10 Retro Teen Stars Who Should’ve Had Better Careers

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How many times have you read a film review praising a young actor or actress, only to never hear about him or her again? Too many teen stars begin on a high note, only for that performance – or several – to not translate into adult success. But for every Tom Cruise or Robert Downey, Jr., there are plenty of others who make poor decisions, go off to college, or simply become supporting players and never reach that leading status critics predicted from the start:

C. Thomas Howell

You might have asked yourself “Whatever happened to Ponyboy Curtis?” at some point or another, considering most of his co-stars from The Outsiders went on to modestly successful careers – even Ralph Macchio. Although Howell carried the film, he made a few poor choices later – doing blackface in Soul Man, for one – that derailed his once-promising, A-list career to the bargain bin with mostly straight-to-video flicks.

Howell has made a few appearances over the years, including a reoccurring role on cop drama Southland, but the main place to find him these days is in mockbusters produced by The Asylum, a low-end production company that works with budgets less than $1 million to release titles like The Day The Earth Stopped, Transmorphers, and The Land That Time Forgot. Sound familiar? Mockbusters mirror titles of films in theaters at the time, and Howell has starred in several of these in recent years.

Meredith Salenger

Good girls don’t last long in Hollywood, and current Disney stars should take note of Meredith Salenger’s career. Salenger began in The Journey of Natty Gann and, much like C. Thomas Howell, carried the film much to critics’ approval. After, she turned a few good performances in A Night In The Life of Jimmy Reardon, horror flick The Kiss, and Dream a Little Dream, and then disappeared for a few years to go to Harvard.

Attending college is a precarious career move for young stars, and some navigate it well, and others never reach the same level of success. Although Salenger displayed solid acting skills, good looks, and charm in the ‘80s, she’s been relegated to supporting roles since then. Currently, she can be found doing voice work in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Leelee Sobieski

Few teen actors of the late 1990s and early 2000s were as memorable by critics as Leelee Sobieski. Although she was noticed in traditional teen film Never Been Kissed, her performances in Eyes Wide Shut and as a rebellious Goth teenager opposite Albert Brooks in My First Mister were key to career longevity. Or were they? Sobieski took a similar path as Meredith Salenger by attending a top-tier university for a few years, and her career also took nearly as much of a nosedive.

Should young actors and actresses simply forget college in lieu of short-term success in Hollywood? It’s a tricky path to go down, especially for actresses, and although Sobieski appears occasionally in supporting film roles, starring in an Uwe Boll flick isn’t the best approach to getting your career back on track.

Emilio Estevez

Blame the Mighty Ducks flicks for taking Brat Pack member Emilio Estevez out of the spotlight. With a career that started in the early ‘80s with The Outsiders and didn’t let up for 15 years, Estevez appeared as if he would have more success than Anthony Michael Hall, Andrew McCarthy, and Judd Nelson. Few actors are taken seriously after having lead billing in a Disney flick, however, and Estevez has shifted his efforts to directing. 2006 film Bobby has been his most notable effort to date.

Corey Haim

Corey Haim’s career shows what happens when drugs overpower talent. In spite of Lindsay Lohan’s recent antics, she should take note of Haim’s swift and fast career trajectory. In the ‘80s, Haim had the chops to do drama – critics lauded his performance in Lucas – and light comedy in the flicks he and Corey Feldman did as a team (Lost Boys and License to Drive, in particular). But by the end of the decade, Haim’s drug problems were well-known, and his billing by the 1990s was relegated to straight-to-video films.

Looking back on it, Haim’s career plays as an anti-drug PSA, and should be an example of how bad choices will throw a promising start off track completely.

William McNamara

Getting second billing to the Coreys is a precursor to also-ran status for the rest of your life. Even though William McNamara stole teen film Dream a Little Dream from Haim and Feldman as a sometime friend with rage issues, he never ascended into A-list status – not even after a memorable performance in 1995 thriller Copycat. Although he appears to be working steadily, his last notable project was 1998’s Jerry Springer spoof Ringmaster.

Ally Sheedy

Being the “basket case” in The Breakfast Club has apparently defined Ally Sheedy’s career. Although she was in other successful films at the time, such as WarGames, Short Circuit, and St. Elmo’s Fire, her next notable performance was in 1998’s High Art as a lesbian photographer with a drug addiction. Although Sheedy received recognition for her performance in High Art, it wasn’t the springboard to get her career back on track, and she’s mainly been in independent and B-list flicks since then.

Ione Skye

Her performance as Diane Court in Say Anything could have propelled Ione Skye into more mainstream pictures, but the independent route seems to have suited her better. Although Skye was in other secondary teen flicks at the time, such as River’s Edge, most think of her as a one-note performer. Skye pops up here and there – more recently in Fever Pitch — but she never went as far as critics and viewers predicted.

Dominique Swain

As another one-note performer, Dominique Swain got critics’ attention in the 1997 version of Lolita, and also turned in a memorable role in Face/Off. Yet, although Swain has been working steadily since then, she’s taken a turn much like C. Thomas Howell and is a regular face in indie and B-movie fare.

Molly Ringwald

Until her recent role on The Secret Life of an American Teenager, it appeared that Molly Ringwald would be just known for a trio of John Hughes flicks. Although classic teen fare, Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, and The Breakfast Club were the high point of Ringwald’s output for a while, which seemed over after she refused a role in Some Kind of Wonderful. Even with a 20-year lull, her career might be back on track, and Ringwald might be that rare teen star that, much like Patrick Dempsey or Jason Bateman, sees success a few decades later.

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