Robert Downey Jr in 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'

Not all movie comebacks are created equal. There are the comebacks that don't take, such as Marlon Brando and Burt Reynolds (as our own Jeffrey M. Anderson explained), there are the comebacks that haven't happened yet, because the actors need to get back to their roots (as Monika Bartyzel observed), and there are the comebacks on TV shows, the latest example of which is Chevy Chase, who is rehabilitating his career on Community.

And then there are the actors whose talents appear to have laid dormant for far too long, either through inactivity or because of a paucity of opportunities to show what they can do. Case in point: Mel Gibson, whose return to the screen in Edge of Darkness comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today. As I wrote in my review: "It's a star vehicle that makes clear he's still a commanding presence, able to summon up frightening emotions from the depth of his soul." What are some other notable comebacks? Here are seven of my personal favorites.

1. Robert Downey Jr., Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
While Iron Man proved he could invest a superhero with the personality of an ordinary human being, it was Shane Black's directorial debut that demonstrated Downey's joie de vivre was still intact. (Cinematical's Scott Weinberg is another big fan of this flick.) With Black's great, quip-happy script establishing the territory, Downey was free to play, sighing, complaining, romancing, and, finally, beating all the odds to make one forget all the overblown junk and malnourished cameos he'd been reduced to playing.
2. John Travolta, Urban Cowboy
Rightly celebrated for his cool, sweet, disarming performance in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in 1994, Travolta has alternated between riding high and 'going wild,' as Jen Yamato so aptly described some of his weirder movies. Really, though, his entire career has felt like a wildly bucking bronco. After a creepy turn in Brian DePalma's Carrie and his star-making performances in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, he made a bomb of epic proportions, the would-be romance Moment by Moment, which was awful in the most boring and pedestrian manner possible. The idea of him playing a country bumpkin in Texas seemed utterly absurd, yet he sold it and the movie, making the first of several comebacks.

3. Mickey Rourke, Sin City
Sure, The Wrestler represents Rourke at his highest level, but before he could climb that high, he needed to get a leg up, something that showed he could do more than show up and say his lines. That opportunity came with Sin City, Robert Rodriguez' adaptation of the work of Frank Miller. As the hard-bitten Marv, Rourke seemed to flow off the screen and stain the seat next to you. This was his real comeback.

4. Michelle Yeoh, Supercop (AKA Police Story III: Super Cop)
Hong Kong movie fans bade Michelle Yeoh a fond farewell when she married in 1988 and retired from the movie business. Sadly, things didn't work out on a personal level, but, on the positive side, that paved the way for Yeoh to return to the big screen, and what a comeback she made in Supercop. Not only did she give Jackie Chan a run for the money, she pushed him to new heights -- literally. Chan says her ability to land stunts motivated him to accept director Stanley Tong's idea to have Chan bump skyscrapers while hanging off a helicopter's ladder. See what comebacks can make you do?

5. Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD *
I hesitate to call this a "comeback," but only because Van Damme takes more risks with this role than with any other. Playing a variation of himself, he's funny, wry, self-deprecating, and dramatic. It's altogether a stunning performance from someone who had never indicated he wanted to be anything more than "The Muscles from Brussels."

6. Jodie Foster, Panic Room
The former child star turned impressive 80s dramatic actress had laid an egg with Anna and the King, and, on the threshold of 40, it appeared that she would be passing off the stage into irrelevance. Then she burned up a home invasion thriller, directed by David Fincher, and all of a sudden, everyone loved her all over again.

7. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet
The former bad boy turned burn-out, Hopper was far gone into irrelevance by the mid-80s. David Lynch, on his own comeback trail after the disastrous Dune, knew how to use Hopper, and Hopper knew how to play Frank Booth in order to make him the most frightening, disturbing element in a movie that is filled with frightening, disturbing elements.

What are some of your favorite comebacks?

* UPDATED: Thanks for commenter Henrik for the title correction.
categories Cinematical