The Greatest Hollywood Comebacks of Our Time

by Jennifer Lafferty

The Greatest Hollywood Comebacks of Our Time

Everyone loves a good comeback story, especially when it concerns celebrities. Whether your favorite celebs fell off the radar due to personal issues or bad luck, seeing them successfully reboot their career is a victory for everyone. Check out the most celebrated Hollywood comebacks of our time.


Britney Spears



When the public witnessed Britney Spears’ frightening downward spiral following the breakup of her marriage to Kevin Federline in 2006, many were heartbroken. So her 2008 comeback with the success of her sixth album Circus was enthusiastically received.


Courteney Cox



Courteney Cox may not have suffered a down-and-out phase after the finale of Friends, but she still fell out of the limelight for a long time. For five years, the likable girl-next-door’s fans waited anxiously for her return until finally, in 2009, Cox resurfaced in Cougar Town.


John Travolta



No matter how popular a star gets, it’s sometimes necessary for them to reinvent themselves. For instance, John Travolta took nearly a decade to grow out of Saturday Night Fever‘s Tony Manero and into more serious films like Pulp Fiction.


Ben Affleck



Following Ben Affleck’s star-making movie Good Will Hunting, it seemed the actor/filmmaker could do no wrong. But Affleck hit a streak of notorious flops in the early 2000s—Gigli, anyone?—that wasn’t broken until 2006 when he appeared in Smokin’ Aces.


Betty White



Everybody loves Betty White, which is probably why her Hollywood career has lasted 70 years. But after The Golden Girls wrapped in 1992, it seemed unlikely that the aging actress would star in another hit series. But, to everyone’s surprise, White made a huge return with Hot in Cleveland in 2010.


Marisa Tomei



Marisa Tomei has been a prolific actress since the 1980s, but following her Oscar-award-winning performance in My Cousin Vinny, she went through a lengthy period of disappointing films. But in 2000, Tomei had a change of luck with the Mel Gibson classic What Women Want.


Justin Timberlake



When Justin Timberlake took a break from making music to focus on his acting career, fans were disappointed. While he did have some hit films like Friends with Benefits, JT fans were overjoyed by his 2013 return to music with his award-winning album The 20/20 Experience.


Drew Barrymore



When someone grows up in the limelight, they hold a special place in the hearts of fans. While Drew Barrymore is a beloved actress today—and was a beloved child star in the ’80s—her future didn’t always look so bright. Before age 16, Barrymore struggled with drug addiction, even going through two stints at rehab. Thankfully, the actress recovered fully and returned to making some of our favorite movies.


Martin Lawrence



Martin Lawrence’s movie career was expected to be a wild success following the popularity of his self-titled hit TV series Martin, but the popular comedian didn’t make it big in the movies until three years later with the franchise-starter Big Momma’s House.


Claire Danes



After transitioning out of adolescent dramas, Claire Danes had little success for nearly a decade, but her unaffected charm made her irresistible. Today, fans are glad to see her on the hit TV series Homeland.


Mickey Rourke



For many celebs, its self-destructive choices that ruin a promising career, such as the case of Mickey Rourke. He was eventually able to come back with 2005’s Sin City, and a film that paralleled his own life, The Wrestler.


Joaquin Phoenix



When Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from acting in 2008, annoyed fans took it with a grain of salt, but they were quick to forgive his flakiness. The world embraced his return in the offbeat 2013 romance drama Her.


Keanu Reeves



It was 2014’s John Wick that marked Keanu Reeves’s return to hit action films. In an interview with Games Radar last year, Reeves described his comeback as “art and life resurrection.” The actor is currently filming John Wick 2.


Nicole Richie



When reality star Nicole Richie put her life back together, following four days in jail and ongoing struggles with substance abuse, fans were elated. The reality-TV star has since launched a lucrative new career in fashion, producing high-profile jewelry and clothing collections.


Robert Downey Jr.



Possibly the most inspiring comeback story of our time is Robert Downey Jr.’s victory over his very public issues with substance abuse, and his triumphant return to high-profile movies like the Iron Man franchise.