10 Stars Who Made A Comeback On TV Shows

One day your agent’s phone is calling a dozen times a minute and receiving 100’s of press requests a day with script coming in left right and centre with millions of impressions and DM’s a month across social media but, after a flop movie, one interview gaff and you’re DONE.

For all its glitz and glamour, Hollywood can be a ruthless place for actors. One minute they’re at the top of their game, starring in hit after hit and then suddenly they’re struggling for work as they land one unsuccessful gig after another. While television was once looked down on with disdain by film actors, it has become something of a refuge for them when they are down on their luck.

The drastic improvement in the quality and acclaim in television drama over recent decades – not to mention the rise to prominence of streaming services – has only made the medium more appealing for movie stars hoping to mount a comeback. From Oscar-winning legends to some of the biggest names in blockbuster entertainment, these stars made their way back to Hollywood stardom through some of our favorite series.

Drew Barrymore – ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ (2017-2019)

Drew Barrymore never had an issue landing big roles, from starring in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial when she was just seven years old to her first career revival in the late 90s and early 2000s. As the 00s went on, Barrymore broadened her skill set, becoming a director and a producer, but the films she appeared in failed to garner the popularity of her early work.

That all changed with her starring role in the Netflix original series Santa Clarita Diet. Focusing on Sheila (Barrymore), a real estate agent whose happy family life is uprooted when she turns into a zombie, the horror-comedy ran for three seasons, earning the actress widespread praise and re-establishing her as a comedic master.

Danny DeVito – ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ (2005-)

With a career going as far back as 1970, Danny DeVito has excelled as both a hard-hitting dramatic actor and a hilarious comedic talent. A Hollywood A-Lister through the 80s and 90s, his career began to falter through the 2000s with many of his films struggling to make inroads with mainstream audiences.

Similar things could be said of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s first season with the showrunners of the irreverent comedy instructed to attach a big-name star to the show for season two or face cancelation. They got in touch with DeVito and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kevin Costner – ‘Yellowstone’ (2018-)

After getting his big break in the 1985 Western Silverado, Kevin Costner became one of the biggest names in American cinema as both an actor and a director. Appearing in some of the eras biggest blockbusters he dominated the late 80s and 90s, but his box office reliability began to diminish soon after.

While his career as a leading man endured, he soon became more recognized for his supporting roles, particularly as Superman’s (Henry Cavill) father in Man of Steel. It was the Western genre again where he broke new ground, starring as rancher John Dutton in the hit series Yellowstone which has only gotten better the longer it’s gone on.

Kirsten Dunst – ‘Fargo’ (2014-)

After breaking out in Interview with a Vampire, Kirsten Dunst became an outright star in the early 2000s with her role in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and her frequent collaborations with Sofia Coppola. While she continued to star in underrated gems like Melancholia and Midnight Special, she struggled to re-capture her super stardom from earlier in her career.

Her major role in Fargo’s second season though re-ignited her career showcasing her acting range and earning her a Primetime Emmy nomination. After the series she earned acclaim for her performance in the Oscar-winning Western drama The Power of the Dog which saw Dunst receive an Academy Award nomination.

Matthew McConaughey – ‘True Detective’ (2014)

One of Hollywood’s rising stars through the 1990s, Matthew McConaughey was in everything from legal dramas to coming-of-age comedies and looked set to become a titan of the industry. While his career remained active, it plateaued somewhat as he found himself pigeonholed into starring roles in clichéd romantic comedies through the 00s.

In the early 2010s though, McConaughey made a definite shift back towards more dramatic roles which showcased the full extent of his acting talents. Among the most pivotal of those roles came in the first season of HBO’s True Detective where he starred as the disturbed and deeply philosophical detective Rustin Cohle and earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for the performance.

Martin Sheen – ‘The West Wing’ (1999-2006)

After exploding onto the scene in the 1970s working with some of the biggest directors of the era, Martin Sheen’s career took a downward turn through that latter part of the 80s and into the 1990s. Appearing in numerous underwhelming pictures throughout that time, it seemed as though the best of Sheen’s career was behind him, but that changed in 1999 when he played President Jed Bartlet in The West Wing.

While it was initially intended to just a small role, writer Aaron Sorkin extended the part for Sheen after seeing his performance in the pilot episode. Sheen earned five Primetime Emmy nominations over the show’s seven seasons and re-ignited his career.

Karl Urban – ‘The Boys’ (2019-)

With appearances in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the MCU, The Bourne Supremacy, and the recent Star Trek reboot, Karl Urban has carved out a career as a supporting actor in some of the biggest movies this century. He landed leading roles in action flicks like Dredd and Priest but given their lack of success, it seemed his tenure as a leading man might have come and gone.

But then he landed a starring role in Amazon Prime’s outrageously shocking superhero comedy series The Boys. His portrayal of Billy Butcher has become something of a pop culture icon, with the foul-mouthed superhero-slaying Englishman adored by fans for being as ruthlessly violent as he is stunningly offensive.

Jessica Lange – ‘American Horror Story’ (2011-)

A two-time Academy Award winner, Jessica Lange rose to prominence in the 1970s and enjoyed an illustrious career through the 80s and 90s with notable roles in Tootsie, Cape Fear, and Blue Sky. Her career began to falter after the turn of the century though, a decline which was exacerbated by her distinct shift to stage acting.

After witnessing her performance in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, American showrunner Ryan Murphy wrote a part for her in his upcoming series American Horror Story. Lange appeared in the first four seasons of the anthological horror series and five in total, re-igniting her on-screen career and showcasing her talents to a new generation of fans.

Cillian Murphy – ‘Peaky Blinders’ (2013-2022)

After breaking out in 28 Days Later… and Sunshine, Cillian Murphy cemented himself as something of a character actor, working regularly with Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. As good as his body of work was, he never carried on from his early work as a leading man, at least until he appeared in BBC’s period crime drama Peaky Blinders.

With every aspect of the hit series oozing style, Peaky Blinders has become a mainstay in modern pop culture with Murphy’s Tommy Shelby one of the most iconic characters in television history. Cementing Murphy as a certifiable leading man, he is set to star in Nolan’s dramatic biopic Oppenheimer in 2023.

Winona Ryder – ‘Stranger Things’ (2016-)

One of cinema’s biggest starlets through the late 80s and into the 90s, Winona Ryder made a lasting impression in her collaborations with Tim Burton as well as roles in movies like Heathers and Girl, Interrupted. Following a highly publicized scandal, she disappeared from the screen as she took a sabbatical from acting in the early 2000s, returning to work in 2006.

While she landed supporting roles in big pictures like Star Trek and Black Swan, leading roles eluded her until Netflix signed her to star in Stranger Things. The part shot Ryder back into the limelight, rebooting her acting career and re-affirming her as a star of the screen to a whole new generation of fans.

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