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People Are Discussing The Academy Award–Winning Actors And Directors Whose Careers Declined After Their Wins, And It's An Interesting Trend

Some may argue that winning an Oscar is more of a curse than a blessing.

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With the Oscars right around the corner, I started thinking about some of the past winners. So my attention was grabbed when I came across a couple of older Reddit threads (like this one from a few months ago, and this one from a year ago) about the "Oscars curse." I continued with my deep dive and found more sources backing up the discussions on Reddit.

Stage with Oscar statue and "OSCARS" onscreen, with an audience in foreground

Essentially, the "Oscars curse" is the idea that an actor or director experiences a decline in their personal or professional life after receiving the award. While of course many actors and directors continue to flourish in their careers post–Oscar win, it's still an interesting phenomenon with some truth to it.

Multiple Oscar statuettes lined up on a table ahead of an awards ceremony

Here are some past Oscar winners, both actors and directors, who people feel succumbed to the "Oscars curse" and haven't had as much commercial success in Hollywood since their win:

1. "Hilary Swank’s career path has always surprised me. She won Best Actress TWICE, and then it feels like she disappeared from the face of the Earth. Then she popped up last year leading Alaska Daily, which couldn’t make it past one season. You'd think someone with as many Oscars as Cate Blanchett, Tom Hanks, and Denzel Washington would get more opportunities."


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Swank won Best Actress for Boys Don't Cry in 2000 and Million Dollar Baby in 2005. She took a three-year hiatus from 2014 to 2017 to care for her father, who has since died, after he had a lung transplant.

Hilary in an elegant dress holding an Oscar statuette

2. F. Murray Abraham's name has become synonymous with the Oscars curse. Film critic Leonard Matlin actually said that the Oscars curse is known as "F. Murray Abraham syndrome." After he won Best Actor for Amadeus in 1985, Abraham's career simply didn't blow up the way many expected. He began turning down film roles and focused more on work in the theater. He's still found success with television roles in Homeland and The White Lotus.

F Murray in a tuxedo with a bow tie smiling and holding an Oscar statuette

3. "Adrien Brody, though I love him dearly and have watched everything he’s done since. Things just fell flat after the win. I suppose when you hit it out of the park as hard as he did with The Pianist, that’s all you really need."


Brody was the youngest man to win Best Actor for his work in The Pianist in 2003. He's since appeared in some Wes Anderson films, and he seems to enjoy quirkier projects that don't typecast him.

Adrien in a tuxedo smiling, holding his Oscar

4. "Michael Cimino directed The Deer Hunter and was praised for directing the next great American epic that was on par with The Godfather. His next movie, Heaven's Gate, practically bankrupted an entire studio, almost destroyed any interest in the Western genre, and arguably changed the entire film industry when it comes to entrusting directors with complete creative control. In a way, it led to the shift to blockbusters, sequels, and high-concept movies that were mostly dominated by studio control. He made a couple of movies after that, but everything seemed to have polarizing or negative reviews and never reached anything close to the acclaim of his Oscar win."


The Deer Hunter won five Oscars in 1979: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Best Director (Cimino), Best Film Editing (Peter Zinner), and Best Sound (Richard Portman, William McCaughey, Aaron Rochin, and Darin Knight). After the failure of the film Heaven's Gate in 1981, Cimino was shunned from Hollywood. Martin Scorsese once said, "Heaven's Gate undercut all of us. I knew at the time it was the end of something, that something had died."

Michael Cimino posing with Jon Voight and Jane Fonda, all with their Oscars

5. Halle Berry. Currently, she's the first and only Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress. She won in 2002 for Monster's Ball. Since her win, she's taken roles in the X-Men franchise and Catwoman. Her role in Catwoman won her a Razzie for Worst Actress in 2004.

Halle Berry in an embroidered gown, holding her Oscar award backstage

6. "Luise Rainer won two Oscars back-to-back, made a handful of mediocre movies, and then quit the industry due to the pressure of living up to her early successes."


Rainer won Best Actress for The Great Ziegfeld in 1937 and The Good Earth in 1938. She made history as the first person to win back-to-back Academy Awards. Her Hollywood film career was essentially over by 1938.

Luise in a button-up top holds an Oscar trophy, smiling

7. "Kim Basinger. Following her win for L.A. Confidential, she had a string of forgettable films, not to mention a nasty divorce from Alec Baldwin and a fight over who would get custody of their daughter, Ireland. The most high-profile project she was in recently was the Fifty Shades sequels!"


Kim holding an Oscar, smiling in a sleeveless gown

8. After her Oscar win in 2001 for Pollock, Marcia Gay Harden said, "The Oscar is disastrous on a professional level." She was nominated again three years later for Best Supporting Actress in Mystic River, but she lost. Despite Harden's confirmation of the Oscars curse, she's had a successful career in TV and has been nominated for three Emmys.

Marcia in a strapless gown holding her Oscar

9. "Easily Matthew McConaughey. Everything after Interstellar has been failed bait or stuff like The Dark Tower. The one interesting role has been The Beach Bum. I'm surprised he and Jeff Nichols never did another movie after Mud, because they seem like a perfect De Niro–Scorsese duo."


McConaughey won Best Actor in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club. It's no secret that he has an extensive résumé, but recent years have definitely been quieter. Recently, he and his wife, Camila, have opened up about leaving California and moving to Texas.

Matthew holding his Oscar, wearing a jacket and bow tie

10. "In terms of an acting career? Harold Russell. He won an Oscar in his debut, didn’t do another movie for almost 40 years, appeared in two TV shows, and ended up being so poor that he had to sell his Oscar in order to pay for his wife’s medical expenses."


Russell lost both hands during World War II and won an Oscar in 1947 for portraying a disabled veteran in The Best Years of Our Lives. He ended up having to auction off his award to pay his wife's medical bills. "I love the Oscar, but I love my wife more," he said. His Oscar was sold for $60,500 to an anonymous buyer at an auction. After commission, Russell got $55,000.

Harold, with a joyful expression holding his Oscar statuette

11. "Most people's answers are actors, so I'll go with a director: Jonathan Demme. After he won Best Director for The Silence of the Lambs, his next film, Philadelphia, was fairly successful. After that, though, he made more films, all of which flopped — most bombed, got mixed reviews, or have had no cultural relevancy years later. What really sticks out is how some of his first few post–The Silence of the Lambs movies in the '90s and '00s had huge $60 million to $80 million budgets, but a decade later, the projects were less than $20 million, showing that the studios had lost faith in him."


Jonathan, in a tuxedo with bow tie, holding his Oscar statuette

12. "Jennifer Connelly. After winning Best Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind, she never really moved from being a supporting actress to a lead actress. She's usually the costar alongside a leading male, and recently she moved into TV with Snowpiercer."


Jennifer Connelly smiling and holding her Oscar, wearing a strapless pale dress with a scarf

13. "I think Mercedes Ruehl is probably the worst, which is a shame, since she is so good in almost everything she does. Based on her IMDb, she seems to have done just as much in the 15 years before her win as she's done in the 32 years since. Honestly, she might be up there with Vivica A. Fox and Valerie Bertinelli in terms of 'Queen of the TV movie.' But she seems to be doing a lot of guest appearances on TV shows and even short films — more so than what an Oscar winner normally would be doing, especially compared with her fellow winners around that time."


Ruehl won Best Supporting Actress in 1992 for The Fisher King. She won at age 44, and the trajectory of her career seemingly petered out afterward. "It's hard to get a job after that. People think you want more money," she said. She has also spoken about how ageism and sexism in Hollywood have had an impact on her career.

Mercedes in a halter dress holding her Oscar statuette

14. Marlee Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar for her film debut in Children of a Lesser God in 1987. She was the first deaf female actor to be nominated. She's had a successful career in TV, including her role in The West Wing, but available roles for deaf actors continue to be frustratingly limited. Matlin did appear in 2022's Best Picture winner, CODA, but she did not receive an award, though her onscreen husband, Troy Kotsur, won Best Supporting Actor.

Marlee smiling and holding her Oscar award, wearing a lacy dress and a floral piece in her hair

15. "Actor-writer-director Roberto Benigni, who won Best Actor for Life Is Beautiful (which also won for Best Foreign Language Film), followed up with Pinocchio, which was a critical and commercial failure, and then The Tiger and the Snow, which was also a critical failure. One of his few roles after that was in Woody Allen's To Rome With Love, which, although moderately successful commercially, was more mixed critically."


Robert in a tuxedo happily holding up his award onstage

16. "Jean Dujardin hasn't really been in anything noteworthy (a small role in The Wolf of Wall Street), even though he won an Oscar for playing the lead in a Best Picture winner. Apparently, though, he's chosen to focus on working more in France and throughout Europe, where he gets a healthy amount of work, so he's a bit of a different case. But still, the guy has essentially no presence in Hollywood, and I doubt many average audiences would recognize him as an Oscar winner."


"In France, he is a legend, and he prefers to focus on French cinema, so it’s not really true for him."


Dujardin won Best Actor in 2012 for The Artist. 

Jean, in a tuxedo, holding his Oscar statuette before a microphone, expressing joy

17. "Sean Penn is an interesting case: After his second Oscar, it's mostly been flops like The Gunman, small supporting roles like in Tree of Life and Licorice Pizza, or scoring a 0.2 on the Cannes jury grid."


Penn won Best Actor in 2004 for Mystic River and again in 2009 for Milk. In 2016, The Last Face, which he directed, received eight X (no score) ratings, leading to an average of 0.2

Sean holding an Oscar award onstage, smiling, and wearing a tuxedo with a bow tie

18. And last: "I thought Alicia Vikander was going to have a very good post-Oscar career after her success in 2015. But almost everything she’s been in since has been either really forgettable, like that last Jason Bourne movie, or a flop, like Tomb Raider and Tulip Fever. The Green Knight has been one of her few big successes post-Oscar."


Vikander won Best Supporting Actress in 2016 for her performance in The Danish Girl. She has since spoken out about her struggles with fame. "When, in other people's eyes, I was at the height of my fame, I was the most sad. I kept telling myself, Take it in. It is incredible. But I didn't know what to do. There were all these first-class flights, 5-star rooms. But I was always by myself. I was by myself," she told the UK's Times newspaper, per Variety. 

Alicia smiling and holding an Oscar trophy with both hands while wearing a strapless gown with embellishments

So, what do you think: Is the Oscars curse real? Are there other actors or directors whose careers seemed to wane after their Oscar win? Tell us in the comments!

Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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