An often discussed phenomenon amongst fans of the Academy Awards is the notion that while many actors receive a boost to their career following their win, there are just as many that either fade into obscurity or never achieve the same level of success in their careers again. This has been called The Oscar Curse, and it has struck many, many Oscar winners, not just actors, but as I mentioned in my Top 5 on actors that won an Oscar for the wrong film, with four categories to compete in each year, it happens most often that actors fall victim to this curse. It often takes time to tell who the victims are as well, so while Jennifer Hudson seems like a prime candidate for this list, she only won her Oscar seven years ago, so who knows if an acting comeback is around the corner? (Spoiler alert: It's not). Therefore I limited myself only to people who won an Oscar at least fifteen years ago (one slid in just under the wire). Read on to find out who made the cut...
5. Marlee Matlin: Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God, 1986
After scoring a Golden Globe, Marlee Matlin became something of a surprise favorite in the Best Actress race for 1986, considering her competition was comprised of Hollywood royalty of the day like Jane Fonda, Sissy Spacek and Kathleen Turner. When she won, her acceptance speech touched many for its poignancy, considering that the actress was hearing impaired, and signed a thank you to her similarly affected parents. However, as is often the case, Hollywood just wasn't churning out scripts with hearing impaired characters in them, and casting directors foolishly didn't want to take a risk on casting her, so her career stagnated. Despite memorable roles on Seinfeld, E.R., The L-Word and The West Wing, she never really got another chance to stand in the spotlight again, and certainly nothing on a par with the role that won her an Oscar. It's a true shame, but yet another example of an industry that just doesn't know what to do with the differently abled.
4. Roberto Benigni: Best Actor for Life is Beautiful, 1998
Christ on a cracker, who could forget this Italian sprite's acceptance speeches when he won the Foreign Language and Best Actor Oscars at the 1999 Oscar ceremony? Roberto Benigni was something of an unknown to many Americans when he came onto the scene with his Holocaust dramedy Life is Beautiful in 1998. Italians knew him well, he was a legend there, but American audiences knew him primarily for 2 Jim Jarmusch films, Down by Law and Night on Earth, and as the ill-fated Peter Sellers replacement in Son of the Pink Panther. Though his win for Foreign Language film was well-deserved, his win in the Best Actor category raised a lot of eyebrows, particularly considering the amazingly nuanced work done by Ian McKellen in Gods & Monsters. Unfortunately Benigni's follow-ups were lackluster to say the least, from his baffling 2002 live action version of Pinocchio to The Tiger and the Snow his Iraq War set repurposing of the same story in Life is Beautiful, it's pretty obvious that while he's got charm to spare, he's certainly floundered in the fifteen years since winning the Oscar.
3. Mercedes Ruehl: Best Supporting Actress for The Fisher King, 1991
A lot of the younger readers might be asking themselves, who? And you wouldn't be alone in wondering that. Mercedes Ruehl won her Oscar for a Terry Gilliam film, The Fisher King, which almost compels me to give her a pass. But taking a look at her imdb page, the twenty-plus years since that win places her firmly in the category of victims of the curse. While I happen to think Last Action Hero is secretly brilliant, it's hardly becoming of an Oscar winner to choose it as her follow-up. The years following that include some guest turns on tv series like Law & Order, Frasier, Psych, and Entourage, and a whole bunch of stuff I've never heard of, mostly made for tv movies. And the handful of features she has chosen, like the Owen Wilson serial killer drama The Minus Man just seem woefully misguided. A glance at what she'd been in before The Fisher King reveals classics like Big, The Warriors, Radio Days, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, meaning that she has most assuredly fallen victim to the curse.
2. Cuba Gooding, Jr: Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire, 1996
The only person whose acceptance speech may have topped Roberto Benigni for sheer, unbridled insanity might be Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s speech at the 1997 ceremony. After winning for his turn as a catchphrase spouting football player in Jerry Maguire, Gooding seemed as if he might stay on the straight and narrow, showing up in James L. Brooks' Academy Award winning As Good As It Gets the following year, but after that, it's a steady slide downhill. Whether he shows up in awards baiting dreck like Radio, Men of Honor, or What Dreams May Come, or flat out nonsense like Snow Dogs, Boat Trip, or Norbit, one can only shake their head in disbelief at what's become of him. The fact that he still manages to turn in good performances in films like Lee Daniels' The Butler and American Gangster, makes his appearances in ludicrous films like Shadowboxer and Daddy Day Camp even more baffling. A man's got to eat, I get it, but come on!
1. F. Murray Abraham: Best Actor for Amadeus, 1984
The very face of the Oscar curse in my mind has got to be F. Murray Abraham. I must preface this by saying that he is wholly and completely deserving of his honor for Amadeus, a performance I hold in the highest regard in one of my favorite films of all time. Having said that, his work since then leaves much to be desired. He has worked, make no mistake about that, racking up over 100 screen credits in his career, but his choices since Amadeus have been puzzling to say the least. Whether it's questionable decisions like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Loaded Weapon 1, and Thirteen Ghosts, or rubbish films like Finding Forrester, he's floundered in his decision-making to say the least. He even joined fellow cursee Mercedes Ruehl in Last Action Hero. What is it about that movie? Thankfully he seems to be coming out of his tailspin following a hilarious guest turn on Louis C.K.'s show Louie and appearances in Inside Llewyn Davis and the upcoming Grand Budapest Hotel, but the damage that's been done by the curse is irrevocable.
I leave you with a quote from F. Murray himself that sums up the notion of the Oscar curse, and allow you to decide for yourselves whether it's a flawed notion at all: "The Oscar is the single most important event of my career. I have dined with kings, shared equal billing with my idols, lectured at Harvard and Columbia. If this is a jinx, I'll take two."