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Hollywood’s Crazy Comeback Stories

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It’s not too late, Will Smith.

Yes, Smith’s career hit a brick wall when he slapped Chris Rock in front of a global audience on Oscar night.

Smith has been in virtual hiding ever since, and for good reason. America is a forgiving nation, though, especially when it comes to our brightest stars.

They can fall, and fall hard, and chances are we’ll be there to pick them up again. That’s assuming they show genuine contrition or have the talent to back up their second acts.

The following stars came roaring back against sizable odds. Some, though, may require a secondary comeback tale.

Matthew McConaughey

The man known for his slacker, “alright, alright alright” catch phrase found his career faltering in his late 30s. The star reduced his talents by laboring in one milquetoast rom-com after another.

“Fool’s Gold.” “Failure to Launch.” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” And, most regrettably, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

He became known for losing his shirt and gaining the ladies by the third act, but said act was growing stale.

Movies like 2011’s “Killer Joe” and the following year’s “Mud” showcased a darker side of the smilin’ Texan, a prelude to his breakout performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” McConaughey committed to the role, shedding serious weight to play a dying man battling Big Pharma and the F.D.A.

He earned a Best Actor Oscar for his troubles, and no one looked at him the same way again. He may still lose his shirt now and then, but audiences take McConaughey very seriously no matter the role.

Shia LaBeouf

Child stars often go astray. It’s a sad state of affairs, but we’ve seen it happen too many times to ignore. For a while, it seemed as if LaBeouf, now 36, would be another case in point.

The young star found steady gigs with Disney’s “Even Stevens” and features like “Holes” and “Constantine.”

He kept on working, landing the lead in the “Transformers” mega franchise as a sign of Hollywood’s trust in his talents. His innate curiosity led him to more challenging work, witness performances in “Bobby” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”

Even when he flamed out as Indiana Jones’ successor in the franchise’s fourth film his future seemed bright. And then LaBeouf got hit with disturbing allegations from a former lover, actress and singer FKA Twigs in 2021. She alleged serial cruelty from the actor, who has spoken openly about his hardscrabble upbringing.

Hollywood’s MeToo movement appeared ready to swallow him whole. Except acclaimed filmmaker Abel Ferrara cast him in “Padre Pio,” and LaBeouf found faith along the way. He also owned up to his personal mistakes, vowing to become a better person in the process.

Now, he’s set to co-star in Francis Ford Coppola’s comeback film, “Megalopolis,” and there’s little outrage heading the star’s way over it.

Michael Keaton

Two words. “I’m Batman.” Suddenly, Keaton went from Mr. Mom to atop the A-list in 1989. Except he slowly descended from that rarified perch. 

Yes, the obligatory “Batman Returns” sequel made money, but Keaton’s subsequent movie choices left audiences cold. “Jack Frost.” “Speechless.” “Multiplicity.” “First Daughter.”

Keaton didn’t go away, exactly, but he hardly commanded our attention or figured into the annual awards season race.

The 2014 drama “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”) ended the Pittsburgh native’s slump. He earned an Academy Award nomination to go along with the film’s Best Picture trophy.

His next meaty role came via “Spotlight,” which also walked away with a Best Picture award on Oscar night 2015.

We knew Keaton had come full circle when he snagged a villainous role in the “Spider-Man” franchise as the Vulture. Now, he bounces from respectable work (“The Founder,” “Dopesick”) to more superheroics (the upcoming “Flash” as Batman, again).

Britney Spears

Oops, she did it again, replicating the pop princess formula and shooting straight to stardom. Spears had it all, or at least all pop music demanded – a music video-friendly visage, a knack for irresistible hooks and a voice chipper enough to bully past the competition.

She racked up industry victories even if her attempt at movie stardom fell flat in 2002 with “Crossroads.”

And then it all came crashing down. She melted down in public, fought with her family behind the scenes and eventually got put under a conservatorship, ripping her career out from under her.

And then, the “Free Britney” movement was born, and by November of 2021 a judge rescinded her father’s conservatorship.

Time away from the spotlight may have helped her mental state. In recent months she’s begun reclaiming her old life, and her fans were more than happy to renew their bond with her. 

She recently raced up the pop charts, alongside the legendary Elton John, with “Hold Me Closer.” The duet gave her a hit for the first time in nearly a decade, but this comeback story is far from complete.

Spears’ mental health challenges are well known, and she released a cryptic message around the time of the single’s release saying she may never perform again.

M. Night Shyamalan

They called him “the next Spielberg,” and for a while the phrase made sense. Shyamalan’s 1999 smash “The Sixth Sense” took the culture by storm, and his follow-up films (“Unbreakable,” “Signs”) proved his singular voice mattered.

His 2004 hit “The Village” suggested his trick endings were growing stale, and his follow-up, “The Lady in the Water” proved disastrous. He even mocked famous film critics via Bob Balaban’s irksome character, showcasing a thin skin for the young auteur.

Matters got worse from there, with clunkers like “After Earth,” “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender” proving his creative tank was empty.

Or was it?

His 2016 return to form, “Split,” suggested Shyamalan had a rich second act awaiting him, and us. The film’s sneaky ties to “Unbreakable” caught everyone by surprise, and suddenly an “M. Night Shyamalan project” wasn’t snicker-worthy anymore.

Sadly, his third film in the “Unbreakable” saga, “Glass,” proved ordinary, and his most recent directorial effort, “Old,” proved great trailers can yield lousy movies.

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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