered is enormously successful. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written about them. Even now, the ones that want to make a good living acting. So please don’t confuse “A-list” with “success”. A-list is a measure of power. It’s not a matter of actual drawing power. It’s a measure of what Hollywood stuidos think you are worth. A-list actors get paid better, they can demand the terms, projects get greenlit based on their involvement. There’s a lot of intangibles which is why there’s a lot of debate over who is or isn’t A-list. It’s a perception that may or may not reflect reality. Which is why, for me, I look at someone like Val Kilmer who never really opened a movie on his own and say “yeah, he was A-list.” Whether or not he ever actually had drawing power at the box office, there was a perception that he did and so he was treated accordingly.


  7. but u mentioned jake was never a list what does that make val


  8. no val was in batman forever made money but not because of him i mentioned this because there some actors who u are quick to point are not a list but then some are u mention why some arent val dosent fit those rules yet u still say he was a list also u made elizbeth sues career out to be bigger then it is u mentioned she had an impressive comeback what comeback


  9. This is an article that needed writing. Over the past four of five years you have done profiles on dozens of actors and as the number of WTTH alumni grows, the chances of someone having a comeback grows too. This past year a few alumni have had modest comebacks, including Kostner, Carrey, Keaton and Reeves. Truth is for most WTTH alumni a comeback or return to the spotlight is almost always possible if the stars align just right, there’s only a couple actors on the list where I think their career is truly over and that’s typically because they’ve just burned too many bridges by being impossible to work with (Seagal, cough cough), but outside of that if the stars align almost any WTTH member could have a comeback to call their own.

    Call me optimistic but I think as time goes on we will see a few more come backs from WTTH alumni over the years. Most will probably be modest comebacks as we’ve seen this year, but I don’t think Costner, Carrey, Keaton or Reeves are complaining that their comebacks weren’t big enough.


    • I very strongly agree with you.

      Basically, this article came from a conversation Daffy and I were having about the podcast. We were kicking around some ideas for new things to do and one of them was to give updates on some of the WTHH actors. As we were talking, I realized that an awful lot of WTHH subjects were currently working in some pretty high profile projects. And a few of them had some pretty serious comeback buzz.

      Over the years writing this series, I’ve heard people talk about comebacks quite a bit. And they almost never amount to much. A sustained comeback like Connery on Untouchables or Travolta in Pulp Fiction is a very rare thing. Especially for actors the age of Keaton and Costner. I’m sure these guys are happy to get a little more time in the spotlight and have a few doors that were previously closed open back up. But realistically, they aren’t likely to get anywhere near the A-list again.

      As always, my stance is that I wish all of my subjects well. I’d be happy with any of them experiencing a comeback.


  10. she used to be a movie star and went to tv kind of a down grade plus csi big ensemble there are a lot of them too she gets lost in shuttle in that case was huge again with community john wick dumber and dumber 2 did more for keanu and jim then csi did for sue plus as for costner black and white could give him oscar nom since hes said to be only oscar worthy thing in the movie


  11. lets not forget michael caine comeback in cider house rules he won oscar after that it led to lead roles in hit films like quit american again


  12. it seems danson more the lead then her she hasnt had much hit movies lately example u make jude out to be failing hes apart of grand budpest getting good reviews for it being apart of a hit movie is good news for jude i think jude is doing better then sue hes appearing in hit movies having a lot of screen time in them


    • Danson is the male lead. Shue is the female lead.

      In no way have I ever suggested Jude Law was anything but a very successful actor. He just never attained A-list status. That is all.


  13. if jude never did neither did kilmer law had power too like val too he was castt in roles ment for a list like day after tommrow in his hey day he was just as big val was treated that way because he though he a list on rise like dennis quaid yet not a list a list is a title given to after u earn it through lots of hits kilmer never he was only treated a list from 1995 to 1997 after siants flopped the big budget roles gone sue didnt appear in csi untill 2012 all she did was join an already hit anyone can brag about that i guess ted mcginley is a star she still has no movie career


    • No offensive but I feel u were a little biased to Shue cause your a fan csi was a hit before she came a lot if actors join hit shows in middle of there shows I hear people talk about csi but never mention her another you make her appearance in hope springs to be big and help her career she was bj it for five min no one saw it for her costner appearance in man if steel was bigger yet u point it’s small u make Kilmer out to be a list and Colin Jude not to phone booth was just him in phone booth for over an hour and it made money that’s star power cold mountain made money Jude was in it u make Shue out to bigger then she is


  14. Muscle Head – what you are looking for is called a “period”, which in the days before cell phones – you know, when teachers were required to stand next to you to make sure you could read and write – was what we used to end sentences and begin a new sentence. Kind of like what I just did right there. Do you see it? Blink twice if you can see it.


  15. muscle head is right. Looking at jakes resume he was the lead in several box office hits if that aint a list i dont know what is. Speaking costner yeah black or white looked his comeback but hes gettign snubbed for everything his career is done


  16. Who’s Jake? Did gradyfreeman mean Jude (Hey Jude, don’t take it bad; you’ve been in some films and made them better)? The only two Jakes I can think of are Jake Busey and “Jake Speed” (should I count “The Two Jakes”?). I don’t know if gradyfreeman is muscle head, but I’m pretty sure muscle head is shitbrick!


  17. amy adams and emma stone are close. watching blue valentine made me sad gosling never was a list but hes doing good strong performances i doubbt he ever wanted to


  18. Since you guys mentioned Sean connery I have a video I want to show you. Its connery Interview him admitting its ok to hit women .


    • Sean Connery came from a time when Teachers (especially in Catholic School) would slap their kids, and slapping was a method of disilpline (I’ve been slapped by a woman before, if that counts for something:-). My deal is to leave general relationships alone and not judge, but then again I babble a lot.


  19. Hes good but not great actor. Hes overrated hes given way too such credit then he deserves. Magazine rank him way too high. Hes not worst of his generation. Hes more talented then james caan and clint eastwood. Compare him to other actors in his age group or close to it like robert duvall ,michael caine,gene hackman,dustin hoffman and jack nicholson he pales in comparison. I read connerys biogrpahy he comes off as a jerk


    • I’ll tell you what; I love Robert Duvall in “Tender Mercies”; probably my favorite character of any he’s played. I know he’s great in pretty much everything (also, he was in the Army the same time my father was, and on Wikipedia there is a photo with Diane Lane and him. Yeah, so I like all that). I like him in “Badge 373” too; I think that film is real solid. i guess with Robert Duvall I could go on forever.
      Hey, maybe that could be another category on this site, “If I Could Go On Forever…”. It’s a way of discussing a performer without asking “What The Hell Happened To…?”. Just a thought though!:-)


  20. I know connery is from different generation but still rude comment. Its not first interview I found douche. There were reports he beat his first wife and slept around too. Duvall is great in great santi . Duvall acts circles around sean .I would say keanu is much better then sean but receives less credit. keanu is extremely talented


    • I just think some people operate under a different generational mentality. We’re sort of what we were a part of a lot of the time. At least that’s what I think!
      As Sean Connery goes, I like “The Name of The Rose” quite a bit, and I don’t just see him as just James Bond. I see Sean.


  21. We are apart of that traditions and customs we where born into. Sometimes people carry on those things. However I think Connery should accept things have changed and try to accept how things work now. It wouldn’t kill Sean to be more diverse. He should of thought how many people he will offend by saying this. There could be women who were beaten by their former lovers watching this getting upset because they interrupt it differently that sean thinks its ok to beat a women.As for his acting ability in his prime he had a huge fan base lots of box office clout and a list exposure but a lot of critics did complain he didn’t have the much range. For most part their right he has some range but not as much as say dustin hoffman. He was more movie star then actor. Not to say hes bad he did give strong performances. I prefer him to today’s a list stars like clooney,pitt ,tatum depp and will smith . However for most part I WOuld say he picks amazing parts .Hes not always the reason there good. HEs not a bad actor by any means. Hes been good in certain parts even amazing like man who would be kind Untouchable in the name of rose. However I don’t think the praise hes given in the movie industry matches his talent. Hunt for red October wasn’t his best he was out acted by talented Baldwin. He Kind of lacked charisma in the robin hood movie he did.


  22. hidden figures was a hit which is good for kevin . first time he popped in a film that please for critics and audience since jfk


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