Elizabeth Berkley became a teenage heartthrob as “girl next door” Jessie in Saved by the Bell, but her first big movie role after the series basically singlehandedly sank her career.
The film was Showgirls, which garnered a Rotten Tomatoes Score of 23 percent. Not only did the NC-17 film tank, but Berkley’s performance was panned, causing Berkley’s career to flounder just as soon as it had begun. Berkley continued to work in film for the next decade or so, but her career never quite recovered.
Sofia Coppola’s acting career was similarly over before it had even really begun. When Winona Ryder had to drop out of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III, Coppola decided to cast his daughter instead. While the third installment in Coppola’s Oscar-winning series failed to measure up to the first two, there was one factor that garnered more negative attention than anything else in the film: Coppola’s performance.
Coppola’s performance was so panned that she was even accused of “com[ing] close to wrecking the movie.” The backlash was so intense that Coppola’s acting career quickly ended. However, Sofia proved her skills elsewhere and became a celebrated director.
Coppola isn’t the only nepo baby who made an ill-fated film debut at the insistence of their parent. After starring in the acclaimed film, The Pursuit of Happyness, with his father Will Smith, and then holding his own in The Karate Kid, Jaden Smith starred again alongside his dad in After Earth (12% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film was a huge flop and a critical failure, with the Guardian writing that Jaden “plays the role throughout with a face like a smacked bum.”
Will Smith has expressed regret for coaching Jaden into the role in the years since, writing how “Jaden took the hit” for the film’s failure and that “fans and the press were absolutely vicious.” Jaden took an extended break from acting after the film’s release, focusing instead on music, and he still hasn’t returned to a blockbuster film since.
In the ’90s and early 2000s, it seemed Mike Myers could do no wrong. After rising to fame through SNL, Wayne’s World, and the Austin Powers series, Myers voiced the titular character in Shrek and became famous to a whole new generation. But post-Shrek, his career took a sharp nosedive: the third Austins Powers was a notable decline from the first two, and then he starred as the eponymous cat in The Cat In The Hat (10% on Rotten Tomatoes). Myers’ character was more creepy than fun, and the film had little plot to speak of.
Myers’ career continued to flounder as the Shrek franchise declined (Shrek the Third got only 42% on Rotten Tomatoes), but the nail in the coffin for Myers’ film career was The Love Guru (13% on Rotten Tomatoes). Film critic Rober Ebert wrote, “Myers has made some funny movies, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents” in a scathing review that lined up with what pretty much everyone else thought of the film. Myers took a long break from Hollywood and hasn’t starred in a lead role since.
Myers’ SNL and Wayne’s World costar Dana Carvey had a similar career downturn ending with a film so bad, that there was no coming back from it. While Mike Meyers had his share of failures post-SNL, none of his flops measured up to Carvey’s Master in Disguise, which received a whopping 1% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert called the film a “desperate miscalculation” and compared it to “a party guest who thinks he is funny and is wrong.”
Batman & Robin was so poorly received (11% on Rotten Tomatoes), that director Joel Schumacher even apologized for it, and its own star, George Clooney, called the film terrible. But the biggest casualty of the film was not Schumacher or Clooney, but Alicia Silverstone, who played Batgirl. Silverstone, who had risen to fame a few years prior in Clueless, won a Razzie for her performance, and the role is often described as having “ruined” her career.
However, it does seem that Silverstone made a conscious effort to leave Hollywood as a result of Batman & Robin, instead of the film actively ending her career for her. “That definitely wasn’t my favorite film-making experience,” Silverstone said. “There were working circumstances that were less than favorable in terms of how things went down And no, I didn’t say ‘F— you’ and come out like a warrior, but I would just walk away and go, ‘Okay, I know what that is and I’m done, I’m not going near that again.’ I stopped loving acting for a very long time.” She also struggled with the focus on her weight in the media, which would refer to her as “Fat Girl.”
Taylor Lautner seemed poised to become a major leading man after the Twilight series. He was already a Hollywood heartthrob, and while he may not have had the Oscar-worthy chops and penchant for indie films of his costars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, there seemed no reason why he wouldn’t continue to find success. And then Abduction happened. Its New York Times review title was “At Least His Abs Get a Workout,” and its scathing tone didn’t end there: the reviewer compared Lautner to “an advanced robot simulating human speech without registering emotion or even comprehension.”
Rachael Leigh Cook also seemed poised to hold onto her breakout teenage stardom post She’s All That, but then her next big film, Josie and the Pussycats, famously flopped (though it’s now a cult classic). Cook herself has said that she felt like she was put in “movie jail” after its lack of success and that her options began to dry, even when it came to indie films. While Cook was able to transition to TV, her fame slowly dwindled until she was doing direct-to-video and Hallmark projects that failed to live up to the career she seemed destined for as a teenager.
We’ve got another failed teen idol story for you, this time concerning Taylor Kitsch, who was at that point best known for starring in Friday Night Lights. Cast as the star of massive Disney blockbuster John Carter, Kitsch seemed like he’d hit the Hollywood jackpot — instead, John Carter became one of the largest box office failures of all time, followed quickly by Battleship, which didn’t fare as terribly but was certainly no hit. While Kitsch has continued to work in Hollywood, his chances as an A-Lister blockbuster star seemed forever dashed.
Socialite and reality star Paris Hilton attempted to make a foray into the world of acting in the early 2000s, appearing on teen dramas such as Veronica Mars and The O.C. However, her appearances amounted to little more than cameos…until the horror flick The House of Wax. The film received only 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, and The Hollywood Reporter apparently called Hilton “so bad she steals the show.” Other reviews were slightly kinder, but it seemed most just wanted to see A) Hilton in her underwear, and B), Hilton’s character get killed.
While Hilton appeared in a few more cameos and straight-to-video projects over the next few years, her acting career was largely over. Her next starring role was in the much smaller film, The Hottie and the Nottie, which was even more critically panned (6% on Rotten Tomatoes), earning Hilton a Razzie for Worst Actress.
Shaq similarly tried to make a career pivot into Hollywood with the film Blue Chips, which earned him a Razzie nomination for Worst New Star. However, Staq kept at it with the family film and box office bomb Kazaam, and then the superhero film Steel. Steel, referred to by some as the “worst superhero movie of all time,” received only 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, and proved the final straw for Shaq’s floundering film career. Even the director later admitted he shouldn’t have cast him, saying Shaq “was no actor.”
Mariah Carey also tried to make a major career jump, going from singing to acting with the star vehicle Glitter in 2011. The film was a massive failure, earning only 6% on Rotten Tomatoes and making $5.2 million against a budget of $22 million. The film even caused Virgin Records to drop Mariah from their label – now, obviously, Carey’s music career was able to recover, but despite a smattering of other projects, it was clear she was never going to be a movie star.
Critics called her performance “about as fresh as rancid Chinese food that has been stuck in the back of the refrigerator for several months,” while another stated Carey had “the acting range of a parakeet.” The film’s own cinematographer called it one of the worst films ever made.
After enjoying a booming career in the ’80s and ’90s, the beginning of the end for Eddie Murphy’s career was the 2002 film The Adventures of Pluto Nash (5% on Rotten Tomatoes). Variety called the film an “ill-conceived and expensive project”: and with a gross of just over $7 million against a $100 million budget, the film was one of the biggest flops of all time.
With the Shrek franchise, Daddy Day Care, and The Haunted Mansion, as well as an award-nominated role in Dreamgirls, it seemed Murphy might survive Pluto Nash’s practically unprecedented failure. But then Norbit (9% on Rotten Tomatoes) came along, and more or less ended Murphy’s career for the next decade. Murphy himself later admitted that all the movies he made in the 2000s were “shitty” and caused him to take an extended acting hiatus.
And finally, let’s throw it back to the old school for a final example: Greta Garbo in Two-Faced Woman. The film was so notoriously ill-received (due in large part to its risque subject matter around an affair) that Garbo, then a major star, never made another film. The 1941 film carries a 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though modern critics have been kinder to Garbo’s attempt at comedy than the critics of the time.