The greatest acting one-hit wonders
Paramount Pictures

The greatest acting one-hit wonders

We often talk about one-hit wonders in music (shout out to Natalie Imbruglia, Men Without Hats and the rest of the gang). However, there are acting one-hit wonders too. For this exercise, here is how we are defining an acting one-hit wonder. They are actors who had success with only one role. We’re talking commercial success, not critical. Also, roles that extended over multiple films still count. Lastly, we’re talking main roles only. If an actor had a small part in another successful movie or TV show, that doesn’t count. With all that said, here are the biggest acting one-hit wonders.

 
1 of 25

Paul Hogan

Paul Hogan
Paramount

These days, Australians are all over American movies, although usually they hide their accents. Back in the day, though, Hogan became famous basically just for playing an archetypal Australian bloke. “Crocodile Dundee” was a huge success, but the two sequels, especially the long-delayed third movie, couldn’t live up to the success of the first one. Hogan is forever Mick Dundee in our eyes.

 
2 of 25

Rachael Leigh Cook

Rachael Leigh Cook
Miramax

Cook charmed audiences as the female lead, opposite Freddie Prinze Jr. in “She’s All That.” After that she got the chance to play Josie in the “Josie and the Půssycats” movie. That film is honestly a lot of fun, but it was a huge flop. That basically ended Cook’s movie career, leaving “She’s All That” as her one true success.

 
3 of 25

Alex Winter

Alex Winter
Orion

Keanu Reeves has become one of our most iconic movie stars. He’s Neo. He’s John Wick. Of course, he’s also Ted Logan in the “Bill and Ted” films. Who played Bill S. Preston, Esq. though? That would be Winter, who did not quite branch out like his co-star. At least Winter and Reeves are reuniting for a third movie in the series.

 
4 of 25

Rupert Grint

Rupert Grint
Warner Bros.

In truth, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are still trying to escape the gravity of starring in the “Harry Potter” series. They’ve succeeded to a degree, but Grint hasn’t been quite as successful. The redhead is still remembered first and foremost as Ron Weasley, the third member of the main triumvirate in the “Harry Potter” universe.

 
5 of 25

Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill
20th Century Fox

Sure, Hamill has gotten love for voicing the Joker in animated films, but that’s a small role where people don’t see him. Plus, it’s not like they have been major motion picture releases. Well, we guess Hamill will have to settle for being known as Luke Skywalker, aka maybe the most iconic character in cinema.

 
6 of 25

Ralph Macchio

Ralph Macchio
Columbia

Macchio is in “My Cousin Vinny,” which is a good movie, and a successful one, but he has a small role. It doesn’t count as a main role, on account of the fact he is neither Joe Pesci nor Marisa Tomei. He’s not even Fred Gwynne! Macchio can claim being known as Daniel LaRussa, aka “The Karate Kid.” There’s a reason he’s currently playing LaRussa again on YouTube’s "Cobra Kai.”

 
7 of 25

Edward Furlong

Edward Furlong
TriStar

Furlong hadn’t acted in a film before playing John Connor in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Then he popped up as a major character in a huge hit movie sequel. However, Furlong was never able to really recapture that success. His movie career petered out, and he never became a successful actor as an adult.

 
8 of 25

Robert Patrick

Robert Patrick
TriStar

Speaking of one-hit wonders from “Terminator 2.” Furlong played one of the main heroes, perhaps the primary antagonist, but Patrick has a hefty role himself. As the shape-shifting, liquid metal T-1000, it’s Patrick who terrorizes John and Sarah Connor before ultimately getting taking down by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 
9 of 25

Linda Blair

Linda Blair
Warner Bros.

Even though she was buried under makeup, we all remember Blair from her role in “The Exorcist.” Vomiting up pea soup tends to stick with us. After that, though, she mostly found herself acting in B-movies and exploitation flicks like “Hell Night” and “Chained Heat.”

 
10 of 25

Piper Perabo

Piper Perabo
Buena Vista

Perabo burst onto the scene starring in the oddly titled film “Coyote Ugly.” It seemed to presage good things for the young actress, but the leading movie roles basically dried up. To be fair, Perabo did star in the USA show “Covert Affairs” for 75 episodes, but that’s not even one of the five best-known “Characters Welcome” era USA programs.

 
11 of 25

Patrick Fugit

Patrick Fugit
Sony

“Almost Famous” featured two young actors in early roles. On the one hand, there was Kate Hudson, who went on to become a romantic comedy star and overall success, at least for a period of time. On the other, there’s Fugit, who starred in the movie as Cameron Crowe’s personal stand-in. His star didn’t rise quite like Hudson’s. He did get to play the love interest in the decently received comedy “Saved!” and also got another role from Crowe in “We Bought a Zoo,” but he’s mostly just became a working actor. That’s not a bad thing, but a second hit never arrived.

 
12 of 25

Jennifer Grey

Jennifer Grey
Vestron

Yes, Grey had a role in the definite hit “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but she is nowhere near the star of that film. She did get her big starring role, though, in “Dirty Dancing,” which she got a Golden Globe nomination for. Since then the most-notable thing of her career, somewhat fittingly, is the fact that she won a season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Nobody put Baby in the corner that season.

 
13 of 25

Marlee Matlin

Marlee Matlin
Paramount

Matlin made a ton of history in the film “Children of a Lesser God.” Not only did she become the youngest-ever winner of the Best Actress Oscar, but she also did it as a deaf actor. When she got the role in the film, she was the first deaf actor to get a leading role in a major motion picture since the silent era. Unfortunately, Matlin’s career dropped off after that, but she did have a memorable role in an episode of “Seinfeld.”

 
14 of 25

Jim Varney

Jim Varney
Buena Vista

Jim Varney is Ernest, and Ernest is Jim Varney. It’s the role that made him an icon. Varney starred as the well-meaning doofus in so many films. When he wasn’t playing Ernest P. Worrell, Varney did voice Slinky Dog in the “Toy Story” movies prior to his death. Those were big hits, obviously, but it was just voiceover work, and Slinky wasn’t really a main character. Know what I mean, Vern?

 
15 of 25

Peter Ostrum

Peter Ostrum
Paramount

We didn’t want to put too many child actors on this list. Oftentimes they end up only really getting to star in one film, and some of them don’t even continue acting. That was the case for Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” While he was overshadowed by Gene Wilder as the titular Wonka, he was ostensibly the protagonist of the film. After making “Willy Wonka,” though, Ostrum basically stopped acting, becoming a veterinarian instead.

 
16 of 25

Dennis Christopher

Dennis Christopher
20th Century Fox

There were a few notable actors in “Breaking Away.” Jackie Earle Haley. Daniel Stern. Dennis Quaid. The actual main character, though, was played by Christopher. He won a BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer, but that never came to fruition. Quentin Tarantino cast him in “Django Unchained,” so you know he had fallen by the wayside as an actor. Unfortunately, Christopher didn’t get the same boost that others have gotten from Tarantino.

 
Alicia Silverstone
Paramount

This may feel crazy on the surface, but it’s true. Silverstone, if we aren’t counting Aerosmith music videos, has been basically a one-hit wonder. You may not realize it because her role as Cher Horowitz in “Clueless” is one of the most iconic in the ‘90s. After that, though, she played Batgirl in the loathed “Batman & Robin,” and after that she was never really a star again.

 
18 of 25

Shannon Elizabeth

Shannon Elizabeth
Universal

This is maybe a stretch, but only because we can’t really say that Elizabeth was a true lead in a hit. We’re giving her credit for playing Nadia in “American Pie,” which was certainly a notable role in a big hit comedy. That role, which has not aged well either, was pretty much the peak. She did have a recurring role late in the run of “That ‘70s Show,” and she too showed up on “Dancing With The Stars,” but “American Pie” was the pinnacle for Elizabeth.

 
19 of 25

Anthony Perkins

Anthony Perkins
Paramount

Perkins was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “Friendly Persuasion” in 1956, but that movie wasn’t necessarily a huge hit, and it hasn’t really lasted. Nobody hears Perkins’ name and thinks “Friendly Persuasion.” No, they immediately think “Norman Bates.” Perkins is forever attached to that role, so much so that he ended up playing Bates in three “Psycho” sequels. They also let Perkins direct the third one, which was nice.

 
20 of 25

Hayden Christensen

Hayden Christensen
20th Century Fox

Look, most people don’t like “Attack of the Clones” or “Revenge of the Sith.” Critically, they are largely failures. But they also made a ton of cash. Like it or not, Christensen starred in two hit films as Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. A lot of people also weren’t happy with his performances, which may be why Christensen hasn’t had any hits since he lost that light saber battle to Obi-Wan.

 
21 of 25

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld
NBC

We’re moving from movies to TV for the last few names on this list. Yes, Seinfeld is a one-hit wonder. He starred in the biggest sitcom of the ‘90s, and an all-time hit, but what else has he done beyond that? He hasn’t had to do anything, because "Seinfeld" made him richer than anybody could imagine. That’s what lets him spend his days getting coffee with comedians on a whim.

 
22 of 25

David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer
NBC

Some of the main cast members of “Friends,” like Jennifer Aniston, went on to movie stardom. Even Matthew Perry had “The Whole Nine Yards,” which was a success. Schwimmer, though, hasn’t really done much since playing Ross. Is it because everybody hates Ross? And yet because teenagers love watching “Friends” on Netflix, he’s still a bigger name than a lot of people currently starring on hit TV shows. Also, he’s super rich.

 
23 of 25

Rainn Wilson

Rainn Wilson
NBC

The failure of the film “The Rocker” may be indicative of the fact people are only really able to accept Wilson in one role. He’s Dwight Schrute. He’ll always be Dwight Schrute. That’s not a bad thing. Wilson got to play an indelible TV character. They tried to give him a spinoff! Small roles in “The Meg” isn’t a terrible place to end up, especially since, like “Friends,” “The Office” remains super popular.

 
24 of 25

Josh Holloway

Josh Holloway
ABC

“Lost” had a pretty big ensemble of main characters. We can probably include Jack, Kate, Locke, Benjamin Linus, et al. However, the bit three were really Jack, Kate and Sawyer. Holloway is the one who played Sawyer, and he certainly made his impact on the huge hit. Since then, though, unless you watched “Colony,” which you likely didn’t, you probably haven’t seen Holloway on your screen anytime recently.

 
25 of 25

Adam West

Adam West
ABC

West should have had a couple of hits, because the sitcom pilot he starred in for “Lookwell,” which was written by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel, should have taken off. Instead, West has to “settle” for being the first actor remembered for playing Batman. West chewed the scenery in the campy comedy take on the Caped Crusader, but he was fantastic as it. He still got to be a legend, even if he spent so much of his time on screen under a cowl. Being a one-hit wonder isn’t a bad thing. You can still do great things in that limited space.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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