Although the films themselves last forever, fame and celebrity are extremely fickle beasts. Over the long history of film as a popular medium, the actors who bring them to life have enjoyed their time in the public eye.
While a lucky few get to go on to become icons or movie stars, a far larger number of actors enjoy a tenure of success before becoming victims to the turnover of trends and industry standards. Perhaps the most notable example of the actor “One-Hit Wonder” is Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. Along with Hamill, here are nine other actors and actresses who only got one big break that defined their career.
10 Robert Englund – A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Robert Englund has become all but synonymous with Freddy Krueger and the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. One of horror cinema’s greatest bogeymen, Englund, with director Wes Craven, managed to create an icon.
The ultimate specter of nightmares, Englund’s performance in the first film is still his greatest, the relatively limited screentime working in the actor’s favor. Englund brings a unique brand of malice and gallows humor to what could have been a cookie-cutter slasher villain. Englund played the part throughout the original franchise and it is without a doubt his signature role.
9 Jason Biggs – American Pie (1999)
Jason Biggs was poised to be the next Adam Sandler. However, his career petered out in the mid-2000s after appearing in the lead role of the original American Pie trilogy.
Biggs made the best of his role in the films as unbearably awkward, but lovable, goofball Jim. Though he reprised the role in the three sequels, he hasn’t racked up any other big hits. His only other recognizable appearance is as Piper’s estranged ex-husband in Orange Is the New Black. Since then, Biggs has been relatively quiet and out of the limelight.
8 George Lazenby – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Often credited as the worst Bond, Australian model George Lazenby appeared in the iconic role only once – in the 1969 installment On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
After Sean Connery’s legendary run as 007, Lazenby was selected to replace him for the next film, which would end up being much darker and more serious. Lazenby’s lack of acting experience is fairly on-display throughout, but his particular take on the character does end up working within the larger context of the film. Lazenby’s acting career fizzled out quickly and he has since moved on to real estate investment.
7 Peter Billingsley – A Christmas Story (1983)
At the time of its initial release in 1983, A Christmas Story was not revered as a holiday classic like it is now. In fact, the film came and went with little fanfare until being picked up for its now-famous 24-hour Christmas Day marathon on TBS.
The lead star of the film, child actor Peter Billingsley, is a major asset to the film’s quirky vintage style of humor. Billingsley manages to make Ralphie a universally relatable kid, and a conduit to the nostalgia of anticipating Christmas as a child. Billingsley has gone on to direct films like Couple’s Retreat, but has never been in front of the camera for another hit.
6 F. Murray Abraham – Amadeus (1984)
Amadeus was never a huge financial success. However, it is one of the most critically adored films of the 80s. As the envious court composer Antonio Salieri, Abraham guides the viewer through his time in the company of W.A. Mozart, played by Tom Hulce.
Abraham won an Academy Award for the role, which launched him to international fame. After starring as villains in a series of flops, Abraham faded into obscurity. In the decades since, the actor has kept a relatively low profile outside of a recurring role on Homeland.
5 R. Lee Ermey – Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Ermey was a Marine Staff Sergeant before appearing in Stanley Kubrick’s anti-Vietnam masterpiece. Ermey proves to be a piece of genius casting as he shouts and berates his way through tirade after tirade. Notorious for its intensity and haunting atmosphere, the first act of Full Metal Jacket is one of cinema’s greatest plunges into the horrors of military training.
Ermey is invaluable to the mood and sustained mixture of tension and dark humor that drives the act to its tragic and inevitable conclusion. After appearing in the film, Ermey went on to appear in character actor roles in variances of his signature role.
4 Linda Blair – The Exorcist (1973)
While a lot of child actors are primarily known for their first or second roles, very rarely making the transfer to successful adult acting. The same is true for Linda Blair, who gives what might be the creepiest child performance of all time in 1973’s The Exorcist.
Blair carries a lot of the film’s unsettling burden on her small shoulders, as she plays a little girl possessed by a particularly nasty demonic entity. Blair was nominated for an Oscar, an incredible feat for an actress of her young age.
3 Ione Skye – Say Anything (1989)
In 1989, Cameron Crowe released one of the best films of the decade and one of the most beloved teen romance movies of all time. Eschewing melodrama for witty dialogue and the realism of being in-between phases in life, Crowe’s film marks a more mature entry in the subgenre that had been dominated by John Hughes hits for the entire decade.
Ione Skye plays an overachieving shy girl who falls for John Cusack’s iconic slacker Lloyd Dobbler. Skye brings a lot of heart to the material and showed great promise to be the next romantic “It girl,” but her career soon sputtered out.
2 Mark Hamill – Star Wars (1977)
Mark Hamill has had one strange career. After playing one of the most famous protagonists of all time in Luke Skywalker, he was unable to find another hit, likely due largely to being typecast in a role as famous as Skywalker.
Hamill’s second life of fame came when he began a voice acting career, landing the now infamous role as The Joker in various animated Batman productions. Hamill returned to his defining role for Disney’s sequel trilogy to great acclaim.
1 Anthony Perkins – Psycho (1960)
Anthony Perkins was both blessed and cursed with the role of Norman Bates in Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal slasher kickstarter. Not only is Psycho one of the best thrillers of all time, but it gave the world of film one its most disturbing villains in Norman Bates.
The ultimate “Mama’s Boy,” Norman elicits both pity and disgust as he haunts the tenants of the Bates Motel, owned by his “Mother.” Perkins was unable to escape the shadow of Norman after the film became a success, and he resigned himself to this in later years when he reprised the role in the film’s sequels.
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