10 Retired Film Stars Who Deserve a Comeback


When perusing today’s celebrity birthdays, one name jumped out at us: the great Gene Wilder, who turns 79 years old today. Happy birthday, Gene Wilder, if you have a Google alert for your own name! A quick peek at his bio, however, made us realize that although his face seems to appear every day in our Facebook feed, he’s actually quite out of the public eye — he hasn’t made a theatrical film in over two decades. He may not be the spring chicken of Young Frankenstein (that’s Fronk-un-STEEN) anymore, but there’s still plenty of good years left in Mr. Wilder; after the jump, we plead with him and nine other beloved film stars to come out of their self-imposed exiles.

Gene Wilder LAST SEEN IN: Another You, 1991

Wilder starred in several of our favorite films of the 1970s and 1980s: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Stir Crazy, and Hanky Panky, on which he met wife Gilda Radner. Her death in 1989 marked the beginning of the end for the actor; he only made two more films, 1990’s Funny About Love and 1991’s Another You (which was also Richard Pryor’s last major role). Though he’s done a few TV movies and guest appearances, including an Emmy-winning role on Will & Grace, he told Alec Baldwin in a 2008 TCM interview that he had retired from acting: “I don’t like show business, I realized. I like show, but I don’t like the business.” We certainly understand that point of view, but we can’t help but think that there’s a great role just waiting for Mr. Wilder in a Wes Anderson or Judd Apatow movie.

Gene Hackman LAST SEEN IN: Welcome to Mooseport, 2004

Few actors were more prolific in the 1980s and 1990s than Wilder’s Bonnie and Clyde co-star Gene Hackman (only Michael Caine seemed to keep as busy), which is why his absence for the past eight years has seemed so noticeable. And the last film in his distinguished, 99-movie filmography was the limp comedy Welcome to Mooseport — though he had done The Royal Tenebaums a mere two films earlier, which would have been a perfect swan song if he were going to insist on retiring. And we wish he hadn’t — we know, we know, you can’t keep doing it if you don’t still love it, but his last few great performances (Tenenbaums, Heist, Crimson Tide, and of course Unforgiven) had a remarkable economy, the work a man who’d been a fine actor for so long it was second nature. We can only think of the kind of effortless performances Caine or Robert Duvall have done over the past few years (or that Paul Newman did in the years before his death) for an example of what we might be missing while Hackman is off writing historical fiction.

Sean Connery LAST SEEN IN: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003

Much like Hackman, we can’t imagine Connery really wants the final piece of his legacy to be the 2003 dud Extraordinary Gentlemen — although, to be fair, if you fronted a piece of dreck like that, you might want to get out of the movie business too. It may well have just been the straw that broke the camel’s back — the decade that preceded it was more miss than hit, with Connery appearing in turkeys like The Avengers (the other one), Entrapment, DragonHeart, and A Good Man in Africa. Still, it seems like somebody should be able to either create a robust character in an indie for Sir Sean, or that a blockbuster-maker should be able to make good use of him in a juicy showcase role, as Spielberg did in Last Crusade or Bay did in The Rock.

Bridget Fonda LAST SEEN IN: The Whole Shebang, 2001

Fonda went from Hollywood royalty (daughter of Peter, granddaughter of Henry, and niece of Jane, who had quite a long sabbatical from the screen herself) to early-’90s ingénue, with memorable roles in hits like Doc Hollywood, Singles, Single White Female, and It Could Happen to You. She did some of the best work of her career in 1997’s Jackie Brown and 1998’s A Simple Plan, but after a busy 2001, she disappeared from the screen, with only appearances on The Chris Issak Show and the 2002 TV movie Snow Queen in the years since. So where’d she go? Well, in 2003, she married Tim Burton’s favorite composer Danny Elfman, with whom she has a son. Maybe she decided she wanted to be a full-time mom; maybe she got a look at the dearth of quality roles for women in their 40s (she was 37 when she semi-retired) and decided to sit it out for a while. Either way, we’re ready for her comeback — maybe her old collaborator Quentin Tarantino could work up something good for her in his next film?

Phoebe Cates LAST SEEN IN: The Anniversary Party, 2001

Cates’ hiatus from the movies is actually a longer one than you’d think from her last credit; her final film to date, 2001’s The Anniversary Party, was a homemade production written and directed by stars Jennifer Jason Leigh (Cates’ best friend and Fast Times co-star) and Alan Cumming, who created roles for Cates, husband Kevin Kline, and their children. Cates plays Kline’s wife, an actress who quit acting to be a mother and wife — which is basically what Cates did after 1994’s Princess Caraboo (which Kline also co-starred in). But her work in The Anniversary Party serves as a potent reminder of what a genuinely gifted actress she is — she was never just a pretty face, her most famous scene in Fast Times notwithstanding — and now that their kids are getting older (the youngest is 18), we’re hoping she’ll get back in front of the camera.

Warren Beatty LAST SEEN IN: Town and Country, 2001

If Cates and Fonda are examples of women who gave up their careers for family life, it’s nice to note that the man who was once considered Hollywood’s biggest lothario apparently did pretty much the same thing. Beatty and Annette Bening met on the set of 1991’s Bugsy, and married the following year. He turned out three more films in the subsequent decade, but after the widely-reported schedule and cost overruns (and massive box-offices losses) of the 2001 film Town and Country, Beatty quietly stopped working, while Bening turned out six films (and got Best Actress nominations for two of them). Earlier this year, word started circulating that Beatty was going back to work, possibly on a Dick Tracy sequel, possibly on a new comedy/drama. It could take years for the notorious perfectionist to bring either of those to fruition, but we wish he’d get on with it; it’s easy to shrug him off after dogs like Town or Love Affair, but lest we forget, this guy was twice nominated for Oscars for acting, writing, producing, and directing the same film — a feat that even Orson Welles only did once. We’d like very much to see what he’s been cooking up.

Sidney Poitier LAST SEEN IN: The Jackal, 1997

Academy Award winner (and cinematic groundbreaker) Sidney Poitier has had periods of onscreen inactivity before — he didn’t act from 1977 to 1988 in order to focus on directing — but we’re getting a little worried about his current absence, which has been going for fifteen years now (not counting a quartet of TV movies, but even the most recent of those was over a decade ago). His last film the 1997 remake of Day of the Jackal, wasn’t exactly high art, but his penultimate theatrical film, 1992’s Sneakers, is one we never tire of. What’s more, his funny, funky supporting work there shows a looseness that could sometimes elude him as actor. Given our druthers, we’d propose a reteaming with his ’70s partner in crime Bill Cosby, who himself hasn’t been in a film since 1996.

Doris Day LAST SEEN IN: With Six You Get Eggroll, 1968

It was no surprise that Doris Day retired from film when she did; with the sexual revolution approaching and the subject matter of the movies rapidly maturing, her gentle, squeaky-clean vehicles were going the way of the dinosaur. She could have shifted her persona and kept on (she famously offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate), but she took her act to television instead, and when The Doris Day Show finished up in 1973, so did Day. None of that is too shocking; the surprise is that she’s never taken the opportunity to return to the screen, as, say, her contemporary Debbie Reynolds did (to great effect) in films like Mother and In & Out. She returned to recording last year, with a new album called My Heart; we’d love to see a return to the big screen as well.

Shirley Temple LAST FILM: A Kiss for Corliss, 1949

Day has been out of the movies for a long time, but her sabbatical can’t beat that of Shirley Temple, who became one of the biggest movie stars in the world in she stared working at age three, and retired from the movies at the ripe old age of 22. She kept plenty busy in the years that followed, serving as a representative to the United Nations and as ambassador to Ghana (under Ford) and Czechoslovakia (under Bush I); these days, she is mostly kept busy collecting lifetime achievement awards and honors. But we’d like to get just one more Shirley Temple movie out of her — maybe she and Day could team up for a buddy flick?

Rick Moranis LAST FILM: Big Bully, 1996

About the only reason we’ve had any interest in the making of Ghostbusters 3 have been the occasional reports (often contradicted by other reports) that everyone would be back for the film — including not only eternal naysayer Bill Murray, but Rick Moranis, who hasn’t appeared in a theatrical feature since 1996. (He’s done some voice work, but nothing on-screen.) The SCTV alum was all over the movies in the ’80s, with memorable roles in not only the Ghostbusters movies but Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, Parenthood, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Then, in 1991, his wife died, and, according to the actor, “I pulled out of making movies in about ’96 or ’97. I’m a single parent, and I just found that it was too difficult to manage raising my kids and doing the traveling involved in making movies. So I took a little bit of a break. And the little bit of a break turned into a longer break, and then I found that I really didn’t miss it. In the last few years I’ve been offered a number of parts in movies, and I’ve just turned them down. I don’t know whether I’ll go back to it or not.” Well, we’d like to cast a vote in favor of going back; he was an inventive and charismatic comic performer, and there’s got to be a filmmaker out there who could make good use of him.