Movie Stars Who Became One-Hit Wonders

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Lucasfilm/IMDb

Very few things are more exciting for an up-and-coming actor than the moment they finally make it big. Going from a nobody to someone fans recognize on the streets as an A-list star is certainly life changing, but it’s actually the moment that the really hard work begins.

What's harder than landing the right role and becoming a star in the first place? Judging by the faltering careers of these once promising actors, the answer is simple: holding onto that sudden stardom. Some stars make it to the top and stay there. Others drop the ball somewhere along the way. Take a look!

Elijah Wood | Lord of the Rings Trilogy

When Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy came to a close in 2003, the name on everyone's mind was Elijah Wood. After starring as Frodo and racking up all kinds of recognition, it was natural to assume the actor would be relevant for years — maybe even decades.

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Photo Courtesy: New Line Cinema/IMDb

Wood decided to take a different route in the wake of his international stardom, however. Instead of pursuing other huge franchises, he turned his attention to small-scale, indie films. To this day, he continues to be heavily involved in the production of independent films and is perfectly happy not topping the A-list.

Hayden Christensen | Star Wars Prequels (Episode II & Episode III)

After the conclusion of the Star Wars sequel trilogy in 2019, it remains to be seen if Daisy Ridley will be able to hold on to her sudden stardom. One thing is for sure, though. Hayden Christensen, the star of the last Star Wars prequel trilogy, wasn't able to do it.

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Photo Courtesy: Lucasfilm/IMDb

After playing Anakin Skywalker in Episode II and Episode III, the young actor couldn't score a big role to save his life. (Well, he did play a galactic-level mass murderer, so karmic justice, perhaps?) In the months following the release of Episode IX in 2019, many went back and re-evaluated Christensen's performances. Maybe his star will rise again.

Sarah Jessica Parker | Sex and the City

Despite leading a hit HBO comedy and being married to one of the most notable actors from the 1980s, Sarah Jessica Parker couldn't manage to hold on to her critical movie acclaim. With Sex and the City long over and two spinoff films in the books — with no third in sight — Parker's future as a star is muddled.

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Photo Courtesy: New Line Cinema/IMDb

It can't be denied that everyone knows her name. Whether it's a positive association or negative, fans and critics alike know who Parker is. The problem is that they only know her as her TV character, Carrie Bradshaw.


Rupert Grint | Harry Potter Series

The Harry Potter franchise was truly a cultural event that encompassed the entire planet. Throughout the series' seven novels, eight feature film adaptations and spinoff Fantastic Beasts prequel series, J.K. Rowling's magical creations changed the world.

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Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/IMDb

Still, no amount of enchantment could change the fact that franchise star Rupert Grint, known in the films as Ronald Weasley, hasn't been able to reach the same heights of fame he achieved playing the iconic redhead. While co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have continued to soar — although Radcliffe’s success is greater in Europe— Grint remains quite grounded.

Ralph Macchio | The Karate Kid Series

Decades later, The Karate Kid continues to be hailed as one of the most memorable films from the 1980s. Star Ralph Macchio perfectly embodied the charisma and the personality of a kid going from zero to hero, making his leading role an integral part of the film's lasting power.

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Photo Courtesy: Columbia Pictures/IMDb

However great he may have been in the classic film, Macchio couldn't hold on to all that star power for the long term. Even with multiple sequels and a spinoff series, Macchio's finest achievement seems destined to be this one film from 1984.

Henry Thomas | E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Don't be fooled by Henry Thomas' reprisal of his famous character in a recent ad campaign for Comcast. The actor is not an A-list talent. He is known for starring alongside one of the most instantly recognizable aliens in the galaxy, E.T. from Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal/IMDb

Named Elliot in the film, Thomas garnered all kinds of acclaim for emulating the perfect amount of childhood wonder in a kid who befriends a lovable alien. Despite this, no one else in Hollywood seemed interested in helping him maintain his newfound celebrity status.


Brandon Routh | Superman Returns

The fact that Brandon Routh was just recently brought back to reprise his role as Superman, despite the nearly 15 years that have passed since he first put on the suit just goes to show that the actor will always be seen as Kal-El and not much else.

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Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/IMDb

Appearing in the CW's Arrowverse as the same Clark Kent he played in 2006's Superman Returns, Routh has spent the last decade-plus trying to reach the same level of success he had hit after he first put on the iconic superhero costume.

Macaulay Culkin | Home Alone

It's quite rare for Home Alone actor Macaulay Culkin to talk about his childhood as a movie star. Not many are sure what he has been up to in the decades since appearing in two of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time, but one fact is certain: He hasn't been doing much acting.

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Culkin has only had a handful of film roles between now and his last Home Alone appearance. Believe it or not, his brother Kieran has managed to hold on to his celebrity status better than his once-more-famous brother.

Linda Blair | The Exorcist

Although she certainly had no idea at the time, securing the starring role in what eventually became one of the highest-rated horror films of all time was one of the most profoundly life-changing events in the life of Linda Blair. A St. Louis native, she starred in The Exorcist when she was just barely a teenager.

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Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/IMDb

Released in 1973, the movie accounts for most of Blair’s fame. She has never actually managed to earn as much praise for any of her other work as she received in the months and years following the release of her most significant film role.


Nia Vardalos | My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Attaining overnight fame is one thing. Becoming a household name at a moment's notice because you starred in a movie that you also wrote? Well, that’s an entirely different phenomenon. Let’s just say it’s one that Nia Vardalos knows all too well.

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Photo Courtesy: Gold Circle Films/IMDb

Unfortunately, she also knows what it's like to lose your grip on star status. Her groundbreaking indie rom-com My Big Fat Greek Wedding took the world by storm — herself included — but the film and its mastermind were forgotten all too soon. She seemed to be gone almost as quickly as she appeared.

Jon Heder | Napoleon Dynamite

Speaking of independent film stars who came and went with the utmost haste, Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder was poised to be the next big comedy star in the months following the release of the 2004 Sundance hit. Too bad it wasn’t meant to be.

Photo Courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures/IMDb

For quite some time after Napoleon Dynamite's premiere, fans and critics couldn't stop quoting the 2000’s cult classic. For whatever reason, Heder tried and failed to keep a grasp on his fleeting star power, but it was no use. Even with all his flippin' sweet skills, Heder disappeared.

Rachael Leigh Cook | She's All That

For a hot minute at the end of the 20th century, actress Rachael Leigh Cook really was all that. The titular "she" in 1999's She's All That, Cook was the standout star in an otherwise mundane teen drama. Across the nation, everyone wondered how she would follow up the breakout performance.

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As it turns out, her big plan was to do … nothing at all. She kept things on a slow burn, for the most part, never pursuing any roles on the same level as her character in She's All That.


Alex Winter | Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

The year 2020 will see the return of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as their infamous 80’s airheads, Bill and Ted. The two will reprise their roles from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure for a third film in the summer, but it's worth noting that the two actors couldn't have had more different career trajectories.

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While Keanu went on to become an enormous action movie talent, Winter never could hit the same highs as his co-star. He mostly spent his career making feature films of his own and appearing in much smaller films.

Edward Furlong | Terminator 2: Judgement Day

All kinds of hype surrounded producer James Cameron's return to the Terminator franchise with 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate. Another exciting aspect of the film was the return of actor Edward Furlong to the killer cyborg series (although Furlong barely made more than a cameo appearance in the end).

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It’s actually par for the course, considering Furlong never really got the chance to continue his upward momentum after starring in Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991. He had some substantial smaller roles throughout the 90s but nothing that could compare.

Jerry Seinfeld | The Bee Movie

It seems kind of obvious, but the simple truth of the matter is that stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld was never very good at playing any character, except the one that was based on himself.

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Still, he made an absolute killing throughout the run of his sitcom Seinfeld — even if he never could hit the same highs again. Seinfeld remains one of the wealthiest celebrities in the history of the industry — and it's definitely not because of his starring voice actor gig in The Bee Movie.


Rainn Wilson | Juno

It's one of the most common occurrences in television these days: An actor plays a character who manages to transcend the show itself, eventually becoming a pop culture icon as big as the show itself. Take Rainn Wilson, for example. Even if you don't watch The Office, you know who Dwight Schrute is.

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This is more of a curse than a blessing for the actor, though. After all, who wants to be typecast as Dwight? As evidenced by the years that have passed since the show's finale, he can't seem to escape the role. In fact, his most memorable movie moment is as the convenience store cashier in Juno.

Patrick Fugit | Almost Famous

Remember Patrick Fugit? It seems that his first— and largest — feature film role in Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous proved to be somewhat of a foreshadowing. Turns out Fugit himself was almost famous.

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The actor was chosen to play the young lead in this beloved rock-n-roll classic by Crowe himself, but it seems that the favors stopped there. Fugit was lauded in the months and years that followed the film's release, but no one wanted to cast him in their projects, and he faded back into obscurity once more.

Piper Perabo | Coyote Ugly

As it stands, we're currently living in a time where there are more movies and TV shows than anyone could ever watch. As a result, we're challenged to keep track of far more stars than in decades past.

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Photo Courtesy: Touchstone Pictures/IMDb

Sadly, this means that people like Piper Perabo fade into obscurity a lot easier than the stars of the mid-20th century. Known best for her role in Coyote Ugly, Perabo never could find the next role to keep the ball rolling on her celebrity status. She has had a few small roles but nothing big.


Peter Ostrum | Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Many child actors can't catch a break — beyond their initial big break, of course. Just look at Peter Ostrum, the boy who played Charlie in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, still a widely viewed children’s classic. Beyond this first role, Ostrum never got the chance to act again.

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/IMDb

We see this all too often. After the shock of making a splash first wears off, the actors, some of whom are still children, have to keep fighting to remain relevant. If some adults can't do it, there's no way every childhood actor could pull it off.

Danny Lloyd | The Shining

While the character of Danny Torrance was recently revived for Doctor Sleep, original actor Danny Lloyd wasn’t lucky enough to play the role a second time. The sequel to 1980's The Shining follows the life of Jack Torrance's young son after the tragedy, with new horrors in play.

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/IMDb

Danny Lloyd's performance in Stanley Kubrick's monumental horror film was one of the eeriest and most suspenseful in the history of the genre, but the young talent quickly faded into obscurity. For reasons unknown, Lloyd never got the chance to act again in the decades that followed.

Paul Hogan | Crocodile Dundee

Sometimes, an actor comes along with such a specific set of skills that it becomes hard for future filmmakers to try and place them in their films. Look at Paul Hogan, for example. He was the creator and star of the hugely successful Crocodile Dundee films, but he never could transfer his comedic chops to any other parts.

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Photo Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/IMDb

Hogan faded from relevancy after the flop of his third Dundee film in 2001. It goes without saying that the actor definitely hit the big leagues with his iconic character, but he never managed to use that talent elsewhere.


Carrie Henn | Alien Series

The first two Alien films certainly divided fans in the decades following their respective releases. Many fans appreciate the claustrophobic horror of the first, while others prefer the large-scale action of 1986's Aliens. Those in the second camp definitely know all about Carrie Henn.

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Photo Courtesy: Twentieth Century Fox/IMDb

The actress who played Newt, the little girl who drove much of the sequel's plot, is famous for Aliens and nothing else. Despite being pivotal to the film's success, she has nothing else on her resume, except a cameo in Alien 3. Maybe making such a horrific film at such a young age traumatized her and turned her off movies.

Peter Billingsley | A Christmas Story

In some cases, we see a child actor fade into the ether without them ever managing to work in showbusiness again. That's not always what happens when they seemingly "disappear." Occasionally, an actor will flip the switch and move to the other side of the camera: production.

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Photo Courtesy: MGM/IMDb

Look at Peter Billingsley, for example. He would definitely be considered a one-hit wonder for his role as Ralphie in A Christmas Story, but the actor-turned-producer has had a successful career and recently served as an executive producer for Netflix's F Is for Family and Marvel Studios' Iron Man.

Shannon Elizabeth | American Pie Series

In hindsight, the American Pie films feel like you’re looking at a time capsule. Could any of these films make it today? No one knows for certain, but it's obvious that they're a cultural touchstone for a generation of teens who reached adulthood in the late 1990s.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures/IMDb

Actress Shannon Elizabeth made quite an impression in the first film and subsequent sequels, but that was about it for her. She never could hit the same high she hit with the first film, although she tried and failed to land parts that could help her relevancy. Imagine only being known for American Pie (shudder)!


Sarah Michelle Gellar | Cruel Intentions, Scooby-Doo Series

Believe it or not, playing Daphne in a couple of live-action Scooby-Doo films isn’t enough to cement your status as a real Hollywood star. No one knows this better than Sarah Michelle Gellar, who rose to worldwide acclaim as the titular Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Television/IMDb

Post Buffy, she squandered that fame on horror flicks and 2000s-era teenybopper movies. The star has never really stopped working since Buffy came to a close in 2003, but nothing else she has done has ever come close to the buzz-worthy hit supernatural series.

Jeff Cohen | Goonies

For Jeff Cohen, it's obvious that his Goonies character's most famous line has had more staying power than he himself ever had. First rising to stardom in 1985's The Goonies, Cohen never landed a movie role again.

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Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/IMDb

Still, don't knock the massive significance of his character Chunk's "Truffle Shuffle" If lasting talent could be judged by how often someone quotes you, he would certainly have his career squared away quite nicely. As it stands, though, the actor was never lucky enough to hit it big a second time.

Jonathan Bennett | Mean Girls

Can't earn yourself another big role in a feature film? Might as well make the switch to hosting baking competitions. This was apparently the logic employed by Jonathan Bennett, and it has worked out quite well for him. Despite not being a cook himself, he has done quite well on The Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

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He first rose to stardom in the cult classic comedy Mean Girls, but he never could replicate that notability, no matter how hard he tried. Judging by his success, it was actually smart of him to switch to TV.


Alicia Silverstone | Clueless

Contrary to what many might think, Alicia Silverstone's performance as Batgirl in the much-criticized comic book film Batman & Robin does not count as the pinnacle of her career. She received an uncanny level of praise for her most famous film Clueless.

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Photo Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/IMDb

Known for playing Cher in Amy Heckerling's riff on Jane Austen's novel Emma, Alicia Silverstone instantly became one of the biggest names of the mid-90s. Even though she never really faded away, always pursuing other parts in film and TV, Silverstone can be considered a one-hit wonder simply because she literally had just one major hit.

Margaret Hamilton | The Wizard of Oz

It wasn't until her late 30s that Old Hollywood actress Margaret Hamilton got her big break. Cast as the Wicked Witch of the West in one of the most beloved and acclaimed films in the history of the medium, The Wizard of Oz, Hamilton never stood a chance at topping this incredibly lucky break.

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Photo Courtesy: MGM/IMDb

Even if Hamilton had landed roles as highly praised as this one, none of them could have surpassed the role in what many consider to be one of the greatest films ever made. She will always be remembered for it.

Nikki Blonsky | Hairspray

When word got out that John Waters' Hairspray would get the remake treatment in the mid-2000s, plenty of moviegoers were reasonably skeptical. How could anyone come close to replicating the strangeness of a Waters’ film? Thanks to Nikki Blonsky, the film actually did quite well.

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Photo Courtesy: New Line Cinema/IMDb

As is sometimes the case, however, Blonsky's contributions to the world of feature film ended there. She was decidedly a breakout star when the film was released in 2007, but it seems she wasn't on any filmmaker's list of dream collaborators. She is certainly deserving of a comeback.