From Alex Pettyfer to Alicia Silverstone, there have been many actors who seemed to be on the cusp of mega-stardom – but who for one reason or another never quite got there. In this list, we take a look at the onetime rising stars who came ever so close to cementing spots on the A-list. But hey, never say never. Remember: John Travolta’s career was essentially dead until it was resurrected by Pulp Fiction. So, who knows, maybe Chace Crawford will star in next year’s breakout indie hit.
20. Denise Richards
Denise Richards was perhaps always known more for her striking good looks than for her acting chops. Her most famous role was in the racy Wild Things, in which she famously shared a kiss with Neve Campbell. But Richards’ career never quite took off, and these days she pops up mainly in low-budget flicks and TV shows.
19. Kristin Davis
It was expected that Kristin Davis’ career would take off post-Sex and the City. But, alas, it seemed to stall rather than skyrocket. Maybe fans could only ever see her as the uptight Charlotte. No matter, though; Davis can spend her free time rolling around in piles of syndication checks.
18. Josh Hartnett
After appearing in the blockbuster Pearl Harbor and the critically acclaimed Black Hawk Down, Josh Hartnett was all set for superstardom. In fact, he was even offered the role of Superman. He turned the part down, however, and his most recent films have been duds.
17. Alex Pettyfer
With the success of Magic Mike, Alex Pettyfer was all set to be a breakout Hollywood hunk. This never quite happened, though – some say due to a feud with co-star Channing Tatum. The dispute was caused by Pettyfer refusing to pay rent on an apartment that belonged to one of Tatum’s friends. And considering the paychecks that Pettyfer has likely missed out on since, he probably should have just handed over the cash.
16. Taylor Kitsch
With Friday Night Lights and an X-Men movie under his belt, Taylor Kitsch looked set to become the next Brad Pitt. But for whatever reason, his roles in John Carter and Battleship met with tepid responses, and these days he’s playing the infamous David Koresh in TV mini-series Waco.
15. Hayden Christensen
After he was cast as Anakin Skywalker in the insanely hyped Star Wars prequels, one would have thought that Hayden Christensen’s career was made in the shade. Alas, though, the films were seen as a disappointment by many fans, and some of them placed much of the blame on Christensen. So, while he’s still acting in films, ironically, it was Star Wars that likely killed his chances of superstardom.
14. Taylor Lautner
The image of a shirtless Taylor Lautner graced many a tween bedroom wall during the heyday of the Twilight films. His role as a sexy werewolf catapulted him to international super-stardom. However, sometimes association with a successful franchise can have negative long-term effects on a career. Just ask Hayden Christensen. Lautner, meanwhile, now appears in the little-known Netflix series Cuckoo.
13. Sam Worthington
Sam Worthington was hailed as the next big thing after he bagged the lead role in the box-office smash that was Avatar. He then followed this up with another action flick that appeared destined to be a smash: Terminator: Salvation. But the reboot bombed – and took Worthington’s rising-star status with it. That said, he may have a chance to make a major return, as the Avatar sequels are in the works.
12. Garret Hedlund
Garrett Hedlund’s career kicked off strongly with major roles in Troy and Tron: Legacy. And although the latter also did quite well at the box office, Hedlund’s career nonetheless stuttered, and he began to go down the indie film route. He did, however, appear in another big-budget movie: Pan – but unfortunately, Pan was panned.
11. Skeet Ulrich
The 1990s were Skeet Ulrich’s heyday. After all, he was the bad-boy heartthrob in films such as The Craft and Scream. But despite his rebel good looks, he never quite gained the public’s adoration, and he now makes his money acting for the small screen.
10. Gerard Butler
Hunky Scotsman Gerard Butler rose to instant fame as the shirtless warrior of 300. He’s never quite seemed to find his place in Hollywood, though, having bounced from action flick to romcom to drama. Nowadays he’s mainly known for voicing one of the leads in the How to Train Your Dragon animation franchise.
9. Chase Crawford
Chase Crawford made teenagers everywhere swoon while playing one of the naughty little rich boys of Gossip Girl. He later tried to enter the big time, too, making it known that he would have “love[d] the challenge” of starring in the Fifty Shades films. But, as we now know, that role wasn’t to be his. When all’s said and done, then, Crawford seems better suited to TV, and he’s recently appeared in small-screen shows such as Casual and Blood and Oil.
8. Samantha Mathis
After the release of the cult 1990s favorite Pump Up the Volume, Samantha Mathis was pegged to be the next Winona Ryder. In fact, she duly went on to bag parts in major films such as Little Women and Broken Arrow. And yet her big-screen career just never really caught on. She now mainly does stage work and guest TV spots.
7. Alicia Silverstone
In some ways, Clueless is such a cult classic that it almost feels like Alicia Silverstone actually did make it as a major star. But a closer look at her career in fact tells a different story. You see, while Silverstone is beloved for her role as the ditzy but adorable Cher, the actress never appeared in another big hit.
6. Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Gellar was a 1990s queen, starring in teen favorites such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Cruel Intentions. But beloved as she was by her fans, Gellar never really transitioned out of teen flicks, and she now mainly pops up on the small screen.
5. Mischa Barton
It ain’t easy being an “it girl.” In early 2003 it seemed that the world was Mischa Barton’s oyster. With the actress having stepped up to claim the lead role in hit show The O.C., people expected her star to only rise higher once the series was over. Barton seemed to stumble, however – not least given a DUI arrest and alcohol troubles – and her most recent high-profile appearance was in 2016 on Dancing with the Stars.
4. Leelee Sobieski
After scoring roles in major films such as Eyes Wide Shut and Deep Impact, Leelee Sobieski was dubbed “one to watch.” Something never quite clicked with audiences, however, and her most recent role was as a rookie cop in the short-lived series NYC 22.
3. Chad Michael Murray
It perhaps isn’t too shocking that Chad Michael Murray never quite ascended into Hollywood royalty, as teen pin-ups arguably rarely do. So, while fans adored him in the popular One Tree Hill, he could never really escape the label of “hunky heartthrob on a cheesy show.”
2. Emile Hirsch
At one point, Emile Hirsch was pegged as the next Leonardo DiCaprio. And after him starring in 2007’s Into the Wild, this actually seemed plausible. He rocketed to fame and was beloved by the hipster scene. Alas, though, Hirsch’s next venture, Speed Racer, wasn’t so beloved. And he was most recently in the headlines in 2015 – for serving jail time after a night-club assault.
1. Gretchen Mol
In 1998 Gretchen Mol was splashed all over the cover of Vanity Fair alongside the headline “Hollywood’s Next It Girl.” It was a bold proclamation, too, given that at the time the actress had only been in a handful of films – such as Celebrity and Rounders. Indeed, the majority of the public had little idea who she was. The cover actually seemed to hinder rather than help her as well. And while she would later appear in Boardwalk Empire, Mol’s career never quite took off as expected.