For Our Consideration: The Biggest Comebacks of the Year

By  · Published on September 27th, 2016

Awards Rejects

Filmmakers, actors, and even characters making rebounds in 2016.

Yesterday, FSR head honcho Neil Miller called Split “one of the better [M. Night] Shyamalan films in a long while.” Between that and the buzz that much of Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is reminiscent of his older, favored works, it’s time to discuss comebacks. This year has been filled with resurrections, but few of them have been successful. That’s all the more reason why we need to discuss and acknowledge those filmmakers, actors, actresses, and even characters who’ve actually shown turnaround in 2016.


Maybe we’re better off with Spidey in small doses? After a few disappointing features, from 2007’s Spider-Man 3 through the two installments of the Amazing Spider-Man reboot, everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood web-slinger is back in good graces. It was great seeing Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego join the MCU, as brief as it was, in Captain America: Civil War, and actor Tom Holland’s online presence during the making of Spider-Man: Homecoming, with his acrobatic videos and visits to children’s hospitals, has only made us more excited for his takeover of the role.

Ryan Reynolds, Comic Book Movie Star

While Ryan Reynolds has been and can still be hit or miss with various gigs —after Self/Less and Criminal, no more sci-fi films involving mind-mashing, please ‐ but at least we can be hopeful about his lead roles in comic book movies thanks to Deadpool. This is partly also recognition that the character Deadpool made a triumphant comeback on the big screen after his sorry debut (portrayed by Reynolds and Scott Adkins) in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But we have to quadruple down on the kudos to Reynolds for also making us forget about his other awful comic book adaptations, Green Lantern, Blade: Trinity, and R.I.P.D.

Kirsten Dunst

We’re likely to hear from people that Kirsten Dunst never really fell in her career to warrant comeback status, but she’s been mostly coasting since her best movie performance prior to this year, in Bring It On. She’s been fine, but mainly she’s been working with great directors and hasn’t stood out as a great actress. Then, in last fall’s second season of Fargo, she gave her most award-worthy performance since her stint at age 11 in Interview with the Vampire. And she followed it with a short but amazing turn in Midnight Special, which might have had Oscar buzz if the movie was more popular.

Natalie Portman

Following her Best Actress Oscar win in 2010 for Black Swan, Natalie Portman should have been on a roll with prestigious roles. Instead she got involved with the MCU for a couple Thor movies, which is fine and probably netted her a good chunk of change. But outside of her wonderful work in the highly underrated Hesher, she’s had a lot of missteps as an actress and as a producer. This year has seen its share of failures, too, apparently including the upcoming Planetarium, but the Oscar frontrunner status she’s now got for Jackie combined with the praise she’s received for her feature directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, is enough to overlook that.

Russell Crowe

In the last decade, Russell Crowe has managed to maintain his position as a movie star in both mainstream releases and awards fodder, but he hasn’t been a cool and exciting actor in all that time. This year, he shot back up to near-L.A. Confidential level appreciation, however, with The Nice Guys. He actually looks like he enjoyed the work rather than going through the motions for a paycheck and/or possible Oscar contention. And he was funnier than ever, delivering one of the most memorable spit takes from anyone ever. Even if some credit is due to writer/director Shane Black and co-star Ryan Gosling for getting it out of the guy, it’s appreciated.

Andrew Stanton

This was an anticipated and, in a way, easy comeback, but it still felt good to see Andrew Stanton not just deliver a box office hit but a satisfying feature following his John Carter debacle four years ago. Finding Dory is as wonderful as that transition to live-action is terrible. He’s probably capable of doing something amazing outside of animation and outside of Pixar releases, but we are now certain we can depend on him in this arena and would prefer he stick with it. He can even continue the Pixar sequel glut if he wants, so long as each release is as good as his Finding Nemo follow-up.

Will Smith

There are still a handful of true movie stars in Hollywood, and Will Smith is one of them despite spending the better part of this century decreasing in relevance. He’s had ups and downs, though for the most part he hasn’t found that necessary balance between critical favor and box office success, achieving only one or the other with so many of his movies. Suicide Squad is actually one of his worst-reviewed film ever, but he managed to come out unscathed as one of the spare positive elements of the DC comic book movie. He stands out in the ironically by playing more of an ensemble component than he’s used to, and he joins Margot Robbie as something from the movie we’d like to see more of.

Tom Hanks

As I pointed out recently in response to the box office success of Sully, the new biopic gave Tom Hanks his best non-franchise opening in many years, and it’s had tremendous legs since then. This weekend, it could top Captain Phillips to be his highest-grossing movie (not adjusted for inflation) that isn’t an animated feature or a Dan Brown adaptation since Catch Me If You Can. Or Cast Away if we’re talking movies where he’s the lead. Adjusted for inflation, Sully is actually below even Bachelor Party, but never mind that. Either way, it’s still a great comeback within this year alone following the unfortunate nothing release and nothing gross of A Hologram for the King, which wasn’t his fault but this still proves he deserved better than that.

Mel Gibson

There are many people who will refuse to accept a comeback of any kind from Mel Gibson, but if reception at the Venice Film Festival is any indication, it will be difficult to ignore his return at least in the director’s chair. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s first time at the helm of a movie since 2006’s Apocalypto, and it’s not only getting better reviews than that effort but so far it’s his best-received directorial work ever, even better than Braveheart. Whether the Rotten Tomatoes score and his momentum will last once the film arrives in US theaters, though…we’ll just have to wait and see.

Warren Beatty

No one has seen Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply yet, as it doesn’t premiere until opening night of AFI Fest in November, shortly before its theatrical release. But regardless of its quality, the movie is a comeback for the actor/director in very literal terms. The man hasn’t made a movie since 1998’s Bulworth and hasn’t appeared in one since 2001’s Town & Country. He’s come back from out of nowhere, and it’s neat to see him return, period. The fact that Beatty has never directed a bad movie gives hope that this will also be an honorable comeback, too.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.