Brendan Fraser was absolutely everywhere in the ’90s and early ’00s. He starred in beloved kids’ classics like George of the Jungle and hit blockbusters such as The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. And let’s not forget Oscar-winning fare like Gods and Monsters. His movies made millions… for a while. Unfortunately, after that, he did just about the worst thing a person in Hollywood can do: he got older and stopped being hot. So what does he look like now? And can we expect a comeback anytime soon? The world of movies is a fickle place, but surely it can’t be that fickle. Right?
As a fresh-faced young actor, Fraser had a couple of tiny TV roles before making it in the movies. His first film was the 1992 comedy Encino Man, but it was the sports movie School Ties that same year that really marked him out as a talent. Acting opposite future stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, he played a Jewish high school student facing antisemitism from his peers.
But it was 1997’s George of the Jungle that established Fraser as not just a good actor, but as a sex symbol, too. Indeed, the buff physique he displayed while playing the Tarzan-like George set many hearts aflutter. And the movie was a financial success to boot, reaping $174.4 million at the worldwide box office.
Fraser showed off his fit physique again in 1998’s Gods and Monsters, a film based on the life of Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale and one which won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. This accolade could very well have furthered both Fraser’s career and his prospects as a “serious” actor as a consequence.
However, it soon became clear that film audiences actually preferred Fraser in comedy and action roles. In fact, his performance as the ultra-charming Rick O’Connell in 1999’s The Mummy finally made him a bona fide superstar – albeit only for a rather short time.
But while Fraser’s “superstar” phase lasted, things were great. Although his 2000 film remake of Bedazzled received only lukewarm reviews, for example, it was nevertheless a box office success. What’s more, the Chicago Tribune described his performance in the movie as “funny, charming and sympathetic.” The very qualities that had gotten Fraser so far.
Throughout the early noughties, meanwhile, Fraser continued to appear in virtually everything and anything. For example, he took to London’s West End in 2001 to appear in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, winning good reviews for his performance. That year also saw the release of The Mummy Returns, another huge financial hit, and Monkeybone – which, unfortunately, was the exact opposite.
The following year, moreover, Fraser appeared in the hit series Scrubs, playing Ben Sullivan, best friend to series regular Dr. Cox. And though his role was only a guest one, it turned out to be among the most important in the show. Specifically, it led to a much-praised and Emmy-nominated episode in 2004, when his character suddenly died.
But Scrubs aside, it was perhaps starting to dawn on people that Fraser didn’t always pick the best projects to showcase his abilities. In 2003, for one, he appeared in the cartoon caper Looney Tunes: Back in Action – another total box office flop. Fraser needed to start attaching himself to less goofy stuff.
Luckily, an extremely respectable project promptly came along. That project was Crash, a serious drama about the effect of racism on the lives of a large group of people. Fraser played district attorney Rick, despite initial concerns from both the director and himself that he was too young for the part.
Crash was an enormous success, picking up Best Picture at the 78th Academy Awards and a whole host of other accolades. And although appearing in a Best Picture flick was a boost for Fraser’s career, it wasn’t quite enough. His next film, the indie Journey to the End of the Night, barely made an impact on moviegoers’ radars.
Moreover, unfortunately, things slid further downhill from there, as his 2007 film The Air I Breathe was trashed by critics. And in December the same year it was announced that he and his wife Afton Smith would be divorcing. Still, in 2009 an Entertainment Weekly interviewer described him as being “the nicest guy in Hollywood” even after his personal and professional woes had come to light. But everyone knows what happens to nice guys in Hollywood.
Fraser did have a hit in 2008 with Journey to the Center of the Earth, and a sequel to that movie seemed a certainty. But when Fraser wanted to wait for the original director, Eric Brevig, to free up time to helm a sequel, the studio simply replaced them both. That’s what happens to nice guys in Hollywood.
After that came Inkheart, a children’s film based on the similarly-named novel. Fraser himself had inspired the main character of the book, so he was a shoo-in for the lead. But, although everyone involved in the project seemed to have come to it with goodwill, it was another critical flop.
By this point Fraser was facing another crisis – and one much worse than critics not liking his movies: he was aging. His boyish good looks were fading, and his hairline was receding. And while this might not have been a problem for some actors, Fraser had built a lot of his career on being, well, boyish. He had to transition to more “mature” roles – and fast.
But it just wasn’t happening. All that was happening was flop after flop: Extraordinary Measures followed by kids’ film Furry Vengeance nearly finished the once-box-office-gold Fraser off. And to make things worse, in 2011 he sued producer Todd Moyer for unpaid wages and was promptly sued in return.
In fact, money worries were starting to be a big concern for Fraser. In another act of niceness, he donated his salary from the 2013 film Gimme Shelter to the actual homeless shelters featured in the movie. That same year, however, he had to ask a court to cut the alimony and child support installments due to his former wife.
All was definitely not going well for Fraser, despite the fact that he’d done nothing to deserve it. There was never a Mel Gibson- or Charlie Sheen-style meltdown. And he hadn’t taken up politics or really done anything controversial at all. Yet, somehow, he seemed to have become utter box-office poison. Fraser needed a win – and fast.
Luckily, a hit came along in 2015 when he appeared in the high-profile History channel miniseries Texas Rising. Indeed, with the rise of streaming services like Netflix, more and more stars are migrating to television and increasing their profiles there. Perhaps, then, the small screen, not the big one, is where Fraser’s comeback lies.
And while there’s no doubt that Fraser’s looks have changed, hopefully his acting career isn’t anywhere near over yet. Many of his contemporaries, like Ben Affleck, for example, have had long periods of downtime before making explosive comebacks. So let’s hope it’s not too late for Fraser. After all, nice guys don’t necessarily always have to finish last.